Friday, September 30, 2005
Subsequent conversations have revealed that the non-Iraqi half of my painting team (the Sal and Sam Show) is Iranian ("Persian" as he specified). I cheekily congratulated them on getting along so well.
They are, in fact, the Type for the future of the Middle East: two working guys with children in school, who have sought refuge where they are free to function without fear, and to chatter together about how defective the Canadian school system is. I suspect they would not be here at all if life offered them any prospects in the places they left-- they just want what everybody wants, and you can't yet get it there.
Today's exchange yielded Sam's assessment that elections in Iran are a farce since there is no real freedom, and Sal's repeated endorsement of George Bush, especially of his belief that the Middle East must learn the ways of modern democracy if its people are to survive. When Sam from Iran asked me about my children, and I told him the eldest is in the Marine Corps, Sam said, "God bless him."
Amen to that, my friend. Bless 'em all.
As exciting as watching paint dry?
Complete chaos domestically-- nearly the whole interior of the house is being painted, some of it covering that original coat of Builder's Beige from 16 years ago. The computer has been swathed in plastic for days, accessible only by sitting sideways and squinting.
One of the painters, interestingly, is an Iraqi immigrant, with family still back there and elsewhere in the Middle East. We've had one long conversation during which he expressed an understandable distress at the level of danger still present in some areas, and recited the litany of propaganda he has absorbed about Dick Cheney and oil money. Nevertheless-- bottom line-- he thinks Geroge Bush is great, and has given Iraq a better future.
Speaking of which--
I find myself on the elite email list of those who get to review the incendiary draft-thoughts of David Warren before he cleans them up for general consumption in various papers. His September 11 column, however, retained its flammability in print, and has been exciting tremendous response as it is volleyed around the American blogosphere. Kudos to the Hermit of Parkdale, who is inexplicably hesitant to take up recent offers of a guest-slot on a Dallas radio call-in show.
One of David's recent unfiltered circulations forwarded the following item of interest [possibly from the Ripley's Believe It Or Not section of Items Buried On Page Twenty-Three of the Tumbleweed Daily Herald Express Mail Tribune]:
DID YOU KNOW THIS?
Did you know that 47 countries have reestablished their embassies in Iraq?
Did you know that the Iraqi government currently employs 1.2 million Iraqi people?
Did you know that 3100 schools have been renovated, 364 schools are under rehabilitation, 263 schools are now under construction and 38 new schools have been built in Iraq?
Did you know that Iraq 's higher educational structure consists of 20 Universities, 46 Institutes or colleges and 4 research centers, all currently operating?
Did you know that 25 Iraq students departed for the United States in January 2005 for the reestablished Fulbright program?
Did you know that the Iraqi Navy is operational?! They have 5- 100-foot patrol craft, 34 smaller vessels and a naval infantry regiment.
Did you know that Iraq 's Air Force consists of three operational squadrons, which includes 9 reconnaissance and 3 US C-130 transport aircraft (under Iraqi operational control) which operate day and night, and will soon add 16 UH-1 helicopters and 4 Bell Jet Rangers?
Did you know that Iraq has a counter-terrorist unit and a Commando Battalion?
Did you know that the Iraqi Police Service has over 55,000 fully trained and equipped police officers?
Did you know that there are 5 Police Academies in Iraq that produce over 3500 new officers each 8 weeks?
Did you know there are more than 1100 building projects going on in Iraq ? They include 364 schools, 67 public clinics, 15 hospitals, 83 railroad stations, 22 oil facilities, 93 water facilities and 69 electrical
Did you know that 96% of Iraqi children under the age of 5 have received the first 2 series of polio vaccinations?
Did you know that 4.3 million Iraqi children were enrolled in primary school by mid October?
Did you know that there are 1,192,000 cell phone subscribers in Iraq and phone use has gone up 158%?
Did you know that Iraq has an independent media that consists of 75 radio stations, 180 newspapers and 10 television stations?
Did you know that the Baghdad Stock Exchange opened in June of 2004?
Did you know that 2 candidates in the Iraqi presidential election had a televised debate recently?
OF COURSE WE DIDN'T KNOW! WHY DIDN'T WE KNOW? OUR MEDIA WOULDN'T TELL US!
Instead of reflecting our love for our country, we get photos of flag burning incidents at Abu Ghraib and people throwing snowballs at the presidential motorcades. The lack of accentuating the positive in Iraq serves two purposes.
It is intended to undermine the world's perception of the United States -- thus minimizing consequent support.
And it is intended to discourage American citizens.'Nuff said.
Austin TX prosecutor Ron Earle has finally completed his prolonged quest to the top of Mt. Doom in hopes of throwing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay into the belly of the lava lamp. This is apparently a fairly regular outing for Earle, who has made similar attempts to dispose of various Texas politicians (mostly conservative Democrats) and corporations (which he spared, providing they coughed up donations to Earle's favorite causes).
Many months ago a prominent member of the Houston contingent of my family had this to say on the DeLay question: "He's one of those politicians who is such a sleazy operator that you're glad he's on your side because you'd be scared to have him working for the other team."
Kind of makes you feel warm all over. Smarter people than me have concluded that this prosecution is roadkill from the get-go, and that salivating Democrats who are busy piling on have merely taken up one of them unregistered Texas firearms and shot themselves in the other foot (the first having been winged in the Great Katrina Massacre).
And from the Northern Kingdom: Frank McKenna, Ambassador to the United States from Ottawa Junior High--
Speaking at a business luncheon which was also attended by the American Ambassador to Canada (David Wilkins), Canadian Ambassador McKenna made pleasant coffee-and-dessert chit-chat by announcing that, "The government of the United States is, in large measure, dysfunctional." Among his clarifications of this charge was the criticism that American elected legislators have "so much independence of political party loyalty... that everybody in their own way is a freelancer, going off in different directions."
Ah yes, much better to have the Canadian system where the electorate casts its ballot and then evaporates from the consciousness of its representatives. Americans will be shocked to discover that a member of Parliament may only vote according to his, or his constituents', personal and political convictions when officially given leave by the party leader to cast a "free vote"-- usually reserved for issues of conscience like gay marriage or abortion (at least that's how it used to be-- the present Liberal government has denied even this exercise to its hapless caucus).
