Friday, March 31, 2017

Book box set review: Rick Atkinson's 'The Liberation Trilogy'

(C) 2013, Henry Holt and Co
On October 22, 2013, Henry Holt and Co., a publishing company that operates under the umbrella of Macmillan Publishers, released the box set of  Rick Atkinson's The Liberation Trilogy, a monumental account of how the Anglo-American alliance liberated Western Europe and helped usher in the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. 

The trilogy consists of the Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa 1942-1943; The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944; and The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe 1944-1945. Published over a period of 11 years, these works showcase some of the best historical writing about World War II since Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far came out in 1974. 

(Want to read my reviews of the three books? Just click on the links you see on the preceding paragraph.)

The definitive chronicle of the Allied triumph in Europe during World War II, Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy is now together in one boxed set

From the war in North Africa to the invasion of Normandy, the Liberation Trilogy recounts the hard fought battles that led to Allied victory in Second World War. Pulitzer Prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author Rick Atkinson brings great drama and exquisite detail to the retelling of these battles and gives life to a cast of characters, from the Allied leaders to military rifleman in combat. His accomplishment is monumental: The Liberation Trilogy is the most vividly told, brilliantly researched World War II narrative to date. - Publisher's blurb,

How good are these books?  

As the reviewer for the Chicago Tribune wrote about Atkinson in a review of An Army at Dawn, Atkinson is a "[m]aster of the telling profile... This vivid, personality-driven account of the campaign to drive Axis forces from North Africa shows the political side of waging war, even at the tactical level." 

And the citation for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for history says, in part, that the book is "a monumental history of the overshadowed combat in North Africa during World War II that brings soldiers, generals, and bloody battles alive through masterful storytelling."

The critics also hailed The Day of Battle and The Guns at Last Light as worthy heirs to The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. The New York Times’ reviewer hailed The Day of Battle as "a triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sights and sounds of battle."  

In 2013, Britain's eminent historian Max Hastings wrote in his Wall Street Journal review of The Guns at Last Light:  “A magnificent book… Though the story may seem familiar, I found surprising detail on every page… Atkinson’s account of D-Day is both masterly and lyrical… [He] is an absolute master of his material.”

So, yes, these are extremely good books, and definitely worthy additions to any history buff's collection.

Now, I don't always buy books in hardcover editions; they're expensive (each book in The Liberation Trilogy costs $40, unless you get it at Amazon or the Barnes & Noble website). I usually purchase big books in their softcover editions, which usually cost around half the price of the original hardbacks. 

I also hardly ever buy box sets, much less hardcover box sets unless they're reference works related to topics I love (The Star Trek Encyclopedia two-volume set comes to mind). If you think single-volume hardcovers are pricey, think about how expensive multiple volume sets can be. 

The asking price for The Liberation Trilogy, if you order it from Powell's or Indie Bound, is $120.00 plus shipping and handling. This, folks, is too expensive for me. 

However, Amazon and B& offer The Liberation Trilogy box set for a bit less than that. The former site sells the collection for $63.31 (with free shipping for Amazon Prime members), while Barnes and Noble's online price is $74.01. That's still expensive, but still 38% off the publisher's asking price. 

I chose to get this box set because I've already worn out my first paperback edition of An Army at Dawn and was rarely handling the replacement copy, which was also in paperback. I once owned the hardcover of The Day of Battle, but it suffered extensive water damage a few years ago when a pipe broke in the bathroom next to my bedroom and flooded much of the upstairs half of the house. I replaced it with the paperback edition in 2014, but I only re-read it once so it would not get dog-eared.

At first, I figured I'd get each book individually, but when I saw that Amazon was selling the box set at 47% of the suggested price, I couldn't resist. (I had enough Amazon Shop with Points rewards, too, so I used some of them to help pay my order.)

The box set is about as good as you can expect from such items. Including the slipcover, the three-book collection weighs 7.7 pounds. Its total dimensions are 6.5 x 5.2 x 9.6 inches, so make sure you have space in your bookshelves for it. I tried to put it in the same space where the older copies of The Liberation Trilogy had been, but the paperbacks are slightly smaller, so I had to rearrange other books on the bookshelf to get this set to fit properly. 

