The Hobbit: The Battle of the Battles finishes the series

Summary:  Today film critic Locke Peterseim reviews the last of The Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies. Peter Jackson gives us fare that well suits 21st century America, a spectacular but shallow and overly long war. Three hours of CGI carnage without meaning or emotion, just like our real wars (except to those who wage them). It’s a built-for-export product, whose action transcends the lack of characterization.  Post your comments about the film or the review!


Battle of the Five Armies


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Battle of the Battles for the Battle

By Locke Peterseim
Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
24 December 2014
Reposted here with his generous permission


Trust me, I well know that books are not movies and movies are not books. I’m fully aware of (and fascinated by) the differences in how the two mediums tell stories and create meaning and experience. And I also know that in this age of Internet tribalism, Hel hath no impotent, squealing fury like a fan who feels the movie on the big screen doesn’t quite match his or her version of the beloved, sacred source material. I know you’re supposed to address the film that was made, not the film you wanted made.

Which is to say that I don’t think The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies — Jackson’s final visit to Middle Earth and the closing chapter in his two-trilogy, six-film, nearly 20-year Tolkien filmmaking journey — is a bad movie. I was somewhat bored by it, but these days I’m more often bored than thrilled by big-screen CGI martial whiz-bang.

Obviously many of you are out there enjoying the film fully, dutifully enthralled by it, and most critics follow the same lines when “reviewing” films like The Hobbit — they focus on how well they’re paced, do they hold together, and most importantly for your two and a half hours and 10-plus dollars, do they entertain enough?

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Men in space: an expensive trip to nowhere

Summary: NASA dreams of manned space flight to the planets, and spends billions to do so. They focus on “how” with no thought of why, repeating the error that led to the failure of Apollo. Like the State Department (wrecked in the 1950s, never fixed) and DoD (same mistakes in a succession of failed wars), NASA seems unable to learn from its experience. For 52 years manned space programs have provided expensive entertainment for Americans and welfare for its aerospace corporations. FAILure to learn is a serious weakness for the government of a great nation.

Given time, a desire, considerable innovation, and sufficient effort and money, man can eventually explore our solar system.Given his enormous curiosity about the universe in which he lives and his compelling urge to go where no one has ever been before, this will be done.

Report by President John F. Kennedy’s advisory committee on space, 10 January 1961.

Space Dreams

Science Photo Library


  1. Men and Women in Space: a dead end.
  2. Next steps on the road to nowhere.
  3. Journalist cheerleaders.
  4. Comparing space to other big projects.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Men and Women in Space: a dead end.

History consists of missed opportunities and wrong turning onto dead ends. For example, what if Charles Babbage had completed his Difference Engine (a mechanical calculator) by 1850, and on that success he or his successors completed his Analytical Engine (a programmable computer) in the 1870s? What if America had not poured so much of its energy, creativity, and technical talent into the space program in the 1960s? What if we had spent it on some other form of research?

It’s not just hindsight. During the 1950s and 1960s the government commissioned numerous committees to consider the benefits of manned spaceflight; most of them repeated the conclusions of the 1960 Hornig Committee and the 1961 Weisner Committee (quoted above; the Chairman became a life-long opponent of the manned space program): the cost would outweigh the benefits.

Space Station from "2001"

Space Station from “2001”

The first 53 years of men and women in space validated their forecasts. It produced little useful science. The technological spin-offs have been even smaller (many commonly cited ones are myths, such as Tang, Teflon, Velcro, MRI, barcodes, quartz clocks, or smoke detectors). As for the commercial benefits of opening the final frontier, we turn to the definitive account of this wrong turn is Dark Side of the Moon by Gerard J. DeGroot (2006) — “The magnificent madness of the American lunar quest.”

Those who justified the presence of men in space argued that the early astronauts were like the medieval seafarers, looking for places to colonize. But the efforts of Columbus and Magellan were inspired by the commercial potential of new territories — exploration was pointless unless commerce followed. The Portuguese and Spanish courts would have pulled the plug on the explorers quicker than you can say Vasco da Gama if their voyages had been exclusively esoteric, or if they had brought back only worthless rocks. Instead, they returned with valuable commodities — precious metals, spices, trinkets, potatoes — which thrilled the medieval money crunchers.

