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Author: Norm

Retired sixty-something originally from England now a U.S. citizen living in Seattle. Married with a wife and two children. I love Seattle and consider it to have been a wonderful place to live and help raise my daughters. I worked in government my whole life. Whilst I see its flaws I also understand that government can be a strong force for good in democratic societies. My interests are current affairs and military history. I consider myself to be a centrist politically by any reasonable standard but probably left of centre in today's USA.
Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Finally, something to cheer about in US education

Americans are justly proud of their system of higher education. This is not surprising since it’s generally held in higher esteem than our K-12 schools whose performance, we are told constantly, lag those of peer countries. For instance, US institutions of higher learning in the United States generally dominate the top spots in most international rankings of universities. Something to cheer about, right?. Or is it?

The problem is that the metrics used by US News & World Report, the Times, the Shanghai Rankings et al to judge the quality of universities exclude the most fundamental one, namely, the quality of teaching, especially in subjects relating to Science, Technology Engineering and Math? The answer to how well they teach is arguably a better determinant of whether the world class reputation of US universities is deserved.

An international research team headed by Prashant Loyalka of the Stanford Graduate School of Education went in search of an answer, or a partial one anyway, insofar as it applies to computer science programmes from four countries which, together, produce 50% or more of the world’s computer science graduates annually. The results were presented in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. A summary by the lead researchers is here.

In brief, a statistically valid sample of final year undergraduate CS students in the US, China, India and Russia at a cross section of universities and colleges in each country, took a 2 hour standardized test developed by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit testing and assessment organization. The test was designed to determine how well students understood computer science concepts and principles and was administered in the language of each student. In order that the US results were not skewed by international students attending its universities, the test was only administered to students who gave English as their sole or primary language.

The results were stunning to say the least. American students in regular college and university programmes far outperformed students from the other three countries also attending regular schools. In fact, these American students by and large performed on a par with Chinese, Indian and Russian students enrolled in elite schools. Meanwhile, the average American student enrolled in an elite CS programme in the US far outperformed students at Chinese, Indian and Russian elite schools. The difference in performance between students from the other three countries was statistically insignificant.

Even more impressive is that freshmen American students generally entered their CS programmes with less math and science preparation than their peers in China and Russia and about the same as Indian students. All of which suggests that US undergraduate computer science programmes hold a strong qualitative edge and add substantial value compared to those of the other nations. Interestingly, the worst performers were China’s universities, often flagged as emerging power houses, since their students started their CS programmes better prepared in math and science than the others yet performed no better than Indian and Russian students and well short of Americans by the end.

This is very good news, at least for the parents of US students who are studying computer science since it suggests they are getting their money’s worth. The study also has labour market implications since it indicates that American CS graduates from regular undergraduate programmes only have direct competition from students in the other three countries who attended elite schools.

However, some caveats apply. This is just one STEM subject and more research is needed to examine whether American students receive the same high quality instruction in other programmes (one of the subjects of the team’s continuing research). But for now at least, if not three cheers then certainly one and a half are warranted.

Democrats’ Aim Should Be Universal Coverage – Improving the ACA is the Right Vehicle

Democrats’ Aim Should Be Universal Coverage – Improving the ACA is the Right Vehicle

I get why the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is obsessed with enacting Medicare-for-All as the vehicle to universal coverage. I do. There’s no question that if we got it right, it would be both far more equitable and cost-effective than the present chaotic patchwork of a “system” that we’re currently lumbered with. I was raised in England and I know what a blessing the National Health Service has been, warts and all, in providing first class health care to everyone and without driving any of anybody into bankruptcy.

I also understand only too well the frustration of forever being told that it simply can’t be done, that the odds are stacked against it. How do we know unless we try, right?

Nevertheless, reality must intrude. First, as we have already seen with the few states that have tried to add a public option to their ACA markets that the health care industry will wage total war on any suggestion of even a modest expansion of of a public health care option. And when I say the health industry, we’re talking the insurance companies, the hospital industry, the pharmaceutical industry and much of the medical profession, particularly specialists, surgeons and the hospitals each of whom gain the most from the present lack of price controls on any but Medicare patients, and who will fight tooth and nail to keep it that way. Added to the health industry’s implacable opposition will be the Republican Party and the entire right-wing universe complete with relentless fear mongering and lies. And they will have a powerful issue that lends itself to demagoguery. Socialized medicine! Egads!! The fact that they’ve called the ACA, modest insurance reform at best, the same thing will of course be lost in the din.

