Tuesday, December 27, 2005


It’s too late to wish anyone Merry Christmas— it’s over, but here’s hoping that’s what was had by all.

It’s a rare moment when I think there are advantages to living in Canada, and these are often due to the few vestiges of British culture which still survive like blades of grass poking bravely up through the vast cement expanse of an airport runway or suburban parking lot.

One of these last desperate traces of civilization, the official Boxing Day holiday, alas, has disappeared in distinctive Canadian fashion: the laws which once decreed that no commerce should be allowed on Sundays and statutory holidays have been erased by being repeatedly broken. It’s a classic Canadian form of “court challenge”— you just keep breaking the law until you break the system’s resolve. Saves a lot of time and headache involved with actual statutory amendment enacted by actual elected legislators.

However, the cultural concept of Boxing Day still lingers— the day after Christmas when servants could relax a bit and the gentry would treat them to the annual holiday bonus, boxes stuffed with money and gifts. It’s still a day which conjures up, for some of us, images of hanging out and doing nothing, trying out the Christmas treasures, eating the left-overs. I celebrated today by rising at about 2:00 and soaking in the tub from 4:30 till 6:00 while drinking champagne and orange juice and reading about architecture. This strikes me as an appropriate way to pass a traditional “holiday” in the literal sense (Holy Day).

Unfortunately, Canadian society has succumbed to moving the traditional after-Christmas sales to Boxing Day, where they had once been staved off until December 27. Somewhere in the distance today were the sounds of cash-registers dinging (or whatever it is these computerized models do), but no one in our house was aware of it.

Canada is still blessed insofar as it lacks anything quite equivalent to the American abomination known in the retail world as “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving when hundreds of thousands of people line up in the cold early morning to rush the doors of the malls and big-box stores for Christmas shopping deals. It is hard to conceive of a more unedifying sight than crowds pushing and shoving (sometimes trampling) each other in search of bargains and the hottest gift-fads, without which, one surmises, the birth of Christ would be empty and meaningless.

Canada’s Thanksgiving is in October (usually on or about Columbus Day), too far ahead of the Christmas season for a wild mob scene— besides, without a November Thanksgiving Hallmark-merchandising-opportunity to hold them back, Canadian stores have been stocking Christmas items since late September— so what’s the rush?!

Many might be prepared to say a lot of nasty things about people for whom Christmas has descended into this materialistic morass, but more than anything else I think they are to be pitied, for they have been victims of a terrible robbery. It is the province of the churches to teach the meaning of Christmas, and to raise the alarum about its abuse and perversion. It’s also the province of the churches to fill their own pews—which is where the initial failure lies, and the great robbery accommodated. If Christmas is rather less than “merry”— an exhausting, pointless, and expensive ordeal, as we often hear of it— some research into an antidote would seem to be in order.

I have given some thought over the past few years as to what might be the key ingredients to a Merry Christmas, and why I usually find it pretty easy to have one.

At the root is the question of appropriate expectations. When Christmas is all about the awe and excitement of small children, for whom every aspect of the season is cause for joy, the natural melancholy that comes with the end of the party and the turn of the year can be successfully suppressed, for quite awhile. But Christmas changes as children get older—the magic diminishes, and the sense of inexorably passing time increases.

If you’re lucky, you can accept that the highs and lows of seasonal celebrations are to be expected— relentless highs are artificial, and suppressing the melancholy is unhealthy. Those who are unprepared for, and resent, the post-gift-grab-and-turkey-blow-out depression, have failed to realize that they have set themselves up for this. It’s preventable. After due consideration, I’ve developed some simple prescriptions for recovering the Merry in Christmas. It starts with what might seem superficial (but isn’t) and then works its way to the deeper stuff. That sounds backwards, but it’s a way of easing into the optimal results.

Memo for next Christmas: plan well in advance to approach the Christmas season with new strategies relating to:





Note: the use of the word “Merry” to describe the perfect Christmas in no way implies that this is a formula geared to non-religious seasonal observance. It is the Christian tradition to be merry at the prospect of the Nativity. That’s the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, the Redeemer of all mankind, born into history at a time and place commemorated once a year by Christian believers. While it is possible for the non-believer to enter into some type of generic seasonal spirit with all good will and stuff, to be absolutely frank, if you are not prepared to at least contemplate the historical reality of this birth, and the significance attached to it by Christians, your participation is something of a delusion, and you deprive yourself of its riches.

Christmas 2005 has seen some fanning of the flames of the Culture Wars on the part of those who object to the dilution of the holiday’s factual identity into some bizarre No-Name Seasonal Warm-Fuzzathon — the complaints are well-founded (if not always well-argued), and the controversy warranted. But among the voices in favor of keeping “Christmas” in the public vocabulary are those who have argued that non-Christians should be content with trees and carols and greetings called “Christmas” because these things have lost their religious meaning anyway, so their use is palatably secular.

Please, people— your kind of help we don’t need. It’s about the coming of Christ, and the birth of his Church. Deal with it. And don’t insult Jews by pretending it’s their season too—they’d be the first to tell you it is no such thing. Hanukkah is not a season, but a minor event in the Jewish calendar, significant on a scale with St. Patrick’s Day for Christians. Christmas is not pagan in origin, as some multi-culti types claim—it successfully usurped and more or less obliterated a pagan seasonal festival, co-opting some of its trappings (like trees) which were easily absorbed into existing authentically Christian motifs.

This is not to say that paganism can’t capture the flag back again. It’s working very hard at exactly that, in the guise of benign-looking secular banalities and orgies of materialism. These things are not “merry” as applied to Christmas—they are fleeting but corrosive distractions.

Recover a truly Merry Christmas, by starting with:


The importance of music to the spirit of Christmas cannot be overstated.

Choose wisely. Ban mercilessly.

I can’t remember when it dawned on me, but at some point I came to realize that the most important ingredient in the Merrying of Christmas in my life has been, by far, the discovery of styles of music that are imbued with the true meaning and spirit of the Nativity.

Our house was like everybody else’s in the 1950’s— Christmas music was the usual mix of classic carols and more modern pop hits. We got the big cabinet stereo in about 1958 and our first Christmas LP album was a little bit of a departure—an important one. It was the Robert Shaw Chorale singing traditional carols a capella. The sound was clear and rich and unadorned. Other versions paled by comparison.

