David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

Thoughts on the Phony, Fascinating and Forgotten Issues of Yesterday and Today

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Top 100 Catchphrases of All Time

Posted by davidaarongray on February 17, 2014 at 3:00 AM

You may not recognize the movie but you probably heard the quote. From the dramatic to the slapstick, here is a collection of the most memorable quotes and one-liners in Hollywood history.

  • "Fat guy in a little coat"
  • "I see dead people"
  • "I could've been a contender"
  • "Say hello to my little friend"
  • "la–di–da"
  • "Reeeeetainerrr!"
  • "Crab cakes and football..."
  • "...the most famous is never to fight a land war in Asia..."


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Posted by davidaarongray on February 9, 2014 at 6:55 AM

2:30am, Tuesday, April 27, 1943: Inside the camp bakery at Auschwitz I (main camp)

After 948 days as inmate #4859, Captain Witold Pilecki, along with fellow inmates Jan Redzej (Jasiek) and Edward Ciesielski (Edek) made the daring decision to escape the Nazi death factory. They had deliberately been transferred to the night shift working inside the main camp’s bakery, since the location on the perimeter along with the cover of night gave them the best chances of a successful escape. The below is an excerpt from Pilecki’s report on Auschwitz (sent to the Allies in London) recounting that fateful night a few days after Easter Sunday:

Jasiek was strong, and my strength was doubled by all the nervous tension, but the door leading out of the bakery seemed stronger than us.

Then…with the additional help of Edek, the three of us put everything we had into that door as it gradually and quietly began to move. I took one last glance at the sleeping SS guard a few meters behind us...I nodded to Edek (on my left) and Jasiek (on my right) and without saying a word the three of us rammed the enormous steel door off its hinges…revealing before us the first sight of freedom…

The cold night air blew on our overheated heads as the stars twinkled in the sky as if winking at us…

The final push of the door made quite a noise (disorienting the sleeping guard; but not for long).

A leap into the dark unknown, followed by a dash - Jasiek, me, then Edek (in that order). Moments later, shots rang out to meet us.

It is hard to judge how fast we were running. Our legs, arms and bodies tore at the air. I counted a total of nine shots as we reached the 100-meter mark outside the camp. All the bullets missed…then…silence.

The SS guard must have made a run to the telephone (which he would no doubt have found useless, since I had cut the main cable seconds before we fled the bakery). My last act of labor inside that hell.

After about 200 to 300 meters, Jasiek (who was slightly ahead of me and Edek) believing it safe to catch his breath began to slow down. Ahead of us, we could see the waters of the River Soła flowing into the Vistula.

Both comrades turned to me.

“Well?” asked Jasiek (panting)

“What now?” Edek inquired

“Nothing, let’s get dressed,” I said.

Now, after leaving our striped prison clothes well hidden in the bushes, I led them along the River Bank…

We already felt to some extent free. But a certain sense of danger lay between us and a full feeling of freedom.

We began to run cross-country. The little town of Auschwitz lay to our right. We jumped over ditches, crossed roads and ran through ploughed fields all the while following the Vistula as it meandered. Only later did we marvel at how much effort a man can expend when he is running on nervous energy.

After several kilometers, we could hear and then see a train heading in the direction of Birkenau. We watched silently as the train roared passed us on tracks no more than 20 meters from where we stood (filled with the living cargo of the innocent that was soon to be no more upon reaching its destination).

We then climbed a small hill and from a rise we saw ahead of us fences, barracks, watchtowers, wire…Before us was a camp with the familiar searchlights creeping over the ground… For a moment we froze as we came to the conclusion that it was the so-called “Buna” sub-camp. We had no time to change our heading as dawn was beginning to light up the sky.

Which U.S. Presidents Have Been Portrayed the Most in Films?

Posted by davidaarongray on January 23, 2014 at 2:45 AM


Some of the greatest movies ever made were based on the respective lives of the most powerful Chief Executive in the world.


Below is a chart showing the number of film portrayals for each U.S. President (data is from IMDB and does not include documentaries or films where the President plays himself).


Though you may have guessed which man was depicted the most, only one American President has the honor of never appearing on an actor's filmography.


See the results below:

Not all Presidents are Created Equal in Hollywood


Red bars represent Presidents depicted at least 30 times


1) Abraham Lincoln = 153

2) George Washington = 65

3) Ulysses S. Grant = 48

4) Richard M. Nixon = 42

5) Thomas Jefferson = 40

6) Theodore Roosevelt = 37

7) George W. Bush = 36

8) Franklin Roosevelt = 35

9) John F. Kennedy = 33

10) John Adams = 22

11) Andrew Jackson = 22

12) Barack Obama = 21

13) Ronald Reagan = 19

14) Bill Clinton = 19

15) Woodrow Wilson = 13

16) Dwight D. Eisenhower = 10

17) Lyndon B. Johnson = 10

18) James Monroe = 9

19) Harry S. Truman = 9

20) Jimmy Carter = 9

21) George H.W. Bush = 8

22) Zachary Taylor = 6

23) James Madison = 5

24) James K. Polk = 5

25) James A. Garfield = 5

26) Gerald Ford = 5

27) William McKinley = 4

28) John Quincy Adams = 3

29) William Henry Harrison = 3

30) Millard Fillmore = 3

31) Andrew Johnson = 3

32) Rutherford B. Hayes = 3

33) Grover Cleveland = 3

34) Martin Van Buren = 2

35) John Tyler = 2

36) Chester A. Arthur = 2

37) Calvin Coolidge = 2

38) Franklin Pierce = 1

39) James Buchanan = 1

40) Benjamin Harrison = 1

41) William Howard Taft = 1

42) Herbert Hoover = 1

43) Warren G. Harding = 0 

Escape from Auschwitz

Posted by davidaarongray on January 8, 2014 at 1:35 AM


After close to three years as an inmate at Auschwitz, Captain Witold Pilecki decided to break out of the camp, with the hope of personally convincing Polish Home Army leaders that a prisoner rescue attempt was a valid option. When he was assigned to a night shift at the camp bakery, he and two comrades overpowered a guard, cut the phone line and escaped taking with them documents stolen from the Germans.