Second, a total reform of the entire US health care system, one that dwarfs the enactment of the ACA, will require the support of most Americans, 180 million of whom currently have employer-provided health insurance which most of them believe is just fine, thank you very much. And Democrats would be asking them to give that up and see their taxes increase to boot – a hard sell even though insurance premiums will go away. All of this on the promise that expanding Medicare to include everybody, entirely rationale but something we’ve never tried before, would be better. And then there’s the seniors who are currently well satisfied with their Medicare and will be scared into believing (by you know who – see above) that somehow they will lose much of what they have if their health care is folded into a national scheme for the whole population.

In short it will not merely be an uphill struggle to enact Medicare-for-all but the policy equivalent of free climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and to believe otherwise is delusional.

But there are other ways to universal coverage. In fact there are many models among developed countries that have achieved and did so with a system that incorporates private insurance albeit heavily regulated. Switzerland is one, for example. Check this link to the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund for a thumbnail sketch of the Swiss system and that of other developed nations from whose systems we can draw lessons .

Which brings us to the Affordable Care Act. Like all compromises on huge and complex pieces of legislation, the ACA is manifestly imperfect and in need of substntial improvement, for example by vastly reducing out-of-pocket expenses and greatly expanding the income cut off to receive premium subsidies. Yet the law has significantly increased the number of people with health insurance whilst proving unexpectedly resilient in surviving GOP efforts to repeal it and the Trump administration’s attempts to weaken it. If Democrats win the White House and Congress in 2020, they have an opportunity to undo all the damage of the Trump era and to make the ACA a far bigger success in providing affordable health coverage to a vulnerable population.

As well, Democrats have other costly priorities to address such as climate change and relieving our kids of the huge debt burden of college loans, to name but two. A full throated battle for a single payer health system will suck all the political oxygen out of the air and leave us with little energy to seriously tackle those issues. And that would be a tragedy.

This is what Australia thinks about Americans and Guns

This is what Australia thinks about Americans and Guns

Comedian Jim Jefferies riffs on Americans and how they love their guns, via Vox:

You have guns because you like guns! That’s why you go to gun conventions; that’s why you read gun magazines! None of you give a shit about home security. None of you go to home security conventions. None of you read Padlock Monthly. None of you have a Facebook picture of you behind a secure door.

The Battle of the Bulge was won by the tenacity and bravery of US soldiers in a hundred places that most Americans have never heard of.

The Battle of the Bulge was won by the tenacity and bravery of US soldiers in a hundred places that most Americans have never heard of.

Tuesday, December 16th marked the 70th anniversary of the greatest battle fought by soldiers of the United States army in the Northwest European Theatre in World War II following D-Day.

Despite the crushing defeat of the German armies in Normandy in August 1944 and the pursuit of the remnants to the very borders of the Reich, the Allied autumn advance had ground to a halt. Long supply lines which created a logistical nightmare, the still formidable fortifications of the Siegfried Line, the resilience of the German army, and foul fall conditions of rain, cold and mud combined to make further progress tediously slow and very costly.

Meanwhile Hitler, believing that a shattering counter-blow in the west could change Germany’s sagging fortunes, mustered a formidable reserve containing some of the best divisions in the German army and settled on the Ardennes, scene of a successful German breakthrough in 1940, as the location for such an offensive, and Antwerp to split the Allied armies in two, as the ultimate objective.

Although the offensive met with some initial success against a completely surprised and lightly held American front, determined defense by US troops slowed the enemy advance and bought time for the arrival of reinforcements to first halt the Germans and then drive them back. The battle lasted about a month and cost each side 100,000 casualties and 7-800 tanks and other armored vehicles. Heavy though these losses were to the Americans, they were disastrous for the Germans who had little strength left with which to oppose the final offensive into Germany.