Yes, we got our Bing Crosby album too, and over the years my father kept bringing home the annual pop artist collection “Great Songs of Christmas,” put out by Goodyear (?!), that gave us Barbra Streisand warbling “Silent Night” and Bob Goulet crooning I forget what— joined by Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, and, oh yes, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They were pleasant enough, but even as a child I understood that they lacked what the Robert Shaw album had — had I been able to articulate it then I might have given new meaning to the term “Christmas balls.”

Then in the early 1960’s my sister sent away to Life Magazine for a set of books on the Pageantry, Glory, and Merriment of Christmas, with its accompanying LP called “The Life Treasury of Christmas Music”— and a treasure it was. The record changed everything about our sense of how Christmas ought to sound. Its selections included Gregorian chant (which we already knew about, but took for granted), and an international array of medieval dance rhythms on period instruments, Renaissance polyphony, organ solos, 18th and 19th-century carols, and a little touch of Huron from Ontario.

From here we developed a taste for early music in general, but especially that of the Christmas season, which introduced us not only to new notions of harmony and the joys of percussion, but to the fuller spectrum of religious truths which are so often the subject of medieval popular song: our forebears did not hesitate to place the miraculous birth of the Holy Babe within the context of his larger purpose, a life destined to end in agonizing redemptive sacrifice. Furthermore, they were not shy about speculating how strangely the circumstances of the Nativity must have struck those ordinary folk lacking the benefit of an Archangelic visitation— including Joseph himself, the subject of numerous songs that speak to his cluelessness and resentment of the implausible claims of his pregnant fiancée.

Christians of an earlier time could meld a greater awe and faith with a more intimate human relationship with their Savior than modern man achieves, and all without need of the glossy sentimentality so typical of our musical chestnuts and greeting card art. The wider, more realistic perspective of our religious ancestors from centuries long past, as expressed in their music, is the best possible antidote to the artificial high and the post-indulgence deflation too typical of the modern Christmas celebration. Life was hard, and they accepted, even celebrated, the melancholy with the joyous.

Want a merrier Christmas through MUSIC? – Here’s the prescription:

Listen to NO Christmas music written after 1900.

Be very selective about Christmas music written after 1700.

Just try it, for one season at least—yes, you’ll have to give up “White Christmas” (but that will relieve you of the execrable “Mele Kalikimaka” in the process—double bonus).

You’ll hear plenty of old favorite carols and pop schlock in the stores and elevators—try to filter it out of your head, but if you feel called to absorb some Frosty or Mama Kissing Santa Claus, confine your listening to the muzak of public places.

At home, keep to the older musical traditions, whose texts are rich in the Biblical context and lived experience of the need for redemption through the Divine Child and his generous earthly parents.

Recommended introduction to the world of real Christmas music:

Christmas Now is Drawing Near – by Sneak’s Noyse [Saydisc Records]

A Tapestry of Carols – by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band [also Saydisc]

A Garland of Carols, and Fire & Sleet & Candlelight – by Coope, Boyes and Simpson [No Masters Voice]

On Yoolis Night or anything recorded by the Anonymous 4

The Carol Albums - by the Taverner Consort under Andrew Parrott

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – lots of recordings, the one from King’s College, Cambridge being the most famous; the one from the London Oratory is different, and very pleasing.

Thys Yool – A Medieval Christmas – by the Martin Best Ensemble [Nimbus Records]

An American Christmas - by the Boston Camerata under Joel Cohen [Erato records]


Buy stuff online. I’ve had great luck with it, mostly using catalogues I’ve been ordering from by phone since before I had a computer. There are two benefits to this: (1) It keeps you out of malls, which are symphonies of schlock, crass and brassy pageants of crap-for-sale in the din of lousy music and frantic people with cranky kids. (2) If you get the right catalogues and websites, the stuff is a lot more interesting than what’s in the stores.

Have a look at Acorn, Signals, Wireless, The Smithsonian, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Creative Irish Gifts, Coldwater Creek (women’s clothes, jewelry, decorative stuff), Land’s End (good basic clothing, some household items). And there’s always Amazon and Barnes & Noble for books, music, and games. Harry and David for great food (especially fruit). Hammacher-Schlemmer has a few interesting things for people of ordinary means, tucked in between the junk for zillionaires. Also visit your favorite blog-sites and find fun political novelties to suit your and your friends’ opinions.

I’m not putting links up for these sites, just to emphasize that no commercial considerations have encouraged me to list them—someday when I get my web-act together maybe I’ll run their ads.

Want a merrier Christmas despite the SHOPPING? – Here’s the prescription:

Do whatever it takes to stay out of malls and monster stores. Online shopping is leisurely and peaceful and, in my experience, efficient, creative, and reliable.

If you really have to hit the stores, try something out of the mainstream, like gift certificates from a gourmet cheese and deli shop, or cooking school. They smell good and tend to be located in quiet corners of the world.


You’ll find everything you need to decorate your home, inside and out, slipping stealthily into the stores in late September, early October at the latest. IGNORE IT.

If you must buy ahead, do it in late November and stow it until at least my birthday (December 11).

Start with some decorations which are attractive and festive but are clearly consigned to Advent: a Jesse tree, an Advent wreath, an Advent calendar (on a religious or wintry theme, revealing angels or townsfolk and such— remember that Spongebob Squarepants and Scooby-Do have NOTHING to do with Advent—no cartoon calendars!), the Christmas crib (permissible early, but keep the baby in storage until Christmas Eve, and if possible place the wise men and shepherds so they can be walked toward the manger over a period of weeks—kids love to do this, but space doesn’t always allow for it). Think purple, not red and green yet (even poinsettias will cooperate with you in this).

It is fair to say that the true Spirit of Christmas is not invoked by lighting up your yard like a Vegas whore-house— try to keep it under control. The latest fad seems to be these inflatable nylon giants: snow families, teddy bears, etc. They’re generally sort of cute, but bloated (literally) and ostentatious and a little creepy. And remember— accidents happen— what could be more pathetic than a flaccid Father Christmas lying face down on your lawn.

The centerpiece of any indoor decoration is going to be the Christmas tree. Anyone for whom it is not an untenable financial or physical burden, or a danger to your health (like needles make you break out in hives), should get a real tree—please! The fakes are getting better, but they have one big problem: they’re fake. We try to avoid that in all respects this time of year.

When it comes to decorating the tree, many individual tastes will play their part—and many instances of no taste at all. Your best bet? Decorate your tree only with things that any small child would like to (1) eat, (2) play with, (3) gaze at for an hour. (Theoretically, anyway—if you don’t use actual toys, then plausible, well-made replicas.)