This video maps Pilecki's escape route from the bakery at Auschwitz to the safe house some 64 miles away.

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A FEW GOOD MEN: A Lesson in Moral Disengagement

Posted by davidaarongray on November 3, 2013 at 5:10 PM

"Unit, Corps, God, Country." Who could possibly forget that (now almost) cliche Marine Corps "code" from the 1992 classic, A Few Good Men.


But before signing up at your local Marine Recruitment office, I have a word of caution for all you would be warriors…intense and unforgettable though it may be, that "code," referenced several times throughout A Few Good Men, was simply one of many fictitious catchphrases originating from the creative mind of writer Aaron Sorkin.


The real Marine code is: "HONOR, COURAGE, COMMITMENT." Not very cinematic, maybe, but it has gotten the Corps through many a sticky situation and when combined with the acronym that forms the USMC 14 Traits of Leadership, "J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE," it becomes as unforgettable as Sorkin's version.


For those interested, here is the breakdown of that bizarre acronym:


1. Justice


2. Judgment


3. Dependability


4. Initiative


5. Decisiveness


6. Tact


7. Integrity


8. Enthusiasm


9. Bearing


10. Unselfishness


11. Courage


12. Knowledge


13. Loyalty


14. Endurance


Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure our beloved Corps would still have been victorious From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli if we changed the mnemonic device to something a little more "story like." Just spitballing, but here's a college try (come up with your own if you like):


Janitors Initiate Devious Unions, Then Instigate Extreme Debating Between Coworkers, Even Ladies, Just Kidding!

But let's not split hairs. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


Enough tangents…let's dive right into the genius of the film, which can essentially be conveyed in one of the movie's lesser known exchanges:


Lt. Commander Galloway (Demi Moore):


This past February you received a cautionary memo from the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, warning that the practice of enlisted men disciplining their own wasn’t to be condoned by officers.

Col. Jessup (and if you don't know who the actor was then stop reading right now and go watch the movie):


Well, I submit to you that whoever wrote that memo has never faced the working end of a Soviet-made Cuban AK-47 assault rifle.

The moral dilemma that Sorkin so delicately presents (yet leaves it to us to answer) is whether or not it is permissible to commit a crime under the pretext of "obeying orders."


Director, Rob Reiner expanded on this question in an interview with the NYTimes shortly after the film's debut:


Where do you draw the line between being loyal and following orders, and acting on your own when something is immoral or illegal. It's the same moral dilemma the world faced at Nuremberg, or Calley at My Lai. And it doesn't just apply to the military. We all live in corporate or business cultures. We're all subordinate to somebody else. We all have to make decisions about what's right and what's wrong.

The two defendants in the film, PFC Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson were given a direct order by their superior officer, Lt. Kendrick to discipline the victim (PFC Santiago) due mainly to the failure and insubordination on the part of Santiago - depicted in this scene:

Now, if two low ranking marines were given an order by their Lieutenant to discipline (in a nonlethal way) someone like Santiago, it is a tall task to accuse those marines of any blatant wrongdoing.


But, Sorkin's genius in A Few Good Men lies in two very important questions that combine to create the moral ambiguity that our society is confronted with everyday:


First, Sorkin elevates the banality of evil beyond the NCO level and up the chain of command, making the viewer unsure who is just executing a directive and who is actually acting under his own free will.


In the following scene, it appears that Lt. Kendrick may also just be following orders (and the consequences for not doing so are grave):

Yet, even when we learn who originated the "code red" that resulted in the death of PFC Santiago, Sorkin hits us with a much more challenging conundrum: Was Col. Jessup's order "to train the lad" itself wrong?


Back in 1945, no one was debating whether the slaughter of millions of innocent people was right or wrong. In that case, the challenge for the prosecution was to establish where (within the hierarchy of the Third Reich) the line was that separated true evil from blind loyalty to that evil.


A Few Good Men essentially does the opposite of Nuremberg. As we just saw, it is made very clear to the audience early in the film who is the originator of all orders at GITMO, including the one that kills Santiago.


Yet, despite Jessup's order to Kendrick (Sutherland) to make sure Santiago makes "4646 on his next Proficiency and Conduct Report," (using the threat of death as motivation), Sorkin tactfully isolates our condemnation to Kendrick through scenes like this which make him look like the same redneck, bible belt racist from a Time to Kill:

As much as we would like to blame the crime on Lt. Kendrick, it's obvious that his capability to disobey an order (regardless of moral ramifications) is just as limited as the two marines on trial for murder. In short, he's just a patsy:

Finally, in the iconic climax of the film, Sorkin uses Jessup's testimony as a medium through which to explicitly state "the truth" of society's moral dilemma that all of us are too afraid to handle.


Top Plan B Casting Calls - Part II

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:50 PM

So, in Part I on this continuing series on "Top B Casting Calls" I began with O.J. Simpson as the original choice to play The Terminator back in 1984. Although known by many a film buff, I could not ignore the obvious irony that had been attributed to the recasting...the producers of the film fearing that "The Juice" was "too nice to be taken seriously as a cold-blooded killer."


Meanwhile, the lead actor they went with, would end up amassing the largest on-screen body count in cinematic history before transitioning to politics and winning the hearts of voters to become Governor of California.