Ex-squeeeeze me? asks the incredulous American. You mean an elected legislator can't necessarily cast a vote that represents what he actually believes and supports unless given permission by the party leader? You mean a "free vote" is an exception, and not the rule of every day and every moment of a representative's political life? This is democracy?
Yes, dear, Canadian style. As is a government where holders of the highest offices spend years lining the pockets of their supporters with millions of tax-payer dollars buying votes and favors that will appease its first-class citizens (of Québec), at the expense of its second-class citizens (everybody else) [a scandal many Canadians had to find out about from the American blogosphere because there was a gag order on the most damning evidence about suitcases full of cash, backroom payments to thugs, and other such grisly details]; a government that is running a surplus because it has confiscated ever-increasing amounts of tax from its worker-bees, money apparently not needed but collected because the habit of annual shake-down is so hard to break; a government that has allowed over 100 known war criminals to live within its borders and escape prosecution, not to mention the tens of thousands of known immigration-law violators who have simply disappeared when released on their own recognizance while awaiting a pro forma hearing.
The hypocrisy is irritating. The sheer bad manners and adolescent need to boast is embarrassing. U.S. Ambassador Wilkins, possessed of that particle of class so lacking in his Canadian counterpart, flicked away the gratuitous insults like they were gnats at his ear-- the appropriate flick-off to an insect nation.
Pardon me-- it's the paint fumes, shurely.
Monday, September 26, 2005
(I have just dated myself by making a Firesign Theatre reference)
There can't be any better recommendation for spending time in Newfoundland than how COMPLETELY OUT OF IT I was for five days. Later today I should be ready for some photo-blogging on that subject (at present I am experiencing total failure at uploading images), though the exact location will go unnamed, lest the next thing we know Kurt and Goldie will discover it, mow down the trees and build a mansion and an air-strip, and head up yet another rape-by-multi-millionnaries of yet another Canadian natural wonder. (See Muskoka.)
Lots of catching up to do. The follow-up on the Anti-War/Bush/America/capitalism rally, twinned with the Pro-troops/America/freedom/general-sanity rally in Washington, D.C. over the weekend was best expressed in photographs, here and here vs. here. The Peace and Make-Love-Not-War crowd wins hands down in the Most Vulgar, Hateful, Ignorant, Incoherent, Factually-challenged sweepstakes, with special awards for cruelty to troops in the field and their families. And kudos to the support-the-troops crowd who flooded the Walter Reed Hospital neighborhood to outnumber the Code Pink Kooks who have been harassing wounded soldiers there over the past few weeks.
Apparently the anti-everything bunch thought it would be clever to taunt those who opposed them by chanting "GO SIGN UP!"-- like that's something no real people would ever do. When they encountered many of their opposite numbers holding up their military ID cards (and one veteran holding up his artificial leg) there seemed to be no other counter-measure than to scream and point and make phenomenally nasty faces. Well, that wins elections doesn't it? Such a long way from their stated goal of "taking back their country." They are welcome to attempt to prove proprietary rights-- they just need 50%+plus of the voters behind them. We're waiting.
Meanwhile, back in reality, the Houston branch of my family (plus an entourage of colleagues) made a 16-hour drive to east Texas (normally four) and took refuge in the woods-- apparently all was successful, and no doubt there was good wine even if showers were scarce. There was no telephone there (I think that's intentional), so the next few days will reveal if the Houston digs are still intact.
It was great to have been on such a complete mental vacation for five days on the Rock that I stopped fretting about what-the-hell's-up with the Corridors of Power. Diane West at Jewish World Review has the business covered for me on the subject of Presidential leadership then and now. OFFICIALLY LISTED AS MISSING AFTER TWO HURRICANES AND A COUPLA YEARS OF WAR: this guy doing this. It's been raining like a maniac for weeks now-- think if we pour enough water on the President he'll grow a pair....?
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Robert Kagan at the Washington Post reminds us why it seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, it had seemed like a good idea for a LONG time.
Some ex-presidents seem to have forgotten, though (scroll down to Uncharted Territory)-- especially the one who is most responsible for developing the notion that it was a really good idea in the first place. (Cue "The Arkansas Traveller" maestro.)
It's off to the new/old digs in Newfoundland for about five days, where we take possession of the good doctor's (my husband's grandfather) old house and re-establish the family claim. No online service there as yet, so, true to Newfoundland, I'll be swathed in fog till next Monday.
If you lack entertainment, tune in to the Christopher Hitchens/George "Ad Hominem" Galloway debate [Be it resolved: The war in Iraq was both necessary and just] which took place in New York last Friday. A textbook study in demagogery, duplicity, diversionary tactics, rhetorical fallacy, name-calling, bloviating, and the Big Lie. [And that was just the audience....] Galloway swells to Hitlerian heights of volume, gesture, and wind velocity, while Hitchens undermines himself by finding contempt of his audience irresistible (for good reason).
Galloway had just returned from a photo-op suck-fest with Bashar Assad, and will soon join Cindy Sheehan at the anti-war counter rally in Washington D.C. this weekend-- thereby covering all his bases, as Hitchens so handily pointed out during the debate: offering Assad his congratulations on successful "operations" into Iraq, headwaters of the river of terrorists who killed Casey Sheehan; and then basking in the borrowed glow of Casey's mother's grief and anger.
Our team, wearing the white hats, will be meeting here and here -- wish I could join them. Semper Fi. (At least I'll be out in one of the last bastions of independent thinking in Canada-- and maybe the first to secede?!)
Sunday, September 18, 2005
To the mob of supporters who clustered around her for her few weeks of fame, Cindy Sheehan had one purpose: she was a club to beat up George Bush. She was useful for awhile but began to become a liability when she started embroidering on the talking points, and revealed in the process how fundamentally unintelligent she is. (And for that to disconcert the movers of Moveon.org, we're talking REALLY unintelligent.)
Then, just as the handlers were groping around for a new strategy and a better club (would it be Jane Fonda and George Galloway?), a big honkin' three-wood with sleek titanium shaft came along-- Hurricane Katrina-- and club Cindy got dumped back in the old plaid golf bag with the duct tape and the scuffed balls.
