Sink the Bismarck!

I recently watched Sink the Bismarck, a movie made in 1960. Unlike many movies that are “based on a true story” (meaning very loosely based), this movie followed what really happened very closely.

Bismarck and her sister Tirpitz were the biggest battleships deployed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The Bismarck, escorted by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, was sent out to wreak havoc among Allied shipping in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Royal Navy sent many different ships to stop the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen. In May 1942, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen engaged the Royal Navy’s Hood and the Prince of Wales. During a brisk action, Bismarck blew up the Hood, which was the Royal Navy’s pride and joy, and for a time the largest warship in the world. After that, the Royal Navy was even more determined to sink the Bismarck. A few days later, a Swordfish torpedo plane launched from the Royal Navy carrier Ark Royal damaged the Bismarck’s rudder. (It takes a special kind of bravery to fly in an open-cockpit biplane, over the cold North Atlantic Ocean, into heavy anti-aircraft fire.) She was helpless the next morning when the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, with the battleships King George V and Rodney, came for her. After 90 minutes of hammering with 356-millimeter (14-inch) and 406-millimeter (16-inch) gunfire, the Bismarck was sunk.

The movie was impressive. Yes, there were a few scenes in which it was painfully obvious that I was looking at a model ship in a pool of water. But overall, the movie was well done and followed very closely to what really happened. The producers even spliced in some real combat footage. The moment in which the Hood was blown up was spectacular. Curiously, most of the footage of the final battle between Bismarck and Rodney and King George V showed only the latter firing – there was no footage of Rodney firing, even though an earlier scene showed Rodney and King George V sailing together.

The human element was well done too. Much of the movie took place in the Royal Navy’s headquarters underground in London. The tension was very visible. One of the main characters, Captain Shepard of the Royal Navy, is a spit and polish, very formal, very crisp fellow – until he hears that his son, a Swordfish tail gunner assigned to Ark Royal – went down at sea. Then his façade cracked. There is also a moment where a Royal Navy officer bows his head as he watches the shattered Bismarck sink. One also sees the pride of Admiral Lutjens and Captain Lindemann on board the Bismarck after sinking the Hood.

I enjoyed this movie! I’d rather watch a movie with primitive special effects than a movie that’s all special effects but not much plot, as many seem to be right now. If you like war or action films that are realistic, Sink the Bismarck is for you.

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Fleet Week 2017 and Miramar Air Show 2017

I went to Fleet Week Los Angeles on Labor Day weekend, and the air show at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (San Diego) on 09-24-2017. They were fun! I love events like this: lots of noisy military hardware, lots of good hamburgers and other food, and the kind of shameless American nationalism that gives liberals conniption fits. Oh yes, one more thing: wear a hat and lots of sunblock!

I forgot to get online reservations for Fleet Week earlier in the year, so I was lucky to get a tour of USS Anchorage, described by the U.S. Navy as an “amphibious transport dock.” Put simply, that means that the USS Anchorage and her sisters can beach themselves and then offload Marines and their vehicles and weapons.

USS Anchorage appeared to be a well-run ship. Now the Navy needs to find out why there have been a lot of collisions recently. It appears that there has been some tampering with the Global Positioning System.

I also had the chance to put on some of the body armor used by the U.S. Marines. That stuff is heavy. I’m a hiker and fairly fit, but usually all I carry is a day pack with water, a sandwich, and some protein bars. To carry weapons, ammunition, radios, food, water, etc., while wearing that heavy armor, in hot weather or high altitude, under enemy fire – well, my hat is off to soldiers and Marines who do this every day. The next step is the powered, self-contained armor suits described in Robert Heinlein’s military classic Starship Troopers, but we’re not there yet. (Do yourself a favor: read the book, don’t watch the movie.)

MCAS Miramar was lots of fun too. The Marines demonstrated a combined air-ground attack using F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harrier jump jets, AH-1 SuperCobra attack helicopters, M1 Abrams tanks, V-22 Osprey troop transports, and Huey troop transports. The Osprey had a troubled history. The tilt-rotor design is innovative in that it gives the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capability of a helicopter with the speed of a regular aircraft; the initial trouble seems to have been in transitioning from vertical to horizontal flight.

Lots of walking around, so I inhaled a half-pound hamburger for lunch. Thanks to the Marines for providing water bowsers so that I could keep my water bottle topped off. VMFA-314, the “Black Knights” Marine Corps F/A-18 squadron was there; this squadron was featured in the movie Independence Day, which was also shamelessly nationalistic.

You don’t have to agree with every military action undertaken by the United States (I don’t) to enjoy Fleet Week and air shows. Just go to see vintage and modern war machines in action. Go for the food, the noise, the sights, the shameless nationalism, and the excitement. Go have fun!

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Dunkirk: Simply Amazing!