Final thought on Terminator... had O.J. been found guilty in his famous 1994 criminal trial, I'd expect that the very day Governor Schwarzenegger took the oath of office, he would have promptly pardoned the convicted murderer, par for the course... given the debt owed to Mr. Simpson for giving Arnold his Hollywood start.


Time to move on...


But we are staying in 1984 (at least for the moment)...




As already revealed in the poster included under the title of this post, Eddie Murphy was not the original choice to play Axel Foley.


On the DVD featurette, producer Jerry Bruckheimer stated that the role was first offered to Mickey Rourke, who signed a $400,000 holding contract to do the film. When revisions and other preparations took longer than expected, Rourke left the project after his contract expired to do another film (9½ Weeks co-starring a very sexy Kim Basinger).


The role was then offered to Sylvester Stallone who (not surprisingly) envisioned a "harder edged" screenplay and left the set a day before filming was scheduled to commence when his ideas were largely edited out of the first shooting script.


Ready for Eddie right?


Hold on there Quick Draw McGraw...


After Sly left the film (and brought his version of the script with him to create Cobra) the producers approached both Al Pacino and James Caan to play Detective Foley.


Pacino turned it down in favor of his own personal project, The Local Stigmatic, a 1969 off-broadway play which failed to premier when Uncle Al attempted to turn it into a movie.


As for Jimmy Caan, he was already in talks to star in The Holcroft Covenant. Side note...Caan ended up walking off the set of Holcroft due to his sister's death from leukemia, a growing problem with cocaine, and what he described as "Hollywood burnout," and did not act in any film from 1982-1987.


Next on the list was Richard Pryor.


Wait a tic... let's recap for those keeping score at home:


First Choice: Rourke




Backup: Stallone




Third String: Pacino




Not Even in Medal Contention: Caan

Now...this guy?


Dissimilar in every way from the previous choices, Pryor was no different in his decision to ultimately pass on the project. What made the producers of the film decide to do a complete 180 in terms of the "look" and "feel" of Axel Foley will remain a mystery. But at some point instead of abandoning the project all together, Beverly Hills Cop transformed itself from a film staring a no nonsense detective hell bent on cold revenge to...well...something very different.


But, despite broadening the pool of potential suitors to the widest length and deepest depth in the history of Hollywood casting, like the ugly girl at the prom, Axel Foley still couldn't find a mate to date.


When word reached others involved (or considering to become involved) in the film of Pryor's rejection, it caused a ripple effect of doubt in the minds of all...from the high paid studio executive to the 21 year old kid holding the boom mic.


Even when asked by producers to direct the film, Martin Brest flipped a quarter to decide whether or not to undertake the endeavor...


...and around the very time that quarter landed on the right side, enter six times a charm Eddie Murphy who had been offered the role mistakenly (by an unknown member of the staff) before receiving Pryor's "no thank you." And Eddie shocked the whole cast and crew (or what remained of it) by saying "yes."




By 1984, Eddie Murphy was arguably the most famous comedian in America (if not the world).


He singlehandedly saved the Saturday Night Live franchise in the early 80s by carrying co-stars Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gail Matthius, Ann Risley and Yvonne Hudsonon on his shoulders; was hosting his own slate of blockbuster pay-per view comedy specials to sold-out audiences and winning critical acclaim for his performances in films like 48hrs and Trading Places.


 When approached to play Axel Foley, Eddie was either unaware that he was the project's sixth choice or simply did not care.


The fact that most of the dialogue that appears in the final version of the film was actually improvised by Murphy and not part of anyone's script, helps answer a lot of questions about both the movie's success and its transformation from an action packed crime thriller starring John Rambo (fingers crossed) to a comedic masterpiece and one of the best movies of 1984.

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During his tirade at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Axel pretends to be writing an article called "Michael Jackson: Sitting on Top of the World" for Rolling Stone magazine. In real life, Playboy ran an article called "Eddie Murphy: Sitting on Top of the World."


In her review of the film, Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote:


Beverly Hills Cop finds Eddie Murphy doing what he does best: playing the shrewdest, hippest, fastest-talking underdog in a rich man's world. Eddie Murphy knows exactly what he's doing, and he wins at every turn.

Anyone involved in the movie (and subsequent sequels) especially the casting department, should be thanking the gods of cinema every day of their collectively rich lives for having had the luck of getting turned down by 5 of the most talented performers of the twentieth century.


The only person to have publicly attributed Beverly Hills Cop's sensational reception to Murphy was director Martin Brest who framed the quarter he flipped and hung it on the wall of his mansion, where it still exists to this day.

Top Plan B Casting Calls - Part I

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Life is full of disappointments...especially when it comes to Hollywood.


After seeing a great film we sometimes find it close to impossible to separate our most beloved (and most reviled) characters from the professionals that portray them.


Take Col. Nathan R. Jessup (A Few Good Men). Now, can you think of anyone (dead or alive) who could have held a candle to the performance given by Jack Nicholson?

Rumor has it that a young assistant writer on the production staff at the time, suggested Tom Skerritt (Viper from Top Gun) for the role since Cruise and Skerritt had "a demonstrated on-screen chemistry."


If the rumor is true, then his boss' response likely went like this:

Hmmmm... transfer Jack Nicholson... Yes, I'm sure you're right. I'm sure that's the thing to do. Wait, I've got a better idea. Let's transfer the whole cast...Even Kevin Pollack

Get me Aaron Sorkin on the phone. We're surrendering our position on the entire project.

Wait a minute, don't get Sorkin or Reiner just yet. Maybe we should consider this for a second...Maybe, and I'm just spit balling here, maybe, we have a responsibility to cast the best actors. Maybe we as Hollywood professionals have a responsibility to this country to see to it that the men and women charged with entertaining it are accomplished artists. Yes, I'm certain that I read that somewhere once. And now I'm thinking, young man, that your suggestion of transferring Mr. Nicholson, while expeditious and certainly painless, might not be, in a matter of speaking, the American way. Jack stays where he is.