Supplement with religious symbols, memorabilia specific to your family, animal life (birds, nests, small furry things), anything made by your children. Nothing glads the heart and catches the eye like old-fashioned blown-glass figures and objects, dotted here and there between the less shiny and more natural objects. Garlands of wooden beads, popcorn, cranberries, little gold and silver stars are way more warm and friendly than ropes of Wal-Mart twinkle-garland and sheets of “icicles”.

Everybody likes vases and pots of greens around the house—pine, fir, holly, boxwood, ivy, juniper— which should be real if your allergies can handle it. There are beautiful accents to be found in the shapes and warm colours of fruits and berries, for both the vases and tree ornaments (fakes are getting pretty good, and less likely to bring fruit flies than the real thing).

Want a merrier Christmas through DECORATION? – Here’s the prescription:

Keep it warm (colours); keep it real (if possible), natural and simple (outdoor lights and displays); keep it in reserve till well into Advent. Approach it all with an eye to childish delight. Avoid anything that looks like the work of an interior designer – real people don’t live like that.


The best way to guarantee a Merry Christmas is to precede it with a real Advent, traditionally a season of preparation only slightly less somber than Lent. In fact, Advent was once colloquially referred to as “St. Martin’s Lent” since it was originally established to last from the feast of St. Martin of Tours, November 11, to Christmas Day (about two weeks longer than the modern Advent season).

There are still those who try to observe the spirit of Advent fairly strictly, avoiding all parties, trees, decorating, etc., until Christmas Eve. In this mode, our forebears postponed celebration until the actual feast of Christmas, and then enjoyed not just an explosive day of excess and abandon on December 25, but on that day inaugurated a 12-day Christmas “season” in the truest sense.

The modern world makes this arrangement problematic. In “olden times” the whole community agreed that the daily grind would come to a halt for the duration of the festivities, so no one was penalized for slacking off, or concerned about losing business to others when little business was conducted anywhere. Today, however, no employed person is allowed to neglect work for a twelve-day stretch after Christmas— at best, we get one day’s grace before most of the community is called back to the full schedule of work obligations. Luckier folks see their offices close for the whole period from Christmas to New Year’s, but only when the calendar cooperates and there are just a couple of work-days between the two holidays.

For this reason most of us are drawn into abbreviating even our shortened Advent, and start the decorating and partying by the middle of December, in the knowledge that big parties after the 25th have a way of seeming anti-climactic. It’s hard to know whether that is cause or effect— whether we have created that weird plummeting of joy by having given in to the pre-Christmas emphasis— but it is nevertheless reality, and our collective devotion to work prevents us from turning back the clock on this issue completely.

Still, the recovery of some sense of Advent – restraining the impulse to start Christmas in September (as the stores would have us do), to get the lights and the tree up in the first week of December and then have the poor old tannenbaum out at the curb with the other garbage on the 27th, and to spend the whole of Advent in a stressful buying-spree that takes till Lent to be paid off — by taking time to meditate on the coming mystery, on how profound is our need to be saved and to reconcile ourselves with God and each other, is the shortest, straightest path to a truly Merry Christmas.

The first step is to tame the calendar—make the effort to schedule the festive activities as close to the 25th as your routine allows; mark the January calendar with Twelfth Night and do your best to keep the tree and decorations in place until then; schedule some relaxed social gatherings for the weeks AFTER Christmas, see friends and family, watch football, hang out, eat left-overs and drink mimosas. Can’t be beat.

First make Advent a genuine season (not just Christmas foreplay), then make Christmas a genuine season (not just a food-and-toy orgasm).

While you’re not partying and shopping like mad in early December, find some contemplative reading material about Christmas. I have several books that have a prayer or reading per day of Advent (Bishop Sheen compiled one)-- and guess what? I’ve never gotten through one yet. But even if you can’t rely on making time for a reading every day, it’s still worthwhile to keep some appropriate material close at hand for the spare moments that present themselves. There are old books of Christmas poems and stories— some are anthologies, others are from one hand such as Washington Irving’s, or Charles Dickens’ short stories that aren’t about Scrooge. Listen to or read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Take a random quiet moment here and there if you can’t manage the daily meditation.

Want a merrier Christmas, period? – Recover ADVENT.

Discipline your calendar, feed your soul, believe in two seasons instead of one or two blow-outs, spend within your means, remember why we do this at all—“Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” give you no guidance on this matter.

Even if your faith, or your lack of it, makes you resistant to involvement in something called “Mass,” you can’t get around the fact that what we celebrate this time of year is called “Christ’s Mass”— it belongs to him, the little bundle in the straw whose humble, helpless entry into our world tells you all you need to know about how the faith to which he calls us is like no other movement or cult or philosophy that has ever captured the heart and imagination of mankind.

And therefore be merry,
Rejoice and be you merry,
Set sorrows aside--
Our Savior, Christ Jesus
Was born on this tide.

A Virgin Most Pure, from A Tapestry of Carols

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I was being "thematic" or something when I wrote previously that "Semper Fi" would play its part in Saturday's wedding vows, but in fact those were the last words of the nuptial sermon just prior to the exchange of vows-- an appropriate (and socko) ending to a serious, meaty, and well-delivered address about the meaning of this day for my son and his bride.

There might have been pictures to share here (the happy couple under a sword arch was especially impressive), except that in my mother-of-the-groom dementia I became convinced that the batteries in my camera had died, and took no pictures of my own. In fact, I was merely being signalled that I should remove a used roll of film from the camera and re-load. Perhaps one day i will become more familiar with the workings of my own toys-- and perhaps I will stop pretending I'm not the least bit unnerved when one of my kids gets married...

It was a day that traversed the spectrum of emotion from duly solemn to downright silly (that was the younger generation alternating between hip-hop and line dancing), and expressed all that is genuinely human and deeply indispensible for the good of society. There were four generations of my family in attendance (if you count the little one peacefully gestating away within my niece), and the full gamut of my family's personality-- from my aunt, the Moveon.org devotee, to the five boys in uniform-- the groom, his three fellow Marines, and his cousin in Navy whites. One pillar of the sword arch is a soon-to-be-winged Marine aviator from my son's class; my sailor nephew has a couple of years left in submarine school; and the two other Marines were diminutive lads who looked about 16, each with a chest full of medals, fresh from a gruelling seven-month tour in Iraq.

