Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I heard Neil Young’s new song “Let’s Impeach the President” on the radio yesterday. It was shockingly lame— apparently he could only spare about four notes in total for this effort, and some trite, junior-high lyrics pulled out of the hippie-dippie drawer. I voted twice for Bush and I could have served up much
more biting, and more specific, lyrical bashes about him than this guy with the advanced case of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Various commentators have remarked on ho
w slow and creaky this particular bandwagon has rolled in for Neil. Let’s recall that he was supportive of America as terrorist victim with his “Let’s Roll” in 2001, but obviously things have gone sour—not an uncommon sentiment these days. But it’s odd that it took this long for Young to package his outrage, and that having been so long in coming it is so shallow and weenie.

A couple of interesting notes on this:
(a) Neil is advocating impeaching the president of a country where he has lived for about 40 years without ever becoming a citizen—he’s a transplanted Canadian [remember those lyrice to "Helpless" about the town in north Ontario?], long-resident as a guest in California.

I know how that works. I am Young’s opposite number, and in more than just hygiene! (I once heard a DJ call him the Human Dust Bunny). So that’s okay—I understand his perspective entirely.

Over the years I’ve involved myself marginally in Canadian politics, to the extent that laws of both countries allow. (And for years election enumerators have tried to register me to vote, some
even despite my admission that I’m not eligible—they go door-to-door, and get paid by the name apparently.) I’ve privately expressed strong opinions about certain political figures from time to time. But I can’t imagine having the nerve to grab the public megaphone and let loose with this kind of “Let’s Impeach” blast to influence the thinking of voters in a country where I can’t vote myself. By so doing, I think Young has seriously undermined his own position.

(b) The lyrics of the song’s verses are a yawn, but towards the end I started to wonder whether they weren’t just the intro to the real substance of the song, which comes when a crowd of folks shout out the refrain “Thank…God!...” over and over, having fixed on Bush’s religious self-expression as one of his most grave sins. Earlier on in the song a series of Bush sou
nd-bytes had been punctuated by another refrain, “flip….flop…”—a motif exhausted two years ago (and much more cleverly) by many anti-Kerry forces. But the “Thank God” refrain stands alone, and evinces a certain disgust.

Some overly generous soul— at FoxNews, of all places—reviewed the song as "a melodic, rocking campfire ode…[and] the catchiest protest song since Country Joe and the Fish’s anti-Vietnam ditty, “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die.” Ex-squeeze-me? WTF? I always considered Country Joe’s song to be cruel and heavy-handed, but it was biting satire, with a classic tune that was as unforgettable as the song was infuriating. Neil Young’s new entry is so dull and light-weight it may prove to be the tailor-made anthem of the nascent Al Gore in ’08 campaign— just like Al, it’s a stiff, full of sound and fury signifying nada.
Big disappoin
tment, Neil. You can, and have, done better—like when you pissed off Lynyrd Skynyrd in your trashing of Alabama, and then they smacked you back with their “Sweet Home” ode. That was a great culture clash. This is a snoozefest.


There’s a seismic shift—sort of—in the ’08 prognostications (and here and here -- warning: typical left-blog language that would make a sailor blush) of Democratic partisans: that Hillary Clinton’s moment has passed, and it’s time to bring on the guy whose moment passed so long ago he’s ready to pass another one: our buddy, AlBore Gore. I call it a "sort-of" seismic shift because those of us who have watched from the sidelines of the right could see this coming. Shrillary is just more than any of us can imagine as Nagger-in-Chief for even four years—forget eight. The closer she gets to the ’08 run-up, the higher and more shattering her vocal range is going to get, and she’ll have even mainstream Demos running for the exits. That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it—especially since it’s already underway. Oh Al !—BRING HIM ON! Let the Circular Firing Squad which is the Democratic primaries begin! (And let’s hope the Republi-cringe party can avoid the same-- you should pardon the expression,-- “quagmire.”)

SPORTS UPDATE: “To commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”
(from A Chorus Line)

Oh poor old misprised Buffalo—will they catch a break?

URVIVES TO FORCE GAME SEVEN in search of a Stanley Cup finals play-off berth. Buffalo is my default hockey team in the NHL play-offs when the Maple Leafs do their annual late-season crash, and the Habs slip through the cracks in post-season play.