The slipcover is made of thick, sturdy paperboard. The spine features photos of the author and the three books of The Liberation Trilogy; the front and back cover are graced with the photo used on the front cover of The Guns at Last Light and the titles of the book arranged from top to bottom. It highlights the Pulitzer Prize-winning status earned by An Army at Dawn, and the design is rather nice. 

If you haven't purchased Atkinson's thrilling-yet-elegaic look at how the Allies created the long-awaited Second Front that prevented Hitler from defeating the Soviet Union and formed one half of the vise that crushed Nazi Germany from the east and west, then The Liberation Trilogy might be right for you. It's pricey, even with Amazon and B&N's huge discounts, but it's a box set worth getting.  


Dispatches from Trump's America: Flynn mulls testifying about contacts with Russian officials before election

"When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime." - Michael Flynn to Chuck Todd, Meet the Press, September 25, 2016

With the news that former national security adviser Michael "Mike" Flynn is offering testimony before the Congressional hearing about alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials prior to Donald J. Trump's election in exchange for immunity, cracks are beginning to open in the President's wall of denial and obfuscation.

According to an Associated Press report published in MSN News, it looks like the disgraced Flynn - who was either fired or forced to resign after the revelation that he had talked about existing sanctions on Russian government figures with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December - is willing to talk...but only if he is granted full immunity. 

"General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit," attorney Robert Kelner said Thursday.
Kelner said no "reasonable person" with legal counsel would answer questions without assurances that he would not be prosecuted, given calls from some members of Congress that the retired lieutenant general should face criminal charges.
Flynn's ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are under investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees. Both committees are looking into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.
I wonder, though, if Flynn, who either has a bad memory or a diminished sense of irony,  understands the concept of karma. 
After all, if he didn't commit a crime, why is he asking Congress for immunity, right?


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blu-ray/DVD set review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens: SteelBook' Best Buy exclusive

(C) 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. and Buena Vista Home Entertainment
In April of 2016, less than four months after the theatrical premiere of J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) released the blockbuster movie on Blu-ray and DVD. This home media release was a huge success in its initial run; The Force Awakens was the No. 1 best-selling Blu-ray/DVD combo set at Amazon and other retailers, including Best Buy.

As I wrote in my review of that release:

Buena Vista Home Entertainment did a remarkable job with its first BD/DVD of a Star Wars feature film. J.J. Abrams’ foray to that galaxy far, far away looks and sounds great on HD TVs, especially large sets connected to 5.1 stereo home theater systems.

What I didn't know at the time was that Disney-owned BVHE had released, in addition to its regular plastic-packaged Blu-ray/DVD combo three-disc set, a SteelBook edition exclusively for Best Buy. 

Now, if you are a regular reader of A Certain Point of View, you know that I purchased the 20th Century Fox Limited Edition Steelbook 1-disc sets of Lucasfilm's first six Star Wars movies in 2015. I didn't have to. I already had two different versions of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga 9-BD box set; I simply wanted to get the steelbook versions for their "limited edition" packaging.

So, yes, I have to admit that when I saw that a third-party seller on the Amazon website was selling mint-condition sets of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the Best Buy-exclusive, I just couldn't resist.
I already had the Prequel and Classic Trilogies in steelbooks, so why not get this one, too?

I'm relatively sure that the seller (youlikethat, if you really must know) probably raised the price a little (on the Best Buy site, this set is available for $24.99 before taxes and shipping; youlikethat offered The Force Awakens for $30.14, but charged $0.00 for sales tax or shipping). I still think I got a good bargain for a BD/DVD that I might only watch (after testing it for defects, natch) if my original discs are damaged. (Hey, it happens!)

The Packaging:

In some ways, BHVE's SteelBook edition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens resembles its 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment counterparts. The packaging is similar in size, and it's made out of metal. The cover art is also similar; the front cover features a close-up rendering of the villainous Kylo Ren and his wicked-looking lightsaber, with the movie's iconic logo on the lower left-hand corner.

Fox's Steelbook covers feature (mostly) villains from the first Star Wars films, as well as the Episodes' subtitles (The Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith, etc.) under the saga's famous logo. (C) 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

However, the similarities between the 2015 Fox Steelbooks and BHVE's The Force Awakens set end there, with the logo. Where the Fox packaging have the famous Star Wars logo on one corner with the movie's subtitle under it (see illustration above), The Force Awakens' iconic yellow, black, and white logo is used on the cover.

