Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rewriting History

With apologies, the Captain doesn’t normally publish two blog posts on the same day.

In fact, it sometimes takes several days for a post to come together the way I want it.

You can decide which ones those are.

But something a friend posted on Facebook ticked me off last night and I decided I needed to rant vent respond.

The focus of the Captain’s ire is an article written for “Conservative Tribune”, a self-proclaimed defender of Western Civilization and the internet voice for “everything conservatives need to know about what’s happening in the world”.

The website provides no information about the sponsoring organization – if there is one – or who the writers are. From what I could see in scanning the website, it is mostly about finding things to complain about against “our current Islamist-sympathizing president, Barack Obama”.

And most of the time, that would be enough to make me click out of the site.

The article my friend shared is titled “How Thomas Jefferson Responded to Islam in 1801 Puts Barack H. Obama to Shame”. And in the spirit of psedo-historian David Barton, the article is a blatant attempt to rewrite history.

After opening with inflammatory remarks about “radical Islamic jihadists”, the unknown author of the article suggests that  

“Obama should really pick up a history book sometime and read about how one of his predecessors, and one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, handled the threat posed by radical Islamic jihadists, way back in 1801.”

In short, the article suggests that when American merchant ships were being harassed by pirates off the Barbary Coast, Thomas Jefferson refused to pay either ransom or tribute to the Pasha of Tripoli, instead sending the U.S. Marine Corps to route the lot of them.

This reference to the Barbary Pirates is what naturally caught the Captain’s attention. Captain Dave knows about pirates!

If the writer of this article had picked up a history book himself – or even checked it out on Wikipedia – he would have discovered that many of the so-called Barbary Pirates were Dutch opportunists, as well as some Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Spaniards.

Captain’s Note: For what it’s worth, these pirates were considered “Christians”.

For the most part, the Barbary Pirates would capture merchant vessels, loot the hold, and sell the crew and passengers to the Muslims who held them for ransom or sold them into slavery.

The captured sailors were not, as the article purports, forced by threat of death to convert to the Islam faith.

Yes, as an ambassador, Thomas Jefferson was opposed to paying tribute to the Islamic leaders. Beginning in 1785, the U.S. government was paying as much as $1 million per year in tribute payments to the Pasha of Algiers – approximately 1/10th of the U.S. government annual revenues.

And yes, when Thomas Jefferson became President Jefferson, he established the first U.S. Naval force (in 1797) to engage the pirates. But despite the Conservative Tribune’s glowing proclamation about this being the origins of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Marine Corps had been in existence since 1775.

And while we are lifting up the heralded beginnings of the Marine Corps (no offense to any Marines living or dead) the first Barbary War was engaged in 1801 and lasted until 1805 when Tripoli fell – to a force composed of only eight U.S. Marines and 500 mercenaries from surrounding nations.

President Jefferson then ratified a peace treaty with Yusuf Karamanli that guaranteed that Yusuf’s deposed brother would be returned to power in Tripoli.

Also as part of that treaty, President Jefferson agreed to pay $60,000 in “ransom” for the American prisoners held in Tripoli – a tidy sum in 1805.

And piracy resumed two years later. But because the U.S. was involved in the lead-up to the War of 1812, Jefferson “kicked the can” down the road to President James Madison, who finally ended all tribute payments.

So much for President Jefferson being tough on those “radical Islamist jihadists”!

Here’s one more thing that needs to be clarified, because the Captain knows a little bit about religions too.

The word “Berber” is a reference to a geographical area of origin. As such, in Thomas Jefferson’s day there were Jewish Berbers and Christian Berbers as well as Muslim Berbers. 

Probably the most famous of the Christian Berbers is Augustine of Hippo, one of Roman Catholicism’s greatest bishops!

And finally, the Captain would suggest that what Muslims were doing in the 18th century was really no different from what European Christians – and even Americans – were doing in the 18th century: attempting to establish a homeland.

On this continent, in pursuit of our "manifest destiny", we were murdering the indigenous people and stealing their homelands, as well as kidnapping and enslaving Africans to build our fledgling nation.

I wonder: do you think the indigenous people of America ever spoke of the “radical Christian jihadists”?

To the “Conservative Tribune” I would simply say, instead of defending your shallow understanding of Western Civilization, you might try cracking open a [real] history book yourself.

You never know what you might learn.

Art imitates... art?

As the 2014 holiday season began to roll in, Sony Pictures heavily promoted its entry for a Christmas Day release: “The Interview”, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. The premise of the comedy is that TV personality Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) are recruited by the CIA to assassinate the president of North Korea.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like the comedic assassination of a living world leader!

Naturally, North Korea was upset about this movie.

I suspect the U.S. would be equally disturbed should a foreign nation make a “comedy” about the assassination of our President.

But the big shots at Sony Pictures didn’t care.

That is, until someone hacked into Sony’s computer system and began releasing embarrassing emails and personal details about some of Sony’s top celebrities and staff.

As you might suspect, the North Korean government was blamed.


Everything was to continue as planned until, on December 16th, the hackers threatened “9/11-type attacks” on American movie theaters showing the film. Individual cinema chains canceled showings, and Sony withdrew the film citing concern for the safety of the viewing public.

On December 19th, the FBI announced conclusively that this was the work of North Korea, but before he left for his Christmas vacation, President Obama said Sony made a mistake in holding up the film’s release.