But among other things, for my side of the family it was all about blood, in the best sense. Cousins I have hardly seen in forty years answered the call of the clan, and were deeply moved to see each other, and to see how far we have all come since we were goofy kids in surfer shirts. It was a day of new beginnings, I think, in more ways than the obvious one, with old ties strengthened as new ones are formed.

Forty years ago western society embarked on another "new beginning"-- an unprecedented "march through the institutions," which did its best to sack and pillage the social edifices built and buttressed over millennia: honor, fidelity, industry, sobriety, courtesy, sacrifice, self-respect, self-restraint, discretion-- marriage, family, religion, citizenship, public order, just restitution, protection of the helpless. There had always been corrupt elites, whose rising and falling fortunes affected the common man's life (usually for the worse) but did not co-opt it.

But the 1960's march through the institutions was unprecedented in the degree to which it was joined enthusiastically by the ordinary guy and average gal, who have, to this day, not entirely recovered. One never knows whether to be encouraged or despairing that, while marriage and family have enjoyed a "comeback" of sorts, they are seen all too often in a transformed state-- the marriage ritual become a crass pageant of material excess and adolescent vulgarity, as likely to be administered by an Elvis impersonator or a scuba-diving scientologist as by an ordained spiritual guide; family become a means of self-gratification, chemically plotted to be taken up when hang-gliding, cruises, and Armani suits have exhausted their attractions.

It is within this community zoo that one must find purpose in scrubbing one's own front stoop, in the hopes that beyond this inviting threshold will lie a sanctuary where soul and body find nourishment around a family table; and that those who march back over the threshold will go out into the world to build rather than sack, to endow and not to pillage. We polish up our little corner of the world knowing that, with each new life, nothing more important happens than that we merely change the whole history of the universe. Two of those new lives have now come together-- and today they visited Ellis Island, where the old Greek once remembered gazing through ten-year-old eyes at the great green lady in the harbor, and the red brick portico through which he was swept with the rest of the teeming masses, just about a hundred years ago. The universe shook with promise that day, and did again this day, though I suspect nobody took much notice.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Blogging ceases for a week (returning December 20) due to a previous, and, God willing, permanent commitment-- that of my eldest son to his fiancée. December 17th is the day, snowy rural New England is the place, and I intend to devote myself heart and soul to being a giant damp kleenex swathed in brown silk.

Some things are more important than politics and media and war-- but the important things are the reason we have to pay attention to these more transient concerns. Before the year is out, the new bride and groom will be separated, for months, as the groom pilots the mother of all helo's in some distant and dusty place. Life gets all too real when your bambino takes a wife-- that's universal. I would sleep more soundly if I thought that the people with power and public platforms at their disposal, were universally cognizant of how deeply real it gets when the bambino ships out.

Semper Fi will play its part in the wedding vows this weekend, as a pledge of fidelity to moral and familial duty before God and the community. As a military motto, however, it will never be far from our minds.

Anyone care to help me tie the tin cans and the "just married" sign to the back of this thing?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


You gotta love the Democrats. A mainstream media blackout on good news from Iraq, coupled with the Bushies' unspeakable bungling of the information war, turns the national mood bitter and skeptical about the whole Iraq enterprise. Poised to make hay of the President's plummeting popularity as we move into the 2006 election cycle, the Democrats find the one fresh cowpie in the political football field and leap into it with both feet. Then they hit the turf and roll in it.

The irresistible cowpie is the Bush-bashing reflex brought on by full-scale Bush Derangement Syndrome. Between the previously (and deservedly) obscure Congressman Murtha, the saucer-eyed California legislatrixes Pelosi and Boxer, the hair-trigger-tongued Dr. FrankenDean of the DNC, and the Most Unappealing Democratic Presidential Candidate in Living Memory John François Kerry, the public face of the Democratic Party has been a freakish gargoyle of incoherent excess.

Never has any group of political partisans put so immense an effort into ending the career of a politician whose career is coming to its natural end anyway. In recent months the political left has so relished the thought that Bush couldn't win an election against a three-legged tortoise, they have forgotten that Bush isn't, and won't be, running for anything. If they have, in the deep recesses of their consciousness, a glimmer of recognition of this fact, it is clouded over by the fantasy that perhaps they can end his career early by arranging for impeachment, for the "high crime" of -------> not bowing to the wisdom of the Democratic party, the Hollywood left, and the sanctimonious MSM.

Someone please call in the grown-ups to tell these people that not taking their advice is not an indictable offense. Nor does bringing down the President mean that they get to move into his office. (Dick Cheney and several other Republicans are in line ahead of them. And killing the princes in the Tower is not only a bad idea, it doesn't put you on the throne.)

At last, the Bush administration has decided that the news they have been keeping under wraps, to be released only on a "need-to-know" basis, is in fact something that the American people need to know. They have made a start at counter-measures against the storm surge of nonsense that has been flooding the public forum from their political opponents. They have touched on key points, and obtusely ignored others. As usual, the correctives are being best expressed by people not within the administration.

Item one:

It's a lie to say that the President lied to the American people. (Senator John McCain, CBS Face the Nation, November 13, 2005)

Item two:

In a week's time, Iraqis will participate in the most open political contest in the history of the Middle East. They're building the freest society in the region, and the only truly federal system. In three-quarters of the country, life has never been better. There's an economic boom in the Shia south and a tourist boom in the Kurdish north, and, while the only thing going boom in the Sunni Triangle are the suicide bombers, there were fewer of those in November than in the previous seven months.

Meanwhile, Iraq's experiment in Arab liberty has had ripple effects beyond its borders, pushing the Syrians most of the way out of Lebanon, and in Syria itself significantly weakening Baby Assad's regime. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who's spent years as a beleaguered democracy advocate in Egypt, told the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland the other day that, although he'd opposed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, he had to admit it had "unfrozen the Middle East... Look, neither Napoleon nor President Bush could impregnate the region with political change. But they were able to be the midwives."

Toppling Saddam was worth doing in and of itself. Toppling Saddam and trying to "midwife" (in Ibrahim's word) a free society would be worth doing even if it failed. But, as it happens, I don't believe it will fail, not just because of Bush but because enough Iraqis — Shia, Kurds and even significant numbers of Sunnis — are determined not to let it fail. (Mark Steyn, Chicago Sun-Times, December 5)

Item three:

The testimony out of the Saddam trial is really big — I mean, the witnesses are laying it all out, what Saddam and his accomplices did. Human experience does not get more depraved than this.