Also, instead of a partial rendering of Drew Struzan's poster, The Force Awakens' SteelBook features a painting of the First Order's menacing stormtrooper commander, Captain Phasma.


The three-disc set consists of:

BD 1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens - This disc contains the 136-minute long feature film in 1080p high definition. The disc art features a still image of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by First Order TIE fighters over the desert planet Jakku. The film is presented in widescreen format with a slightly higher aspect ratio (2.40:1) than the theatrical release’s original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Audio options include an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, as well as French (Canadian) and Spanish audio tracks in Dolby 5.1 stereo.

The BD also features subtitles in English (for hearing impaired viewers), French, and Spanish.

BD 2: Bonus Features - This disc contains several extra features devoted to the making of The Force Awakens. These include:

Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey -- For the first time, discover the complete story behind the making of The Force Awakens, revealed through in-depth footage and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers in this full-length documentary.

The Story Awakens: The Table Read -- Cast members, familiar and new, reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie's script.

Building BB-8 -- See how J.J. Abrams and team brought the newest droid to the screen, creating an instant fan favorite in the Star Wars universe.

Crafting Creatures -- Watch movie magic as the filmmakers bring a cast of new creatures to life.

Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight -- Go deeper into the epic, climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren.

John Williams: The Seventh Symphony -- The legendary composer shares personal insights of his work on Star Wars and The Force Awakens.

ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force -- An insider's look into the remarkable digital artistry of the movie's visual effects.

Plus -- Deleted Scenes

The BD label art is a black-and-white photo featuring director J.J. Abrams and the cast of “The Force Awakens” at a table reading during the movie’s pre-production. All of the documentaries and featurettes have the same video, audio and subtitle specifications as the feature film.

DVD: Star Wars: The Force Awakens - This disc contains the standard definition version of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for DVD players and computers that can’t play Blu-ray discs. The cover art depicts Rey and the Sequel Trilogy’s new droid sidekick, BB-8, as they trek across sand dunes on Jakku.

My Take

I have already reviewed the film and the original Blu-ray release, so apart from describing the contents of this set (which don't differ in any way from BVHE's 2016 edition) I won't go into "reviewer" mode about the film or the extra features. After all, this is really more of a collector's item, right?

Since Disney-owned BVHE, Lucasfilm, or Bad Robot Productions didn't add any special content to the discs in their Best Buy exclusive release, I have to admit that I bought this set mainly for the SteelBook packaging.  It's similar in dimensions and design to its 20th Century Fox precursors. even though (as I said earlier) there are subtle differences in the artwork. The cover art is well-done and the durable metal case is sturdier than the black plastic "jewel box" packaging of BVHE's less-pricey Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why do lefties like Castro and Che so much? Or, Where I strongly disagree with American liberals

Why do some American liberals admire these two Marxist revolutionaries, anyway?
Although I used to consider myself a middle-of-the road voter when I was younger, I suppose some of my more conservative friends would call me a liberal. After all, I support women’s rights, LGBT rights, the Civil Rights movement, and I’m very open-minded about sex. I’m also not very religious and strongly support a woman’s right to choose.
That having been said, there are some issues/opinions that are espoused by many liberals, especially those on the extreme left of the political spectrum. In no particular order, here are my top peeves:
  1. Anti-vaccination movement
  2. Free universal college tuition
  3. The notion that the military and intelligence communities are inherently “evil” and that the U.S. should never, ever resort to military force
  4. The 9–11 conspiracy theory that claims the attacks on Manhattan and Washington were carried out by the CIA and the U.S. military
  5. The idolization of Communist/leftist leaders such as the late Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Hugo Chavez

Dispatches from Trump's America: Why I dislike Donald Trump - the Central Park Five

If you are a regular reader of A Certain Point of View, you know that I'm not a fan of Donald J. Trump, the New York City real estate mogul and former reality TV star who now occupies the White House. I wasn't happy when he won the Republican Party nomination as its Presidential candidate last summer, and I was crushed when he won an Electoral College victory during the general election in November. I thought then, and I still think now, that Mr. Trump's moral character, code of ethics, and temperament make him the least suitable man to earn the title leader of the Free World. 

