I recently came across a doozy of a sign on the web that said “If I wanted to work for free I’d choose to be a volunteer, not a freelancer. Learn the difference already.” * It inspired the sign that adorns this opinion piece of mine.
Freelancers like me expect to work for pay. We also have our own set rates. If you do not wish to pay anyone for their work, in, say, proofreading a book, find a few volunteer “beta” readers. Don’t bother me with questions if I can either A. work for free or B. work for less than my requested rate. I have bills to pay.
If I want to volunteer at something, I’d go back to volunteering for the Minnesota Transportation Museum at the Minnehaha Depot at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But volunteering, while it may be good for the resume, is not good for the bank account. ‘Nuff said.
Several years ago, the Washington Post held a contest to select a new columnist. Since Wal-Mart wanted to build a new store right on top of a Civil War battlefield at the time, I chose that as my subject matter:
Opinion: The Wilderness battlefield Wal-Mart lawsuit was worthwhile
How many people were against building a Wal-Mart near the Civil War battlefield of the Wilderness in Orange County, Virginia? A roll call reveals the following: Ken Burns, David McCullough, and James M. McPherson; Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Duval; Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine and Virginia House Speaker William Howell; and finally, hundreds of concerned citizens such as this writer.
Such an impressive array of voices saying “no” could sway anyone. However, those voices did not sway the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Instead they turned a deaf ear to them and approved Wal-Mart’s application.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation joined with concerned citizens and the local preservation group Friends of The Wilderness Battlefield in filing suit against Orange County to stop the development. Their justification: The Board of Supervisors had failed to adequately gather and assess all information on the detrimental impact the Wal-Mart would have on the battlefield.
This was not a frivolous legal action, no matter what Wal-Mart or the Supervisors claimed before they ultimately gave in.
What was at stake here was the sanctity of irreplaceable sacred ground. Ground dyed with the blood of brave soldiers during Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant’s first battle against each other on May 5-7, 1864. The Wilderness is now a place where you can stand and contemplate the past. Reach out and touch it, appreciate it, and learn from it.
No battlefield visitor could have done that with a Wal-Mart next door. ‘Nuff said.
I didn’t win, but I am happy to report Wal-Mart moved their store to a far less sensitive location.
(Originally published on Bubblews.com January 8th, 2014.)
I recently came across this article about two biographies of legendary entrepreneur Steve Jobs. One of these biographies, Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, was criticized for his alleged overemphasis on the abrasive side of Jobs’s personality. Enough of Jobs’s friends, colleagues, and relatives were irritated by issacson’s biography that they willingly backed another, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs, which is said to treat its subject in a more even-handed manner.
I cannot offer an opinion as to which book is more accurate, having not read either one. Nor am I at all familiar with Mr. Jobs and his life story. The reason why I mention these two biographies about him is because they are a prime example of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in action. Issacson painted his word picture of Jobs, and Schlender and Tetzeli offered theirs in response to his out of their conviction Jobs had been given a posthumous raw deal by Issacson. Admirers of Steve Jobs now have two books they can read and decide for themselves as to which one paints the truest portrait of the man.
Thankfully, the authors of the competing Jobs biographies have gone about it in a respectful and tasteful manner. A far cry from the literary kerfuffle of the mid-1990s which saw journalist Paul Hendrickson go after Robert S. McNamara over his alleged lies about the Vietnam War in the latter’s 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons of Vietnam with a book of his own which claimed to tell the truth about McNamara and Vietnam.
I read both of their books. In my opinion, Hendrickson’s retaliatory 1996 tome The Living and The Dead offered zero evidence as to McNamara’s infidelity with the truth and all but painted the man as an evil genius second only to Ernst Starvo Blofeld. All Hendrickson’s Robert S. McNamara lacked was a cat to pet while he sat in his office dreaming up the latest military operations in Vietnam.
The case of Hendrickson versus McNamra eloquently demonstrates how waging war in the literary arena can get downright mean and dirty—a major risk for any author who wishes to confront another with a book that offers their side of the story.
While responding to a firestorm of criticism being leveled at Bubblews over a decision to either halve member’s earnings or not pay them at all, Bubblews C.E.O. Arvind Dixit claimed:
We reported lots of money that we didn’t have. The money that you “earned” never existed. We didn’t “steal” it and go on vacations to Aruba or buy motorcycles. It just didn’t exist.*
Mr. Dixit’s claim about Bubblews member earnings having “never existed” strains credulity. I have been paid four times by Bubblews since joining the site in October of 2013.