Buffalo, New York, after all, is just down the road—we share their stinking climate and we feel their pain.

One more gasp. Go Sabres.


The current absolute favourite story of the American mainstream media, the left-wing blogosphere, and elected Democrats who really ought to know better, is the ALLEGED deliberate murder of about 25 Iraqi civilians ALLEGEDLY at the hands of United States Marines. It’s a deeply disturbing story, and if it’s true, the military’s strongest supporters—and the war’s strongest supporters—will be the first to want to see the perpetrators punished to the full extent of military law (which is likely to hand down stiffer sentences than any civilian court).

To nobody’s great surprise, the MSM newsdudes have been unconscionably sloppy in their application of the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” standard which American law, and basic decency, demand. Americans have learned to frown on lynchings, and just because the person inciting one is a decorated war veteran doesn’t make it acceptable. For that matter, just because someone’s a decorated war veteran doesn’t mean he can’t grow up to be a senile old man.

Murtha’s performance with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” wasn’t his most incoherent rant, but it was still an embarrassing diatribe. This is not a bright man (check out his website statements)—decorated veterans can be dumb too. Stephanopoulos phrased his questions pretty carefully to give Murtha every chance to modify his words or frame the reports as inconclusive so far-- but he was on a roll and his babbling couldn’t be curbed or called to order.

He even gratuitously implicated Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace, and then backed off as if this casual mental excursion didn’t amount to much. It is not clear why anyone still considers Murtha reliable enough to receive military briefings when he has proved himself a loose cannon who cannot be trusted to distinguish between an ongoing investigation and a verdict. The mention of Pace by name is the closest Murtha has yet come to libel, but if someone doesn't tie him down to his lazy-boy recliner soon he is eventually going to veer off into language that is actionable, and his victim may decide to make him pay the consequences—a humiliating end to an (until recently) admirable career.

Murtha is a danger to himself and his own reputation, and one wonders why it is thought to be his province as a member of the Defense Appropriations Committee to be briefed on possible criminal behavior. He has stated, definitively, again and again, that Marines flat-out committed murder—yet NO ONE HAS BEEN CHARGED WITH ANYTHING.

Unfortunately Congressman Murtha is so self-absorbed and unintelligent that he forgets to mask his personal agenda while posing as a seeker after justice. In the past he has let slip that he might have kept his criticisms to himself had the President agreed to meet privately with him when he requested it. Now he deplores this [ALLEGED] criminal
activity nakedly within the context that we have “lost direction in this war” and “can’t win it militarily” and calls our “political successes” in Iraq “rhetorical” (it’s hard to say what he mean by that—I suspect he is foggy on the definition of the word). He included in that phrase the establishment of the Iraqi government—what a condescending insult to people risking their lives to give birth to their new country.

I have no patience with people who decide to respond to Congressman Murtha’s muddle-headed slanders by questioning his military record—frankly, who cares whether it’s sterling or ordinary? Anyone who’s been paying attention to the whole history of the United States knows how much is owed to the sacrifices of very “ordinary” men. As long as he’s not a fake (like Jesse Macbeth or some of John Kerry’s posturing Winter Soldier colleagues proved to be) let the past be.

What’s important now is that Jack
Murtha is disgracing himself with conduct unbecoming a lawmaker—grandstanding before the cameras, undermining the judicial process by disseminating half-digested evidence and convicting defendants who have yet to be named of the most heinous crimes, apparently in the service of his anti-war position. This is a travesty of justice, a betrayal of his comrades in arms, and a grievous breach of ethics.

When New York Senator Hillary Clinton characterized the not-yet adjudicated police shooting of Amadou Diallo as a “tragic murder” she was forced to back-pedal and characterize her statement as a "slip of the tongue." This was far short of the apology she owed, but at least her remark was an aside within a larger context, of which the shooting was not the principal subject. Congressman Murtha is deliberately meting out lynch-mob justice within the conduct of his professional duties. He is also making a fool of himself. HE SHOULD BE CENSURED—FOR HIS OWN GOOD.