I suppose that many of my readers - especially those of you who disagree with me about politics - think that I'm just a liberal Democratic voter who's sore because Hillary Clinton lost and The Donald won. Oh, if it were only that simple. Well, it's not. 

First, as I may have said in other posts that I've written about Mr. Trump, I have never registered to vote as either a Republican or a Democrat. Ever since I received my voter's registration card in February of 1984, the letters NPA appear next to where it says "Party Affiliation."  I've never voted straight-ticket for candidates of either side; I've always been proud of my philosophy of voting on issues, not political parties.  As a result, I've voted for politicians from both sides of the aisle. 

As I've grown older, I have discovered that my values and political beliefs tend to lean more toward the Democratic Party than to the GOP. I'm liberal as far as social issues are concerned, but conservative on foreign policy and national defense. (The best comparison to see what my political tenets are is this: if I could choose any President to represent my values, it would be Franklin D. Roosevelt.), folks. Even though I disagree with all of his policies and actions so far, my dislike of Mr. Trump isn't merely about politics. It's about the man himself. 

Take, for instance, his personal crusade to tar the "Central Park Five" as guilty of committing a heinous crime (the rape of a jogger in New York's Central Park) even after they were exonerated - via DNA evidence -- in a court of law. 

Per CNN: 

In 1989, after five teenagers were arrested for the rape of a woman in Central Park, Donald Trump took out an ad in The New York Times calling for the death penalty. The men were convicted, but later exonerated. 

And according to a 2016 article by NBC News writer Benjy Sarlin, Mr. Trump continues to insist that the five men are guilty to this day.

Wading into a racially-charged case from his past, Donald Trump indicated that the "Central Park Five" were guilty, despite being officially exonerated by DNA evidence decades after a notorious 1989 rape case.
"They admitted they were guilty," Trump said to CNN in a statement.
"The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."
The five men were convicted as teenagers after implicating each other under intense questioning over a brutal sexual assault on a jogger that dominated the tabloids. Defenders said they were coerced into confessing and all five were later cleared by DNA evidence and a separate confession in 2002 from another criminal who took credit for the assault.
How, I ask you, can I respect, much even like, a man who never acknowledges that he made a mistake, that he made it his mission in life to have five innocent men executed, and refuses to apologize to them for his public accusations? 

I mean, honestly now. If the state of New York can admit that there was a miscarriage of justice and pay $41 million in restitution for the wrongful conviction, why can't the President of the United States apologize to Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise?

As a Hillary Clinton's campaign statement cited by NBC puts it: 

"The facts here are clear: These men were exonerated. Another man has admitted to committing the crime, as proven by DNA evidence," the campaign said in a statement. "Trump rushed to judgment on the case, has refused to admit he is wrong and continues to peddle yet another racist lie, a pattern for him and a clear reason why he is unfit to be president." 


Book Review: 'Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire'

American military history - as well as that of our adversaries - is full of controversies. And even though the Second World War is a rare case where the morality of the Allied cause is indisputable, the nature of the conflict and the fateful decisions made by the Axis and Allies still stir up heated debates about how it was fought - and how it was brought to an end.

As historian Richard B. Frank writes in his introduction to Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, "[h]ow World War II ended in the Pacific remains one of the great controversies in American - and Japanese - history. At the center of this controversy is the atomic bomb. Indeed, almost all accounts of this period position atomic weaponry as the hub around which other considerations orbit. This approach, however, profoundly fails to recreate history as it originally unfolded."

As a result of this fixation with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a mythology has been created in both the U.S. and Japan regarding the necessity to use atomic bombs in the summer of 1945 at all. This mythology - which has been embraced by both well-meaning liberals and anti-American revisionists that seek to recast the Allies as the villains of World War II - states that Japan was ready - even eager - to surrender by July of 1945 and that the A-bombs were dropped to scare the Soviet Union into accepting American hegemony in the postwar world.

However, as Downfall illustrates, this version of events is not accurate. In the summer of 1945, the militarist regime led by Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki knew that Japan was losing the war, yet they refused to accede to the Allied demand for an unconditional surrender. General Korechika Anami, the War Minister, and his colleague Yoshijiro Umezu were convinced that when the American invasion came, Japan's military and civilian population, including women and children, would resist to the death.