But Cindy soldiers on. It's no skin off Michael Moore's or Arianna Huffenpuff's noses to let her bulk up the blog with her latest ravings, even if way fewer people are listening. Friday's (September 16) Michael Moore posting served up her latest gem (my take on it inserted in italics):
Back on planet Earth again: "occupied New Orleans"?!!!!
Amid the Miserable Failures on the Same Planet
A Message from Cindy Sheehan
...One thing that truly troubled me about my visit to
was the level of the military presence there. [Funny-- I thought everybody's big complaint was that the military presence was too little, too late. A lie, by the way.] Louisiana
I imagined before that if the military had to be used in a CONUS (Continental
) operations that they would be there to help the citizens: Clothe them, feed them, shelter them, and protect them. But what I saw was a city that is occupied. [No moreso than if police are on patrol in an emergency in any city in the country-- half of the New Orleans force disappeared, so it's the military. Here on planet Earth, most people think that's a good idea.] US
I saw soldiers walking around in patrols of 7 with their weapons slung on their backs. I wanted to ask one of them what it would take for one of them to shoot me. [Fortunately it takes more than being a fool and obstructing their operations with stupid and provocative questions.]
Sand bags were removed from private property to make machine gun nests. ['Splain to me how machine gun nests assist people on patrol. There's moving, and then there's sitting still. One of these things does not belong....]
...I don't care if a human being is black, brown, white, yellow or pink. I don't care if a human being is Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or pagan. I don't care what flag a person salutes: if a human being is hungry, then it is up to another human being to feed him/her. George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied
New Orleansand , and excuse his self from power. Iraq
["Condi-- I think I may need a power break? Is this possible?" But seriously, folks-- which of the following actions will have the direct effect of feeding a him/her?: Bush stops talking (nope); Bush withdraws military from New Orleans (nope, nope, nope, not even a little bit); Bush excuses his (sic) self from power (nope, no feeding accomplished here].
Well, there is at least a certain consistency about Mrs. Sheehan's agenda. People who demand the withdrawal of our military from their work in Iraq and New Orleans (and, heck, throw in Afghanistan-- Cindy always does) do not discriminate between the citizens of all three places. About all three groups it can be said that Cindy Sheehan and her allies:
(a) do not see those citizens as real people but as a faceless mass and a convenient rhetorical toolExactly the same thing can be said about Cindy's and her allies' attitude towards American troops.
(b) are not interested in their opinion of their own situation;
(c) don't care what happens to them;
(d) would gladly sacrifice any benefits to them for the larger goal of bringing down George Bush.
If the Cirque de Cindy were to achieve its goals-- bringing down George Bush (a political impossibility, children-- try focusing on winning the next election instead) and withdrawing American troops from both combat and humanitarian roles-- two groups of people would top the list of those who would loathe and despise them for it: the American troops, and the people they are helping in Iraq and New Orleans.
But who cares? A small price to pay for the toppling of Chimpy McHitler.
All this does not change my basic view of Cindy Sheehan as a woman broken by indescribable loss, who is ill-served by those who stoked her rage in Texas, and who have now taken their gnat-like attention spans and moved on to Campaign Katrina, which is itself already on the fizzle because it is so demonstrably bogus.
Anyone who actually cared about Cindy, and about her son, would urge her to do the one thing that will start her on the genuine road to peace of mind, and some degree of usefulness to the world-- that is, to reconcile with her family. Everything else will flow from that. If she were to transform a real healing into positive action-- to put Hillary Clinton in the White House, for instance-- I would groan and roll my eyes and go work for the other team, but I would congratulate her on putting her interior house in order and bringing some meaning to the rest of her life. As it is, she is fully absorbed in actions and people who can do her no lasting good-- even now they are abandoning her, and she has lost way too much already.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Have watched only a few minutes of the Judge Roberts confirmation hearings-- just enough to know one thing I already knew (Joe Biden is an ass) and one thing I hadn't known (Roberts is mopping the floor with these people).
I guess he didn't get that memo that says if you want to run for President you need to be likeable. What you don't need is to look like a contemptuous, boorish, nasty, rude, unreasonable, wannabe-schoolyard-bully who is more like a delusional little yippy-dog than a genuine pit-bull.
But why should I try to diss Biden when others are doing it so much better?
And nobody beats Jonah Goldberg:
I confess, I am addicted to Slow Joe Biden. If he comes on the tube, I have to stop and stare, like every driver crawling past an overturned semi with ambulances and firetrucks and stretchers everywhere. Biden is quite simply the only cartoon with flesh I have ever seen, a wholly ridiculous fellow, but one who is completely unaware of his own absurdity. When I learned yesterday of his extraordinary record in law school, the picture grew even more complete. Smarmy. Obsequious. Thin-skinned.
Please, please, please run for president Joe.
Schumer is a close second --far, far smarter than Biden, and if anything his superior in ego as well. Schumer is nearly as compelling a small town political dinner theater show as Biden, but Biden is the champ
The man loves his voice so much, you'd expect him to be following it around in a grey Buick, in defiance of restraining order, as it walks home from school. He seems to think his teeth are some kind of hypnotic punctuation marks which can momentarily disorient the listener and absolve him from any of Western civilization's usual imperatives to stop talking.
Listening to him speechify is like playing an intellectual game of whack-a-mole where every now and then the fuzzy head of a good point pops up from the tundra but before you can pin it down, he starts talking about how he went to the store and saw a squirrel on the way and it was brown which brings to mind Brown V. Board of Ed which most people don't understand because [TEETH FLASH] he taught Brown in his law school course and [TEETH FLASH] Mr. Chairman I'm going to get right to it and besides these aren't the droids you're looking for....
Amen. As Hugh said, Please, please run for President, Joe. Now is the time for all good teeth to come to the aid of their party.
Peggy Noonan nails the President
You never know which mode of Noonan is going to roll out-- she's as capable of writing with intense emotion (Why They Ran) as she is of wielding the pundit's sledgehammer.
