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James Jay Carafano

James Jay Carafano is vice president of defense and foreign policy studies at The Heritage Foundation. He is the author of Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World. Follow him on Twitter at @JJCarafano.
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7 Heartbreaking Films of Military Valor

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Calling Memorial Day a “federal holiday” is a bit of a sacrilege. More than a day for big sales or a stretch at the beach, this is a time for remembrance.  Our freedoms are secured and preserved by those that serve. This is our day to honor their sacrifice—and our loss.  Over the years, Hollywood hasn’t been half-bad at recounting the nobility and the pain of war’s cost. These movies are particularly moving—unforgettable films where the sense of loss on the silver screen is just sometimes overwhelming.

#7.  The Fighting Sullivans (1944).  They were five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa.  They all served on the cruiser USS Juneau. They all died on November 13, 1942, when the ship went down.  Their true story was lovingly told in this wartime drama. The film is often cited as an inspiration for the 1998 blockbuster hit Saving Private Ryan.

#6. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  John Wayne dies. Really? John Wayne never (well, almost never) dies.  Arguing he was too old when World War II broke out to make much of a contribution as a soldier, Hollywood’s biggest wartime star played patriotic heroes in a number of films. In this movie, Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) bravely leads men through some of the toughest fighting of the Pacific War.  On Iwo Jima, after taking over 26,000 casualties the Marines snagged the summit of Mount Suribachi. In the film, the battle won, Stryker’s platoon takes the spot right at the foot of the iconic raising of the American flag.  One of Stryker’s squad mates is distracted reading a letter from home. Sacrificing himself, Stryker throws his body across a grenade tossed at their feet.  The audience just gasps. Did that really just happen?

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Why There is No Star Trek Death Cult

Monday, May 18th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Apparently, some people don’t know it is make-believe or at least that is what British authorities thought.

According to recently released 1997 report, Scotland Yard feared young viewers might be inspired by Star Trek and other sci-fi TV to commit suicide or mass violence. While it is true Star Trek fans can get pretty zealous (They keep track of how many people show up at conventions in costume. The current record is over 1,000.),  Trekkies certainly never turned into the Manson Cult.

There are lots of reasons to scratch your head and wonder what Scotland Yard was thinking back in the day.

Media can be used to inspire madness.  ISIS has used its presence online to add to its ranks, raise recruits, fund raise and even motivate terrorist attacks against the West.   But it is not just ISIS’ online abilities (which, of course, wasn’t around in the 1990s) that is the problem.  What makes radicalization on social networks so dangerous is when they can be linked to human networks—where people engage with one another face-to-face.  The merging of social networks and human webs can be formidable force.  No country in the West has a bigger challenge in dealing with that challenge right now than Great Britain where radicalization of Muslim youth is a major concern.

I bet Scotland Yard is wistful for the good old days when they just tracked Trekkies.

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Suddenly, It’s All About Sex in Space

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Rape, sex and fisticuffs in space are only some of the musings about what awaits us out there. If that was the strangest story, it might not merit much attention, but it is not.

There is talk of NASA trying to emulate Hollywoodpreventing an asteroid from ending all life on earth.

And that’s not all. There is Mars One, a non-profit organization promoting a “one way mission to Mars” in 2026.

At least one candidate wants to have the first baby on the Red Planet. Bad news. Some scientists are saying sex, romance and Mars don’t mix.

A bigger question than “who wants to blast-off with who” is asking “why do we care?”

Following the debacle of Vietnam, we just kind of gave up on Kennedy’s vision of Camelot in space.

America pretty much lost interest in the space race when we won it.  Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. Then our attitude pretty much became “been there, done that.”

After that our interest in space was, at best, episodic. Everybody paid attention to the Challenger disaster in 1986. The Apollo 13 movie in 1995  may have pulled a bigger audience than the original moon mission in 1970.

Now, all of sudden, we all want to be lost in space again.

In part, that may be because others are making a big deal about making manned space flights, including China, India, and Japan. Maybe we are jealous?

Also we are seeing some unprecedented developments in private sector commercial space efforts. Maybe we think we can make a buck?

Certainly space is back in our imagination. Why else would Disney be interested in cranking out new Star Wars movies other than to cash in on our new lust to go to (and, I guess, lust in) space?

Maybe a little (age-appropriate) discussion of sex and violence isn’t bad. After all, as soon as humans started thinking seriously about going into the great beyond, Hollywood started making films of fighting and wooing there–like Cat-Women of the Moon.

We should be capitalizing on a renewed interest in space to inspire a new generation to study, learn, invent, create and dream.

Whatever it takes to get America thinking big and bold again works for me.

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Danger, Will Robinson! Director Dumped from Star Wars Reboot

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Josh Trank, slated to direct the second of the new Star Wars films from Disney, won’t be taking us to a galaxy far, far away after all. News reports declare he is out. At least one source claims Trank got trashed because he was, like with his forthcoming reboot of Fantastic Fourmoving away from the stock material and charting his own course.