Thus, even as a "peace" faction in the Suzuki government attempted to entice a still-neutral Soviet Union to act as a middleman in any negotiations between Tokyo and the Anglo-American Allies, Umezu and Anami, aided by other Army generals, conceived Operation Ketsu, a detailed plan to build up the defenses of Kyushu, the southernmost of the four Home Islands. Its geographic location made Kyushu the most logical invasion site for Allied forces in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz were in the midst of planning Operation Downfall, the amphibious invasion of Japan. Conceived with the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the spring of 1945 (even as American soldiers and Marines were locked in a life-or-death struggle for Okinawa), Downfall was intended to end Japanese resistance and end the war in the Pacific, with or without the use of nuclear weapons.

In a riveting narrative that includes information from newly declassified documents, acclaimed historian Richard B. Frank gives a scrupulously detailed explanation of the critical months leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb. Frank explains how American leaders learned in the summer of 1945 that their alternate strategy to end the war by invasion had been shattered by the massive Japanese buildup on Kyushu, and that intercepted diplomatic documents also revealed the dismal prospects of negotiation. Here also, for the first time, is a comprehensive account of how Japan's leaders were willing to risk complete annihilation to preserve the nation's existing order. Frank's comprehensive account demolishes long-standing myths with the stark realities of this great historical controversy. - Publisher's blurb, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire

My Take

Of course, we know that the two invasions of Japan that comprised the Downfall plan - Olympic/Majestic and Coronet -  were never carried out. Olympic (later renamed Majestic) was the code name for the invasion of Kyushu and was scheduled to begin on X-Day, November 1, 1945. The U.S. Sixth Army, commanded by Gen. Walter Kreuger, would have fielded 12 Army and Marine Corps divisions. As Frank notes, "Olympic's projected commitment numbered 766.700 men, 134,000 vehicles, and 1,470,930 tons of material. To lift the twelve divisions in the assault, CINCPAC projected the use of armada of 1,315 major amphibious vessels. Southern Kyushu would become a huge air and naval base, and the air garrison would number forty air groups with approximately 2,794 aircraft." Coronet, Frank adds, would have involved a larger force, including Army troops redeployed from newly-liberated Europe.

As a long-time student of World War II, I have never agreed with the fanciful argument that President  Harry S Truman made a bad decision by authorizing the use of the Bomb against Japan. Critics of that decision often cite intercepts of Japanese diplomatic cables that indicate Tokyo's willingness to end the war without either an invasion or a naval blockade of the Home Islands. They also claim that Truman was aware of Japan's intentions to seek peace, but dropped the Bomb anyway to deter Soviet designs in East Asia and prevent a repetition of what the Red Army was doing in Eastern Europe.

Furthermore, the Truman-was-wrong crowd has constantly said that the Japanese military was on its last legs and that an invasion of the Home Islands would not have been as costly as the President claimed in his memoirs.

But, as Frank shows in Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, the critics and naysayers are wrong. The Japanese Army was badly depleted, but it still had several million men under arms, including 900,000 soldiers on Kyushu alone. Allied intelligence indicated that the ratio of attacker to defender in the Olympic invasion area would be roughly 1:1; the formula for a successful invasion called for a 3:1 ratio. The evenness of both forces would have resulted in heavy casualties for the American soldiers and Marines; the rough estimate that Truman cites in his postwar writings about the use of nuclear weapons is 1,000,000 men would have been killed, wounded, or missing.

Japan, of course, would have fared worse had an invasion taken place. Millions of soldiers, airmen, and civilians would have been killed or wounded, disease would have ran rampant on Kyushu and Honshu, and reconstructing the devastated nation would have cost countless billions of dollars. As horrible as the death toll from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were, they pale in comparison to the butcher's bill that Olympic and Coronet would have extracted from the invaders and the defenders.

I enjoyed reading Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. Richard B. Frank is a meticulous researcher and a gifted writer. He explains in clear and crisp prose what the realities on the ground were for both sides. At the same time, he dissects each element of the invasion vs. blockade strategies that the Allies had in 1945, as well as the true position of the Japanese government regarding peace before and after the use of the atomic bombs and Russia's entry into the Pacific War.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dispatches from Trump's America: Trump blames GOP conservatives for Trumpcare's failure

Remember last week's failure of Donald J. Trump's much-touted American Health Care Act ("Trumpcare") to pass through the Republican-controlled Congress? You know, the President's ballyhooed and long-promised project to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act of 2010?