Do you have a sense that the world cares much? (And by "world," we often mean the media, and other elites.) I have a sense that it does not — because this testimony is a distraction (or would be a distraction) from the accepted narrative: bad, lying America, imposing itself where it has no business.

This should be the Iraqis' moment in the sun: the chance when they finally get to tell their story, after decades of the worst suffering. Instead, it's all Valerie Plame, 16 words, an American female interrogator rubbing — or not rubbing — her breasts against a detainee, blah, blah, blah.


Remember this, friends, and you've long known it: Iraqi suffering doesn't count, because that might mean that Bush & Co. weren't so wrong to remove that regime. (Jay Nordlinger -- Impromptus, National Review Online December 7)

Item four:

Progress is visible and practical...It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making.

We are fighting on the side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be emboldened to strike us directly again...

In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence, eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January, almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them... None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S...

I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. (Senator Joe Lieberman, D Conn., Wall Street Journal,November 29)

And lest we forget, Item five:

We have been sleepwalking through the greatest revolutionary movement in the history of the Middle East, as the U.S. military is quietly empowering the once-despised Kurds and Shiites — and along with them women and the other formerly dispossessed of Iraq. In short, the U.S. Marine Corps has done more for global freedom and social justice in two years than has every U.N. peacekeeping mission since the inception of that now-corrupt organization.
(Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Online October 28)

A quaint reminder:

The kind of "wisdom" the President has refused to heed:

"The heart of the challenge all comes back to security. We're not going to have successful elections, we won't have a growing Iraqi economy, we won't have stability there without security."
(Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, CNN Late Edition, December 19, 2004
-- Memo to Senator Bayh: Hand-over of power to Iraqi officials, Iraqi elections, Iraqi Constitution-- all breathtakingly successful, and achieved exactly on schedule, with a punctuality that would be the envy of most American airports.)

R.I.P. -- The English Language

George W. Bush has been accused (deservedly) of doing murder upon the English language from time to time, but the last people in the world who could justifiably point a finger at him in the past week have been the prominent Democrats (listed in paragraph two above) who have tried to convince the public that words don't mean what they mean, and that they didn't say the stupid thing we heard them say with our own ears.

These crimes against language are pernicious. Other word crimes are just comic relief.

I don't know if Barbra Streisand writes her own copy for her personal website or pays someone else to do it for her-- in either case, she deserves to be busted by the diction police. It's painful, but only because there are people who think she has anything intelligent (or intelligible) to say. The full text of her letter to the Los Angeles Times contains the following gems of purple prose for which a high school sophomore should be soundly flogged [my editorial shots in italics]:

I'm almost embarrassed for you in seeing the LA Times being referred to as the "Chicago LA Times" on the myriad of internet sites I've visited in the last few days. [When in doubt about the word "myriad" -- and Ms. Streisand should be-- substitute the word "countless" and see if it works. It don't.] It seems, however, an aptly designated epithet [is that the epithet who gets the car-keys because all the other epithets are too drunk to drive?], representing the feeling among many of your readers that your new leadership, especially that of Jeff Johnson, is entirely out of touch with them and their desire to be exposed to views that stretch them beyond their own paradigms. [I guess we're naked and craning our necks, and you know how painful that can be, especially in the ablative absolute.]

...in firing Robert Sheer and putting Jonah Goldberg in his place, the gamut of voices has undeniably been diluted... [Last time my gamut was diluted, my guitar warped.]

In light of the obvious step away from the principals of journalistic integrity... [Chances are you'll step right into the Vice-Principals, and they're usually BIG trouble.]

Robert Scheer's column, with its often singular voice of dissent and groundbreaking expositional content, [That expositional stuff is great, but everything falls apart when you get to the second paragraph...] has been among the most notable features that have sustained my interest in subscribing to the LA Times.

My greatest fear is that the underlying reason for Mr. Scheer's termination is part of a larger trend toward the corporatization of our media [I dare Ms. B.S. to find one single tiny, independent, revolutionary publisher in 2005 which has not been incorporated under State and Federal tax law], a trend that we, as American citizens, must fervently battle for the sake of our swiftly diminishing free press.

[I don't have any grammatical quibble with this last statement, I'm just sickened that such an elitist estate-owning cow, who lives like the Sultan of Brunei, has the gall to use words like this, as if she had any idea whatever about what it means to live in a country without a free press-- it's an insult to every genuinely oppressed people on earth, and if they weren't too dehydrated they might be tempted to spit on her.]

Monday, December 05, 2005

THOMAS TALLIS: card-carrying member of
the Crown of Cr
A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” said Ingrid Newkirk, President of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). She would have us believe that human beings are of no greater consequence (maybe lesser) in the cosmos than other living organisms.

Only supremacism makes us think that "our kind"... is more important than the rest. But a broader definition of ourselves is simply that we are all animals.

OK. But apparently some animals are more equal than others-- bulls for instance. Ms. Newkirk has written:

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

You have said that you weren't aware of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but I don't want you to be caught in the same position over the torture of another group of individuals who, while different from the average American citizen in many ways, still bleed, feel pain, and experience fear just as we do... Will you please tell me whether your views on bullfighting have changed since you personally "ran with the bulls" in Pamplona? I invite you to tip the scales back a bit by coming to Spain to participate in the
Running of the Nudes— also called the Human Race—an alternative to the cruel spectacle that occurs three days later.

(The mind boggles, on so many levels.... I can't speak.)

Ms. Newkirk is correct, of course, that we are all animals. But I doubt she gives much thought to what it is that the word describes: i.e., the fact that
animals are so called because they have an anima-- that's Latin for "soul," which points to the fact that Western culture has, for millennia, gone to great lengths to understand the value and define the nature of all living things. (The writers in Latin all bow to Aristotle, who was doing it in Greek 2400 years ago.)

With the great religious cultures (specifically the Religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) came the deepest appreciation of the
TOTALLY OBVIOUS difference between the "animation" of human beings and that of other organisms of varying degrees of complexity, and to the inevitable conclusion that the soul of the human alone transcends physical death and enjoys immortality.

How do we know this? The bizarre anthropomorphism preached by the PETA crowd actually manages to focus on a key aspect of the workings of the soul-- suffering-- and just gets it ludicrously wrong. How do we know that anima of the lower animal is a blunted, mortal soul incapable of (among other things) suffering equivalently to a human being? We know, quite simply, because those animals DON'T WRITE POETRY ABOUT IT.