Last month, Disney launched its effort to take over the Star Wars universe by making a big deal out of dumping  “digital” versions of the old films on the Internet. This sure looked like an effort to cash in on the mythology created by George Lucas in the original 1977 film rather than bring audiences something  fresh.  The release of the trailer for the first new Disney film, slated for later this year,  just confirmed that Disney looks like it wants to play it safe – and just cash the check.

When the world’s greatest “imagineers”  go all risk averse, that’s bad for the company. Walt Disney once said, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”

Apparently, that virtue is lost on the suits.

Sure, letting directors run loose might crash and burn like the Death Star, but it would have been worth the risk.

Disney is passing up the opportunity to inspire a new generation with the vision to think bold. Instead, audiences will get to go where everyone has gone before.

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Who Will Build Your Killer Robot?

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

The next generation of military robots hasn’t been built yet. But, there are already efforts to ban machines operating independent of human control. There is even a Facebook page.

Robot hatters focus  on DARPA, the military’s way-out research and development arm. Though for a shadowy lab, DARPA is up-front about some of its most visionary programs.

In practice, military robots are already joining the ranks. The US Navy recently unveiled its ship-board firefighting robot.

But, the Pentagon isn’t the only one trying manage the rise of the machines. Google, for one, recently took out a patent for commanding a robot army.

The robotic arms race is going to match the military against the private sector. Don’t be surprised with its deeper pockets and innovative practices if the private sector wins. Maybe the plot of RoboCop is not that far-fetched after all.

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6 Sci-Fi Movies that Ought to Be a Series

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

HBO is already hyping its soon-to-launch original series based on the 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld. And now Galaxy Quest, Hollywood’s hilarious 1999 send-up of Star Trek, is slated to become a series. It’s a trend!

Sadly, experience suggests we keep our expectations low for both efforts. Science fiction rarely translates well from the silver screen to the small screen. Case in point: Planet of the Apes. The original 1968 movie was awesome. The TV version was awful.

Most TV adaptations fail because they never move beyond the original premise of the film.  A successful transition to a series requires both an engaging plot that travels beyond the starting storyline and engrossing characters who continue to evolve as the tale unwinds. This formula can work, but studios need to pick better material.  Here are six films that are strong enough to be made into viable series.

#6 The Thing (1982). This film is a re-imagining, not a remake, of the 1951 original. An alien shows up at a remote arctic ice station, devours the occupants and assumes their shape. This freaks out the remaining survivors who spend the rest of film trying to parse co-workers from gruesome monsters. (A 2011 sequel was a dud, failing to build on the originality of the previous films.) For the series, let the monster go global, and show us how people in different climates and cultures approach the challenge of containing the contagion. And, let’s get some insight into the alien, too. How and why did he come to Earth? And what’s the plan for after he’s eaten everyone?

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Red Dawn is Real! Beijing’s Invasion Has Already Started

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

China Maybe Taking over Our Internet

By James Jay Carafano

Remember when Hollywood folded? The suits switched the faux invaders in the Red Dawn  remake to North Korea. Beijing wasn’t happy being cast as the villain invading the USA.

Except, people are still wonder if Red China really is the bad guy?

Hauwei, China’s massive global telecom giant just rolled out its new smartphone to compete with Apple and Samsung.

Nobody really sees that as much of a threat. Between them, Apple and Samsung own more than half the global market. Hauwei has a cool video,  but less than five percent of the market.

On the other hand, Hauwei sells a lot of the stuff the Internet is run on. That raises big concerns. The company doesn’t sell that stuff here. But they are doing business big time in Canada and Mexico. Isn’t that just a backdoor into the US cyber-infrastructure? Who wants the Red Dawn running our Internet?

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Your Face Could Be Your Password

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

The Day is Coming When Your Body Will be Your Mobile Device

By James Jay Carafano

Passwords are stupid security. Jimmy Kimmel proved it.

Corporate America is frustrated with how dumb we are.  They are busy looking for other ways for you to prove that you are you-before you start using their stuff.

The most unique identifier we have is us.

American Express is looking at facial recognition.  They are busy “trying to figure out how to capture and authenticate face images accurately and quickly on a mobile device, given that facial recognition has a potential to be more secure than usernames and passwords.”

PayPal wants to be even more intrusive—and gross. How about ingesting an authenticator and carrying it in your stomach?

As these systems proliferate they blur the line between us and our machines.  And what privacy do we have left when corporations take up space in our intestines?

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7 Most Lethal Killer Robots in Movie History

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Hollywood loves wickedly lethal killer robots on the loose. The common fear of ‘killer robots’ is grounded in what we learned from the movies, not in the science behind autonomous weapons.  Here, to make the case, are seven of the more bodacious boogieman ‘bots of the Silver Screen.

 

7. The Golem (1915)

This silent film was hailed as the first science-fiction movie ever. (It predates Sharknado III by a full century!). Only fragments of the film still exist. Plot summary: antique dealer finds mythical ancient Golem and brings it back to life; Golem falls in love with dealer’s wife; Golem goes postal. Not much science in this fiction.  Heck, the dude is made of clay.