Well, guess who Mr. Trump is pinning the blame on? Can you give me three guesses?

Ready? Go!

If you said that he, like all good leaders tend to do, took responsibility for Trumpcare's big failure last Friday, you'd be wrong.

According to ABC News, Mr. Trump once again logged on to Twitter to accuse the GOP, especially the uber-conservative House Freedom Caucus. This influential group of  Republican members of the House of Representatives refused to sign off on the AHCA in part because it would leave millions of Americans without medical insurance.

In a sarcastic tweet from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, Mr. Trump said:

The Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After so many bad years they were ready for a win!

And sounding more like a petulant toddler than the 45th President of the U.S., Mr Trump also said that the ACA, also known as Obamacare by its detractors, was going to self-destruct soon.

ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!

In addition, Mr. Trump once again tried to deflect attention from the growing suspicions that members of his campaign and/or political advisers, including current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had business and politically-motivated links to Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

Again, via Twitter, Mr. Trump accused former President Bill Clinton and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of having shady dealings of their own with Russia's kleptocracy.

Yesterday, after he tweeted about healthcare, Mr. Trump had this to say:

Why isn't the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech....

and this: to Bill, the Hillary Russian "reset," praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company. Trump Russia story is a hoax. !

Per ABC News:

The tweets were not the first instance in which Trump sought to blame Hillary Clinton for a deal between Russia's nuclear power agency and a Canadian company. The non-partisan fact-checking organization Politifact has rated the claim "Mostly False," citing Hillary Clinton's "lack of power to approve or reject the deal."

Many Americans are not buying this deal, however. A Twitter user using the handle @tonyposnanki replied to the President:

And the FBI isn't investigating Bill and Hillary. They're investigating you.


Book Review: Marvel Comics' hardcover compilation of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

(C) 2016 Marvel Comics & Lucasfilm Ltd. Cover art by Phil Noto
On December 6, 2016, Marvel Comics published Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a 136-page hardcover compilation of the six-issue comics adaptation of director J.J. Abrams' eponymous blockbuster space-fantasy film.

Written by novelist, screenwriter, and game designer Chuck Wendig (Star Wars: Aftermath) and illustrated by Luke Ross and Frank Martin, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is based on the screenplay by J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, as well as the characters and situations created by George Lucas.


It's been three decades since the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star and toppled the Galactic Empire...but now, on the remote planet of Jakku...there is a stirring in The Force. A young scavenger named Rey...a deserting Stormtrooper named ace pilot named Poe...and a dark apprentice named Kylo Ren...their lives are about to collide as the awakening begins. Writer Chuck Wendig (Star Wars: Aftermath) and artist Luke Ross (Hercules) take us back into the saga of a lifetime! - Publisher's blurb, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Following in the footsteps of Marvel's Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin (and Dark Horse Comics' Henry Gilroy and Christopher "Miles Lane" Cerasi), Wendig follows the script by Abrams, Arndt, and Kasdan as closely as the comics format allows. 

As in the 2015 film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are dead. The Galactic Empire has fallen, and the Rebel Alliance now governs the galaxy as the democratic New Republic. 

But in the farthest corners of the galaxy, a remnant of the Empire - the First Order - has arisen. Led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, the First Order has created a fleet of Star Destroyers and raised an army of highly indoctrinated stormtroopers. Aided by a group of minions that includes General Hux, Captain Phasma, and a dark side adept named Kylo Ren, Snoke seeks to destroy the New Republic and restore Palpatine's fascist New Order to power. 

To accomplish this ultimate goal, the First Order has built Starkiller Base, a dreadful super-weapon  even more powerful than the Empire's two dreaded Death Stars. Essentially an armed mobile ice planet, Starkiller Base takes the Death Star's planet-killing concept and improves on it. Instead of having the ability to destroy single planets at a time, this super-weapon can incinerate multiple systems with a single salvo of its "dark energy" emitter. 

