Tag Archives: politics

Eight Great Presidential Performances

By Rick Bretz

In recognition of the inauguration this week, I have listed what I consider the best presidential portrayals on film and the small screen.  My criteria are simple.  Did the actor capture the spirit of the President’s personality?  And, was I able to watch the presentation without being aware that someone was trying too hard to play that particular president? Most of the performances on this list present a narrow window in a President’s life.  The more difficult portrayals involve playing the person over a lifetime.  A good example of this is Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of John Adams and Barry Bostwick’s performance in the George Washington miniseries. Below is the actor followed by the President portrayed and then the  film or television title.

1.  Kenneth Branagh-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Warm Springs

I was skeptical before making time to see this show that the actor could pull it off.  I was wrong.  Kenneth Branagh captured the force of Roosevelt’s personality and his physical and emotional fight with the crippling polio disease.  He also does a great job of relating to the people who have the same disease while rehabilitating at Warm Springs.  His supporting cast is terrific and he shows us why Roosevelt related to so many people.

2.  Daniel Day Lewis-Abraham-Lincoln-Lincoln

Enough has been written about Lewis’ choice concerning how Lincoln sounds when he speaks compared to other portrayals. If you watch Henry Fonda’s “Young Mr. Lincoln”,  the voice pitch comes close to what Lewis used in Lincoln.  What cannot be disputed is that he does capture Lincoln’s modest confidence and his sharp political mind.

3.  Paul Giamatti-John Adams-Johns Adams

 Paul Giamatti captures Adams from all directions.  He is spot on in his portrayal in many aspects.  His love for his wife Abigail, his mercurial temper, his difficult personality, his love for his family, his ego, and most of all, his sense of duty, fairness, and love for his country. Giamatti’s choices show the president from all sides while weaving his multi-layered personality into the presentation of Adams. He also plays him as he ages from a young man to his death which is difficult to accomplish.

4.  Frank Langella-Richard M. Nixon-Frost/Nixon

 Langella’s acting puts a human face on Richard Nixon in this Ron Howard directed film.  He sparred with David Frost through a majority of the movie and showed Nixon’s toughness, intellect, political savvy and his personality weaknesses.  This performance is remarkable because it keeps the audience interested despite knowing the outcome.  It explains history without getting into the minute details so the audience’s eyes don’t glaze over like sitting in 9th grade history class memorizing dates.

 5.  Jeff Daniels-George Washington-The Crossing

 Jeff Daniels does a terrific job showing people what it must have been like serving under George Washington.  Daniels gives us a performance that shows Washington cool under fire, a master at finding quality people to serve under him and how to manage them, and how to get soldiers to fight for him in the most extreme circumstances. Daniels as Washington shows the General as calm leader looking to find answers instead of assessing blame.

6.  Anthony Hopkins-John Quincy Adams-Amistad

 My favorite scene in this movie is when Adams is supposedly sleeping during a congressional session.  Then the speaker asks him to comment on the previous discussion. Adams speaks up immediately repeating the last exchange and giving his own caustic opinion about the matter and the current session itself.  Hopkins is a master at losing himself in roles and this is one.  His other Presidential portrayal of Richard Nixon is good as well but this one is fascinating especially with the final summation in court at the end.

7.  Randy Quaid, Lyndon B. Johnson, LBJ; The Early Years

 Randy Quaid shows Lyndon Johnson with his loud voice, over-the–top personality and his energy to accomplish his own goals and fix what needs to be fixed.  This is another performance that shows the actor aging through several years from a young man to his days in congress.  Quaid gives an outstanding performance showing how Johnson dealt with people and how Johnson used his force of personality to get his legislation passed when he was a leader in congress.

8.  Henry Fonda-Abraham Lincoln-Young Mr. Lincoln

This movie was released in 1939 and it shows a young Henry Fonda at his best. Fonda gives us the Lincoln personality in the salad days of his lawyer career.  He takes on a case early in the movie that everyone believes is a lost cause.  Throughout the movie, Fonda shows the audience the Lincoln wit and his art for storytelling.  He shows us why Lincoln became President while  using his political savvy and intelligence.  Fonda’s acting also shows us an underlying sadness to his personality and an innate understanding he might be destined for great things.

Those are my favorites.  Do you agree? Leave a comment?