I was paid:
$25.46 USD on November 23rd, 2013
$70 USD on December 31st, 2013
$203.44 USD on February 21st, 2014
And $192.68 USD on April 29th, 2014
for a grand total of $491.58 USD.
This money was very real. Now Arvind Dixit is claiming Bubblews never had any money to pay members with? That is, in a word, disingenuous. As we have seen, members like me were being paid regularly by Bubblews.
In my opinion, Mr. Dixit’s claim about Bubblews having no money to pay members is simply crying poor. It is also a way to help justify the mass cancellation of payment requests made by Bubblews members before November 12th, 2014.**
A tunnel along the Kenilworth Corridor portion of the Southwest Light Rail Transit line could solve the problem of co-locating Twin Cities and Western freight and Metro Transit light rail in the corridor as well as keep the Kenilworth Trail in place. A group named the Kenilworth Preservation Group advocates one as well, such as in this white paper.
The city of Minneapolis is dead set against it, however.
“I don’t want anybody who is not in these deep conversations to think it’s really practical to do a deep tunnel there. If we could, in this area, afford deep tunnels, there would be one in downtown Minneapolis.” Minneapolis Transportation and Public Works Committee chair Sandy Colvin Roy claims in thisSouthwest Journal article. Roy’s claim conveniently ignores the tunnel on the Green (formerly Hiawatha) Line which passes underneath Lindbergh Terminal at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport.
“People really should not get their hearts set on the deep tunnel because we have no idea how much cost it would carry with it. We have no idea how extensive the impact to neighboring communities might be. A lot more work would need to be done before we’d be in a position to take that seriously.” Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak’s policy director Peter Wagenius claimed to the Southwest Journal. Wagenius’ remarks about having no idea what the impact to the “neighboring communities” a tunnel would have flies directly into the face of support for a tunnel demonstrated by the likes of the Kenilworth Preservation Group. “We are proposing to those in charge to consider TUNNELING as not only a viable option but as a solution to preserve this natural resource.” The KPG states on their website. It would behoove Mr. Wagenius to contact this group and get some facts. In fact, Wagenius claimed to the Star Tribune in this article that: “We’re willing to look at tunnel options to keep the project going,” though he added the that Mayor Rybak was tepid to the idea.
This same Star Tribune article reports that a deep tunnel would cost $420 million, while a shallow tunnel would cost $250 million.
It is my opinion that a deep tunnel would be the best option. It could start near Cedar Lake, and end after passing under the Twin Cities & Western in the vicinity of Bass Lake in St. Louis Park. The proposed 21st Street LRT station could be converted into a subway-style one like at Lindbergh Terminal, too.
I believe it would behoove Minneapolis and the Met Council to support a deep tunnel along the Southwest LRT. It would allow the TC&W to remain where it is, keep the Kenilworth Trail intact, and end this long, drawn-out debate raging over transit issues along the Kenilworth Corridor.
Wake up and support a tunnel for the Southwest LRT line, Met Council and the City of Minneapolis!
Ronald F. Maxwell’s Gettysburg –an epic screen adaptation of Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels—has been damned with faint praise from many critics. This article is a point by point refutation of one such review of this grossly underrated motion picture.
“Lavishly produced, lovingly detailed, incredibly pious, GETTYSBURG presents a few days of the Civil War during which occurred the biggest battle ever fought on US soil. Yet the film is too focused to succeed as history in context, and too generalized to triumph as personal drama; instead, it’s a made-for-TV miniseries, shown in theaters, which thrusts a new auteur upon the cinema: reverential Civil War buff Ted Turner.”
This reviewer was plainly ill-suited to review historical dramas. His opening paragraph is also as clear as mud: What does he mean by “too focused to succeed as history in context and good generalized to triumph as personal drama”? Didn’t he read The Killer Angels before he sat down to watch Gettysburg? He would have understood the tone and feel of Maxwell’s adaptation better. Also, the “reverential Civil War buff Ted Turner” comment is clearly a dig at Mr. Turner.