Samir Sumaidaie, the brand ne
w Iraqi ambassador to the United States and the first such representative of the new-born government, last year made the accusation that a Marine executed a member of his family. In a May 30 interview on CNN he also made it clear that he finds the accusations related to the Haditha killings to be plausible, and he wants the United States to get to the bottom of them. Nevertheless, he must have surprised Wolf Blitzer when he ended his interview with the following:
But let me say this, Wolf, events like this, Abu Ghraib, killing, intentional killing like this, ... as I said in my statement at the time in July of last year, ... are a betrayal to the American people. They're a betrayal to what the Marines are doing and what the American Army is doing.

On the whole, the United States and the military are doing an honorable job on an honorable project, which is of immense potential benefit for the United States and for us. Such crimes detract from that.

The focus in all the international media has been on these things, not on the good things. And I do believe that for every bad apple, bad Marine, there are thousands and thousands of good -- good ones doing [a] good job, doing the best they can under difficult circumstances.
However, it is absolutely imperative that we remove the bad apples and we expose them and we don't try to cover them up.
He is right, he and his countrymen deserve satisfaction, and he showed himself a man more temperate, more intelligent, and more honorable than the Pennsylvania Congressman who is smearing the Marines and denigrating the progress of the new Iraq.


Ah, corporal mortification! Such an archaic, barbaric idea! Cha-ching-- another few pence for Dan Brown's retirement fund.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Abysmal Book carefully translated into Abysmal Film

Schadenfreude. Big time. Oh Yeah.

The verdict is in and the patient is DOA. As Peggy Noonan puts it: "There is a God." She goes on:
Or, as a sophisticated Christian pointed out yesterday, there is an Evil One, and this may be proof he was an uncredited co-producer. The devil loves the common, the stale. He can't use beauty; it undermines him. "Banality is his calling card."
Watching Peggy Noonan speak in person can be sort of like fighting one's way out from deep within one of those incredibly doughy and sticky-sweet "Cinnabon" concoctions. But man, can she write.

She TOTALLY NAILS IT on two hot-poker issues today: immigration reform and the cinematic Da Vinci Code. My favourite line on Topic 1 is a summation of the current Bush Administration Syndrome-- something its enemies might have wrongly accused it of years ago, but which appears to be genuinely manifesting itself in the "lame duck" years.

Noonan believes the administration is "lost in some geopolitical-globalist abstract-athon" -- YESSSSS! ZOWIE! -- She goes on:
... that has left them puffed with the rightness of their superior knowledge, sure in their membership in a higher brotherhood, and looking down on the low concerns of normal Americans living in America.
Ooch, ouch. Yes.

On Topic 2, Peggy nails the bigger context too.

I do not understand the thinking of a studio that would make, for the amusement of a nation 85% to 90% of whose people identify themselves as Christian, a major movie aimed at attacking the central tenets of that faith, and insulting as poor fools its gulled adherents. Why would Tom Hanks lend his prestige to such a film? Why would Ron Howard? They're both already rich and relevant... They've been given so much by their country and era, such rich rewards and adulation throughout their long careers. This was no way to say thanks.

I don't really understand why we live in an age in which we feel compelled to spoof the beliefs of the followers of the great religions. Why are we doing that? [money quote-- ed.] Why does Hollywood consider this progressive as opposed to primitive, like a pre-Columbian tribe attacking the tribe next door for worshiping the wrong spirits?

As we shall see in the coming weeks, Hollywood will prefer that we worship at the altar of the prophet AlGore and his Sacred Book [Film] of Global Eco-Disaster Nostrums. It will be taken much more seriously than The DVC, though I expect they both bought their factoids at the same "Global-Conspiracies-Are-Us" franchise outlet.

Read it all. In a peculiar way, both Noonan's topics of the day are related to the eternal drawing power of Gnosticism. Hmmmm. There-- I've given some mediocre grad student a thesis-- free, gratis, and worth every penny it cost.

Nota Bene: this is no time to relax. Don't forget to join the "Other-cott" -- take all the kids, all your neighbour's kids, a few dozen of your closest friends, and all your sisters, cousins, and aunts this weekend to see Over the Hedge. Drive its well-deserved ticket-sale numbers up, and leave The DVC eating its dust.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


At an exclusive private club in a fashionable Toronto neighbourhood, hundreds of adherents or supporters of the local membership of (ba-ba-ba-BA-AHM!) OPUS DEI gathered for an annual communal meal in honor of one of the successful works of "The Work." The colour red was everywhere in evidence, and between courses the assembly was "whipped" into excitement by these strange performing creatures.