My family and I visited parts of the Ardennes battlefield in the summer of 2013 including Bastogne, Belgium, where the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division made their epic and successful stand to deny the Germans this key road centre.

But we also visited a town called Stavelot further to the north that was the scene that cold December of a lesser known but equally important and epic battle waged by a single US infantry battalion (6-800 men) of the 30th Infantry Division.

Ambleve River, Stavelot, Belgium
Ambleve River, Stavelot, Belgium

A powerful kampfgruppe (or battlegroup) of the German 1st SS Panzer Division under ace panzer leader, Joachim Peiper, had penetrated deep into the American rear and threatened to reach the Meuse River, a potentially disastrous development. But in the constricted topography of the Ardennes, bridges over rivers and streams were critical to Peiper’s advance, and plucky bands of US engineers had seriously hindered the column by destroying several on his preferred routes to the Meuse.

Peiper seized the critical bridge over the Ambleve River at Stavelot, Belgium, against poorly led and disorganized American opposition. But after the bulk of his force continued west towards Stoumont along a single narrow road, the 1st Battalion of the 117th Infantry Regiment with attached companies of tanks and tank destroyers descended on Stavelot from the north and retook the town, thereby cutting Peiper off from the rest of 1st Panzer. Under fire, they also managed to blow the all-important Stavelot bridge.

There followed a fierce battle as the American troops fought furiously to simultaneously fend off efforts by the rest of the 1st SS Panzer Division to the south to force the Ambleve and retake the town, while resisting determined attacks from the west by elements of Peiper’s force sent back to restore his line of communication and supply.

But the Americans would not yield. Under attack by other American forces, what was left of Peiper’s kampfgruppe (800 out of an original force of 5800) eventually escaped on foot, abandoning all their vehicles and heavy weapons. The rest of the battered 1st SS Panzer Division ceded Stavelot to the indomitable men of the 1st Battalion, 117th. The spearhead of the 6th Panzer Army, designated by Hitler as his main effort, had been defeated.

Voting in Republicans to control the Congress and more states is a truly dumb idea.

Voting in Republicans to control the Congress and more states is a truly dumb idea.

In the first two years of his presidency Barak Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress saved the United States auto industry from bankruptcy, enacted a stimulus package that effectively cushioned a collapsing economy and likely prevented another Great Depression, passed the Dodd Frank law to make it much less likely we will suffer another banking meltdown in the future and, last but not least, enacted the Affordable Care Act which is already driving down the rate of medically uninsured Americans and promises to reduce it still further in future years.

In 2010, however, a Republican takeover of the US House of Representatives effectively ended any possibility for further problem solving from the federal government as the GOP House majority, and a filibuster-happy GOP minority in the US Senate, blocked additional efforts to boost the economy and, indeed, sought to do further damage to it by slashing government spending at a time when the private sector was still contracting.

Despite the GOP’s destructive efforts, however, the US economy has improved significantly albeit much more slowly than would have been the case had we enacted another stimulus heavy with infrastructure spending, as Obama and Democrats wanted. In fact, congressional Republicans by their unprecedented obstructionism have behaved as though they wanted the economy to remain in the tank just to score political points.

And they appear to have succeeded. Polls show it is all but certain that the country will vote next Tuesday for full Republican control of the Congress, and an expansion of that party’s control of governorships and state legislatures. Even millennials seem to be deserting Democrats, and lukewarm support from women cannot balance strong support for the GOP among (white) men. In short things appear pretty bleak.

But it would be useful to know what policies embraced by Republicans have won the support of the electorate in this election cycle.

Is it the Republican desire to unravel environmental laws and rules such as those to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants or to drastically expand drilling for oil and gas on public lands and off-shore? Is it their enthusiasm for slashing food aid and other crucial support for America’s poorest citizens?

Or perhaps it is the GOP’s oft-stated intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip 10 million Americans of their newly acquired health coverage that appeals to the electorate? But there again, maybe it’s the party’s economic agenda to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy while blocking any move to increase the minimum wage that attracts voters?

Many believe the 2014 midterm elections don’t matter but I disagree and here’s just one example from The New Republic  to illustrate why.  To summarize, if the conservative and somewhat erratic GOP governor of Maine is defeated, 70,000 low-income residents of the state stand to gain health insurance through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. If he‘s re-elected, they don’t. That’s pretty simple but the lives of real people who struggle every day will be affected.