 More great characterizations:

David Morse-George Washington-John Adams; Edward Herrmann-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Eleanor and Franklin; Barry Bostwick-George Washington- George Washington (The Mini-Series);  Bill Murray-Franklin Delano Roosevelt-Hyde Park on the Hudson; Gary Sinise-Harry S. Truman-Truman;  James Whitmore-Harry S. Truman-Give ‘Em Hell Harry; Raymond Massey-Abraham Lincoln-Abe Lincoln in Illinois; Brian Keith-Teddy Roosevelt-The Wind and the Lion

The Australian Aborigines and North American Native Americans

A 19th century engraving showing Australian &q...
A 19th century engraving showing Australian “natives” opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rick Bretz

The desire of nations and societies to expand their land holdings has caused much consternation in many countries.  The United States and Australia never had a monopoly on the ill-treatment of indigenous people.  The Persians conquered the Middle East, the Mongols rode across Eastern Europe, the Greek and Roman Empire sought to expand their cultures and the French, Spanish, and British monarchies sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

At the least, the United States and Australia’s failures to initially blend their opposing cultures upon colonization demonstrates a poor decision-making process to fix an issue before blood is spilled. Research and the record indicate that the treatment of indigenous people was cultivated in a divine belief in a God-given right to civilize “savages.”   This belief gave the conquering colonists the right to do what they needed to further the nation’s promise.  Although some may have acted with pure intentions, for others this belief gave them license to act unfairly and with malice.

The United States’ policy of Manifest Destiny resulted in wars, forced relocation, cultural indoctrination and a distrust that has remained to this day.

The story of the Australian Aborigines’ struggle and the British Colonization mirrors that of the Native Americans fight for recognition.   For both countries, it took several deaths on both sides for each to realize that conciliation and compromise might be the best route for a sustained peace and understanding.  That this atmosphere is continually tested by both sides is a testament to the deep-rooted scars from a turbulent history.

What is clear today is that an understanding developed among the first colonists and subsequent government power elite in both countries that the idea to treat indigenous people as second-class or worse was acceptable toward a united nation under predetermined religious beliefs and races.  This idea permeated society and gave the majority of “civilized” society permission to treat Native Americans and Aborigines how they pleased.  Not everyone thought this way but enough to give both governments the power and permission to keep certain rights and land away from them.   From then on, the “original” people from both lands would have to struggle to get them back.  These rights would be earned one by one over several years by intellectual discussions, casualties from conflicts, government enlightenment and mutual compromise on both sides.  This leads us to where we are today.  The relationship is being repaired but disagreements remain between each party. This may be the price for how each land was settled at the start—a continuous process of reconciliation and compromise that may lead to total harmony one day.

What do you think?  Is it a valid comparison?

                                                                    A Comparison Study Chart

Australian Aborigines meaning “original people”

North   American Native Americans

Composed of various tribes usually based on languages and geography. (Aku   Ramul, Kambre, Panara) Composed of various tribes, nations, and languages (Cherokee, Sioux,   Seneca, Lakota, Shoshone, Shawnees, Seminoles, Catawba)
Migrated from Indian subcontinent If migrated, most likely came from Eastern Asia
Original people of Australia before colonization by British explorers Native people of North America before French, British, and Spanish   colonization
Disease brought by colonization decimates population (small pox) Disease brought by colonization decimates population (small pox,  measles)
1770-East Coast of Australia claimed by Captain James Cook. 1492 or Later-East Coast of United States colonized
1770-1788-More British ships appear and dock on the east coast. 1621-One the first treaties between Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag   Tribe. Colonists seek to expand further West from coastal region.
1788-British set up penal colony.    Skirmishes between British and Aborigines begin. 1830-1840-Native American Nations were forced to move from East to   lands west of the Mississippi River.
1799-Aborigines resistance to white settlements in areas known as   Black Wars 1838-Trail of Tears.  Thousands   of Cherokee forced to move from Georgia to Oklahoma with many dying in the   process. This despite Supreme Court Rulings in 1831 and 1832 stating that they   had a right to stay on their lands.
1810-Aborigines moved into mission stations to learn European beliefs 1830 and later-The establishment of Indian Reservations
Major conflicts and killings occur due to Aborigines lands forcefully   taken from them. Issues with treaties that were agreed upon, land agreements broken
1835-The Dunghutti people   of north coast NSW are now confined to 40 hectares (2,47 acres) of land on   the Bellwood Reserve, near present day Kempsey. They previously owned 250,000   hectares. On January   12, 1833, a law was passed by US Congress making it unlawful for any Indian   to remain within the boundaries of the state of Florida.
1949-Aboriginal people are   given the right   to enroll and vote at federal elections provided they are  entitled to enroll for state elections or have served in the armed forces. On June 2, 1924, Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act, which   granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the U.S. the right to   vote.  Many states were slow to grant   the right to vote by placing restrictions on eligibility.  The 1965 Voting Rights Act strengthened   laws prohibiting state restrictions on voting rights.
1979-Aboriginal people are counted in the   Census for the first time. 1860-Native Americans identified for the decennial census. Census   instructions indicate that the families of Indians who have renounced tribal   rule, and who under state or territory laws exercise the rights of citizens,   are to be enumerated.  The 1870 Census   is the first to list “Indian” as a choice.
1992-The High Court of   Australia hands down its landmark decision in Mabo v. Queensland (Mabo Case, Mabo   Decision). It decides that Native Title exists over particular kinds of lands –   unalienated Crown Lands, national parks and reserves – and that Australia was   never terra nullius or empty land. 1924-The Citizenship Act gives Native Americans dual   citizenship.  This enables Native   Americans the status of US citizens and also be members of their tribes.1968-Congress passes Indian Civil Rights Act.