But before Snoke can proceed with his master plan to destroy the New Republic and a Resistance movement that has emerged against the First Order, he must find Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi Knight. Luke has disappeared, and until he is found, he poses a threat to the First Order's very existence.

So when the First Order learns that Lor San Tekka, an old adventurer who lives on the desert world of Jakku, has a star map with Luke's last known location, Snoke sends Kylo Ren, General Hux, and Captain Phasma to retrieve it. 

But wait! Poe Dameron, a Resistance pilot assigned by General Leia Organa to find her brother Luke, has acquired the map and entrusted it to his droid, BB-8. Now Poe, a former stormtrooper named Finn, and the young scavenger known only as Rey are the only obstacles between the First Order and the fate of the New Republic. 

My Take

This Marvel Comics hardcover is the seventh and (until the publisher releases a volume for the comics adaptation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) final book in editor Mark D. Beazley's Star Wars adaptations series. 

Like the books based on the Classic and Prequel Trilogies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens shares many visual elements. The book has roughly the same dimensions as the previous entries in the series, and the layout is done more or less in the same style. The only difference is on the title page, which is more like the end credits sequence of The Force Awakens than it is like the same page in the other books.

Also, Beazley adds an additional touch when he introduces the book with static renditions of the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" card, the yellow-on-black Star Wars logo, and the main title crawl - word for word - from The Force Awakens. The only thing missing here, folks, is the stirring score by composer John Williams. 

As for the content, the book is divided into six chapters, one of each of the six issues created by writer Chuck Wendig and artists Luke Ross and Frank Martin. Each chapter, in turn, is introduced with a reproduction of the corresponding issue cover. For instance, Chapter One features a painting that depicts Finn, Rey, BB-8, the Millennium Falcon, and a TIE fighter on Jakku, while Chapter Two is heralded by Mike Mayhew's illustration of Rey, BB-8, Finn, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron.

Okay, but what about the content? You know, the writing and the art?

Chuck Wendig tends to use a spare, clean style of prose that can be characterized as minimalist. I'm not referring to the dialogue spoken by the characters; their lines, condensed as they must be from the movie to the comics page, were written by Abrams, Kasdan, and Arndt. But where Marvel's Classic Trilogy's comics featured veritably verbose narrative descriptions, Wendig is content with an occasional reminder of where the action is taking place. 

The artistic style used by illustrator Luke Ross and colorist Frank Martin is up to par with the works of Doug Wheatley and Rodolfo Damaggio, two of the Dark Horse Comics artists who contributed to the Prequel Trilogy books. Ross tends to have a kinetic style that somehow manages to match the pace and energy of Abrams' movie and translate it into the printed page.       

As with all the books in this series, collection editor closes the book with a gallery of art used in various cover variants. My favorite is John Tyler Christopher's Action Figure variant for issue #5.

(C) 2016 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. Kylo Ren Action Figure variant cover art by John Tyler Christopher

I love Christopher's cover because it was done in the same style as the original Star Wars action figure packaging used by Kenner Toys between 1978 and 1985. I've been an avid collector since I was 15, and this clever concept brought back memories of those first Star Wars action figures.

The only gripes I have about this particular book are that the gallery only takes up one page and doesn't include any preliminary artwork or original art without the text, and that the editors, once again, didn't ask anyone connected with Abrams' film to write a foreword. The only books in this series that have "celebrity intros" are the adaptations of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Maybe I'm in the minority group of fans when it comes to which trilogies deserve to be enshrined as "true canon," but as much as I love the Classic Trilogy, I believe that the other two trilogies matter. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dispatches from Trump's America: Those pesky Russia connections simply won't go away

During the past two months, Donald J. Trump and his various spokespeople (Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway being the chief mouthpieces of the Administration) have stated that no one in the Administration has any links to Russia or its kleptocratic leader, Vladimir Putin. And, despite evidence to the contrary, they insist that there is no hint that Russian hackers with connections to Russia's military intelligence agencies planted "fake news" in U.S. social media sites and tried to sway the election in Mr. Trump's favor. 

In one of Mr. Trump's rare Presidential press conferences back in February, he repeated this claim even after he had to accept then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for allegedly misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his pre-election contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. 