In 2010 a wave of GOP state-level victories led directly, as in Maine, to a denial of health care coverage for millions of Americans. Let’s not make the same mistake in 2014.

All elections matter so get off your duff; make the right choice and VOTE on November 4th!

Vote “Yes” on I-594 to expand background checks on Washington State firearm purchases.

Vote “Yes” on I-594 to expand background checks on Washington State firearm purchases.

On November 4th Washington State voters have an opportunity to close loopholes in the background checks that we impose, for good reason, on firearm purchasers.

Currently, someone who likely would not be approved for the legal purchase of a firearm through a licensed dealer once a background check was conducted can still obtain one online, or at a gun show through a private sale where no checks are conducted. That makes no sense.

Why would we wish to make it easy for a convicted felon or an abusive husband or boyfriend with a restraining order against him, for example, to obtain a lethal weapon such as a handgun?

The gun zealots argue, as they always do, that all it will do is inconvenience law-abiding folk not the criminal which, presumably, is an argument against any and all background checks on gun purchases; which is a joke. If you want to see an example of how lax our laws are for acquiring a firearm compared with the rest of the industrialized world, check out this comparison of requirements in the United States with those of Canada (compliments of Vox.com), a country that is actually serious about keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Research does show that stricter gun control laws do serve to reduce gun violence. I-594 is not a panacea to gun violence in Washington, as our latest school shooting tragedy in Marysville shows all too clearly; but it will help to save at least some lives.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget to vote “NO” on I-591 which is the gun zealot proposal designed to merely confuse the issue and maintain the status quo.

Vote for a saner, safer society: Vote “YES” on I-594.

Republicans and (TV) media doing what they do best – fear mongering.

Republicans and (TV) media doing what they do best – fear mongering.

Looking back at the last few months in this country I don’t know which is more depressing: the willingness of Republicans and the media to try to scare the bejeebers out of everyone over the supposed threats to the United States of ISIS and Ebola; or the combination of ignorance and feeble mindedness of so many Americans in succumbing to this fear mongering in the face of a ton of information and facts that show it up for the nonsense it is.

Despite the efforts of some Republican lawmakers to convince us that ISIS is about to murder us in our beds, or to combine the threat of ISIS with Ebola to picture a scenario of Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists crossing our border to blow themselves up in our shopping malls (you have to read this piece over at Vox.com), the Department of Homeland Security has conceded that no credible direct threat to the US from ISIS has been detected.

That may be because ISIS currently has its hands full trying to establish its caliphate in Iraq and Syria in the face of opposition from Kurdish fighters, Syrian non-nutcase rebels (and at some point, we hope, the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad) and a slowly rejuvenating Iraqi army – oh yes and US/allied airstrikes.

The Ebola scare mongering in the media has been, if anything, even more reprehensible and has resulted in some truly mind-boggling overreactions.

Sure there have been some stumbles by a private hospital in Dallas and subsequently by the Centers for Disease Control in dealing with the first cases of Ebola in the US. But the fact is that a disease that can only be spread with direct contact (i.e. it is not airborne) was never going to become a genuine health crisis in a developed country such as the US. In fact, one can make a strong argument that our health system has learned much from the mistakes made in confronting this relatively low-grade threat – lessons that will serve us well when we are faced with a genuine health crisis such as a flu epidemic.

But these twin non-crises have served the Republicans well, as they (with the enthusiastic assistance of an overwrought media, particularly the Sunday talk show crowd) exploit them to buttress the picture they present of a detached and incompetent administration simply not up to the job. And the American electorate is buying it, as the mid-term election polls clearly show.

Over at Vox.com they provide a dose of much needed perspective with this list (admittedly un-scientific and incomplete) of actual as opposed to overblown threats to Americans. Case in point: Guns, ranked at #3 (for comparison, ISIS is #7 and Ebola #9). A grand total of one person has so far died of Ebola in America and two have been killed so far by ISIS. In contrast, 30,000 or more Americans are killed every year by people with firearms, half of them in homicides.