2007-Seneca Indian Nation revokes agreement to build highway through   their territory in New York.

Notable Links:

Aborigines (Original People)

http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/australian-aboriginal-history-timeline

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aboriginal1.html

http://bovination.com/cbs/australianAboriginalHistory.php

http://lateralloveaustralia.com/

Native Americans

http://www.indians.org/articles/native-american-indians.html

http://www.shmoop.com/native-american-history/

http://www.besthistorysites.net/index.php/american-history/native-american

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/census/

http://www.millelacsband.com/Page_culture.aspx?id=270

The Demise of 3 Kings

Posted by Rick Bretz

Today’s headlines reveal that once a dictator has power they are reluctant to give it up.   I submit to the court of history as evidence the countries of Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Haiti, and many others. You can’t blame them.  As Mel Brooks said in his movie The History of the World, Part I, “It’s good to be King.”

The three stories of one Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and two Kings, England’s Charles I  and France’s Louis XVI can be reduced to isolated adolescences and lack of situational awareness in their homelands.  This isolation continued into their adult lives and created a stubbornness and sense of entitlement. Their refusal to understand the plight and basic needs of citizens and the nobility forced their enemies to take action.  The lack of leadership at crucial times gave their enemies the chance to strike and force a surrender.  In all three cases, the revolutionaries that captured them felt it necessary to execute them so that they would not be a living symbol for their supporters.  In two cases, King Louis XVI and King Charles I were beheaded.  In the case of Tsar Nicholas II, he was gunned down along with his entire family. Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette,  also met the executioner’s guillotine.  When there are wars, lack of basic needs like food and shelter, and general unrest, it can force people to desperation and revolution.  History’s lesson for these three rulers from the genetic lottery is that their lofty stations in life didn’t necessarily mean safety from scheming enemies.

SIMILARITIES

Charles   I-England Louis   XVI-France Nicholas II=Russia
Executed Executed Executed
Lacked   situational Awareness Lacked Situational   Awareness Lacked Situational   Awareness
Isolated Upbringing Isolated   Upbringing Isolated   Upbringing
Unsympathetic   Captors Unsympathetic   Captors Unsympathetic   Captors
Unwilling to Compromise Power Unwilling   to Compromise Power Unwilling   to Compromise Power

England’s King Charles I

Oliver cromwell imrpisoning king charles I
Oliver cromwell imrpisoning king charles I (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King Charles I of England ruled during the years from 1625 to January 30th, 1649.  It was during his reign when Puritans and Catholics began leaving England due to religious persecution.   He also kept dissolving parliament (3 times) so that he could run things his way within the first three years of his rule.  This forced him to raise funds by other forceful means. What really got him trouble was creating enemies within the nobility.   Due to wars with Scotland and Ireland and creating tensions within the religious communities, he was on a collision with powerful groups. Eventually, civil war began in 1642.  The Royalists were defeated in 1646 due to the Parliament’s alliance with the Scott’s.  Charles surrendered to the Scott’s who handed him over to Parliament.  He escaped to the Isle of Wright in 1647 and a second Civil War began and was finished within a year.  Parliamentarian General Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists.  Charles was captured.  The conquering parliamentarians decided that the country would never have peace if the King continued to live.  Cromwell and his associates put the King on trial, found him guilty of treason. He was executed  outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London on January 30th, 1649.