“In 1863, Confederate Generals Lee (Martin Sheen) and Longstreet (Tom Berenger) prepare for a decisive battle with the Union at Gettysburg PA. Meanwhile, Northern Col. Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), an academic by profession, must guard a mutinous troop while also moving his own men into position. Union Gen. Buford (Sam Elliott) traps a Southern unit along a narrow road and attacks before they can move to higher ground. Later in the day, however, the South gets an edge, and Lee, unlike Longstreet, wants to charge to seize hold of several key hills. Aided by flamboyant strategist Gen. Pickett (Stephen Lang), Lee plans his attack. Chamberlain’s men, including almost all of the mutineers, who have a change of heart, hold a vulnerable flank on a crucial hill and, though outnumbered, defend their position and even take prisoners.
After a brief lull, North and South steel themselves for the final and largest skirmish. The South sets up an impressive cover of artillery fire so that its forces can cross a field and take the center of battle–exactly the spot where Chamberlain’s exhausted troops have been placed, in the thought that the center will see little action. Despite this miscalculation by the North, the charge is too long and exposed for the South to succeed, and Lee belatedly realizes his mistake. Only three days have passed, and the Civil War will continue for another two years, but the Battle of Gettysburg has claimed 53,000 lives.”
This is a satisfactory summary of the film itself.
“Director Ronald F. Maxwell, whose previous credits include LITTLE DARLINGS and THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA, is undeniably a filmmaker of talent. He labored on GETTYSBURG for years and, though his respect for the enormity of his task shows up harmfully in his screenplay, it works onscreen. The vistas are impressive, the pacing carefully measured, the acting firm. Endless tracking shots of cannons firing seem a bit too designed to impress with their scale, but the combat scenes are handled with a functional directness which suggests less a lack of imagination than a deliberate attempt to emphasize the gritty chaos of battle. Maxwell is also probably most responsible for the finest sequence of the film, the exciting charge on Little Round Top which ends Part I, with Chamberlain’s incredible defense of the hill including even a successful sweep by his ammunition-starved troops upon the attackers below.”
The mixed thumbs up/thumbs down attitude of this section reveals the reviewer’s forte is not historical dramas and war films. He seems to be grasping as he searches for something to praise and something to criticize.
“The acting is uniformly well-crafted but, because the gifted cast is given little to work with, few memorable characters emerge from this panorama. C. Thomas Howell is good as Chamberlain’s brother Thomas, unable to address his commander sibling properly until he sees the older man in battle, and an extremely (indeed, overly) restrained Sheen has some brief flashes of fire as Lee. But only two actors from the huge cast really manage to make an impression as human beings in GETTYSBURG. The splendid Daniels, although his character has as many platitudes to utter as the next, was actually permitted to stutter as the idealistic college professor turned unlikely war hero. And Richard Jordan, who died soon after filming his role (the film is dedicated to him and to source author Michael Shaara), is deeply moving as Virginia’s General Armistead, crying at the thought of his best friend, a Northerner, perishing in combat.”
The reviewer’s lack of knowledge about the book comes through especially clear in this passage. Ron Maxwell’s script –backed by Shaara’s novel—gave the cast plenty to work with. Their characterizations of the novel’s characters match up beautifully to Shaara’s.
“Ultimately, however, the contributions of director, cast and crew pale beside that of Ted Turner (who plays a cameo role) and that of the medium of TV itself. Aiming to present itself as history rather than a representation of it, GETTYSBURG is a film entirely without a point of view. It dispenses with social critique and, for that matter, irony. Turner presents a Civil War which reveals only the slightest amount of fear and no really malicious intentions. Since the film is focused so intently on the battle alone, the only woman is an onlooker and the only African-American a wounded slave too exhausted to speak. The extras consisted largely of Civil War hobbyists who owned actual uniforms and other paraphernalia; this of course does make them more than ordinary extras, but the insistence of the film’s publicity on calling them “historical re-enactors” is unfortunately emblematic of the production’s pomposity. The dialogue, meanwhile, is crammed with admiring exchanges like “The boys are puttin’ up a hell of a fight”/”They are indeed.” Later on Lee even says, “Does it matter after all who wins?” As with most TV, GETTYSBURG aims not to offend any possible viewing sector of the public, and in that respect it succeeds admirably. After all, this is a Civil War in which everyone can only live or die a hero and, equally importantly, which no one really loses.”
The reviewer is plainly out of his element by now. He has not read the book, so he has no idea what the film was meant to be.