Actually, this
was the entertainment portion-- ably provided by the WuShu Kung Fu Club-- of the annual fund-raising gala dinner in support of the Hawthorn School for Girls.

Yes, it
was Saturday night, named for that pagan deity Saturn (the god of Euro-looking Sedans with Respectable Gas Mileage), but it was nevertheless a pretty typical private school fund-raiser, this time on a "Far Eastern" theme, full of parents, teachers, administrators, board members, friends, and students working together to beef up the budget of an independent school-- one where, as it happens, I taught part-time and, later, volunteered over a period of four or five years in the late 1990's.

And no, I never did join-- didn't get recruited, press
ured, intimidated, seduced, or, in the end, dismissed. I think Opus Dei does wonderful work in the world, and they have my blessing, but I feel no call to sign up for anything. Everybody's happy with that. We remain on friendly terms and they receive our family's support-- and I spent a bunch of money at the silent auction.

See all the weird people? See the zealous cruelty in their eyes? See all the fanatical monks inflicting m
asochistic suffering upon themselves? (Well, the dessert wasn't too good, but the Teriyaki chicken was superb.)

Hawthorn School (the name is a dead giveaway, by the way, if you know "how these things work") is o
ne of the Works of our local Opus Dei community. Though not officially called a Catholic school (not because they want to hide it, but because the Archdiocese asserts a monopoly over the use of that designation, and Opus Dei people are notoriously OBEDIENT AND RESPECTFUL of the authority of the local Ordinary, as Catholic Bishops are called).

Hawthorn is Catholic in ethos and atmosphere in every respect. However, its operating principles are articulated through a vocabulary which is applicable and relevant to all persons of good will-- that is, its traditional Catholic vision is expressed in terms of The Virtues. This is an approach which fits
comfortably within the Natural Law tradition embraced by the most revered Catholic philosophers (Augustine, Aquinas, and all their homies, right down to Pope John Paul the Great), while it allows the school staff to offer academic values, leadership, and moral guidance that appeal to many parents regardless of cultural background.

The students at Hawthorn are predominantly Catholic, but the school has also served Protestant, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, and Jehovah's Witness students. The non-Catholics are not compelled to take the religion classes (but many do, quite successfully), and their separate traditions are respected: Jehovah's Witnesses are not required to sing the National Anthem or observe popular holidays (like Mother's Day); Muslim girls are given the library for prayer at lunchtime during Ramadan, and all other students are instructed not to eat break-time snacks in front of them, since they must go hungry until evening.

Why would these non-Catholic parents want to put their daughters (or sons, at Northmount Boys School) into an unapologetically Catholic learning envorinment? Because they know that the school will demand that its staff and students learn and live universal standards of Virtue-- standards which are either absent from or actively undermined by most public educational institutions.

Somewhere in the information package given to parents and enquirers is the phrase "Hawthorn School is operated under the Opus Dei Prelature of the Catholic Church," or words to that effect. Until recently, that might be as much as any non-Opus Dei person would ever know about the Prelature's role in the school, unless they were curious enough to check it out elsewhere or specifically ask a staff member. And, absent another single detail about what the words "Opus Dei" mean, parents could happily see their child through twelve years of solid education at Hawthorn without it mattering one whit.

What they would see would be a well-run, utterly joyful, small and personal school, built from the ground up by a group of parents who began in a church basement, now overseeing a well-appointed suburban campus [don't think red-brick-and-ivy-- it's a brilliantly converted steel-sided warehouse]-- a school with well-prepared, highly-motivated students who go on to successful higher education and careers, and who take with them into the world a sense of confidence built the old-fashioned way-- out of decency, compassion, modesty, and self-respect-- rather than the newer model built on aggressive self-esteem and indignant entitlement.

I hadn't been to a Hawthorn Gala in several years, due to other May-time engagements. One thing was different this year though, and I expect it's a difference that is rippling through Opus Dei communities around the world (that's for the total worldwide membership of just over 85,000-- for comparison's sake, that's about half the total enrollment at the nine University of California campuses-- Oooooooh! Ver-r-ry Sca-a-a-ry!).