In addition, the places they sought to explore were, by virtue of their existence on Earth, actually habitable. The same could not be said for colonies on the Moon or Mars. … The Moon, remember, makes Antarctica seem like an oasis.

NASA, with other nations, built the $150 billion space station that does little of commercial or scientific value. Now they plan further adventures.

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A speech by one of Britain’s greatest leaders gives a powerful start to our new year

Only the next generation can see what were the big stories of 2014, but one appears clear even now. In 2014 Americans finally became aware that the 1% has screwed us, taking most of America’s productivity gains since the 1970s. We saw it in the news about rising inequality, in new studies about inequality (e.g., by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez), and films expressing our fears about our future (e.g., “Divergent”, “The Hunger Games”, “Snowpiercer”), and news about the police oppression of the underclass.

A more interesting stage begins after we assimilate these facts; perhaps it starts in 2015. What do we do about this? Acceptance means becoming subjects, 21st century peons. Willingness to act puts us on a long road, probably beginning with a naive belief in small easy solutions — and that the 1% won’t strike back with the vast economic and political power they’ve gathered during the past 4 decades.

We’ll need inspiration during the inevitable dark days ahead, when victory seems unlikely while the cost appears high and imminent. There’s not much in Western history to draw upon. I recommend re-purposing songs and speeches, ones similar in spirit but directed to different ends than ours of today. Here’s one such speech by Lloyd George, one of Britain’s major reformers and greatest leaders (Prime Minister 1916-1922). We can take heart from his words, applying them to a better cause.

Perhaps we have become too sophisticated and too cynical so that such words no longer stir us. What then will do so? If nothing — we’ve become that passive — then perhaps we can no longer govern ourselves. Stronger people will rule and do so in their interest, not ours. We can console ourselves by tears and fantasy, as each person prefers. But I believe we remain strong when acting together, if only we realize it.

David Lloyd George (1863-1945)

David Lloyd George (1863-1945)


Conclusion of a speech by David Lloyd George

About honor


To the London Welshmen at Queens’ Hall, London

19 September 1914, at the start of WWI

Slightly tweaked to apply to us (changes are in italics)



What we are fighting is that claim to predominancy of a class, a material one, a hard one, a class which if once it rules and sways the world, liberty goes, democracy vanishes … You know the type of motorist, the terror of the roads, with a He thinks the roads are made for him, and anybody who impedes the action of his car by a single mile is knocked down.

… All I can say is this: if the old British spirit is alive in British hearts, that bully will be torn from his seat. Were he to win it would be the greatest catastrophe that has befallen democracy since the days of the Holy Alliance and its ascendancy. They think we cannot beat them. It will not be easy. It will be a long job. It will be a terrible conflict. But in the end we shall march through terror to triumph. We shall need all our qualities, every quality that Britain and its people possess.

Prudence in council, daring in action, tenacity in purpose, courage in defeat, moderation in victory, in all things faith, and we shall win.

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For your New Year’s Eve festivities: an inspirational speech from a great leader

Our traditional New Year’s post:  As we start a new year we can gain courage by looking at the good aspects of our past and the glimmers of good fortune that lie in our future.  These things are conjured by our myths from the dry pages of history for our eyes to see. From the archives.

Morpheus speaking to the people of Zion

From The Matrix Reloaded (2003)



Believe me when I say that we have a difficult time ahead of us.
But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it.
I stand before you now, truthfully, unafraid.
Because I believe something you do not?
I stand here because I remember.
I remember that I am here not because the path that lies before me,
but because of the path that lies behind me.

What I believe


As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of such things amidst the clatter of daily events:

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The 2014 report card for the FM website. What were the top hits?

On this last day of 2014 I’ll interrupt our usual service to thank all you for your support — our readers and authors — those who comment — the authors and periodicals who generously allow their work to be re-published here — and those whose donations support this website.


Coming soon to the FM website: an electronic scoreboard and sponsors!


A report card for the FM website

We ended the year on a strong note, with aprox 106 thousand page views in December. In 2014 the FM website has 311 new posts, bringing the total to 2,917 since opening in November 2007 — over 5 million words.