Today, with a little bit of both, she nails President Bush perfectly-- short, sharp analysis of what's ailing his presidency, where he blew it when Katrina blew in, and a hint of where he ought to go from here if he's smart. I would only add to her comment about how the Republican party is torn, that among what's on the table that needs to be addressed is a general recollection of how to fight a war-- more specifically, how to fight this war and in what ways it's unlike other wars, either of history or of Donald Rumsfeld's imagination. The fact that a Bush favorite has fallen over at FEMA is a whole new world for the President of "Loyalty"-- dares one hope that other positions in the administration are no longer assumed to be unassailably secure?
Noonan detects the scent of renewal in the air-- I hope she's right.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
This just in from James Taranto at Opinion Journal:
Iraqi soldiers serving at Taji military base collected 1,000,000 Iraqi dinars for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Iraqi Col. Abbas Fadhil, Iraqi base commander, presented the money to U.S. Col. Paul D. Linkenhoker, Taji Coalition base commander, at a Sept. 5 staff meeting. "We are all brothers," said Abbas. "When one suffers tragedy, we all suffer their pain."A million dinars isn't a lot of money; the
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Exclusive Katrina dish from savvy star!!
Well-known sex expert Liam Neeson (naturally I refer to his role as infamous child-diddler Alfred Kinsey, not to Neeson's pre-marital rep as one of Hollywood's hottest "horizontal mambo" kings) has weighed in on matters political regarding his adopted home country.
"I don't think the United States has experienced such a level of embarrassment in recent history as it has with [Katrina]." Cigars and genitalia, anyone? "The so-called leaders of the country are not leading. And now, there's this question of corruption. Of the millions in donations, how much money is really going to go to the people who need it?"
Excuse me? What "question of corruption?" Has anyone, in politics, in the media, in the refugee shelters, made a whisper of a suggestion that donations are being skimmed, diverted, or otherwise misused? Are we supposed to believe now that the Red Cross and the Sally Ann, and the literally hundreds of other charitable organizations and community outreach efforts that are doing the hard work on the ground, are somehow part of the Vast Rovian Right-Wing Conspiracy which robs all decent people of justice and prosperity?
Up here, from within the totally outer-space pampered elitist materialist psychedelic swirl of star-sucking sycophancy that is this and every other international film festival, comes the voice of one pretentious resident of the Hollywood cocoon, casting aspersions on the thousands of good Americans who have come to the aid of their neighbors in need, either because they have made a career in one of the organizations devoted full-time to social/medical care and support, or because they have temporarily laid aside their own private needs and concerns to lend a hand to those who have lost everything.
I'm reminded of that line from Dr. Zhivago uttered by the formidable Bolshevik house-matron in the wrecked mansion that Yuri enters upon his return to Moscow after the Revolution has begun. She sneers at him, as he is met by his wife, at what used to be the front door of Tonya's private residence, now overrun with the newly-housed proletariat-- and says, "There was room for twenty families in this house."
Wonder how many homeless families from New Orleans could fit into the Neeson/Richardson New York estate? Or how many could sleep comfortably in one of those absurd block-long white stretch limousines that cruised around us as we waited in line for the film première last night?
Nobody's suggesting that Neeson needs to take in refugees before he can have an opinion about the Katrina snafus. Nor is the federal government above criticism on this (though it is well down the list of villains after the state and municipal authorities, by any sane reckoning).
But Neeson has taken a baseless, vicious, irresponsible, cheap and lazy shot at those who are handling the generous private gifts of millions of Americans and others. The likelihood of corruption on the part of those taking in donations is, in fact, far less than it would be if that money were being parcelled out by the UN or the federal bureaucracy, precisely because it is flowing through smaller independent charitable organizations, the largest of which (probably the Red Cross) is still more compact and focused than any government body.
It is bad enough that someone totally uninvolved with the effort is spreading calumnies about those doing the job on the Gulf Coast. It is the more repugnant, though, when such drivel is issuing from a member of the pampered coterie at the eye of the hurricane of meaningless, rarified hot air that makes landfall in Toronto for a couple of weeks every September-- no wonder there is such a widespread reflex wish that these people would just shut up.
Of course they have as much right to an opinion as anybody else. But the microphone that affords them a public hearing is made accessible for reasons totally unrelated to expertise or the worth of their opinions. The rest of us are jealous, no doubt about it-- even if we're smarter than they are, few of us ordinary folk get to sound off in the newspapers or on television. If they could just keep their sanctimoniousness under wraps, the editorializing stars might be more tolerable, but if they're left-leaning (as most are) being sanctimonious is just part of the platform.
Not all of Hollywood is left. But it's interesting that the left is where all the preaching seems to come from, as well as the grandstanding photo-op charity, like Sean Penn's assinine attempt to bail out the "drowning" in New Orleans, only to be seen bailing out his sinking boat with a plastic cup. The Hollywood Right is small but gaining ground. Some of its reticence is a product of fear (for loss of livelihood in a dominant left-wing culture), but some of it comes from genuine humility.
Witness the low-profile but increasingly successful effort of Gary Sinise, who co-founded Operation Iraqi Children after visiting Iraq with the USO, and now devotes much of his time to fundraising (via concerts by the Lieutenant Dan Band) to bring school supplies and other necessaries to kids in Iraq. In the past week he mobilized his organization to raise money for kids displaced by Katrina. He doesn't waste his breath dumping on, or lavishing praise upon, the Bush administration-- he just sees a need and does actual work to try and fix it.
Right-wing radio babe Laura Ingraham wrote a book castigating the pretentious Hollywood preachers, called Shut Up and Sing. Gary Sinise does both, and needy kids are the beneficiaries (as are the American military, for whom he and his band perform regularly). Hey Liam-- know any Elvis Costello? Can you do Van Morrison covers? Give Gary a call. Maybe there's a way to make a USEFUL contribution.
Gwyneth and I catch a movie together
We're in the the thick of the 30th annual Toronto International Film Festival. (I can't believe I've actually lived here so long that I attended the very first one. I think that may also have been the last one I went to.) The town is positively stinking with stars, and trendy Yorkville is nearly impassable for the fans who wander around looking for ANYBODY, to see them eating at the hottest bistros or coming out of stores with multiple pairs of $800 shoes. ("Wow! She's carrying her own bags! Just like you and me!")