It’s always easy to second-guess someone else’s decision as you’re about to get on an airplane for two weeks in Hawaii.

Across the news media and internet, the constant refrain was “North Korea is trying to stop our freedom of expression” and “North Korea is interfering with our First Amendment rights”.

Not that North Korea would give a rip about an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And there was this:

By December 23rd, every media pundit and talking head had exercised her/his First Amendment right and sounded off about the controversy, and Sony changed course once again – announcing plans for a limited theater release on Christmas Day, and making the film available for purchase online.

Needless to say, the theaters were packed! And between Dec. 24 and Dec. 27, over two million people purchased and downloaded the film – creating a $15 million windfall for Sony!

One Christmas Day movie-goer was quoted as saying she went to see the movie “just to show North Korea they can’t tell Americans what to do”.

Wow! You showed them! You go girl!

But the Captain didn’t go to see “The Interview”… just to show Sony they can’t produce crap like this and expect halfway-intelligent people (and the Captain puts himself in this category) to watch it!

Seriously, “Rotten Tomatoes” gave the movie a 52% rating based on an aggregate count of 64 different reviewers.

Not that that mattered to the movie-goers, because… ‘merica!

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Now that the film is out, and the threatened terrorist attacks have not happened, some (including the Captain) are beginning to wonder if any of this was real.

Frankly, despite reportedly having a cadre of computer geeks focused on cyber-attacks against South Korea, North Korea is not known for its state-of-the-art computer equipment. 

In fact, most citizens of North Korea have never even seen the internet.

It has been posited that the “hackers” were just hacked off former employees of Sony, people who had access to passwords and confidential files – hardly a “hack” at all.

The Captain, however, suspects a different scenario – this suggested by the highly-acclaimed Mel Brooks film, “The Producers” (1967).

In that film, down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (played by the great Zero Mostel) and his accountant Leo Bloom (played by comic genius Gene Wilder) come up with a “million dollar scheme”. They over-sell shares in their new theatrical production “Springtime for Hitler” and labor vigorously to ensure it will be a flop, thus releasing them from having to pay off their investors.

Again, I haven’t seen “The Interview” and perhaps it is unfair to comment, but it looks like a real stinker to me. And I suspect Sony also knew what it had. So, knowing the film was going to be a box office flop – which no one wants in a Christmas Day release – is it possible that Sony created an artificial controversy to create buzz – held itself hostage, so to speak – just to put butts in theater seats?

Which brings to mind a scene from another Mel Brooks favorite…

I can’t prove any of this, of course, but we’ll see if the movie has legs. 

According to Rotten Tomatoes, from those who have actually seen "The Interview" this week, the film only received a 62% favorable rating.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

And now for some Christmas Cheer!

A Very Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Trip Back in Time

The Captain and First Mate just returned from a week in “Sunny Southern California”!

At least, that’s what they call it out there.

Well, two of the days were sunny…

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the time away from the daily grind – there’s only so much pillagin’ and plunderin’ and drinkin’ and wenchin’ a pirate can do without needing a break!

Just kidding!

On Friday, the First Mate’s little sis was pillagin’ a closet at the family homestead looking for a particular missing Christmas decoration. A very traditional family, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the sleigh bells hanging by the back door!

Instead, she found an old wicker sewing basket in which their grandmother had squirreled away little treasures – newspaper clippings, poems, etc.

The rest of the day was consumed pouring through the basket.

One treasure found was a love-letter from their grandfather to their grandmother while they were still dating. It was very sweet.

And a little humorous, to hear the young Guy tell his “Sweetheart” Berenice that “by Christmas we will be set” because he had made “$10.50 today and $13 yesterday!”

We’re rich! Rich I say!

But that’s all private stuff, so I won’t regale you with the more sentimental contents of the missive.

What the Captain spied out, however, was a map of Los Angeles dating back to 1905, published by the Golden State Realty Co.

The details around the map were interesting:

In 1904, the city of Los Angeles consisted of 44 square miles of land and a population of 290,000. The assessed value of Los Angeles at the time was $109,878,000, with some $13 million in annual building permits.

I don’t have the current assessed value of the city today, but the Palazzo di Amore in Beverly Hills is currently for sale for $159 million.

The Palazzo is a 53,000 square foot mansion that sits on 25 acres of land. It boasts of 12 bedrooms (the master bedroom alone is 5,000 square feet), 23 baths, and a 27-car garage. Until it sells, it is available for rent for a meager $475,000 per month.

But I digress…

The real estate company’s map lifted up the amenities of life in Los Angeles:

-21 banks
-134 churches
-63 public schools
-10 private schools
-712 miles of electric railway with 90,000 passengers per day
-250 miles of graded and graveled streets
-400 miles of cement & asphalt sidewalks
-175 miles of sewers
-and “over 30,000 telephones in use!”

Factoid: Only one species of palm trees is native to California. The rest were imported in the early 1900s by realtors and Chambers of Commerce to make the area look more tropical and appealing to buyers.
And the purpose for distributing the map – Golden State Realty was offering “farming land” around Los Angeles for $10 per acre and up!

Oh, what I would give for a time machine!

As you can tell, the Golden State Realty Co. was very successful. Today, the city of Los Angeles covers 503 square miles and is the second-largest city in America (28th in the world). It is bursting at the seams with a population of 3,884,307 with more on the way.

Good job, Golden State Realty Co. ... really good job…