And you're fired.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that Tom Skerritt did not order the code red...


That said, the following list of films and their respective original star(s) may surprise you.




Let's get the big one out of the way first. Yes, O.J. Simpson was the first choice for The Terminator, not Arnold. And the movie poster near the title of the post is a real one, no photo shopping...that's how seriously close we all were to seeing James Cameron's career get destroyed.


Luckily for the future Governor of California, James Cameron, and the Naked Gun Trilogy, the producers of the film feared that O.J. (and I am not making this up) was "too nice to be taken seriously as a cold-blooded killer." Probably related to that idiot writer from A Few Good Men.


Back to Mr. Simpson...Even though a jury of his peers would agree with Terminator's producers (a full ten years after it premiered), I am fairly confident (beyond a reasonable doubt, in fact) that had the movie starred O.J. the verdict in his criminal case would have turned out a little differently.


How different? Well, somewhere along the lines of "Hasta la vista, baby!"


That's all for now, but don't despair, I'll be back...





Top 5: Inspirational Speeches From Film: #1

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:40 PM

#1 The Difference Between Winning and Losing

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"I don't know what to say, really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives.

All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we're gonna crumble.

Inch by inch, play by play. Until we're finished. We're in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And, we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell... one inch at a time.

Now I can't do it for ya, I'm too old. I look around, I see these young faces and I think, I mean, I've made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I've pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who's ever loved me. And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know, when you get old, in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that's... that's... that's a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losin' stuff.

You find out life's this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game - life or football - the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second.

On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that's gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying! I'll tell you this, in any fight it's the guy whose willing to die whose gonna win that inch.

And I know, if I'm gonna have any life anymore it's because I'm still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that's what living is, the six inches in front of your face!

Now I can't make you do it. You've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That's a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys, that's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?"

Top 5: Inspirational Speeches From Film: #2

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:35 PM

#2 "Outta order? I'll show you outta order! You don't know what outta order is!"

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SLADE: Still worthy of being a 'Baird Man.'" What the hell is that? What is your motto here? "Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide" -- anything short of that we're gonna burn you at the stake? Well, gentlemen, when the shit hits the fan some guys run and some guys stay. Here's Charlie facing the fire; and there's George hidin' in big Daddy's pocket. And what are you doin'? You're gonna reward George and destroy Charlie.


GUY FROM INDEPENDENCE DAY: Are you finished, Mr. Slade?


SLADE: No, I'm just gettin' warmed up. I don't know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell -- whoever. Their spirit is dead -- if they ever had one -- it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea goin' snitches. And if you think your preparing these minnows for manhood you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham. What kind of a show are you guys puttin' on here today. I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me. And I'm here to tell ya this boy's soul is intact. It's non-negotiable. You know how I know? Someone here -- and I'm not gonna say who -- offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't sellin'.


BIPOLAR DAD IN HOMELAND: Sir, you are out of order!


SLADE: Outta order? I'll show you outta order! You don't know what outta order is, Mr. Trask! I'd show you but I'm too old; I'm too tired; I'm too fuckin' blind. If I were the man I was five years ago I'd take a FLAME-THROWER to this place! Outta order. Who the hell you think you're talkin' to? I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there isn't nothin' like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sendin' this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executin' his SOUL!! And why?! Because he's not a Baird man! Baird men, ya hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird Bums, the lot of ya. And Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there, F*** YOU, too!


D.A. Hoyt (from the Seinfeld Finale): Stand down, Mr. Slade!



SLADE: I'm not finished! As I came in here, I heard those words, "cradle of leadership." Well, when the bow breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here; it has fallen. Makers of men; creators of leaders; be careful what kind of leaders you're producin' here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong.


I'm not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: he won't sell anybody out to buy his future!! And that, my friends, is called integrity! That's called courage! Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard. Now here's Charlie. He's come to the crossroads. He has chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle -- that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey.


You hold this boy's future in your hands, committee. It's a valuable future. Believe me. Don't destroy it! Protect it. Embrace it. It's gonna make ya proud one day -- I promise you.


GOT IT...Alan Alda!









Top 5: Inspirational Speeches From Film: #3

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:30 PM

#3 "Sons of Scotland"

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Top 5: Inspirational Speeches From Film: #4

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:25 PM

#4 "Great Moments are Born from Great Opportunity"

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Top 5: Inspirational Speeches From Film: #5

Posted by davidaarongray on October 28, 2013 at 4:15 PM

#5: General Patton - "Americans Love a Winner"


Patton's Speech to the Third Army, alternatively known simply as "Patton's Speech," was a series of speeches given by General George S. Patton to troops of the United States Third Army in 1944, prior to the Normandy Landings. Patton, already established as a highly effective and charismatic leader, sought to motivate the inexperienced Third Army for its pending combat duty. In the oration, Patton implored his soldiers to do their duty regardless of personal fear, imploring them to aggressiveness and constant offensive action. Patton's profanity-laced speaking was viewed as unprofessional by some other officers but the speech resounded well with his men. Some historians have acclaimed the oration as Patton's greatest speaking as well as one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time.

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Why It Took 13 Years To Make the Movie 'Lincoln'

Posted by davidaarongray on October 15, 2013 at 5:50 AM

The concept for, what would become Steven Spielberg’s Oscar worthy film, Lincoln, was officially born way back in September 1999 when the acclaimed director heard that historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin was writing a book about the 16th President of the United States. Spielberg immediately told her he wanted the film rights and DreamWorks finalized the deal in 2001.