WordPress doesn’t give the number of comments per year; there have been a total of 35,275 comments posted. Readers vote their opinion of posts by their comments and page views. What’s the score for 2014?

In 2014 I wrote some of my favorite and most popular posts. Number one in 2014, and a record high, was Explaining the season 6 finale of “Castle”, and what’s coming next (May) with 85 thousand hits. It had 66 comments, not even in the top 50. I suspect Castle fans were outraged at my prediction that Richard Castle faked his own death. Since that proved correct, this was also the most successful prediction ever on the FM website, proudly added to the list of “wins”.  We still don’t know why he did it, so that prediction remains open.

Second place with 35 thousand hits went to last week’s post of straight journalism: The FBI told their story about North Korea attacking Sony. Before we retaliate, read what they didn’t tell you. (as was #11, debunking alarmists hype about a super-monster El Nino in 2014).

My personal favorite was #3: The 1% won a counter-revolution while we played. We forgot that we are the crew of America, not passengers. (April), exploring the primary theme of the FM site.

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2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us

Summary: Beam us down to Earth on 31 December 2015. What will we find? My guess is that the massive experiments now underway by experts will have borne fruit, and we’ll know if they were sweet or poisoned. Interesting times lie ahead, and none can say how they will end.


Crystal Ball


  1. The age of experts’ experiments on us
  2. Warnings of Climate Change
  3. Economics: monetary and fiscal magic
  4. For More Information


Photo from the Star Trek episode “Miri” – The landing party arrives in response to a distress call. Experts on the planet have run a massive experiment to produce a better world. Looks like it didn’t end well.

TOS: "Miri" - Landing Party


(1)  The age of experts’ experiments on us

The 21st century has seen some of the largest experiments ever by experts, different from the often-mad amateur experiments that shaped so much of human history (e.g., the French and Russian revolutions, the Fascist social “engineers” in the 1930s, the 1970s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia). Some have run to completion, such as the US military’s expeditions to Iraq and Afghanistan — using the techniques of COIN to defeat local insurgents and build new western-style nations (quite mad given the history of almost total failure since WWII by foreign armies fighting insurgents). Other and larger experiments continue running. Let’s look at two of the biggest.

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Are we chickenhawks and so bear the responsibility for our lost wars since 9/11?

Summary: Now the wars have ended (although some Americans continue to fight abroad) we move to the next and equally difficult phase — retrospective and learning. Too many Americans seek to skip this — looking forward in ignorance rather than gaining something from our past. Here we look at a new article by James Fallow, one of the few exceptions. It’s a long deep look at our wars, the US military, and its relationship to America.  (1st of 2 posts today)

Military spending


The Tragedy of the American Military

By James Fallows

The Atlantic, January/February 2015

“The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.”


James Fallows’ does some of the best long-form journalism of anyone today. It covers so many subjects (ten thousand words) with so many contradictory cross-currents that it defies easy analysis. Much of it I agree with. However Fallow’s core message is pernicious and his recommendations are almost irrelevant to the problems he so well describes. It points us in the wrong direction to understand and solve our problems.

He opens with description of a speech by Obama in mid-September at Central Command HQ in Florida (transcript here):

If any of my fellow travelers at O’Hare were still listening to the speech, none of them showed any reaction to it. And why would they? This has become the way we assume the American military will be discussed by politicians and in the press: Overblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money. A somber moment to reflect on sacrifice. Then everyone except the few people in uniform getting on with their workaday concerns.

Fallows’ article has received lavish praise from many in the military, active duty and veterans. What would their reaction have been if Obama had criticized the military for the many reasons Fallows (rightly) points to? How many in the military would have said “thanks, boss”? What does Fallows expect us to do after hearing a speech about the military? Although the US faces rivals and foes, as always, today’s threats are small compared to those of the past century.  Also, the level of global violence has been dropping for generations.  We should turn our attention from war and the military to the other important concerns.

The remainder of the article gives the same message, in different forms.

I’m not aware of any midterm race for the House or Senate in which matters of war and peace — as opposed to immigration, Obamacare, voting rights, tax rates, the Ebola scare — were first-tier campaign issues on either side …

After 13 years our war-madness has faded! Oddly, Fallows doesn’t agree. His following analysis is quite backwards.

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