 

6.  The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Robots became a staple of Hollywood science fiction. Most were mindless drones like the trash-can robots that battle “Crash” Corrigan in Undersea Kingdom (1936). But this classic sci-fi film offers a different take. Here, the eight-foot tall Gort has a mind of his own. He’s aboard an alien spacecraft that lands next to the Washington Monument. When an earthling speaks those mysterious words “Klaatu barada nikto,” Gort takes off on a rampage to recover the spaceship’s pilot. The filmmakers were mostly interested in presenting pacifist metaphors that chide Cold War hysteria. Their message: The only way to handle violence is to have no violence. Sure, get right on that. Warning: A 2008 remake of this movie is brain-numbingly terrible. Watch it at your own peril.

 

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Wow, that’s not what Dave wants to hear. Dave is floating through space and HAL, the robot brain that is piloting the ship bound for Jupiter, won’t let Dave back in. Hailed as one of the greatest science fiction films ever, the betrayal by a computer run amok struck a chord with audiences.  In the heyday of the hippie, at the height of the Vietnam War protest movement, the motto was trust no one over 30—and that goes for our robots too. Technology is the enemy.

 

4. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)

Before The Terminator had “Skynet,” there was Colossus—a super-computer running all US nuclear defenses. In this anti-tech movie, the humans turn on Colossus. The big brain then speed-dates the Soviet computer system, and they team up to rule over mankind for its own good. It’s a not-so-benevolent dictatorship. If humans don’t cooperate, the computer just threatens them with nuclear holocaust.  What could go wrong? The problem with the science here is that it’s strictly aspirational. Forty-five years after this film’s release, we still aren’t close to building true artificial intelligence.

 

3. Westworld (1973)

Think Disneyworld, only filled with robots. They look like humans, and you can do whatever you want to ‘em… and they don’t mind. Who wouldn’t want a pass to that park? It’s all fun and games until the protocol that keeps the robots from harming guests goes haywire. Then, most everybody dies.  Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay. He made a career out of writing about the moral implications of science gone wild. But his science is usually just short of being solid. In Jurassic Park (1993) scientists extract DNA from fossils to make their own dinosaurs (just ask the world’s expert on the subject, Jack Horner).  And Crichton’s killer robots were just as fantastical.

 

2. Hardware (1990)

This vastly under appreciated movie about a raging robot in a post-apocalyptic world is so worth watching.  Think the Golem with wires. The film is particularly noteworthy for the evil, bloodthirsty, peeping-Tom killer robot. Love the style and gore—but, like the Golem, there is not much science here either.

 

1. i, Robot (2004)

Not the best killer-robot movie ever. But in 2035, where robots do pretty much everything, a detective investigates the unimaginable: the murder of a human by an android. In the process, he discovers a robot revolution.  The future of humanity winds up in the hands of Will Smith (just as it did in the 2007 film I am Legend). The science is pretty non-existent, but the film is notable for popularizing writer Isaac Asimov’s law of robotics: “a robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction allow humanity to come to harm.”  Humans can’t make decisions with that kind of efficiency, and we sure can’t make robots with that capability. It’s Asimov’s laws that are dumb—not the idea of building safeguards to keep killer robots in line.

Hollywood’s killer robots are pure fantasy. Autonomous weapons are real. But the two should not be confused. Denouncing autonomous weapons, as Human Rights Watch does, is premature.

Soon the UN will debate whether or not to ban the ‘bots. But outlawing technology before it’s even built is a dumb idea. The question is: Will Turtle Bay be swayed by Hollywood horror plots or by the science?

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Why the ‘5 Best Baseball Movies’ Are Actually Terrible

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

$212.46. That is what the average family of four spent at a major league ballgame last year.  For the budget-conscious, that price tag makes it mighty tempting to stay home and enjoy the boys of summer on TV—either a live game or a classic baseball movie.

But watching some of the most fondly remembered films about the national passtime suggest that maybe both the game’s time and what made America great are passing. Here are five films that make the case.

 

5. Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill take the Oakland Athletics from a mediocre, going-broke franchise to a cash-cow winner by using analytical, evidence-based “sabermetrics.” The film garnered six Oscar nominations, critical acclaim, and box-office success.  That’s terrible. Celebrating the “corporatization” of baseball is not a good thing. Sure, making money is a good thing. “Last season,” Forbes reports, “MLB saw gross revenues of over $8 billion, and the expectation is it will reach $10 billion within a year or two.”

But where is the gut, the intuition, the love of sport for sport’s sake that we learned from movies like The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Gary Cooper’s epic portrayal of the greatest star of baseball’s finest hour?

 

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You Are Living in the Twitter Dictatorship

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

It is far from the first time Twitter has taken to policing the Internet.

Recently Twitter deleted 10,000 accounts suspected of being linked to ISIS—in one day.

ISIS is fighting back—making death threats against Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Twitter argues it is trying to be a good citizen online. But, does it makes sense to tee-off terrorists and Game of Thrones zealots in the same week? Probably. Otherwise the government will want to take over the job–then there could be a real information dictatorship.