After numerous attempts to create an appealing screenplay (hiring and firing multiple writers), Spielberg announced that filming was set to begin in January 2006.

ABOVE: Goodwin's Team of Rivals which Spielberg and DreamWorks so badly coveted

However, due to countless disagreements between DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures over distribution, it was not until, May 2008 that Spielberg announced a revised intention to start filming in early 2009, for release in November of that year (just in time to close out the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth).

As we all know, the movie was not released in November 2009 – thanks, in part to two significant setbacks:

The first was not just another rewrite of the script, but the hiring of yet another screenwriter. Spielberg fired almost as many screenwriters for Lincoln the movie as Generals of the Union Army that were dismissed by Lincoln the President.

If writer, Paul Webb, was General McClellan (a man who could win battles but not “The War”;) than his replacement, Tony Kushner would become General U.S. Grant (doubting his own abilities after initial criticism but resilient enough to stay the course until final victory).

DreamWorks relieved Paul Webb of command over the Lincoln script in late 2008, due to Webb’s attempt to chronicle the entirety of Lincoln’s life, which Spielberg and consultant, Doris Kearns Goodwin, decided was too much material to jam into a feature film.

Even when all parties agreed that the new screenplay would be centered on just a few months during Lincoln’s presidency, writer Tony Kushner’s original draft of over 550 pages needed to be substantially shortened (even by Spielberg's page quantity standards.

After months of revisions, Kushner’s shortened screenplay was completed and approved in early 2010. LEE HAS SURRENDERED...HURRAY!!!

Not so fast...

Before Spielberg could say “ACTION” his leading man, Liam Neeson (who had been preparing for the role of Lincoln since he was casted in 2005) quit the project due to personal reasons (his wife having passed away less than a year earlier).

ABOVE: The closet Lincoln like character (in terms of physical appearance) I could find played by Liam.

The search for an adequate alternative for Neeson caused another full year of delays.

It was not until November 2010, that Spielberg announced that Daniel Day-Lewis would replace Mr. Neeson.

Wait...hold on a second there Steven...   Daniel Day-Lewis was Plan B?   Look, I get that directors get attached to some actors (especially after one of them nails the role of Oscar Schindler and immortalizes you in the pages of cinematic history).  That said, if I were Steven Spielberg, and I could pick any actor to play the leading role in my next movie (male or female) it would be DDL all the way.  

Come to think of it, Daniel Day-Lewis should have been Spielberg's first choice to play every leading character in his filmography. And I'm not limiting that statement to Abraham Lincoln.

I am fairly certain that DDL could have outdone Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Tom Hanks as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. He certainly would have done a better job as ET than...well...ET and given enough time, he would have played a much more convincing and terrifying Jaws than that mechanical fish.

ABOVE: Either one could be on the $5 dollar bill and no one would bat an eye.

As a side note, the two choices to play the part of the greatest American President in history were not American at all. Both Neeson and Day-Lewis were born and raised in the United Kingdom. So, despite what the Constitution says, you can in fact “act” as President of the United States if born in another country.

Now, if there is one thing people know about Daniel Day-Lewis, it is the intense preparation he brings to each and every character he portrays on the screen. And since this approach had garnered him two Academy Awards for Best Actor, Spielberg was willing to give his new leading man the months required to essentially transform into the real President Lincoln.

By the time, Daniel Day-Lewis no longer responded to any name other than “Mr. President,” filming finally commenced in early 2012, lasting only three months despite shooting at 19 different set locations.

On September 4, 2012, DreamWorks and Google Play announced on the film's Facebook page that they would release the trailer for the film on Google+ on September 13, 2012.

In an effort to avoid disrupting the 2012 Presidential election race, Lincoln was ultimately released in theaters on November 9, 2012; just over 13 years from the day Spielberg expressed interest in making the film.

For a bit of perspective, President Lincoln only served as Commander in Chief for 4 years and in the 13 years it took to complete Lincoln, Spielberg directed 12 feature length movies and produced an astonishing 50 total film and television projects.

Spielberg’s Lincoln, holds the record for the longest amount of time an Academy Award nominated  film took to produce. True to form, Spielberg actually broke his own record in this category - just edging out Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List which both took over 11 years to produce (but gave him two additional Oscars for Best Director).

The Man of Steel

Posted by davidaarongray on September 30, 2013 at 5:00 AM

The Original Superman?:

Stalin wasn’t his real name but a name he gave himself in his early twenties. With his real name being unpronounceable he took to using this in an attempt to hide his non-Russian roots. It means ‘man of steel’


Shorty McSensitive:


After his rise to power, popular nicknames for Stalin in the Soviet Union included ‘Little Father of the Peoples’, owing to the fact that he was only 5’4” tall. President Truman once described the despot as a ‘little squirt’ Stalin was notoriously sensitive about his height, having several portrait painters shot for portraying him as “too realistic.”



Above: Stalin in 1902; Ioseb Besarionis dze Jugashvili (in the present day country of Georgia...NOT RUSSIA!)

Above: Churchll and Truman (both 5' 8") urged to sit for the cameras by Soviet Minister Molotov at the beginning of the Postdam Conference in 1945 since their giant sizes would make Uncle Joey (at 5' 4") look bad. Notice Stalin's very straight posture (like a little child trying to stand on his toes). In fact, for all the heat Napoleon has received in the pages of history (and psychology) for being short, he was actually a full 2 inches taller than Stalin.

Arming Your Future Enemy + Murdering Your Own Generals = BAD Military Preparedness

During the 1930s, while Germany was amassing the largest military in Europe, Stalin focused on lesser known strategies for wartime preparedness:

First he had 90% of all Soviet officers executed for fear of a coup o From 1933 until Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin, in an effort to build his economy and secure an alliance with Hitler, had the Soviet State Armaments Department focus exclusively on mass producing and selling Russian made tank shells, bullets, refined petroleum and anti aircraft weaponry to the Germans. By 1939, 80% of Germany’s oil and 70% of its armed projectiles were stamped with the seal “MADE IN USSR.”