France’s King Louis XVI

Queen Marie Antoinette of France and her husba...
Queen Marie Antoinette of France and her husband King Louis XVI. of France with their first child Princess Marie Therese Charlotte of France, 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Louis the XVI got into trouble by not having the necessary leadership qualities to understand the social and political climate of the period.  He preferred hunting rather than sitting in his office trying to figure out budget concerns and other political matters.  He relied  heavily on the court member’s advice.  In addition, his treasury secretary’s financing part of the American Revolution reduced the funds or canceled out any savings from the reforms the King approved.  His laissez-fair attitude got him trouble with parliament, the nobility and his subjects.  Once the debt got to be unmanageable the King tried to tax the notable or privileged classes.  The assembly balked at that demand.  The King sent troops to Paris to force his will.  This was the spark that ignited Bastille Day, where the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789.  The royal family was confined to Paris in Tuileries Palace a couple of months later.  They tried to escape but were recaptured.  At the time, France was at war with Austria and Prussia. Marie Antoinette’s was the daughter of an Austrian royal family.  The Austrian’s made it clear that should any harm come to Louis and his family, they would march on Paris.  Louis’s communication with the Prussian’s infuriated the revolutionaries.  After the family’s  imprisonment in the Temple in August of 1792, incriminating  evidence was used to try Louis XVI in January of 1793.  He was found guilty and guillotined on January 21, 1793.

Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas was unprepared for managing a country as large a Russia when he assumed power in 1894.  He mistrusted a majority of his ministers and was

English: Photo taken by A. A. Pasetti of Tsar ...
English: Photo taken by A. A. Pasetti of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, near age 30, at St. Petersburg, Russia, 1898. Français : Photo de Nicolas II de Russie, prise par A. A. Pasetti en 1898, alors que Nicolas II a 30 ans. Русский: Фотография A. A. Pasetti царя Николая Второго, в возрасте 30 лет в Санкт-Петербурге, 1898 год. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

influenced by his wife Princess Alexandra.  He got off to a bad start when he tried to gain more land by getting into a war with Japan over Manchuria.  This resulted in a humiliating defeat on land and sea.  This provoked riots and demonstrations due to poor economic conditions in Russia. In January 1905, Russian troops fired into a crowd who were demonstrating for reforms.  This event forced a change. The Tsar, in order to keep power, accepted a constitution and a ruling government body called the duma. This enabled the middle class to have more say in government affairs.  However, the Tsar still had his secret police to stifle radicals. This held off the inevitable, but with the start of World War I in 1914, the Tsar made an unwise decision.  He went to the front to lead the Russian Army . The Army was experiencing heavy losses and with each one, the blame was attributed to the Tsar.  Combine that with food shortages, high inflation, suppression and general unrest, Vladimir Lenin had the chance to strike.  In 1917, widespread demonstrations in Petrograd, combined with the Tsar’s loss of support from the Army,  Nicholas II abdicated the throne. After the end of World War I, a civil war began between the Bolsheviks and the anti-Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik’s moved the royal family from place to place until Lenin gave the order to execute the whole family.

Feel free to comment about this post or any other one.

Top Eight Military Memorials

Since Memorial Day is a few days away I wanted to give a list of memorials in remembrance of American service members..  The nation owes them a debt of gratitude for defending the United States  and its values. Choosing the top eight military memorials is a tough task.  I think all of them honor the veterans with splendor and reverence. Throughout history, leaders and politicians from America’s adversaries have underestimated the spirit of our fighting men and women.  Arguably, when given a mission and left alone, they have achieved success time after time.  American servicemen aren’t politicians so they have no control over decisions made by the government.  The military is an essential position for diplomacy. It’s President Teddy Roosevelt‘s analagous “Big Stick.” Politics aside, they have achieved success in every war, conflict, police action and peace-keeping mission given to them—and that means every mission.  These memorials are a testament to the widely held belief that servicemen would rather have peace because they know more than any other citizen the price to be paid for war.

1.  USS  Arizona-dedicated in 1962

2. Vietnam Memorial-Accepted by the President of the US in 1984

Vietnam war memorial
Vietnam war memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3.  Marine Corps War MemorialDedicated November 10, 1954 (179th Birthday of the Corps)

United States Marine Corps War Memorial by Fel...
United States Marine Corps War Memorial by Felix de Weldon at night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4.  US Air Force Memorial-Dedicated in 2006

5. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier-Patrolled continuously 24/7 since 1930

Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unkno...
Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
                                                                                            6.  Korea War Memorial-Dedicated in 1995
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Korean War Veterans Memorial (Photo

        7.  Women  in the Military Service Memorial-Dedicated in 1997

The Women in Military Service for America Memo...
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial is the nation’s first major national memorial honoring women who served in the armed forces during all eras and in all services. Image shows a panorama of the monument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8.  Arlington  National Cemetery-Began with the confiscation of the Mary Anna Custis Lee  property in 1864

Soldiers from the 3d Infantry Regiment carry N...

Other Notables: Normandy American Center and Memorial (D-Day); Missing Man Formation; Empty Boots, Rifle and Helmet; Gettysburg National Park; Taps on the Bugle; and any resting place for an American serviceman and family member.