I recently had the pleasure of watching Dunkirk at the Arclight Hollywood on 70-millimeter film with my friend Matthew Mishory, an accomplished film director. This movie about the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk was amazing! It was very historically accurate. The aircraft shown were British Royal Air Force (RAF) Mark 1 Spitfires, the German Luftwaffe (air force) Messerschmitt 109 fighter, the Junkers 87 Stuka dive-bomber, and the Heinkel 111 medium bomber. Kudos to the producers for giving the Stuka its infamous Sirens of Jericho – the sirens mounted on the aircraft’s landing gear that added to its reputation for terror. The Spitfires were flying in the prewar three-plane elements that were soon discarded for the reason that if one pilot maneuvered to defend another, the third would be left by himself, vulnerable to attack. The dreamlike scene toward the end of the movie, when the Spitfire, out of fuel, glides without power over the beach for a long time after shooting down a Stuka, has an element of truth to it; the prototype Spitfire “floated on landing, as if it could not bear to return to Earth.” My only beef with the air element of the movie was that the RAF’s Hurricane fighters weren’t featured. The Spitfire got most of the glory in the history books, but the Hurricane was a similar eight-gun single-engine fighter and did a lot of good work at Dunkirk and during the Battle of Britain.

The evacuation by sea was also well covered. It really was true that a flotilla of small civilian craft were assisting the Royal Navy’s destroyers. (The Royal Navy destroyer was accurate too; it appeared to be one of the O and P class.) It was also true that the Royal Air Force was not able to stop every German air attack on the evacuation. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding of the Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command had been warning Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he had been losing many aircraft and pilots in France even before the evacuation, and that committing too many fighters to defend the evacuation would have meant none left for the Battle of Britain. Sad to say, many Luftwaffe (German air force) attacks on the evacuation went unopposed. This led to much anger at the RAF. At the end of the evacuation, Marshal Dowding had only 283 fighters left to face over 1000 German aircraft based in occupied France and Norway. It is also true that the Spitfires and Hurricanes had short range; they could not remain over Dunkirk for long.

Of course, the British were quite lucky to have evacuated all those soldiers. The only reason that Dunkirk became known for the great evacuation is that German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was ordered to halt the advance of his ground forces because Hermann Goering, Reichsmarshal of the Luftwaffe, persuaded Adolf Hitler to let the Luftwaffe finish off the BEF. Had that not been the case, then most of the BEF and other Allied soldiers would have been killed or captured, and the United Kingdom would have been left without most of its regular army. That would have left only the Home Guard, an irregular collection of those too old or too young for regular military service, to repel an invasion, albeit with the help of the Royal Navy and the RAF. As it is, most of the BEF’s tanks and other heavy weapons had to be abandoned at Dunkirk.

Bottom line: If you like war movies that are historically accurate, go see this one!

Do you want me to write, research, or proofread for you? Contact me today!

For further reading:

Barker, Ralph. The RAF at War. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1981, pp. 36-39.

Hallion, Richard P. Designers and Test Pilots. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983, p. 73.

Kaplan, Phillip, and Richard Collier. The Few: Summer 1940, the Battle of Britain. Blandford Press, 1989; Orion Publishing Group, 2002, pp. 44-45.

Astonishing Prescience: Creating a New Civilization, by Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler

I recently reread a book I picked up in the 1990s entitled Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Much of the book was derived from their earlier works War and Anti-War and Powershift, but there is also new content in this book. The book’s thesis was that global civilization has three waves: an agricultural First Wave, an industrial Second Wave, and a Third Wave based on knowledge and communication. I was astonished to see how much they had gotten right. Here are some highlights:

The importance of knowledge is key to the Third Wave. Certainly, knowledge was required in the old days of pure agriculture and mass industry. But now, there is much more emphasis on knowledge. “Businesses, governments, and individuals are collecting and storing more sheer data than any previous generation and history,” said the Tofflers, well before “big data” became a household term. It’s not enough to have knowledge – it needs to be used, changed, learned, and transmitted between those businesses, governments, and individuals. Knowledge reduces the need for capital, resources, energy, time, and labor. And as the Tofflers were careful to emphasize, “not all this new knowledge is “correct”…much knowledge is unspoken…and it includes not simply data…but values, the products of passion and imagination, not to mention imagination and intuition.”

Since we all have different values, different passions, and different knowledge, the rise of the de-massified society was easy for the Tofflers to predict. De-massified society refers to less emphasis on mass production and mass media and more emphasis on choice and customization, whether in products, media (such as all of our LinkedIn pages), politics, religion, or anything else. We can see this on websites like Amazon, which has just about anything. 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, make customization even easier; individuals can even buy their own 3-D printers.

The Tofflers didn’t miss their chance to give the two major political parties a dose of reality. Here’s what they said about each:

“The Democrats’ reflexive reliance on bureaucratic and centralist solutions to problems like the health insurance crisis is drawn straight from Second Wave theories of efficiency.”

Exactly. Government is essential for some things, but not for everything. There is much that the private sector and nonprofits can do. Some government oversight may still be necessary. And let’s not forget individual responsibility for health: eat right (at least most of the time – I’m not perfect either!), get some sleep, and get some exercise! Neither the government nor HMOs can do this for you; you have to do it yourself. Exercise and healthy eating need not be dull!