So one of my husband's partners is married to a woman who worked for the Festival for over ten years, and she was offered some tickets, so six of us made an evening of it. Had a nice dinner at a wine bar just a little too far from the action to have attracted much of a crowd on a Monday. (Damn-- I was counting on seeing SOMEBODY.) Then we cabbed it to Roy Thompson Hall, home of the Toronto Symphony, but not such a bad place to watch a film as it turned out.
There was a huge line-up because the 6:30 premiere had started late. (The "talent", we were informed, had not been on time: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek, and several other people who are probably famous-- hence all the screaming as they departed out the front-- but I never heard of them.) We joined the line of the ticketed at the half-a-block mark (too far from the red carpet to see who was being screamed for), but our hostess was convinced she could find some old associate to get us through the door without the wait. So she walked around, phoned, blackberried in all directions, and eventually an escort arrived to take us to the door.
Just outside the velvet ropes, where the red carpet turned left under the canopy, we were handed over to another escort, who held us back for a moment. Cameras were flashing, groupies were screaming, and there, paused at the door and looking sultry for the hoards of photographers, was Gwyneth Paltrow, a vision in black satin-- some kind of blouse with trailing bits, and two long tubes of pant-leg that would have been skin tight on anyone not quite so anorexic down there. (She actually has arms that don't look like Lara Flynn Boyle's, but her legs are like toothpicks-- she needs to eat a little something.) As soon as she was through the door, the rope was pulled aside and the next people on the carpet were us.
Who the hell?!
Well, our hostess did in fact know people among the paparazzi and there were a few hugs and kisses as we went down the line. (For her, not for us.) Inside we were handed to another handler, and then escorted all around Robin Hood's barn to our spot in the not-so-fashionable section on the far right. (Just one barrier away from the mere public.) The auditorium never did fill up, which made me wonder whether they had been trying to pad the hall when our tickets were offered.
We got started a good 45 minutes late, what with all the intro speeches (one particularly lame money-backer got the hook) and presentation of the cast and director.
The film: PROOF
The story of a sensitive young math wizard, Catherine, (my good friend Gwyneth) who had cared for her genius math-prof father (Anthony Hopkins) through several years of mental illness and dementia until his death. The day before the funeral she lets one of her father's protegés, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, go through some of his many notebooks made during his last years to see if there's anything lucid in them. Then her sister Claire (Hope Davis-- I know I'm out of it, but who is Hope Davis?) arrives, a nattering nagging living proof that insanity might just run in the family. She's all prepped to sell the house, drag the possibly unstable Catherine to live with her in New York (so Claire can "take care of her"), and generally be an annoying drip-torture in pink for the rest of her days.
My review: (IMHO, as the text messagers say)
This was an entertaining yarn. Always refreshing to see a film with a premise built on something different from most other films-- mathematics. We've been there before, with Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) and Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind). (I use the term "we" loosely-- I haven't seen either of those films.) Lots of flashbacks, not always perfectly clear when they started (the change of seasons was helpful) but eventually came into focus, and a good technique for stepping inside of a fragile mind (Catherine's).
The film --I think it's supposed to be a "film" rather than a "movie" (an old film-buff friend of ours made this distinction without entirely explaining it, tongue firmly planted in cheek, but making a valid point anyway) -- is based on an American play in which Gwyneth Paltrow also starred in London, where the actress got better reviews than the play.
I would have to agree with that assessment. I know less than nothing about higher mathematics so I have to take it on faith there's any authenticity to the significance of the material which is the catalyst of this whole drama (but I think I heard some math experts chortling at it as we left). There was a time when total fabrication of countries, diseases, and mysterious formulae could pass without anyone caring whether they were real, but that was back when you would watch anything just to see Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman in it. The reviewer in Britain's Independent felt that "the play patronises the audience by running a mile from any real discussion of the eponymous discovery," which is a fair criticism of the film as well.
The London Times went further, calling it "a glib exercise in political correctness, as lacking in depth as in mystery. Still, parts of it might have been composed by Neil Simon in one of his more rueful, less hilarious moods. It's a deftly written, skilfully constructed play, and it contains moments that might catch fire if not exactly blaze. " I think that's a bit harsh, but not totally off the mark.
The reason I think reviews of the play are directly relevant to the film version is that I was painfully aware while watching it that it was an adaptation of something meant for the stage. The dialogue is often anything but naturalistic-- glib indeed, with repartee too clever by half. When it's at its thickest, Gyllenhaal does a slightly better job of delivering it naturally than Paltrow does, but then Anthony Hopkins gets on the screen and you realize how a truly fine actor can work with just about anything and make it believable.
The Times was also harsh about Paltrow, opining that for the play to have "blazed" the actress would have to "expand what, on the evidence here, is her rather limited range..." Well, maybe so. I've only seen about five of her movies, and she certainly has enough magnetism to hold her own on screen with some heavyweights. (She does serious work in A Perfect Murder.) However, I often found her knuckle-nibbling potential Ophelia in "Proof" more stagey than deep, and certainly nothing new -- overall a hot-and-cold performance. Gyllenhaal was very believable and a good face for the dissheveled nerdily hip math geek, although I had trouble seeing him as a professor. He's supposed to have completed the Ph.D. and be on the University of Chicago faculty, but I would have bought him more as a grad student TA.
The London reviewers compared the play Proof to its filmic antecedent A Beautiful Mind ("execrable") and to a British play Copenhagen (all about physicists!), and found it better than the former but paltry next to the latter. Then again, finding things American to be paltry is a big hobby across the pond-- I suppose some of it comes from England having produced so darned many citizens who have a decent basic education in math, science, and the humanities. (They're so annoying that way.) The Independent summed it up as "hokum-on-stilts. Less than the sum of its derivative parts, it is Broadway's mistaken idea of a truly penetrating play." Ouch. But possibly true.
It was a nice evening out. Movies cost $13.50 here. I wouldn't feel cheated to have paid it.
But last night it was free. And I crossed the red-carpet threshhold just behind my good friend Gwyneth. Won't be happening at my local Cineplex anytime soon. So, two thumbs up. (I get to use both of mine.)