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Forget Small Wars! Pentagon Invading Entire Internet

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

DARPA, the military home for mad scientists, doesn’t think humans can think big enough for future wars. The agency is building a machine that can process 2.5 quintillion bytes (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeroes) and predict the future. FYI: that’s how much information is created each day—about what would fit on 57.5 billion iPads.

The science shop famous for “out-there” projects (like building a real-life Terminator) has tried grappling “big data” before. Congress shut down the controversial Total Information Awareness (TIA) Project.

DARPA’s latest lab experiment raises all kinds of questions. Is it possible? Will the project (like TIA) get derailed over privacy problems? Does the Pentagon have any choice?

How else is it going to stay ahead in the information war?  If the military can’t out-compete enemies in cyberspace, it will lose wars — and there will be no freedom left to protect.

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Don’t Take Me Out to the Ballgame?

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Reports accuse the Mets of cutting its stadium security force by 1/3. Mets officials dispute. “The security of all who enter Citi Field is a top priority,” reads a press release. Maybe, but it’s impossible to find public safety info on the stadium web site.

And, its not just sports, in this post-9/11 world, any public event from college commencements to Taylor Swift concerts raises concerns. The short video above from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing shows how quickly competition turns to chaos.

Major League Baseball’s response? Ordering stadiums to add metal detectors. Fans no doubt noticed longer lines.

Security theater alone won’t protect people against everything from gang-bangers to urban terrorists. Are we now faced with a choice between living in fortress America or staying home?

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image illustration via here

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6 of History’s Biggest Military Failures Memorialized on Film

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Spring is the time “when kings go off to war.” It’s in the Book! Twice!! (2 Samuel 11:1 and Chronicles 20:1.)

Springtime therefore has seen more than its fair share of military defeats. On April 1, 1865, for example, General George Pickett suffered a defeat far worse than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. His troops were cut off and crushed at the Battle of Five Forks, Va. The loss of Pickett’s forces pretty much ended Confederate hopes of defending Richmond. The Confederacy surrendered just eight days later.

America has seen more than a few military setbacks of late. The administration’s latest reversal came this month, when it had to hastily pull our special operations forces from Yemen.

Americans prefer not to dwell on defeats, but they are worth pondering. Sometimes the worst setbacks can be the best teachers. Here, courtesy of Hollywood, are six cinematic accounts of thumping failures that are worth revisiting.

 

6. Khartoum (1966)

You think Obama has an Islamist insurgency problem? In 1883, the “Mahdi” leads a revolt that overruns much of the Sudan. The British government dispatches Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) to Khartoum. Gordon decides to defend the city. It doesn’t end well for the Brits: the garrison is slaughtered, 4,000 civilians are put to the sword and the general loses his head (literally). Gordon hoped that if he refused to retreat, the British would send reinforcements to crush the Mahdi. They didn’t.

The lesson: Hope is not a strategy.

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Will Digital Star Wars Soar Through the Stars or Crash into the Swamp?

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

The force is back with us. On April 10, Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century debut “digital” downloads” of the Star Wars saga.

They will be looking not only to cash in, but to heighten the frenzy for a new slew of films starting this summer.

Are movie-goers again ready to travel to a galaxy far far away?

Certainly, Star Wars still has a hold on our popular culture. After all, Americans petitioned the White House to build a Death Star.

But the real magic of Star Wars was the imaginative mythology and original character-driven story lines. Reloading the franchise might be a cash cow, but it’s no more inspiring than Fast and Furious 7. If audiences are content with Xerox cinema, maybe it’s a sign we have lost our mojo–more new movies may not mean imagination and innovation are the core of American culture anymore.

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7 Big Bible Movies for Your Holiday Weekend

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

In 2013, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced The Bible, a television miniseries that drew a cable audience of over 13 million. They then recut the miniseries into a successful theatrical release: 2014’s Son of God.

Late this March, the National Geographic Channel attracted a record-breaking audience with its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Killing Jesus.

The Christian ratings rampage seems a bit of a head scratcher. The statistics say our nation is rapidly becoming less religious. The Pew Forum finds, for instance, that “[w]hile nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.” And, for the first time, Protestants are on the verge of becoming an American minority.

Yet, the Almighty’s resurgence on screen is not restricted to niche cable channels. A.D. The Bible Continues, a sequel to Burnett’s original mini-series, has a primetime broadcast premiere on Easter Sunday.  The suits at NBC wouldn’t green-light a project like this unless they thought it would pull a broad audience.

Maybe the Bible is back because it never left. While Americans may be less likely to self-identify with a particular formal religion, they are part of a nation whose roots are grounded in a strong religious heritage. “We ignore at our peril,” writes scholar Mark David Hall,

“the Founders’ insight that democracy requires a moral people and that faith is an important, if not indispensable, support for morality.”

The Judeo-Christian faith has always been entwined with American culture, even in hedonistic Hollywood.  Here are seven of the most significant Bible-based movies from Tinseltown.