According to a February 16 report on (National Public Radio's website), Mr. Trump vehemently denied any link between his campaign and members of Putin's government:

Asked at the news conference about reports that members of the Trump staff were in contact with Russia during the campaign, Trump said, "Nobody that I know of."

Well, Mr. Trump is - as he is wont to do - constantly denying that he or any of his advisers have had any relationship with Moscow since his campaign started in 2015.  He also swears that any suggestions to the contrary are clever exercises in political misdirection by his adversaries.  

Again, per NPR:

"Russia is a ruse," Trump said. "I know you have to get up and ask a question. It's so important." He reiterated, "Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn't. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago."

Unfortunately, we think Mr. Trump doth protest too much. 

Not only do Mr. Trump's statements in support of Brexit (Great Britain's departure from the European Union) and his belief that the NATO alliance is obsolete play into the hands of Putin and his oligarch friends in the Kremlin, but at least five highly-placed individuals in Trump's campaign and present Administration have connections with Moscow. 

Inside this week's Time cover story, "Is Truth Dead?" (page 36, April 3, 2017 issue) there is a graphic titled Russia and the Trump Campaign. 

Under the banner "Trump's People," the following men are listed as having had business ties with or accepted money from individuals and agencies within the Russian government:

  • Mike Flynn, former National Security Adviser. According to the print version of the article, "routine intercepts of (Russian ambassador) Kislyak's calls overheard Flynn discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia while President Obama was still in office. Flynn was also paid over $33,000 to speak at a gala for Russia's state-run broadcaster RT." 
  • Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager.  Time writes: "Manafort was Trump's campaign manager during the pivotal conclusion of the Republican primaries and the start of the general election. He was pushed out of the campaign over concerns about his consultancy work on behalf of Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovich - who was backed by the Kremlin. 
  • Jeff Sessions, Attorney General. At his confirmation hearing, Sessions denied having communications with Russian representatives. However, "on March 1, the Washington Post revealed that Sessions had met twice with Moscow's envoy Kislyak while serving as one of Trump's top 2016 advisors."
  • Roger Stone, Adviser. Per Time: "The veteran GOP adviser and longtime Trump confidant admitted to communicating with Guccifer 2.0, a hacking group that claimed responsibility for leaking a stolen trove of Democratic National Committee documents in the 2016 campaign. Stone claims that the contacts were "completely innocuous and denies any connections to Russia." Oh, did we mention that it was Stone who recommended that Trump hire Manafort to run his campaign?
  • Carter Page, Campaign Adviser. Last year, Mr. Trump "identified Page, a former investment banker who has done business in Russia, as an adviser." Four months later, he "gave a speech in Moscow in which he criticized U.S. foreign policy to Russia."
I think this quintet doth protest too much. I also believe that no on in the White House, from Mr. Trump, can tell the truth to the American people.

As the online edition of Time's article "Can Trump Handle the Truth?" laments:

And what reality is Trump creating? He entered national politics in 2011 peddling the incredible theory that Obama might have been born in Africa–and therefore constitutionally barred from the presidency. In those days Trump was widely dismissed as a reckless self-promoter, though he clung to his story for five years, using it to get television bookings and newspaper coverage, before surrendering it with a shrug. Looking back, it’s striking to see a future President testing the waters by charging the elected incumbent with fraud and illegitimacy without introducing a shred of evidence.

That was a fitting warm-up for Trump’s official entry into the 2016 campaign. The Mexican government, he alleged, is deliberately dumping its hoodlums in the U.S. Later that year, he answered the Paris terrorist attacks by claiming, without substantiation, that he had seen “thousands and thousands of people” celebrating in New Jersey as the Twin Towers smoldered on 9/11 on television. (No footage is known to exist.)....

Trump has discovered something about epistemology in the 21st century. The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better. It is for this same reason that Russia deployed paid Internet trolls in the 2016 campaign, according to U.S. investigators, repeatedly promoting lies on U.S. social networks to muddy the debate. In the radical democracy of social media, even the retweets of outraged truth squadders has the effect of rebroadcasting false messages. Controversy elevates message. And it keeps the President on offense.

In other words, Mr. Trump has proven that George Orwell right all along. Black is white, and lies are the new truth. 



Time magazine (print edition, April 3, 2017 issue, "Can Trump Handle the Truth?" (page 36 graphic)