Let Michael Shaara himself explain what his novel was about:
“This is the story of the Battle of Gettysburg, told from the viewpoints of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet and some of the other men who fought there.
Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what the men’s faces looked like. In order to live it he had to write it. This book was written for much the same reason.”
Ron Maxwell followed Shaara’s vision when he made his movie. This refutes the TV Guide reviewer’s gobbledygook arguments against the film in the closing paragraph of his review.
Movie reviewing is-admittedly a thankless task. Reviewers who work for major newspapers and other news outlets are assigned what to watch and review. They have no freedom of choice in the matter. This in turn means Gettysburg was reviewed by critics out of their element like the one whose review was critiqued here.
Here is what the “About” page for this latest screed posted on Facebook claims about the general:
“Left his men for dead while he ran for safety in Australia.”
Described in history books as a great American Icon, military historians and those who served under him paint a different picture. Douglas Macarthur failed both our country and his men during both WWII and Korea. This page is for those who don’t believe the hype about Macarthur the hero and know him as Macarthur the coward…”
And so General MacArthur bashing arrived on Facebook back in 2010 (which is the year this page was created.)
The accusation that reads “Left his men for dead while he ran for safety in Australia” is a barb which lacerates the memory of his escape from the Philippines during the dark days of March, 1942, as the battle (aka siege) of Bataan ground on at the hands of the Japanese Army, Air Force, and Navy. It is an old one which has hung over MacArthur’s head practically since he left his Philippine command post on the island of Corregidor aboard a PT boat.
Louis Morton’s comprehensive history about the fall of the Philippines during World War Two (reproduced in full online here) reveals the truth, one that stands in stark contrast to the ranting’s of that Facebook poster: MacArthur was ordered to leave by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Morton writes: ‘…on 22 February  the President had directed MacArthur to leave the Philippines. His intention to do so had been made clear on the 21st when the Chief of Staff had told the Far East commander that the President was considering the advisability of ordering him to Mindanao to conduct the defense of the Philippines from there.There were numerous advantages to such a move. MacArthur himself had repeatedly pointed out the possibility of continuing resistance from Mindanao by means of guerrilla warfare and had already taken measures to strengthen Brig. Gen. William F. Sharp’s command. If the Allies mounted an air and naval counterattack through the Netherlands Indies, as MacArthur had urged, Mindanao would be the first objective in the Philippines and the base for an invasion of Luzon. Communication with other areas in the Far East would also be more practical from Mindanao than Corregidor. “The foregoing considerations underlie the tentative decision of the President,” Marshall told MacArthur, “but we are not sufficiently informed as to the situation and circumstances to be certain that the proposal meets the actual situation.”
The next day, without waiting for a reply from Corregidor, the President made up his mind about MacArthur’s evacuation. The USAFFE commander was to leave Fort Mills as quickly as possible and proceed to Mindanao where he would remain long enough “to insure a prolonged defense.” From there he was to go on to Australia.’ (Read Morton’s full account here.)
But account’s like Morton’s mattered little to this Facebook user who, for some reason, has a grudge against Douglas MacArthur.What about the Facebook poster’s accusation against MacArthur about Korea? That is in relation to how -admittedly- MacArthur (and others, including President Harry S Truman) under-estimated the threat Mao Zedong’s Communist forces massed on the China-Korea border posed to MacArthur’s forces as they neared the border late in 1950 after driving the North Korean People’s Army out of South Korea. Historian (and MacArthur biographer) D. Clayton James in this article carefully sifts through the facts about this thorny matter. But -again- accounts like James’ did not matter a whit to this brain-dead, Douglas MacArthur hater who has found a home for his anti-MacArthur screed’s in the overrated social network Mark Zuckerberg became (in)famous for.’Nuff said.
Despite how “Band of Brothers” was a tough act to follow, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ 2010 follow-up “The Pacific” did get one thing incredibly right: how hellish combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations was; especially the battle that occupies the most screen time in “The Pacific”: Peleliu.
Peleliu was hardly the idyllic island you could find in Rogers and Hammerstein’s languid musical South Pacific. In fact, had that musical dynamic duo set foot on there during the battle I doubt they would have even wanted to do South Pacific. On this island, the First Marine Division shed its blood to the point it’s rifle regiments needed major reconstitution afterward. The deadly new tactics first adopted by the Japanese at Peleliu of forcing the Allies to come to them as opposed to wasting their lives in suicidal mass attacks was to thank for the carnage there.