7. The Ten Commandments (1923)

Cecil B. DeMille was, as one paper wrote, “the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single man.” He knew the kinds of films the American public would hand over their hard-earned cash to see. DeMille delivered a string of films based on the Bible, beginning with this silent screen epic depicting the exodus from Egypt (as well as a modern-day morality tale showing the wisdom of following the 10 Commandments). At the time, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made—and a huge box-office hit.

6. The King of Kings (1927)

DeMille followed-up with a film based on the life of Jesus. He enlisted a cadre of religious advisors to help steer clear of charges of antisemitism. However, not everyone was satisfied on that score. The resulting controversy, in part, led Hollywood to adopt the 1930 Production Code provision that barred “[w]illful offense to any nation, race or creed” from the silver screen. Still, it was a good film on the final days of Jesus’ ministry, better than many of the “talkies”—such as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)—that followed.

5. The Ten Commandments (1956)

DeMille returned with a remake of the story Moses, this time on an even grander scale (and in Technicolor!). It was the height of the Cold War and Americans craved a shot of moral courage. With Charlton Heston in the lead, the film was a phenomenal success at the box office and nominated for seven Academy Awards. One wonders how Ridley Scott thought he could top that. His 2014 remake was a disaster for the Egyptians and moviegoers. Many consider it the worst movie Scott ever made. Stick with Heston and DeMille.

4. Barabbas (1961)

Not every Bible-themed movie was made by DeMille. Indeed, some of them—like Barabbas—have precious little to do with the Bible. In this gritty, action-packed movie, Anthony Quinn plays the thief Pontius Pilate freed instead of Jesus. The movie imagines the rest of Barabbas’ life, including his own confession and redemption.

Similar films like The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959) also played on themes related to the life of Jesus Christ, part of Hollywood’s effort to cash in and be bigger than the Bible. Barabbas also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s Bible craze. After the upheavals of 1960s, the only way God could get on the silver screen was in rock-n-roll musicals like Godspell (1973) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) or an irreverent comedy like Life of Bryan (1979).

3. King David (1985)

Trust me, this movie is not on the list because it’s particularly good. Making heartthrob Richard Gere the king of the Israelites must have seemed like a good idea at the time but the movie bombed. Gere was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor (though he lost to Sylvester Stallone). What was significant about the film was that the Bible was back after a long hiatus in Hollywood. Hollywood’s anger and post-Vietnam War, anti-establishment angst mellowed in the Reagan era.

The Bible was once again okay—although King David’s dismal box office dampened the suits’ enthusiasm for Bible epics for a good while.

2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Another not very good film that needs to be on the list. “Artsy” types liked the Martin Scorsese movie, but the box office was just so-so. For years, this and other films that played with the Christian story were disconnected from Americans. As a result,they received little attention.

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

It’s hard not to respect this controversial and disturbing film by Mel Gibson. “The violence aside,” wrote the film critic for Christianity Today, the movie conveys “the divinity and humanity of Christ, respectively; and, more than any recent director, Gibson captures the grand supernatural conflict which gives the death of Christ its meaning.”

Compare this movie to recent “big” Hollywood productions like Scott’s Exodus or the unwatchable Noah (2014) and you’ll see why films that try to tell the Christian story touch something in Americans, while those that try to cash in by turning the Bible into another Fast and Furious sequel flop with most movie-goers.

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You Have to Know How to Wage War to Win the Final Four

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

The Duke basketball team sailed into the Sweet Sixteen. That may be ho-hum to Blue Devils fans. The hoopsters have been there 28 times before. Twenty-two — think about that for a moment. Twenty-two times the team has been to the regional semifinals under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The first Division One basketball coach to win over 1,000 games, Coach K is no stranger to coming out on top.

His passion for winning b-ball goes back to his days playing as a West Point cadet. Later, he ran the program at the military academy. Coach Krzyzewski called the academy his  “leadership laboratory.”

Would Krzyzewski have ever become one of the game’s greatest if it weren’t for the foundation of discipline and excellence ingrained in him at West Point?

Great coaches and great generals have a good deal in common. They have to put together a team and a campaign plan. As my fellow West Point classmate General Rick Lynch wrote, they have to “adapt or die.”

In sports, as in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

West Point has produced many of America’s finest field generals—including most commanders on both sides in the Civil War.

Eisenhower and MacArthur were academy graduates, as were many senior Army offices overseeing battles from Normandy to Kabul.

But, not every great American combat leader passed through West Point. George C. Marshall, the “architect of victory” during World War II, graduated from the Virginia Military Institute.

Regardless of where they went to school, however, the best ones lived the ideals of West Point — the dedication to “duty, honor, country,” but also the passion never to finish further behind than first.

It is no different at the elite levels of sport. John Wooden may have gone to Purdue and John Thompson attended Providence, but they would have made smart cadets — and probably pretty decent field marshals.

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NFL Star Retires at 24, Leaves Millions on the Table. Why?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland packed it in after one season.