And here is the kicker: If the above measures seemed counterintuitive to you they certainly were not viewed that way by the self-proclaimed “Defender of Mother Russia.” After all…he had an ace in the hole…

In 1931 he ordered leading Russian scientists to develop thousands of half human-half ape hybrid soldiers. This new mutant militia would be the core of Stalin’s new Red Army. He is quoted as saying “I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.”

Accordingly, in 1936, the Politburo put the Soviet Academy of Science to the task of creating the ‘living war machine.’ The program was terminated when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and Stalin begrudgingly had to leave his little play world and start developing (and using) real weapons.

A hopeless romantic:

Following a public telling off from Stalin one night, his wife ran off in desperation and shot herself.  

ABOVE: Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva... After her death he was almost on his way to becoming a pint sized Henry VIII 

So Funny, It Can Kill You

Despite being a grumpy little man, Stalin was also the man behind the most wicked practical joke ever played. Being a very private man he gave the order that no person should enter his bedchambers, even if his own guards suspected he may have fallen ill.

Later, while in his chambers he decided to test whether his guards had listened to this instruction. Pretending to scream in pain he called for the guards stationed outside the door. Fearing that their leader was in mortal danger the guards burst into the room… Stalin had them executed for failing to follow his standing orders.

This little prank soon backfired, however, when Stalin suffered a seizure while alone in his bedroom. The guards were too afraid to enter, finding him dead 46 hours later, laying in a puddle of stale urine.

Despite all of the above (not to mention that he had murdered more people than Hitler, Stalin was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year TWICE! (first in 1939 and then in 1942). 

Today is Flag Day Everyone!

Posted by davidaarongray on June 14, 2013 at 2:35 PM


Today, June 14th, is Flag Day in the United States. To mark the occasion we should clarify a few things about Old Glory and her 30+ facelifts since her birth.

First things first... the below flag, commonly known as the "Betsy Ross Flag" was NOT EVEN THE FIRST FLAG OF THE USA!


Above: the "Betsy Ross Flag"

Like all new enterprises, in the early days of the U.S. there were a bunch of official and unofficial logos meant to represent the fledgling startup.

We only know for sure, 2 things about the so-called "Betsy Flag" shown above:

1) It was never created, designed or stitched by a woman named Betsy Ross; and

2) It was (at best) the third officially commissioned flag by the Continental Congress.  

Before Betsy there was Hopkinson...that's Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey who holds the distinction of at least being a real person who actually designed a flag (in this case, the second flag used by our nation shown below):


Above: the "Hopkinson Flag"


Now, the Hopkinson flag gets as much recognition as Flag Day itself for a simple reason: Hopkinson's design used a staggered pattern of 3-2-3-2-3 using 6 pointed Marian stars.

This creates an optical effect of the crosses used in the British flag (aka the Union Jack) shown below:


Above: Flag of Great Britain


See... today, we Americans love to think of the proverbial patriot of the American Revolution to be (if nothing else) staunchly anti British...after all, we were in fact shooting at someone were we not?

When it comes to shedding our British heritage however, the reality is a bit more complex and requires its own dedicated post.

Suffice it to say, that back in the 1770s, the first Americans went to great lengths to preserve many British symbols they had come to adore.

Which leads us to the real first flag of the United States of America.


#1...the original...

BEHOLD! The ______ and Stripes Forever!

Above: The "Grand Union Flag" of the United States


The "Grand Union Flag" (also the Continental Colors, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the First Navy Ensign) is the true first national flag of the United States. This flag (shown above) consisted of 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Flag of the time in the canton.

The story behind #1, in a nutshell, goes like this:

In the first year of the American War for Independence, the Continental Congress authorized the creation of a navy and everyone knows you can't have boats out on the open seas without identification.

So...a flag was required representing the Congress and the nation, and in order to distinguish its ships from those carrying the Red Ensign flying from British vessels (shown below):


The Grand Union Flag was first hoisted on the USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 2, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones.

The event was documented in countless letters to Congress.

The Grand Union Flag was used by the American Continental forces as both naval ensign and garrison flag through 1776 and early 1777.

What is not known for certain is when, or by whom, the design was created.

That said, despite its anonymous creator and short tenure as "First Flag," the Grand Union had a pretty decent showing.

The flag was raised by George Washington's army on New Year's Day 1776 at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now part of Somerville), near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Due to its strikingly familiar look, the flag's display was actually interpreted by British officers as a sign of surrender...

Any doubt as to who won the Battle at Prospect Hill quickly disappeared as the Continental Army began firing at the lines of remaining British redcoats who were carrying chains and a document of surrender to be signed by General Washington.

The flag was also the first to be folded into a triangle during the funeral of a soldier serving in Washington's Army during the Battle of Long Island.

The Flag Act of 1777 authorized a new official national flag (the first flag's confusing message probably had something to do with the Act) of a design similar to that of the Grand Union in color and stripe but with thirteen stars (representing the thirteen States) on a field of blue replacing the British Union flag in the canton (this is the aforementioned Hopkinson design). 

Best Picture Blunders (What were they thinking?)