So let’s ignore the scare mongers, the exploitive Republican politicians and hysterical media, put away the fear and get a grip people – things are a lot better than you think.

Overwrought about ISIS

Overwrought about ISIS

You could be forgiven for feeling a strong sense of déjà vu these past months at the barrage of dire pronouncements on the urgent threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, sometimes substituting “Levant” for “Syria” for ISIL). Flashback to 2003 and the overwrought nonsense we heard in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Only then we had an administration that was leading the charge for war and mounting a campaign of misinformation and exaggeration to bamboozle Americans into supporting an invasion; now, ironically, we have a president who has been trying, with limited success, to proceed with caution and calm deliberation in the face of overheated rhetoric and fear mongering not merely from right-wing politicians and pundits, but from the mainstream media; a loud and constant clamoring for a strategy to defeat ISIS not only in Iraq where, arguably, we bear some responsibility given our ties to the country, but also in Syria.

Obama recognizes, as so many of his detractors seem not to, that Syria in particular represents a veritable minefield of challenges in a region where, on balance, we have done more harm than good by our interventions in the last two decades. In fact the very existence of ISIS can be traced to the bloody aftermath of the United States invasion of Iraq.

To intervene in Iraq is one thing, and the Obama administration has made a good start by maneuvering Maliki out of office (using the threat of ISIS and the prospect of US military aid as leverage) and using airpower to assist the Kurds in the north and secure certain strategic objectives such as the Mosul dam.

But airpower alone cannot take back the areas currently occupied by ISIS and it will likely take 1-2 years to build up the confidence and military readiness of the Iraqi army so it won’t crumble like Swiss cheese during any campaign to take back Anbar and the north of Iraq from ISIS.  A prerequisite to ultimate success will also require an alliance with the Sunni tribes whom Maliki succeeded all too well in alienating to the point where, in 2014, they shrugged off any loyalty to the Iraqi state and stood by while ISIS humiliated the latter’s army.

This part of Obama’s strategy (which contrary to the braying of Fox News and the mainstream Sunday talk show hosts and their guests, was always clear) makes perfect sense; his decision to cave to the pressure and intervene in Syria, much less so.

Syria is a chaotic mess but, for once in the Middle East, we had nothing to do with it. There were sound reasons for not getting involved and the success of ISIS in rising from the chaos doesn’t alter that fact.

The truth is that ISIS is not a direct threat to the US in the short to medium term and probably beyond. Unlike al-Qaida (which Obama has eviscerated during his tenure) the focus of ISIS has never been on the US but on creating a Sunni-dominated caliphate in the Middle East. It’s a threat to Middle East stability, no question, but not specifically to us, Senator Lindsey Graham’s dire warnings notwithstanding (that guy really needs to take his anxiety meds).

Obama was castigated for not having a strategy for Syria but that was actually a good thing since the choices are all bad. Bombing ISIS will have limited effect and is just as likely to help Assad as hurt ISIS; finding let alone training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels to be the ground component is tough and there’s no guarantee they’ll fight ISIS rather than Assad; and hands up everyone who wants to see US ground forces in Syria as do Senators McCain and Graham.

Obama’s initial instincts appear to have been to fight ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. He should have stuck with them.

The number of pubs in the UK is declining but craft breweries are thriving

The number of pubs in the UK is declining but craft breweries are thriving

If there was an endangered species act for national icons, the British pub (or public house) might be on it.

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, since 1982 the number of pubs across the United Kingdom has declined from 68,000 to fewer than 50,000 in 2012, and about 25-30 pubs close every week.

What has brought the venerable British pub low?

The reasons are varied and include sky high real estate prices, which make it more profitable to sell a valuable pub property than continue its operation.

The corporate wheeling and dealing of “pubcos” (corporate pub companies) have also contributed hugely to the diminishing number of pubs. First, pubcos have sold many pubs to pay off corporate debt. Second, they impose restrictive agreements on licensees who manage their pubs which narrow both the range of beers the latter can sell and the profits they can enjoy.

A third problem is that supermarkets can now significantly undercut the price of pub beer.

The good news is that public awareness has been raised by the looming crisis of the disappearing pub and efforts are under way to arrest it. And craft breweries in the UK are booming.