They don't write music, plays, or make paintings. The capacity for suffering compels language, first, and then other creative expressions-- the impulse to language could not be resisted in any being that experiences the depths of suffering (or the heights of ambition or self-consciousness) -- but you can only "smoke 'em if you got 'em" -- lower animals don't.

They've been around longer than we have and have had plenty of time to evolve the evidence of immortality if they had it. When archaeologists unearth the amphitheatre that was conceived and built by the eohippus "community", and musicians can perform on its accoustically-perfect stage the stegosaurus-composed version of the "Magic Flute", I will lay my arguments to rest. Till then -- sorry, folks -- they are blunted, temporarily animated organisms who, left untouched and unimpeded by human beans, will never cure cancer or establish world peace-- nor will they suffer regret about their failure to do either.

This is not scientific (duh), it's just obvious good sense to anyone with eyes (plus the ability to reason, to read, to record, and all that other stuff we immortals do).

What has this to do with Thomas Tallis? He's 500 years old this year, and his immortality is pretty much a given. He was a court composer to four English monarchs during the throes of the 16th-century Catholic-Protestant tug-of-war. He died an old man, peacefully, in his bed. That in itself was quite a feat. He survived the religious tumult because he was a genius who wrote soul-quaking sacred music that transcended denominational conflicts.

Last night I was among the privileged audience that packed St. Patrick's Church in downtown Toronto to hear the Tallis Choir present an unprecedented performance of a re-constructed Christmas Vespers service, as it may have been sung by the Chapel Royal of Queen Mary Tudor, assisted by choristers from her consort's native Spain.

More than an hour of alternating Psalms and chanted antiphons was brought to a climax (and I use the word advisedly) with the singing of a five-line prayer (called by its opening words Spem in Alium, derived from a text in the Book of Judith) in which 94 singers, divided into eight choirs, sang 40 different musical lines-- all at once.

It is impossible for an old medieval Catholic like me not to have a religious response to an experience like this. But there was another, much stronger element to my response.

The separate choirs began in turns, trading off five-voice arrangements in various combinations-- then, in a sudden swell, they were all singing together, a living natural sound that penetrated every cell of the body from all directions, huge yet crystal clear in its multiplicity. And quite involuntarily-- in intense emotion, but without a breath of sentimentality-- I felt my face glow warm and tears come into my eyes.

I've had this very same reaction before, in quite different circumstances, though the subject was a work of religious art. It was a painting, part of a travelling exhibit from the private collections of the Vatican. I was among the large crowd examining this treasure trove of visual art, several hundred wonders of every sort, when I entered a gallery and my eyes fell upon Guido Reni's painting of St. Matthew and the Angel. Again, tears came instantly to my eyes, without warning.

I am not a big fan of Italian Renaissance art, though it is often considered synonymous with Catholic religious "style." The subject of Reni's painting could be said to have a sentimental appeal, as the old man listens to the sweet angel's dictation.

But what struck me -- struck like a truck, for want of a finer image -- was the sheer, heart-stopping SKILL of the work. It was almost impossible to resist reaching toward St. Matthew and patting his weathered and eminent white head. What was so emotionally moving about the Reni painting, as it was about the Tallis Spem in Alium, was the realization, the unfathomable mystery, that a mere human being created it-- that he first imagined it, saw it or heard it within himself, and then knew what he must do to capture it in a medium by which it may be shared, and preserved.

This is the simplest word for what the human being, any human being, can do-- has always done, universally desires to do-- which the lower animal cannot, that is, we preserve because we have the capacity to imagine what none can see: the future. We grasp transcendance. We are not content to live in and merely utilize our environment. We alter it-- we move things, we build, we kill and cook, we paint our skin, we mark the phases of the moon, we name, we tell what we remember, we concern ourselves that memories outlast our telling-- we find a way to hold on to sights, to sounds, to realizations whose meaning we sense as fit for immortality.

To say that "a rat is a pig is a dog" is an insult to rats, pigs, and dogs (and a bald admission that the sayer is an unobservant dolt). The blunted animae of these creatures vary wildly in their function from species to species. Some exhibit passing concern over the corpse of a dead offspring (heavy on the "passing"-- there are no annual wreath-layings or tributes in the obituary section of the Animal Times). Some mate monogamously, mostly for a season, though occasionally for life. (But we have yet to find a record of widowed whales draped in black seaweed or provided for by Keiko's life insurance policy.) There is evidence for personal attachment on the part of some of the more sophisticated types,like dogs and horses, towards their owner of the moment.

But they don't go to Doggy Heaven when they die, and it doesn't really matter if we kill them (as long as we are not wanton or cruel in the doing of it-- but the wrongness of such cruelty has less to do with the animal's merits than with the unhealthy consequences of practicing cruelty for man's own anima).

There is also no such thing as an "innocent animal" because there is no such thing as a"guilty animal"-- when a pit bull mauls a child to death, it is not put down as punishment for a crime, and it will not go to Doggy Hell for its "sin". We simply eliminate a threat to the higher life-forms whose continued existence counts for something (maybe the child could have cured cancer had she lived-- not an option for the pit bull). The killer pit bull is acting according to its nature, and because it is not immortal it is neither moral nor immoral. It's just a dog-- and in this respect one might say that a rat is a pig is a dog (or hippo, or blue jay, or maggot). They come, they go, they don't write poetry. We remember them as individuals substantially (but not entirely) because their attachment played on our sense of self-importance; and only we, through our ability to preserve the experience of having enjoyed an animal's company, can postpone their soul's mortality.

Thomas Tallis is buried in St. Alfege Church near the River Thames in Greenwich, east of London. His epitaph is as simple as his gift was complex, telling who he served, to whom and how long he was married, that he had no children, but that he was nonetheless immortal. Its last four lines read:

As he did live, so also did he die,
In mild and quiet sort, O! happy man.
To God full oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lives, let Death do what he can.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Moveon[.org] all the way to Britain

Recognize this from TV?

"A hundred and fifty thousand American men and women are stuck in Iraq,"

goes the voice-over in the Moveon ad, which features empty chairs at the Thanksgiving table and crying widows.

There's a tiny problem with this picture, though, and we're grateful to James Taranto at
OpinionJournal.com for alerting us to it. He heard from an Army captain, home from his third deployment to Iraq, and violently digusted by this ad, especially because:
"As they pretend to argue on my behalf, they show a group of soldiers standing around a table in the Middle East... These are not your normal everyday U.S. soldiers though. If you look at the frame they are actually British soldiers. One is in shorts (we don't have shorts as a normal combat uniform) and the others are all clearly wearing British pattern fatigues. So, my point is that these [turkeys] pretend to argue on my behalf and bash the president in the name of my crying wife, and they don't even know what an American soldier looks like! Anyway, it really [ticked] me off."