The cash and fame, he claimed, weren’t worth the risk of retiring with a scrambled brain.

To be fair, we know a lifetime of being battered in sport can be debilitating. Famed Dallas Cowboy running back Tony Dorsett in a recent interview. acknowledged he suffers from memory, loss, depression and dementia—tied to years of head-banging in college and the NFL.

And, it is not just football. In 1984, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson, which could have resulted from the shots to the head during his long boxing career.

On the other hand, players like Paul Hornung, the “Golden Boy” of Coach Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers is still going strong at age 79. Here he is speaking in a recent interview with Fox News host Greta van Susteren.

In truth, while scientists know a lot more about what goes on inside the head than they did just a few years ago, they can’t predict with certainty how every brain handles taking a beating.

So what is an athlete to do—pursue their passion or play it safe?

And this isn’t just a dilemma for sports stars. Every Marine and soldier who goes in harm’s way has to worry about brain injury in combat—from the concussive effects of explosions to the stress of military service. They don’t have the luxury of taking a big bonus and then calling it quits. What are they to do?

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The Secret Reason Over 40 Million Americans Guess the March Madness

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Forty million Americans will fill out brackets predicting the winners and losers in the annual NCAA basketball tournament. What’s that tell you about the USA? Hint: It has surprisingly little to do with how we feel about shooting hoops.

Of course, whenever 40 million Americans do anything, that really says something.

Forty million of us use online dating services. No surprise. When was the last time you ran into a married couple who met in a bar? Americans hook up online.

Over 40 million Americans have unpaid medical bills. Well, we kind of suspected the White House was overhyping. Obamacare is just not cutting it.

Forty million Americans still smoke. Guess a lot of us still have a death wish.

And 40 million of us fill out the brackets all the way from the NCAA qualifiers through the Final Four. But why?

We know there are not 40 million die-hard fans of the hardwood. After, only 20 million watched the championship game last year. So what do they have in common with the other half? Answer: the love of competition.

Americans are instinctively competitive. That’s a good survival skill for any nation. Competition is the essence of understanding and prevailing in war.

General George “Blood and Guts” Patton understood Americans. “All real Americans love the sting of battle,” he growled in a motivational speech to the troops during World War II. “When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” he concluded. “Americans play to win all the time.”

Patton used sports analogies a good deal because they provided an apt metaphor for the essential characteristic of war. Like sport, war is a competition between two determined foes, a contest of action and counteraction that delivers winners and losers—not just points for participating.

Competition is about making choices and applying resources. Because of that, the side with the most resources doesn’t always win.

Americans get that. When pondering the brackets, they realize that just picking the team with the better record or the better statistics doesn’t guarantee a win in any particular match-up, much less a string of victories throughout the tournament. In any game, on any given day, it’s how the players compete that matters. That’s why seasoned bracket pickers typically predict a few upsets in the early David vs Goliath rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Of course when Patton talked about the American warrior, he liked to boast that the play-to-win mentality was why “Americans have not and never will lose a war.” Well, we have lost wars since then. Remember Vietnam? But was that conflict lost because Americans became poor warriors or because American warriors were poorly led?

Americans don’t love war, but they understand you have to compete—and compete well—to win.

When leaders fight wars badly, they start losing the confidence of the American people and they start arguing Americans are sick of war. That’s a lot easier than recognizing and admitting that they are simply bad war leaders.

Americans know the difference between a competitor and someone just going through the motions. That’s the real lesson of March Madness.

 

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7 Films to Get Your Irish Up Today

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

It is anybody’s guess why it is so all-American to be Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Maybe it is because so many Americans trace their roots back to the land of the four-leaf clover. According to Census Bureau data, there are seven times more Irish in America than in Ireland. Still, that doesn’t explain why so many of the other 300 million Americans feel compelled to drink green beer and eat corn beef and cabbage every March 17.

Not that everybody loves the Irish. Liberals often describe Irish-Americans as intolerant and small-minded. Last year, to “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day, a Salon writer penned a piece titled “How did my fellow Irish-Americans get so disgusting?”

Despite the progressive pouting, most Americans can relate to the Irish ethos—the emotion, the energy, the passion for triumph and the familiarity with tragedy. Hollywood gets that. That’s why Irish-themed films have always been a staple of the cinema. Here are seven movies that will have you fist-pumping “Erin go Bragh.”

7. The Departed

Nothing bridges the Emerald Isle and land for people yearning to be free than this story of Irish gangsters run amok in Boston. Loosely based on the career of the infamous crime boss Whitey Bulger and featuring music by the Dropkick Murphys, this 2006 Martin Scorsese film is just this side of awesome.

6. Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Here is a heavy dose of Irish folklore, American-style. Darby is captured by the leprechauns, and the high jinks commence. This 1959 Disney flick wound up paving the way for cinematic history. When Darby came out, American film producer Albert Broccoli was casting about for someone who was ruggedly handsome—and would work dirt cheap—to play a spy in his next film. The actor playing Darby’s replacement caught his eye, and that’s how an “Irish” Sean Connery (who is Scots-Australian) became the consummate English gentleman spy, James Bond.

5. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

You can’t be Irish without a strong dose of pathos over the “troubles” leading up to Irish independence. This engrossing film shows all sides of the conflict as two brothers get caught up in the guerilla war that tried to throw off the yoke of British rule. It’s a haunting, beautiful, moving movie.

4. Riverdance: The Show

You can’t be Irish if you don’t have a musical soul. This hit song-and-dance-fest took America by storm with stage shows all over the country. Riverdance was also captured on film. A 1995 performance at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, is available on DVD.

3. Good Vibrations

Not all Celtic music is harps, raven-haired sopranos, and barrel-chested baritones. Meet Terri Hooley, a radical, rebel-rousing music lover in 1970s Belfast. In this 2012 film, Hooley’s record shop becomes ground zero for rekindling the spirit of a crumbling community and birthing Ireland’s punk rock craze. This film is a high-energy funfest.

2. The Angry Red Planet

Perhaps, the most schlocky science fiction film ever made. This 1959 movie-matinee mainstay features a trip to Mars where the intrepid crew faces giant bats, man-eating plants, and a massive, one-eyed amoeba. They just don’t make them like this anymore.

The ship’s misogynistic captain calls one of the crew Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) “Irish” instead of Iris. Naura Hayden was actually born in Los Angeles and isn’t Irish. In fact, other than the nickname, the film has nothing to do with Ireland, but if you have been out celebrating all St. Patrick’s Day you won’t really care.

1. Rudy

Nothing is more Irish-American than Notre Dame, and that storied university has inspired two immortal football films: 1940’s Knute Rockne All American (with Ronald Reagan as the Gipper) and this 1993 classic starring Hobbit Sean Astin as the kid who just won’t quit. At the end you will join everyone in the stadium chanting “Rudy, Rudy!”

From sports films to musicals to devastating dramas and silly films, it is all Irish cinema that’s not to be missed when all Americans celebrate Lá Fhéile Pádraig.

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What Will You Do When the Worst Happens?

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

You’re reading a post for Preparedness Week, a weeklong series of blogs about disaster and emergency preparation inspired by the launch of Freedom Academy’s newest e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror by James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. You can download the e-book exclusively at the PJ Store here.

I think about the worst things that could happen to average Americans, every day. It’s my job. My number one concern is trying to promote the sorts of policies and decisions that will prevent the worst from happening. But barring that, I want you to be prepared. That’s why I wrote Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror. My new e-book is available today in the PJ Store. Every chapter is full of information on how to deal with a different disaster: EMP attacks, terrorism, biological warfare, and more. Preparedness is for everyone. You don’t have to have a bunker full of canned goods to survive – you just need the basic skills and info I outline in Surviving the End. Here’s a preview:

“Glenn Beck wants you.”

Not necessarily words everyone wants to hear.

For Washington “talking heads,” calls to jump in front of a TV camera with no advance notice is part of the job. Talking about the issues of the day—whatever those happen to be—is a daily occurrence.  Having little or no time to think about the answer? That’s the norm. When it comes to live cable-news interviews, experts are supposed to show up shovel-ready.

But being with Beck took being put on the spot to a whole new level. Expect the unexpected.

In 2006, the popular radio talk-show host joined CNN Headline News. Anchoring a program that delivered breaking stories and commentary, Beck’s ratings shot up faster than a sprinter on a StairMaster. Everybody loved Beck (or loved to hate him). He delivered animated, irreverent, surprise twists on the news that other cable news programs couldn’t keep up with.

There was no telling where Glenn would take a story. That’s always been a puzzler for pundits. For the person on the other end of the interview, dialogue with Beck could be like mowing grass in a minefield.

Be prepared for anything.

This wasn’t my first time live with Beck. I figured I was ready for the roller-coaster.

I was wrong.

The producer titled the segment “Signs Pointing to Armageddon? Author Claims to Be Descendent of Christ.”

Beck kicked off the hour declaring, “Well, everybody is talking about politics today, and we will, too, later on in the program. But first I want to talk about something much more important. August 22 is the day that Israel might be wiped off the map, leading to all out Armageddon.”

Say what?

“August 22 could be the day that makes people who are the most skeptical about my World War III theory say ‘Holy Mother of God, what’s happening?’” Beck warned. “August 22 could be the day that agnostics get down on one knee and start to pray, ‘Sweet Jesus, are you coming today?’”

Princeton University scholar Bernard Lewis, the anchor reported, “is suggesting that Iran’s Islamic end of times prophecies could be fulfilled on August 22 …13 days from now.”  That day marks the occasion of the great night journey in 671, al-Isra wal-Miraj, when the Archangel transported the Prophet Muhammad to the Aqsa mosque and then to heaven and back again. It is also the date celebrated for Saladin recapturing Jerusalem in 1187. “So to Muslims, I guess,” Beck surmised, “August 22 is like Christmas and Thanksgiving and New Year’s all rolled up into one.”