“Republicans tend to play down potentially immense social dislocations that are likely to flow from any change as profound as the Third Wave…Free-marketism and trickle-downism twisted into rigid theological dogma are inadequate responses to the Third Wave. For example…electronic services might well slash the number of entry-level jobs in the traditional retail sector, precisely the place undereducated young people can get their start.”

Again, exactly. Exhibit one:’s Kiva robots that reduce the need for human workers in fulfillment centers. The robot hamburger maker is here too. The manufacturer’s cofounder, Alexandros Vardakostas, bluntly stated that this device “isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s to completely obviate them.”

Here’s how I would interpret this for anyone who has graduated from high school and isn’t sure what to do next: You must learn a skill or trade…but universities with their extortionate tuition rates are not the only path to a skill or trade that pays well. Yes, you need university for some fields, such as doctor or nurse or lawyer. But for many other fields that are skilled and pay well, you can attend a trade or technical school. That’s what I’m doing to earn my CompTIA A+ certification. All I’m doing is studying for that certificate. No other classes, unless I want them. I study on my own time; no need to be in a classroom; no semesters or quarters. This is much cheaper than a four-year degree at a university. You can do this too! (The Tofflers would have called this the de-massification of education.) Show recruiters that you’re valuable; don’t expect the government to take care of you. (There has been much talk about the universal basic income, along with some pilot projects, but I do not see this becoming a nationwide program anytime soon.) Get a skill ASAP, because the truly unskilled jobs that cannot be shipped overseas will be automated bit by bit.

Sad to say, Alvin Toffler died in 2016. His wife and coauthor, Heidi Toffler, survives him. Their research firm, Toffler Associates, is located in Reston, Virginia.

Bottom line: Read this book, especially if you don’t have the time to read all of the Tofflers’ works. It really is amazing how many of their predictions turned out to be true.

History, Politics, Technology, and Fiction

Yes, the movie or book you’re writing might be fiction rather than a documentary. Nothing wrong with that; we all read and watch plenty of fiction. However, if your movie or book deals with a certain country or period of time, it would be well to know as much about that country or period of time as possible. In the age of social media, the ridicule that comes from making mistakes can go viral very quickly.

That’s what I can do for you. I can go over your manuscript and catch mistakes. I can catch errors such as that made in Star Wars: A New Hope in which Han Solo says that his Millennium Falcon made the Kessel run in “less than 12 parsecs.” Really? “Parsec” is a measure of distance, not time. It’s like saying you drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco in ten miles. George Lucas got away with that because a) Star Wars is still a fun series of movies, and b) there was no social media at that time to ridicule him for such an easily corrected mistake.

If you’re writing a movie or a book, and you want to focus on writing and/or producing and directing rather than research, contact me. I can help you. I can do the background research – the part that I love doing – so that you can do what you love doing. Contact me today!

History, Politics, Technology, and Investments

Mention investment and many people will think about purely financial matters: the company’s stock price, the payout per share, and whether the company had any problems recently.

Those are good places to start. But there’s more.

Think about what the company is doing. What services or goods is it providing? Is it just some new way to send pictures or wisecracks to people, as much of social media seems to be? Or does it aim to provide something that individuals, businesses, and governments really need?

Definition of really need: Energy is at the very top. Without energy, we will all be back in the Stone Age. Energy is needed for everything -- bringing food from farms and slaughterhouses to markets, to manufacture all the gadgets we take for granted, to keep the lights on and the water flowing – everything!!

Next are other physical items. One can live without social media (yes, call me ironic for saying such a thing on a website); one cannot live without food and water. Then there are the myriad other items that we need: clothes, books, cooking utensils, weapons (for individuals, security firms, and governments) and many more. If a company is making these things, has good sales, and is keeping its financial house in order, it’s probably a good bet.

Services: Some services are more recession-proof than others; health care comes to mind. No matter what the politicians come up with, people will still get sick or get injured, and all of us will get old. If a health care company is being well managed and has good sales, I’d definitely consider it.

Next, ask where the company is. Companies have to deal with governments where they are based or working, and how a government is run makes a huge difference in terms of whether prosperity is possible in the country that a government controls. Obviously, no country is perfect; this is Earth, not Heaven. However, one can’t go wrong by using the list of hallmarks of good government in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, a most entertaining book by the late David Landes. Here is a condensed version:

1) Secure private property rights, which will encourage savings and investment.

2) Secure personal liberties against governmental tyranny and crime.

3) Enforce contracts.

4) Government should be stable, it should abide by publicly known laws, respond to grievances, be honest, and be moderate, efficient, and frugal.

I look at investment decisions from a political science and history standpoint. What was done in the past affects what we see today, whether in business or in government. Legislation, law enforcement actions, and military actions of governments affect other governments, businesses, and individuals like you and me. That’s the perspective I can bring to your investment decisions.

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Me and Betty Jane

Here I am with Betty Jane, a P-51C Mustang that I had the pleasure of taking a ride in back in 2015. The Mustang was an American fighter aircraft of World War II. It was an amazing flight! Imagine being lifted into the air by a big version of the engine in your car, instead of a modern jet engine. Now imagine fighting with just your eyes, your flying skills, and your guns. No onboard radar, no computers, no infrared sensors, no missiles. An amazing experience!