["Turkeys" and "ticked" are, of course, euphemisms for the language the captain actually used. The rest of the letter was equally salty.]
We're glad that the left-wing extremists claim to support our troops. We just hope they can tell them from the UPS guy and the Maytag repair man. Not holding my breath.
John F. Kerry-- a politician with the courage of his estimates

This just in: Only moments ago Senator John F. Kerry (the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Senator who, by the way, can kiss my purple heart), responded to President Bush's latest speech on Iraq (by all reports, an astoundingly lacklustre affair, especially considering it was given to a military audience, but these days the President excels at nothing so much as being lacklustre).

He claimed that the President created a straw man in denouncing Democratic calls for a scheduled withdrawal from Iraq. "On the Democratic side, we called for an estimated timetable for success."

Senator Kerry retains his status as one of the great political comedians of the modern age.

Monday, November 28, 2005

R.I.P. -- John Muggeridge, T.N.M. (Truly Nice Man) 1933-2005

John Muggeridge knew the burden of having a famous father. I never talked to him specifically about that, but it's such a universal experience among children of famous parents, with a zillion different faces to it, that I think it's a fair assumption about the late Honourable Mr. M.

"Burden" is probably too mild a word-- "curse," perhaps, for those of weaker character and less conviction than this nice man. Having a famous father means, among other things, that no matter how long you live, it is unlikely that the name you share with him will ever be treated as if it is your own. In John's case, it was a really, really famous name of a father who (unlike many in this category) genuinely merited being famous because he had accomplished things of great worth.

For some portion of the time he was famous, this father (Malcolm) was also infamous, for a host of quite dubious achievements, which undoubtedly made being his son just that little bit harder-- though my one conversation with John about his childhood revealed that, as for most young children, parental infamy is much less a problem than parental instability ("stability" applied most pointedly in the monastic sense, as in "attached to one place," which the Muggeridge family was decidedly NOT.) Perhaps, insofar as John put down roots in one place and made it his real life's work to become patriarch-in-residence to an extensive clan, he could be classed a "rebel."

It is no small irony that Malcolm, who spent a considerable number of years having a hellish effect on his family, came to be the one affectionately dubbed "St. Mugg" by those who knew him (and therefore knew this was a stretch)-- putting yet another wrinkle in the famous-father-fardel for a son who, I suspect, would have both deserved the title more and enjoyed it less. In recent times John has been more quietly dubbed "Lord Muggs," with the accompanying "Honourables" etc. that the title implies. (When we reach the point that a word like "honourable" has been too beggared of meaning to communicate anything to a world of the lip-pierced and ear-drum challenged, a photo of our gentleman will suffice to define it-- "click on the icon...")

If you want to know about the famous Malcolm Muggeridge, Google him and go crazy. I know who he was, I've seen him on television, I've read him (not extensively); I never met him, though I think we were in Ontario at the same time-- the closest I came to brushing his greatness was that the obstetrician who delivered my three kids is a formidable Jewish spinster who became his very good friend out of a shared love for small people temporarily confined to wombs.

In that, John and his father were of one mind. John was a tireless champion of life, not least by living it with such grace, but also by wielding a hefty pen in the crusade against its cheapening.

In one respect (at the very least) John outpaced his famous father in perceptiveness, and that was that he preceded him into the waiting arms of the Catholic Church. I know none of the details, but I suspect in John's case this had something to do with presenting himself into the waiting arms of his wife, Anne (Cassandra?) Roche, a formidable writer, prophetess, mom, and Newfie in her own right. After the publication of her book The Desolate City: The Catholic Church in Ruins (1986) there was a nomenclature shift, which I suspect tickled all concerned: John became "Anne Roche Muggeridge's husband", and Anne became "Malcolm Muggeridge's daughter-in-law."

I have never met Anne, and even if I were to be introduced now I could not really meet her, since she has been imprisoned by something in the Alzheimer family for several years. John's good friend Danielle Crittenden sees in the loss of the husband the final goodbye to the wife, whom he kept alive through memory and anecdote. It would be one of God's great mercies if Anne were to be less than fully aware that her most faithful daily visitor comes no more.

It was through the community, or perhaps more accurately, the "web" of our Catholic parish that I met John Muggeridge. We both have had the privilege of holding several regular spots within the purview of the two parishes run by the Toronto house of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. I had previously met one of John's sons, Chas, through pro-life activities, and met another, Matt, when he took a job with a good friend of ours, who lives and works out of the rented rectory next to our church, St. Vincent de Paul (the priests all living next to their other one, Holy Family). Matt's then-new wife joined our choir, a fecund little schola where all sopranos younger than me soon become pregnant. As John was gradually leaving this world, Matt and Eve were welcoming their third daughter into it. (It's a tight and comprehensive little web, the wonder of entomologists and the envy of spiders everywhere...)

John and I were among the "usual suspects" who attended the same lectures, courses, and liturgical celebrations for which the Oratorians are justly famous. But more recently our link was the weekly celebration of the Tridentine Mass. When the Oratorians were granted permission for one Old Mass per Sunday (my hands do a little spasm in typing those absurd words-- permission! It came to this!) John was among the small crowd who sought out there a relief from those qualities of post-1970's ritual which have never, in all these decades, ceased to grate in some way, even at their best as carried out by people with good liturgical sense (like the Oratorians). Early on I gave it a couple of tries, to see if it was the Mass of my long-ago memory. But it wasn't. For one thing, there was no music, and it was "lower" than the lowest Low Mass of my childhood. (As in: almost totally silent.) I couldn't really see the point, except it did remind me of what it was like to be left in peace to pray.

But about a year ago, when the Oratorians decided it was time to up the ante on the attractions of the Tridentine and make it a sung Mass, I leapt at the chance not just to enjoy from the pew this return to past glories, but to do something I had never done back in the Good Old Days: to sing the whole thing myself. So I joined the little schola, and learned how to chant.

[Just for the record!-- do not let me give the impression that we weren't singing along with an awful lot of it when I was a kid. People say about the pre-Conciliar Church that everyone was a spectator in a clericalist world. That's a HUGE LIE, not to put too fine a point on it.]