Back in the real world
George Will dares to write down a so-far-unmentionable truth about the victims of the floods in New Orleans. Well, I mentioned it-- but only to a friend (David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen etc.) in an email, as follows:
Also a timely piece on illegitimacy at Opinion Journal, a subject on my mind as I watched the hurricane coverage, in which it became ever more clear that most of the women with children had no man around to help them, and didn't appear to be in search of one. There seemed to be thousands of mother-child combinations, sticking together but not apparently missing a specific father component-- not crying for lost husbands or telling that story when interviewed by newsies. I'm thinkin' maybe more of them would have left if they'd been part of a normal family unit, in which a protector would have taken charge and got them moving in time.
George Will takes this phenomenon head-on, as part of a look at the whole question of Louisianna and federal money. Of the well-established link between illegitimacy and poverty, he reminds us of "three not-at-all recondite rules for avoiding poverty: Graduate from high school, don't have a baby until you are married, don't marry while you are a teenager. Among people who obey those rules, poverty is minimal." Rules, it bears repeating, which do not discriminate on the basis of race.
New Orleans had a lengthy and specific disaster plan in place, which would have eased the crisis in the Big Easy considerably had the mayor held up his end. But New Orleans is not alone as a place that would have benefited had American society in general faced up to the red-alert disaster plan for the disintegrating nuclear family advocated by the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in March of 1965. Forty years later we are no further ahead, and the socio-economic profile of New Orleans is the textbook example of how it all turned out.
Not the whole problem, not the whole solution, to the crises of the past few weeks. But a good part of the explanation of what they call the "optics" of the situation.
Monday, September 12, 2005
My sister reports from Houston that she and her daughter volunteered for several days on the rescue efforts. My niece and namesake was at the Astrodome, and my sister worked with Catholic Charities helping to sort out some of New Orleans' other displaced minorities: Vietnamese Catholics. The report from the dome is that Houston is running like a well-oiled machine and its citizens are bursting with merited pride.
The highest official in the area (more power than the mayor of Houston) is Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who ran all the Astrodome preparation, and he is one cool and competent dude. He has already lined up 10,000 vacant apartments in the city, and told the landlords that they're not going to wait for emergency funding-- open up, and the money will be found, guaranteed. (Remember that Houston had about two days to pull this act together, whereas New Orleans had the better part of a week before landfall.)
Houstonians also have a window on the massive and massively effective assistance being given to thousands of people by small church groups who are taking reponsibility for people in the dozens and hundreds-- all material needs are being provided for, homes being opened, jobs being sought, children being registered in schools. My niece (of Astrodome fame) teaches in a small Catholic parish school which has accepted 70 extra children during its opening week of classes.
Closer to home (Toronto) a friend of mine tells of his colleague whose mother was evacuated via helicopter from her flooded New Orleans home. She was in a Wal-Mart in whichever city of refuge she reached, when another woman initiated conversation with her, the upshot of which was that Mom received an invitation to come and live with the woman, and that's where she is today.
Across the pond, where good fiction has always been popular:
This just in from Britain's biggest paper, that rag, the Sun, by that wag, Jeremy Clarkson:
Hollywood has taught America that the military can solve anything. It's full of chisel-jawed heroes who never leave a man on the field and never fail to get the job done. So they'd have New Orleans sorted out in a jiffy.(Hat tip: Kathryn Jean Lopez at http://corner.nationalreview.com/ )
Unfortunately, on the street you've got some poor, starving souls helping themselves to a packet of food from a ruined, deserted supermarket. And as a result, finding themselves being blown to pieces by a helicopter gunship. With the none-too-bright soldiers urged on by their illiterate political masters, the poor and needy never stood a chance. It's easier and much more fun to shoot someone than make them a cup of tea. Especially if they're black.
Can anyone explain how Anderson Cooper, Shepard Smith, Geraldo Rivera, and Sean Penn managed to miss this story? I believe I said something below about European anti-Americanism.... but this is downright sick. As they say in Parliament, "Shame! Shame!"
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Here is an amazing slide show link from a resident of New Orleans who waited out the storm, and then fled on about day 5. Look at it carefully, especially conditions as they were on day 2 and day 3; read the captions; and then think again about where in the chronology all the Bush-bashers have been saying he should have sent the cavalry in.
(Hat tip: Little Green Footballs)
And then read what Michael Kinsley (no friend of the Bush administration) writes about the fog and hot air of hindsight.
(Hat tip: my kid at
And then I'll shut up because these people said it better.
And, oh yes.
Look at that destruction, that massive, senseless, cruel loss of human life ... and then I ask you to look in your hearts and recognize that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You're either with civilization or with terrorists.
On one side is democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human life; on the other is tyranny, arbitrary executions, and mass murder.
We're right and they're wrong. It's as simple as that.
-- Rudy Giulani, October 1, 2001
Friday, September 09, 2005
Just in case the posts below don't spell it out, regardless of the scope of the Katrina disaster as it appeared in the early hours afterward, President Bush should have reported there personally ASAP-- like Tuesday afternoon, maybe. Some people would find a reason to criticize him no matter when he showed up, so he wasn't going to "win" politically in any case. But he should have gone, pronto.
For one thing, his mere presence would have put some pressure on the unfortunately-named Governor Blanco to make a decision about something, so that maybe the Guard, or FEMA, or the Red Cross, could have been permitted to enter. But it also would have been the right thing for Bush to do as a human being, and that is what most ordinary American people feel they can count on from him-- not eloquence, not even wisdom at every turn, but common decency.
By the way, the evidence is all over now that FEMA is actually doing a better job on this crisis than they normally do (never mind Senator Clinton's preposterous claim that things were better under her hubby). They have been tardier in Florida, but truly outdid themselves in Charleston, South Carolina. When Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 FEMA arrived a month late, and then (as I learned from my friend whose family has lived there since the 18th century, and whose antebellum home was reduced to a pile of kindling) high-tailed it out of town to attend to the San Francisco World Series earthquake later that year-- and even two years later there were people out on the islands or deep in the woods who were still living in tents and never received any assistance at all. (Maybe some FEMA guys went to Charleston, West Virginia instead!!)
I am also reminded of my visit to my parents near Dallas just after the Shuttle Columbia crashed in 2003. When I landed at DFW airport there were busloads of firemen who had been brought in from out of state to help comb the area for debris. They numbered in "busloads" but they had no buses, and had been marooned at the airport for more than 24 hours-- no showers, no beds, and, until airport personnel took pity on them, no access to food because they had proceeded out to the baggage claim area (expecting transportation to be waiting), which is outside the security gates. Another FEMA triumph.