“Here’s what is truly frightening. My theory,” Beck declared straight to the camera. “President Ahmadinejad [of Iran] has repeatedly stated that he wants to personally bring back the 12th imam by destroying Israel. That’s Armageddon. He says that he would respond to the West’s question about his country’s nuclear program at the end of August.” Perhaps, Beck fretted, that announcement would unveil Iran’s nuclear breakout, in turn leading to inevitable war and the beginning of the end of it all.

“Now here’s what I don’t know,” Beck concluded. “I don’t know if anything’s going to happen on August 22, and honestly I really hope and I believe that nothing will happen. But we no longer live in a world that makes sense. I mean, anything can happen.”

So, was something going to occur or not?

“Jim?”

Then the camera swung to the security expert—me.

What to say to an audience of millions when the anchor wants to know if the clock is ticking toward the end of times?

There is no place for dead air in cable news. Even before Beck asked the question, everyone expected an immediate answer.

“Well, I’ve got to tell you one thing,” I blurted. “For 2,000 years people have been predicting the end of the world, and some day somebody’s going to be right.”

It was kind of an answer.

It might not have been the answer Beck was looking for.

It also might not have been the last time I was on the show. (Time will tell.)

In retrospect, perhaps a flippant comment wasn’t the best way to kick off the discussion. But that’s not why this particular media moment proved hard to forget.

Having done thousands of interviews for television, radio, film documentaries, and the Web, everywhere from ESPN to Al Jazeera, it is pretty impossible to remember the particulars of what was said in each of them. But that night with Beck was different.

It stuck.

It revealed an important truth to all of us who really care about protecting our families from harm by doing what we can, when we can, to keep them safe.

It is also the reason for this book.

Beck was right. “Anything can happen.” We should never, ever forget that.

Not only can the most improbable events materialize, they often do. And we are usually ill-prepared from them.

The unthinkable occurs all the time.

***

I spend my days thinking about the unthinkable. Now it’s time for you to, too. Download my new e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror here.

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5 Must-See TV Shows for Skipping the State of the Union

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Consider the president’s track record. He’s told us that Libya was a triumph, al Qaeda was dead, the war in Iraq was over, the war in Afghanistan was won, relations with Russia have been reset and China is our friend. Given those credentials, it’s fair to conclude that Mr. Obama has about as much to tell us about foreign affairs as the Syfy channel has to say about science.

So where can you find some truly educational television tonight? Here’s some alternative programming that can teach us some important lessons about how to keep America safe.

5. Marco Polo

The Netflix series tells the story of famed adventurer at the court of Kublai Khan. Bloodthirsty, ruthless, cunning barbarian at heart? Yes. Presidential material? No. On the other hand, the great Khan was a strategist who understood the wisdom of China’s greatest military philosopher,

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer. … If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Compared to a White House that even seems to struggle at parsing friend and foe, this entertainment is refreshing fare.

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The 10 Most Important Military Stories of 2014

Thursday, January 1st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Looking back over the last year, here are the stories that we will probably still be thinking about in the years ahead. In some cases these headlines will be recalled as warnings of the troubles to come. Others are reminders of the one constant advantage America holds—that every generation of Americans is the greatest generation. We are blessed by the men and women who every year put themselves in harm’s way to safeguard us.

10. Farewell Robin Williams.

Remembering the service and sacrifice of those that serve is important.  The comedian and actor Robin Williams, a staple of the USO circuit, lived that commitment. After 9/11, for example, Williams toured with the USO a half-dozen times, visiting 13 countries including Iraq and Afghanistan. During one memorable performance in Kuwait in 2007, he started the show early and had to stop when retreat was sounded. All the troops snapped to attention, facing away from the stage. Afterward, Williams quipped, “I am not going to forget that. I’ve never had an entire audience say, ‘Forget you.’” The troops will miss him.

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10 Awesome, Forgotten World War II Films

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 - by James Jay Carafano

Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano’s ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You CryAmerica’s First Wars in 10 Movies10 Movies For Understanding the Civil War, A 10 Film Introduction to America’s Turn of the Century ‘Small Wars,’  America Over There! A 10 Film Introduction to World War ITelling the Story of World War II in 10 Movies10 Films that Tell the Future of War, and 10 Films That Show Respect for the American Veteran. Also visit the PJ Store where Victor Davis Hanson presents “World War II,” a six episode video lecture series.

Watching Sony cave to threats over screening a film ridiculing North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, it is hard to imagine that once Tinseltown was a very different place. After Pearl Harbor, Hollywood went to war. A string of A-listers put their talent in the service of the nation. In some cases, they put themselves in harm’s way to tell the story of the fight for freedom. Here are 10 largely forgotten examples of patriotic cinema at its best.

10. The Battle of Midway

The legendary John Ford, director of the classic western Stagecoach (1939), found himself and his camera crew filming in the middle of one of World War II’s biggest naval battles. The result was a stunning, 18-minute technicolor film. The riveting live-action combat scenes earned the film a share of the 1942 Oscar for best documentary.

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