The difference was that I heard the words "Opus Dei" spoken more times in that dining room Saturday night than I had heard it spoken in all the years of my association with the school (which began in 1994) combined-- that includes teaching two days a week, spending hours directing or assisting with theatrical productions, plus a ten-day trip to Rome (during which I shared a room with a "Numerary"-- together all day, every day, and guess what? At no time was she ever visibly bleeding from her corporal mortifications, even in white slacks!!!!).

On the whole I am of the belief that nothing good whatsoever can come of the existence of The Da Vinci Code, in either book or film form. Everything about the book is a lie, including (as Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman) the words "and" and "the"-- but most especially the critical opinion that it is a good, or even readable book at all, when it is, in fact, a literary disaster. [For an abbreviated account of the book's many offenses, religious and literary, and one suggested "non-response", read and take The Da Vinci Code Pledge for Thin-skinned Christians.]

But if there is one bright spot on the horizon it is that Opus Dei has been forced out of the closet and into the light of day. (Maybe they'll stop giving their schools and other residences names that sound like boring suburban housing developments: Hawthorn, Northmount, Riverside, Mapleglen, Shady Oaks-- I made up those last three, but that's the usual model.) They have chosen to be as positive as they can about the unwanted attention being brought to them-- the "when you're handed a lemon, make lemonade" strategy. That is quite literal-- it is in exactly those terms that the Prelature expressed its planned response to the film's libels.

It is, of course, entirely too mild a response to what can only be called a "blood libel" against both Opus Dei and the Catholic Church as a whole, but it is, unfortunately, the only one which has a prayer of succeeding. The legitimate response-- lawsuits, mass demonstrations, book-burnings, Church sanctions for any Catholic promoting the story or downplaying its significance-- all would be perfectly justified, and utterly pointless, even counter-productive.
[There's been a pretty good educational counterpoint campaign going on for a couple of years now. Excellent de-bunking and fact-finding conducted here, here, here, here, and here, just for starters.]

There was one possible, Church-wide action that could have been taken, and wasn't, which is that the Pope could have written a brief and pointed denunciation of the book and the film, naming some of the widely available materials which thoroughly debunk its falsehoods, and decreed that this be read from every Catholic pulpit in the world the week before the film opened. He would probably have been ignored in some places, but he could have tried, and I'm sorry he didn't. Beyond that, though, the Opus Dei strategy is a superior one for reaching the people who will not be sitting in Catholic pews on any given Sunday. It has been an informative exercise for the wider world, and a healthy change of attitude for the Prelature itself. In that respect, it's a good thing-- but so good as to be worth the damage this film will do? No. Never.

In some respects Dan Brown is the least of the villains in this piece, poor schmuck, since he was just floating along with all the thousands of other paperback writers, flotsam on a greasy sea of mediocrity, moderately successful but too unimportant to rate even the investment of a good editor. I think both he and his publishers were unprepared for the success of his fourth little novel, a success grounded in nothing more than the public and critical appetite for anti-Catholicism. Brown had unwittingly concocted the winning recipe for a gumbo of the public's most deeply held prejudices (Arthur Scheslinger had it right on this subject), and publishing history was made. (The only thing "historical" about the whole mess....) Dan Brown is also a dolt-- that's always a mitigating factor in assigning responsibility.

Ron Howard, on the other hand, is a genuinely creative and talented artist, and, more importantly, there is nothing "unwitting" about what he has tapped into in hopes of making a success of his film-- he has been warned, by the outrage expressed at the book, which compounded with the announcement and progress of the film. Howard heard all there was to hear about how offensive this story is to all Christians and other believers, and at some point he decided that they and their woundedness did not matter. He looked at the project, eyes wide open, assessing with a better mind than that of the book's author the meaning of what he was doing, and went ahead with it anyway. (Apparently he's equally unfazed about insulting people's intelligence too-- the movie trailer reveals that he has repeated Brown's fundamental factual error by calling The Last Supper a "fresco" -- it's not. It remains to be seen whether Howard has repeated the rest of Brown's historical sloppiness.)

Screenwriter, former nun, and excellent Catholic apologist Barbara Nicolosi watched Howard doing publicity for the film on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and felt she was observing a man who has suddenly become acutely aware that he has sold out God for money. He was a giddily babbling nervous wreck. Nicolosi thinks Opie's basically still a good guy-- and he's done a very bad thing. She thinks he now knows it, but he has no excuse for having taken so long to realize it, now that it's too late to stop it.