Maybe our expectations of FEMA are ridiculously high (especially when so few people who ought to know better seem to be aware of the restrictions placed on them by state law), but their performance has been quite consistent-- fumble, stumble, oh yeah, head 'em up/move 'em out! All things considered, maybe FEMA in Lousianna hasn't been half bad!
He may be "over there" but this Old World (see Price of Independence below) denizen has the political hurricane all figured out -- no anti-Americanism here, just healthy anti-B.S. in high gear.
With thanks to Slugger O'Toole at http://www.sluggerotoole.com/archives/2005/09/ill_wind_may_no.php/
we have an excellent (and suitably sarcastic) Northern Irish take on the fallout from Katrina's ill winds, as written by Newton Emerson at the Irish Times.
Hat tip: the keen eye of Glenn Reynolds at http://www.instapundit.com/
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Dontcha just hate it when Americans, good intentions aside, fulfill other people's worst nightmares?
According to many scholars, anti-Americanism from the "Old World" (that's basically Europe, Russia, and their poodle, Canada) is older than the American nation itself. (http://hudsonreview.com/BawerSp04print.html, http://www.ces.fas.harvard.edu/publications/Markovits.pdf)
It's galling at the best of times-- wounding, infuriating, laughable. But if there's anything more galling than the contempt, and hostility, and the superiority complex in full flower, it's the presumption that when the Old World looks at America it actually knows and comprehends what it's looking at. It's bad enough to be disdained for aspects of American character or custom that are real-- but it's maddening to be mocked or attacked because our institutions are simply different, and misunderstood.
The events of the past ten days-- that is, the spectacle of New Orleans in chaos -- comprise the second magnificent debacle of the past five years which has given any and all non-Americans reason to shake their heads and throw up their hands in bafflement-- followed closely by disdain, mockery, and contempt, of course.
The first of these two debacles was not, as one might suspect, being caught flat-footed on September 11, nor does it refer to the ups and downs of war in Iraq. (Although the echoes of passivity in the face of looting are fairly striking). It refers, rather, to the 2000 Presidential election, with its butterfly ballot ballet, its chad divining, its duelling lawyers, and its camera-ready partisans wielding their blame-throwers.Both of these bizarre spectacles have fed every stereotype and have buoyed every bigotry in the anti-American arsenal, and we can feel the global smirk as the last great superpower flounders around looking like a badly-run asylum picnic.
Lord knows, the smirk comes not entirely without reason. Just not for the reason most of these foreign persons are thinking. There was genuine chaos on both occasions, but it didn't reside in the most notorious aspects of either event.
The 2000 election will be remembered for the fact that George W. Bush won it even though he fell short of the national popular vote. Some people will remember it because they think he didn't win it at all, that recounts would have changed the Florida results, and that a biased court chose the President through an improper and perverted intrusion into the election-- they will remember these things even though none of them ever happened: the decisions to halt the recount, to appeal the halt, to engage in prolonged litigation, to challenge absentee ballots, and to declare the results final in the nation's highest court, are all actions which have been anticipated and provided for within American constitutional and electoral law, and, although rarely invoked, their operations are actually one of the great marvels of the most successful system of government ever devised by man.
The ultimate compliment to that system was that when the dust had settled, the disputed ballots were openly examined every which way but loose by outside parties, free to reach and to publish whatever result they found, even though there was no prospect of changing the outcome. Though Michael Moore and Paul Krugman are still fabricating from the depths of denial, the media-overseen recounts went solidly in Bush's favor, but had they not done so we all know that riots, insurrection and death squads would not likely have ensued (Moveon.org isn't big enough to manage it)-- we sometimes forget that most of the world's people could expect nothing like the smoothness with which we do "move on" in these situations (Nixon's resignation was another), and are awed by it.
The genuine chaos of the 2000 Florida election spectacle was predominantly a product of deliberate choices about American electoral politics and the system of governance. This is also precisely the source of the chaos in New Orleans.In its ideal form it is called the "Principle of Subsidiarity," an organizational principle by which a government or other body places decision-making power at the lowest possible level that can manage it. It is one of the pillars of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty which laid out the workings of the European Union (both the principle and the terminology borrowed directly from Catholic social teaching of the late 19th century-- an interesting factoid to contemplate considering Europe's refusal a dozen years later to acknowledge, in the deservedly-failed constitution, any of its primary historical debt to Christianity for the formation of all its most cherished institutions and values).
Americans don't tend to think in terms of this highfalutin' Principle of SubCityDairyQueen, but merely cherish the most local control possible of their personal lives, with the least interference from higher levels of government, especially those Feds. It is for this reason that there were butterfly ballots, and old-style data cards with chads, and part-time county election officers who mostly teach or sell real estate, thrown suddenly into a national spotlight. Some counties have their act together, some don't, and that's nobody's fault but the neighborhood voters, whose demographics vary wildly from place to place. Local control and local decision-making means innumerable small inefficiencies and crevices of incompetence.
Most of the time, in the grand scheme of things, these little failures make no great difference. There were undoubtedly many states that had hundreds or thousands of fouled-up ballots that went into the Dubious drawer and stayed there (in Arizona, for instance, where my parents then lived and voted and forgot about the ballots they had received in the mail-- so that they, like many of their fellow senior citizens, saw their second ballot put aside to be checked for duplication, and probably never counted)-- when the winner's margin is large enough that awarding the loser every single dubious vote wouldn't change anything, nobody ever bothers to sift through the screw-ups. It's a situation we accept, a price we are willing to pay, in return for keeping our affairs safely out of the giant maw of the federal bureaucracy. Outsiders are free to smirk, but these were choices made at the birth of the American experiment, by a people who had endured a brutal fight to shake off the whole world history of monarchical tyranny, and on the whole they were wise.
When, as in Florida 2000, the winner's margin is small and shifting, every small incompetency shows itself huge and all the scuzziest rocks are turned over in search of the last grain of truth. In that instance, the price of independence-- the lack of uniform standards, the power-plays and turf-tiffs among minor officials-- seemed too high. Some level of standardization is much easier to achieve now than it was when these systems were first put in place. So reforms have been enacted-- but even these have been according to the choices made at the local level, and despite much hue and cry from the lovers of putting the federal finger in every pie, the Principle of Subsidiarity continued to operate.