Posted by davidaarongray on April 13, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Gigi 1958

More Worthy:

Weak set of nominees, and un-nominated Vertigo and Touch of Evil


Oliver! 1968

More Worthy:

The Lion in Winter, Funny Girl, and un-nominated 2001: A Space Odyssey , Rosemary's Baby

Kramer vs. Kramer 1979:

More Worthy:  

Apocalypse Now, and un-nominated Manhattan, Alien, Being There

Terms of Endearment 1983:

More Worthy

The Right Stuff, The Big Chill, or Tender Mercies, and un-nominated Fanny and Alexander, Zelig

Dances With Wolves 1990: 

More Worthy

GoodFellas, and un-nominated Reversal of Fortune, Miller's Crossing

The English Patient 1996: 

More Worthy

Fargo, Secrets & Lies, and un-nominated Trainspotting, Breaking the Waves, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Lone Star

Shakespeare in Love 1998:

More Worthy

Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, and un-nominated The Big Lebowski, The Truman Show, Out of Sight

A Beautiful Mind 2001:

More Worthy

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Gosford Park, Moulin Rouge!, and un-nominated Memento and Mulholland Dr.

Chicago 2002:

More Worthy

The Pianist, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gangs of New York, and un-nominated Adaptation, Frida, Far From Heaven

Crash 2005:

More Worthy

Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, and un-nominated Walk the Line

Argo 2012:

More Worthy: Lincoln

Best Films Never to Win an Oscar

Posted by davidaarongray on April 13, 2013 at 11:35 AM


The Shawshank Redemption 1994

The Shawshank Redemption never got an Oscar, despite seven nominations. Pulp Fiction was also knocked out of the box by Forrest Gump in 1994. Fans avenged Shawshank by voting it the number two film of all time on IMdB (second only to The Godfather). Shawshank is also the highest rated film on Yahoo Movies. It was voted the best film never to have won Best Picture in a 2005 BBC poll.

Psycho 1960

In 1960, this iconic film was not nominated for Best Picture. Hitchcock was at least nominated, though he did not win either. Bernard Hermann wasn’t even nominated for one of the most frightening of all film scores. The screech alone should’ve won. Fans, smarter than Oscar voters, disagreed and voted Psycho #2 on their list of Best Movies.


Vertigo 1958

One of fans’ favorite Alfred Hitchcock films is the psychological thriller, Vertigo. It wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, only for set design and sound. Didn’t win those either. To add insult to injury, Hitchcock himself … I can hardly bear to write it … never won an Oscar. HITCHCOCK NEVER WON AN OSCAR!!! And only one of his films (Rebecca) won Best Picture. Hitchcock was the best film-maker never to have been handed an Oscar, according to a poll of British movie viewers.


Once Upon A Time in America 1984

One of the last memorable epics to come out of Hollywood is Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. And I am talking about the original version with a running time of 227 minutes. Once Upon a Time in America was so heavily edited for its U.S. theatrical release, that the Italian film director was left inconsolable. He never made another film after Once Upon a Time in America. Unfortunately, the movie’s most interesting scenes are missing from the short version and the plot is kind of hard to understand. The full-length version of the crime drama explores the lives of a group of Jewish immigrants, chronicling their childhoods and years of glory as gangsters in America. Why Leone’s masterpiece never received an Oscar, let alone a nomination, remains a mystery.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb 1964

The Shining 1980

Full Metal Jacket 1987

Gangs of New York 2002

Rear Window 1954

Easy Rider 1969

In the Name of the Father 1993

It's A Wonderful Life 1946

The Prince of Tides 1991

The Princess Bride 1987

Rebel Without A Cause 1955

Saturday Night Fever 1977

Reservoir Dogs 1992

A Few Good Men 1992

Field of Dreams 1989

Se7en 1995

His Girl Friday 1940

King Kong 1933

Touch Of Evil 1958

Sweet Smell of Success 1957

Taxi Driver 1976

The Thin Red Line 1998

The Truman Show 1998

Lolita 1962

North By Northwest 1959

Nixon 1995

Planet of the Apes 1968

Manhattan 1979

Memento 2000

Fatal Attraction 1987

A Clockwork Orange 1971

Deliverance 1972

The Conversation 1974

The Insider 1999

The Boxer 1997

The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988

The Television Show that Best Represents the State

Posted by davidaarongray on April 13, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Which Movie Best Represents the State it's set in?

Posted by davidaarongray on April 13, 2013 at 11:20 AM

The Other 50 United States

Posted by davidaarongray on April 13, 2013 at 11:00 AM


51) Long Island (not quite long enough it seems)

There are or have been several movements regarding secession of parts of present day New York. The most prominent amongst these have been the movements for a state of Long Island.


The secession of Long Island from New York was proposed as early as 1896, with similar talk having been revived toward the later part ofthe 20th century.


On March 28, 2008, Suffolk County, New York, comptrollerJoseph Sawicki and Keith Durgan proposed a plan that would make Long Island (specifically, Nassau and Suffolk counties) the 51st state of the United States of America.


Sawicki said that all the Long Island taxpayers' money should stay on Long Island, rather than the funds being dispersed all over the entire state of New York.


The state of Long Island would include over 2.7 million people, not including the more populous west end of the island (Brooklyn and Queens).


Nassau County executive Ed Mangano came out in support of such a proposal in April 2010 and was said to be commissioning a study on it.


Any proposal would need to be approved by the New York StateLegislature, which has refuted all previous secession efforts, and the United States Congress.




52) Franklin (the original 14th state)


The State of Franklin was an unrecognized, autonomous "territory" located in what is today eastern Tennessee. Franklin was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence.



ABOVE: In red, the state of Franklin now part of Tennessee


It was founded with the intent of becoming the fourteenth state of the new United States. Franklin's first capital was Jonesborough. After the summer of 1785, the government of Franklin (which was by then based in Greeneville), ruled as a "parallel government" running alongside (but not harmoniously with) a re-established North Carolina bureaucracy.


Franklin was never admitted into the union. The extra-legal state existed for only about four and a half years, ostensibly as a republic, after which North Carolina re-assumed full control of the area.