Thank you, Steven and Tom, for showing us what combat in the Pacific Theater of Operations was truly like at hellish places such as Peleliu.
In Richard Schikel’s article “Bombs and Smashes” in the LIFE book Our Call to Arms; The Attack on Pearl Harbor, he lauds the film better entitled Pathetic Harbor right and left. “Pearl Harbor is a spectacular orchestration of special effects.” He gushed. “[Michael} Bay and [Jerry} Bruckheimer are acutely conscious of the fact that, because of the costs involved-not to mention the alarming decline in the public’s historical consciousness-this is probably the last time this battle will be represented on screen. Their account is loaded with true anecdotes about the attack, gathered from close to a hundred interviews with survivors. Typical is a low-flying Japanese pilot trying to wave away some kids playing baseball, warning them to take cover before the bombs begin falling.
“On the other hand, they are forthright about the fact that their film follows the Titanic model, foregrounding an entirely fictional love story.” Schikel prattled on. “They need the female audience that is generally turned off by war movies. As Bay coolly says of James Cameron’s megahit, “without the love story, all you have is a sinking ship.” Bay has a lot more of them, obviously, but that’s not necessarily an advantage in attracting the vast audience he needs.”
Here Schikel demonstrates a bias towards the 2001 travesty at the expense of all other dramas that either touch on or depict outright the Pearl Harbor attack. He also demonstrates a poor grasp of history: the incident involving a Japanese pilot waving away children playing baseball originated in the imagination of screenwriter Randall Wallace; there is not so much as a single incident recorded during the attack that even remotely resembles it. But Schikel cared nothing for getting his facts straight. He also let slim a damning glimpse of the mentality of directory Michael Bay. Slavishly copying James Cameron’s flick better entitled Two Teen Lovers at Sea was more important than trying to make something more meaningful about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Schikel wrapped his pro-Pathetic Harbor tract starting with a snub of Tora! Tora! Tora!, saying of the 1970 classic: “With its stern avoidance of romance, of overt villainy and hyped heroism, it may also be a cinematic gesture as nutty as [Gregg]Toland’s. Imagine thinking the inherent drama of a huge historical event could hold people’s attention without the interpolation of doomed romance and period songs.
Bay and Bruckheimer rely on such disarming effects. They also seem to feel that we are finally so far away from the date that was supposed to live in infamy that we can regard it with a certain measure of equanimity. Once, Pearl Harbor very usefully made our patriotic blood boil; now, possibly we can see it as a nostalgic-even romantic-footnote in the annals of human folly. In other words, in the moviemakers’ calculation, Pearl Harbor is, like the Titanic, perfectly ripe for Hollywood.” **
“Doomed romance and period songs” amount to nothing more than hackneyed cliché, a fact Schikel conveniently glosses over in his rush to promote the Bay-Bruckheimer abomination. They do nothing to hold people’s attention! What is more, the success Gettysburg, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and “Band of Brothers” has enjoyed with the movie and miniseries-viewing public demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt you most certainly do not need “doomed romance and period songs” to grip viewer interest.
Schikel is right about one thing when he wrote: ” … it has yet to tempt any writer or filmmaker of true eminence. It is a Battle of Borodino awaiting Tolstoy, an Aqaba looking for David Lean.” ***
It is not, however, a story worthy of the meager talents of vapid hacks like Michael Bay or James Cameron, and the insipid, shallow, sex and violence-laden extravaganzas they foist on a jaded public.
The type of film we need about Pearl Harbor is one that combines the meticulous accuracy of the Tora! Tora! Tora! with the historical cast and humanity of Gettysburg. It would be a film that would hold the interest of viewers thanks to two key elements: historical accuracy and compelling real-life figures who played a part in the saga. Ranging from admirals to lieutenants; destroyer skippers to dive bomber pilots; and so on and so forth. There are so many compelling stories from both sides that a film which depicts a cross-section of them like Gettysburg did would reflect due credit on everyone who was present on that fateful Sunday. Honor for some of the participants in turn means honor for all. Just look at what the story of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division did for WWII vets as a whole after “Band of Brothers” hit the airwaves!
Oh yes, this is the type of Pearl Harbor movie we need, Richard Schikel! Not the vapid fact-twisting fantasies you were so enamored of. ‘Nuff said.