In New Orleans, 2005, the subsidiarity most fundamental to the American system-- that of the conditions wherein the jurisdiction of the several states trumps the power of the federal government-- was played out according to the very worst case scenario. There seems to be general agreement that federal response was somewhat sluggish, but history will probably show that this was most true on the level of symbolism-- the apparent disengagement of the President for a day or so (who nevertheless made all the right moves in the few days preceding the storm)-- rather than in the particulars of placing personnel and materiel at the ready.
As the days pass, however, it becomes ever clearer that state and city officials failed their citizens completely, needlessly, and persistently, both before and after the storm. Disaster scenarios and emergency planning had been developed in abundance, but were forgotten or ignored when the crunch came-- quite literally, the rubber never hit the road.
The purpose of the Principle of Subsidiarity is that we want important decisions about our lives to be made by those who live among us, and know us and our needs. Statistics that have been floating around this past week-- that New Orleans has a crime rate 4 times the national average, a murder rate 10 times the national average, 50,000 households (representing probably 100 to 200 thousand people) with no personal means of transportation, and a quarter of the city's population living in poverty -- are first and foremost the business of the mayor and the governor.
Even if the President had some general knowledge of life in New Orleans, these facts could not possibly be as real to him as they are to the people who govern locally. We have learned that part of the reason the Superdome was underequipped was to discourage people from staying in the city-- a condescending and imperious attitude to take about those, especially the disadvanged, whose security and well-being are the immediate charge of their city and state officials. Like the sludge through which the guard and police are now wading, at great personal risk, to bring out the stubborn living and the rotting dead, the stink of local incompetence is only going to get worse as the story is told, no matter how devotedly the Pelosi Brigade tries to splash it on the President.
It may be-- it's hard to imagine not-- that some federal heads should roll, especially because of the wider implications for homeland security brought into focus by this worst case scenario. Unfortunately, the Bush White House has demonstrated a consistent unwillingness to even find a few fall guys, much less to initiate major purges. But the American public appears to be exercising its customary common sense in the wake of this mess. Despite the Democrats' best efforts, very few people blame the President for the toll of human misery that has filled the TV screens for more than a week.
The forces of the left have done everything they can to paint presidential adviser Karl Rove as the all-powerful anti-Christ, and they have been remarkably successful. But it was an odd strategy for them to then try and paint the President as Christ himself-- "What manner of man is this, for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him!" (Luke 8:25) They aimed a little high trying to tell us that Bush more or less caused the hurricane, and nobody bought it. Now they are trying to tell us that this magnificent rescue effort being carried out by more than 50,000 military personnel we just happened to have lying around not in Iraq, is the product of confusion and indifference at the federal level-- and we're not buying that hogwash either.
True to our American traditions, when heads start rolling it will probably be the work of the ballot box at the local level. The political future of Mayor Nagin is probably in doubt, especially because those who do come back to New Orleans will be the entrepreneurs and self-starters who have no time for short-sighted air-bags with no management talent. The mayor appears to have merely been overwhelmed by circumstance, whereas Governor Blanco appears to have been playing some kind of partisan Calvin-ball, whose rules and objectives are a mystery to the rest of the universe. Subsidiarity, among other things, exacted a heavy toll on the people of New Orleans, but it will probably be the most important ingredient in the coming corrective measures.
Memo to the smirkers: Thanks for your (somewhat sluggish) offers of assistance. For our next "American Civics for Foreigners" lesson we will try to explain the ELECTORAL COLLEGE system. (!) The essay question for the test will be: "How would a similar system empower the all-but-disenfranchised residents of the Canadian prairie provinces, so that the country would not continue to be run entirely by the population-heavy urban regions of southern Ontario?"
Night-time on the City of New Orleans... and all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream... Good mornin', America-- how are ya?
Thursday, September 01, 2005
It's fair! It's balanced! It's just so darned annoying!
That was the opening I had planned for this little comment. I finally got my satellite dish a few months ago and settled down to the whole new world that was FoxNews. Was it a welcome antidote to the other networks, both American and Canadian? Oh Yes. But it was also brash, noisy, smarmy (Shep Smith), snotty (John Gibson), smug (O'Reilly at his worst), and as inane as anyone else (the morning crew). On the other hand, it has Brit Hume, Tony Snow, the Beltway Boys, and the Newswatch group (who are proof positive that being conservative is not required)-- all refreshingly unlike anyone else on the airwaves. I had lots of catty comments to make about Smith, who seems to me to have had his eyes "done" and is just too bottle-tan Ken-doll for words, plus the endless supply of "news-babes" with haystack hair, ... and numerous other deprecations of the network that was supposedly going to yank complacent Canada by the ears.
The yanking has probably been accomplished, and that's a good thing. But before I had a chance to get my licks in about its flaws, Hurricane Katrina came barrelling in and changed the whole complexion of my view of Fox. I've been watching PBS and NBC as well as CNN, and there is genuine passion to be seen in their delivery of the story (Anderson Cooper once again winning the "Dammit, there's snakes in here!" reality tv award-- can't help it-- I like him).
But Fox, and Smith in particular, have truly amazed. Anyone who enjoyed assuming that a Republican administration had FoxNews in its pocket can think again-- no other network has so outspokenly held the authorities' feet to the fire on the ill-prepared and so far less than competent government response to this escalating crisis. And no one has been more passionate, more outraged, and more blunt about the racial and social demographic of New Orleans' abandoned refugees than Shepard Smith-- on the scene from Day One, disheveled, bag-eyed, and angry. Fox takes second place to no one on asking the tough and embarrassing questions of a bumbling state government and the tardy feds.
It's been no end of fun waiting for Fox to arrive in the Great White North, especially watching the local pundits trying to trash it before it even got here, and getting into public feuds with Bill O'Reilly. It hasn't cured all our bent broadcasting ills, but many of us are grateful for the new kid on the block anyway. And now, while it's still a new face, Fox is wading full-force into the murky mess of an unprecedented news event, and proving it can make a serious and valuable contribution to the long debate that has only just begun.