The creation of Franklin is novel, in that it resulted from both a cession (an offering from North Carolina to Congress) and a secession (seceding from North Carolina, when its offer to Congress was not acted upon, and the original cession was rescinded).



53) New York City ("The real New York")


In the battle over the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787–1788, Governor George Clinton in Albany, wishing to preserve his independent power, led the local Anti-Federalists in opposition, with support for the Constitution coming from Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, largely urbanites who saw opportunity in a stronger national union, and famously published as their manifesto the Federalist Papers in New York City newspapers.


There was a real divide, and with the recent independence of Vermont, a real threat of secession of New York City and the southern counties to join the new Federal government. The leaders of Richmond County, which always had a somewhat ambiguous position, threatened to join New Jersey. With secession threatening to marginalize Governor Clinton and a lightly developed upstate, ratification was finally agreed and the divisional crisis passed.


At the time, much of what is now upstate New York was disputed territory, with Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut all claiming portions of the mostly undeveloped land. It would not be until the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the Holland Purchase that the land would become New York territory.



ABOVE: In blue, proposed map of an independent New York City, the remainder of present day New York would be renamed the state of "Niagara."


"New York City: the 51st State" was the platform of the Norman Mailer–Jimmy Breslin candidacy in the 1969 New York City Democratic Mayoral Primary election. Mailer, a novelist, journalist, and filmmaker, and Breslin, an author and at the time a New York City newspaper columnist, proposed that the five New York City boroughs should secede from New York State, and become the 51st State of the U.S.


After a strong grassroots campaign, the ticket entered the primary on June 17, 1969 as decided underdogs. They finished second to last, garnering a city-wide total of 41,288 votes, 5% of the total votes cast.


On February 26, 2003, a bill was introduced by Astoria, Queens, Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., and sponsored by 20 of 51 City Council members, reviving the idea of referendum for secession from New York State in the context of the red state vs. blue state divide and opposition to the policies of Governor George Pataki. A committee report was written but otherwise little action was taken, and the bill was reintroduced with one additional sponsor on the same date in 2004. Like Mayor Wood, Council Member Vallone has emphasized the fiscal benefits of secession, with revenue now derived not from tariffs, but from Wall Street. Council Member Vallone reintroduced the bill in 2006.


In January 2008, City Council member Vallone again offered a bill for the secession of New York City from New York state. After Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified to New York state legislators that New York City gives the state $11 billion more than it gets back, Vallone stated: "If not secession, somebody please tell me what other options we have if the state is going to continue to take billions from us and give us back pennies. Should we raise taxes some more? Should we cut services some more? Or should we consider seriously going out on our own?"




54) State of Superior


The proposed State of Superior (or State of Ontonagon) is the name of a "51st state" proposal involving the secession of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and possibly portions of northern Wisconsin from the states of Michigan, Wisconsin.


The proposal is spurred by cultural differences, geographic separation, and the belief that the capitals in Lansing, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin ignore the problems of the "Superior Region." The same area had been referred to as a possible future state named Sylvania by Thomas Jefferson.


Named for Lake Superior, the idea has gained serious attention at times, though it is unlikely to ever come to fruition because of the large amount of funding that the area receives from the lower parts of the states, and because the stronger connections were cemented between the U.P. of Michigan and the rest of the Michigan by the completion of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957, which gave the Upper Peninsula a direct highway connection to the rest of Michigan.



ABOVE: Map of proposed State of Superior. Red areas indicate generally accepted areas of Superior, while pink areas are present in some definitions.



Several prominent legislators, including local U.P. politician Dominic Jacobetti, attempted enacting such legislation in the 1970s, with no success.


If only the Upper Peninsula of Michigan were included in the proposed state, it would currently have the smallest population, with its 320,000 residents representing only 60 percent of Wyoming's population, and less than 50 percent of Alaska's.


It would rank 40th in land area, larger than Maryland. Its most-populous city, Marquette, has a smaller population than Burlington, Vermont; the latter has the smallest population of an American city of the 50 that is the most populous of its state.




55) South Jersey


The residents of South Jersey in the counties of Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Atlantic, Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington have had a long resentment toward North Jersey under the opinion that they are being slighted and ignored by the state government, which is heavily weighted toward North Jersey


As recently as 1980, a non-binding referendum proposing secession from North Jersey was passed by these counties. It was also voted on in Ocean County, but did not pass in Ocean County.




ABOVE: Map highlighting the counties included in the broadest definition of South Jersey shown in blue, with Ocean County in light blue.



Other "almost states"


56) Cimarron Territory


57) State of Deseret


58) Long Republic


59) Trans-Oconee Republic


60) Kingdom of Beaver Island


61) Bear Republic


62) Conch Republic


63) Republic of Kinney


64) Republic of Madawaska


65) McDonald Territory


66) Sovereign State of Muskogee


67) Republic of the Rio Grande


68) Great Republic of Rough and Ready


69) State of Westmoreland


70) Sovereign State of Winneconne


71) State of Delmarva


72) The State of Shasta


73) State of Jefferson (Rocky Mountains)


74) State of Jefferson (Pacific)


75) State of Jefferson (South)


76) Matagorda


77) Territory of Colorado (California)


78) State of Lincoln (Northwestern)


79) State of Lincoln (Southern)


80) State of Sequoyah


81) Cascadia


82) Free and Independent State of Scott


83) Nickajack


84) Republic of Winston


85) State of Dade


86) Transylvania


87) Texlahoma


88) Sylvania


89) Lost Dakota


90) West Florida


91) Montezuma


92) Yazoo


93) Martha's Vineyard


94) Kanawha


95) Baja Arizona


96) Yucatan


97) Absaroka


98) Acadia


99) Adelsverein


100) Albania


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