John Muggeridge was among those happy few whose thirst for the dignity and peace of the Tridentine Mass was satisfied a thousand-fold by the introduction of the sacred music. (And the happy few took little time to double in number once the sung Mass was instituted.)

I can't say I knew John well, or shared too many lengthy conversations with him. But it was always a pleasure to see his perpetually smiling face at these events which formed the cultural core of most everyone in attendance. To the degree that I have assisted in buffing and refitting and showing off for glory the treasured relic of the chanted Mass, so that it gave spiritual pleasure and comfort, and deepened that smile, seen radiating over the coffee and cookies in St. Vincent's hall, then I guess I was a friend-- and his regular spot in the pews (on the left, sort of front-ish but never the first row-- he was a good Catholic after all!) will seem unaccountably empty. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


The New York Times calls itself "The Newspaper of Record" but the folks in the editorial aerie may live to regret that anyone is keeping a record of anything they say.

They've been caught in full pants-down mode by American Future which presents an instructive little log of the ever-shifting editorial opinions about the Iraq Question from 1993 to 2005. Let's see now-- 1993 was when George W. Bush was starting the first of his four terms as President-- no, WAIT! SOMEONE ELSE WAS PRESIDENT when this whole mess started! That explains why the Times now takes a position 180 degrees from where they used to stand! Back in the good old days, according to the Times, Iraq had WMD, Clinton was weak-kneed in not going after Saddam, Hans Blix was a dork-- and that's only in the first of three instalments!

Hats off to Demarche and Schulman, with a tip of the hat to Instapundit for pointing it all out, as well as linking a great post on Urban Legends about the Iraq War over at American Enterprise Online. Money quote:

Urban Legend: Helping democracy take root in Iraq was a postwar rationalization by the Bush administration; it was an argument that was not made prior to going to war. In the words of a November 13, 2003 New York Times editorial, “The White House recently began shifting its case for the Iraq war from the embarrassing unconventional weapons issue to the lofty vision of creating an exemplary democracy in Iraq.”

Reality: The President argued the importance of democracy taking root in Iraq before the war began. A February 27, 2003 New York Times editorial shatters the very myth the paper was perpetrating just nine months later: “President Bush sketched an expansive vision last night [in an American Enterprise Institute speech] of what he expects to accomplish by a war in Iraq. Instead of focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction, or reducing the threat of terror to the United States, Mr. Bush talked about establishing a ‘free and peaceful Iraq’ that would serve as a ‘dramatic and inspiring example’ to the entire Arab and Muslim world, provide a stabilizing influence in the Middle East, and even help end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The idea of turning Iraq into a model democracy in the Arab world is one some members of the administration have been discussing for a long time.” President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union made the same case…

Like most everything else, the Bush administration and the Republicans have failed to take full advantage of the fact that people who do 180-degree turns in their opinions can't really get away with it in the era of instant communications. The turncoats among the federal Democrats are completely exposed, and can come up with no better explanation than that they weren't adult enough to make an informed decision about sending soldiers to die. (And of course that's someone else's fault, despite the fact that only SIX senators bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate before voting to go to war-- one of whom was NOT minority leader Harry Reid.)

Clearly, when they were passing out the intelligence some people were AWOL.

Yay for me! My hit counter shows 1000 total visits as of today! Look out, Daily Kos, I'm gainin' on ya.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Thanks for the snow, Mr. Weatherman-- it's kind of cute. Arctic wind? Not so cute.

There are many things to be thankful for today, though not among them is the fact that I live in Canada and am at present too far from family to celebrate American Thanksgiving as we once did (Canadian Thanksgiving having passed last Columbus Day). I am looking forward to having a daughter-in-law inviting us down for dinner next year....

Most days I wake up being thankful that neither Al Gore nor John Kerry is or ever was President, but I would be even more thankful for an opportunity to carry out a fairly rough "intervention" on the current President, who needs a slap upside the head and then a couple of hours to bring him up to speed on what's in the newspapers he's too busy to read. It's painful to think that Ronald Reagan is the only President in the past forty years for whom the word "squandered" should not appear in the first paragraph of his biography.

At the end of the day (which we hope will not also represent the end of the future for the Middle East, and thus, basically, for the rest of us if we give it long enough), will history write that more damage was done by the Pathological Liars' Party or the "Compassionate" Weiners' Party?

Anyway, The Truth Is Out There (thank you, Mulder), and it is fascinating. Do not pass "GO", do not collect your $200, but go directly to the
Brookings Institute Iraq Index compiled by Michael O'Hanlon. It will knock your socks off. More to the point, it will knock every other sentence out of the mouth of that sad old man, John Murtha (who, if he had any real friends, would have been quietly sedated and planted in front of Monday Night Football re-runs by now to keep him from further hurting his own reputation, having opened his mouth and relieved all doubt, as the saying goes).

Pay particular attention to where the casualty spikes were, both killed and wounded, for American troops, coalition troops, and Iraqi civilians. (Hint: The only people for whom the situation has been getting increasingly dangerous in the past YEAR are Iraqi policemen.) Readers will not be pleased with all the data (opinion surveys of Iraqis about the impact of troop presence are a little discouraging) but it tells a much different story than most of what one hears from politicians and media hacks. Biggest day-to-day concern for ordinary Iraqis, by a huge margin: Security? No. Electricity. Also, nearly 20% of American fatalities are non-hostile. It's a dangerous job.

Mudville Gazette
also sticks it to Murtha pretty good, with actual figures instead of foggy generalizations-- interesting stats on the wounded (about 55% are back in combat in 72 hours, only 18% require evacuation, amputees make up about .03%). None of this is easy or positive, but it puts things in perspective.

Gateway Pundit traces Murtha's history of similar bloviations
Had we only known he was a serial bloviator, we could have gotten him some therapy.

Letter from the front via: Marine Mom

And a comment about the military's increasing hate-hate relationship with the media-- this is the only way that Iraq is genuinely, indisputably, and thoroughly like Vietnam, except that back then the media succeeded in making at least some veterans hate themselves too-- but mostly they just hated the media and how it turned the people against their soldiers. Not this time. The soldiers have met the enemy and they know who he is-- and they know who's on his side back home.

Anyhow, I'm thankful that all sorts of people I've never met are taking care of all my kids on Thanksgiving Day-- they'll have more fun than I will, and will eat better too! Thankful for the freedom to read, to write, to bounce around the world, to vote the bastards out, to sing Gregorian chant. I can't complain, really-- but I'll find a way.