So fear not. Buying good ale in most towns or cities in Britain (and a decent cider too for that matter) remains almost as easy as it is in, well, the thriving Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, home to many craft beer lovers, several fine craft breweries, and, not coincidentally, to some of the contributors to this blog.

Remembering the Americans who fought in Operation Market Garden

Remembering the Americans who fought in Operation Market Garden

On the morning of 17 September 1944 amid the droning sound of hundreds of aircraft, the clear skies over southern Holland were suddenly filled with what resembled a myriad of snowflakes. Operation Market Garden had begun.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, commanding the British/Canadian 21st Army Group, planned to leap the Lower Rhine River (the Nederrijn in the Netherlands) and outflank the German Siegfried Line on Germany’s borders with France and Belgium for a concentrated thrust into the North German Plain.

The US 82nd and 101st and 1st British Airborne Divisions would provide an airborne carpet along a sixty mile route from Eindhoven via Nijmegen to Arnhem capturing bridges over several major waterways. The paratroopers would then await relief by the ground forces of the British 2nd Army’s XXX Corps led by General Sir Brian Horrocks attacking north along a single road.

The 1st Airborne had the most dangerous assignment since their objective, the road bridge at Arnhem, was the farthest from XXX Corps; however, the two US divisions had the complicated task of both securing a number of vital bridges, and defending the road against German counterattacks from both flanks (which in the event they did, heroically).

The success of the plan was jeopardized by the presence of two battered yet powerful German SS panzer divisions that were refitting near Arnhem. Ultimately, these units and German proficiency at improvisation would determine the outcome of Market Garden.

The two American airborne divisions achieved most of their initial objectives but the 82nd Airborne, which had secured key bridges over the Maas River and Maas-Waal Canal, and vital high ground needed to block German counterattacks from the Reichswald Forest, lacked the manpower to move immediately on the road and rail bridges over the Waal River at Nijmegen. By the time they did, it was too late – German SS troops had arrived from Arnhem to strongly fortify the approaches to both bridges.

The 1st British Airborne whose drop zones were 6-8km from Arnhem, encountered strong German opposition and only managed to get an understrength battalion, perhaps 700 men, under Lieutenant Colonel John Frost to the north end of the bridge. The rest of the division was unable to break through and soon found itself in a fight for its life against ad hoc German battle groups, as did Frost.

Meanwhile the ground offensive by XXX Corps encountered strong German resistance in its attack from the Meuse-Escaut Canal.

Already behind schedule when they reached Nijmegen, the British joined the 82nd in attacking the road and rail bridges but made little progress. So confident were the Germans that they decided not to demolish the bridges but to defend them for use in future operations.

On the fourth day with time running out for Frost’s gallant band, a battalion of the 82nd launched a daring assault in daylight across the 250-metre wide Waal downriver from Nijmegen in flimsy British canvas and plywood boats. Under intense German fire, about half of the craft managed to reach the north bank. The surviving paratroopers stormed ashore and charged towards the north end of the bridges where they met tanks of the Guards Armoured Division who, along with other American paratroopers, had finally cracked the German defences south of the bridges. German attempts to demolish the latter failed. The Nijmegen bridges were in allied hands.

By then, however, Frost’s band had been overwhelmed. And to the fury of the American paratroopers who had sacrificed so much to capture the Nijmegen bridges, XXX Corps did not attack north for 18 hours while they regrouped. By then the Germans had blocked the way to Arnhem.

The British reached the Nederrijn but could not reinforce the 1st Airborne across the river. Two thousand survivors of the 10,000 who landed were evacuated on the night of 25/26 September. Market Garden had failed.

The 82nd and 101st suffered 3,500 casualties but had performed brilliantly, solidifying their reputations as two of the finest divisions fielded by any army in World War II. That Market Garden achieved 90% of its objectives, as Montgomery later put it, was due in no small measure to their efforts. Unfortunately, the other 10% was the difference between success and failure.

For the cinematic version of this story, watch Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film, A Bridge Too Far, starring Anthony Hopkins as Lieutenant Colonel Frost, Edward Fox as Lieutenant General Horrocks, plus Sean Connery as Major General Urquhart.