If the spiritual awakening of Opie is a result of the filming of The Da Vinci Code, it's a helluva a price to pay for one guy's enlightenment (the price being the soul-threatening deception of tens of millions). A good thing, but too dearly bought.

I have in earlier posts, on different subjects, used the onslaught of the Orcs at Helm's Deep, so perfectly realized on the screen in Peter Jackson's film of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, as the consummate image of the power of lies. The Orcs are not the jihadists, or the KKK, or the Wiccans, or the Communists, or the French (!), or the Democrats (or even the Republicans)-- the Orcs are the lies.

They sweep onto the field and mow down all and everything in their path-- ugly, merciless, nearly omnipotent. Worse, they seduce or enslave all who are fool enough to consider entertaining them-- they are the impossible, imperious, immovable houseguest. Open your door to one and it will occupy your mind, and won't leave until it has rubbished it top to bottom. And it has an army of friends.

There are plenty of books, films, public spectacles of comedy, song, or spoken word where one little dig, or a couple of nasty shots, have cordially invited a lie or two about Christian belief in among an appreciative assembly. With the film version of The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard has made a conscious decision to "loose the Orcs." It will have large consequences. They will be overwhelmingly bad. They will be answered for, in or out of time.

Barbara Nicolosi is one of the most prominent identifiable Catholics in Hollywood, and has therefore been inundated with requests to opine on the film as its release date approaches. She's sick of it, and doesn't want to say much of anything. She is urging all concerned people to do the one thing that will make an impression on the insulated, impervious, and impious community that has deliberately hyped the thing out of control: GO TO ANOTHER MOVIE-- DRIVE THE DVC INTO LOW OPENING NUMBERS by concentrating attendance on the kind of film audiences have shown that they prefer, given their choice. It's called an "OTHERCOTT" -- fill the seats in every theatre showing OVER THE HEDGE, another promising animated kids' film, a pleasure for the whole family, and the genre that ACTUALLY MAKES THE MOST MONEY FOR HOLLYWOOD PRODUCERS. Help these boneheads GET THE PICTURE. TURN BACK THE ORCS.

In the final days of publicity rounds in the U.S., both Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have been doing their best to dismiss the significance of The Da Vinci Code by saying it's "just a movie." Says Howard, " is a work of fiction. It's not meant to offend, it's not theology." Hanks went even further: "The story we tell is loaded with all sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense... If you are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake... It's a damn good story and a lot of fun... all it is, is dialogue. That never hurts." ("Dialogue" never hurts-- remember where you heard that the next time somebody gets prosecuted, or murdered, for "hate speech.")

All of this is, obviously, a desperate attempt to reduce the heat suddenly (belatedly) being turned up on the coming Orc-fest. It is also a day late and an apology short, and is patently insincere-- after all, check out the movie posters. Are we supposed to believe that Ron Howard had no say in the graphic mantra above the title, "SEEK THE TRUTH"? Please.

So just remember, for anyone who decides to shell out their bucks and see The Da Vinci Code: the revered leading actor has told you what to do.



Wednesday, May 10, 2006


As they say in Canada, ARE YOU LANDED?

My father was raised in northern Minnesota, and thus had as much awareness as any American might of his northern neighbor, Canada. (right: High Falls of Pigeon River, U.S./Canadian border -- hat-tip Bryan Hansel)

So even in the temperate climate of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, my father’s northern sensibilities were instrumental in cultivating in his kids (female though we were) a passion for ice hockey, honorably fed for over a decade by the Portland Buckaroos. They were Canadians one and all, from such exotic places as Saskatoon and Sault Ste. Marie and T’ronno.

As a result we shared even more in the ordina
ry Pacific Northwesterner’s interest in crossing the border and visiting British Columbia, where we camped and toured several times. We felt every Oregonian’s easy affinity for a country, a landscape, and a people who seemed much like our own—less “foreign” to us, perhaps, than people from Texas or Massachusetts.

That being my experience, it wasn’t a difficult decision to opt for the University of Victoria, on beautiful Vancouver Island in 1971. During the spring of my senior year there, in 1974, Canada instituted an amnesty plan to regularize the immigration status of various types of residents. The publicity for the program seemed to me to be aimed at American draft dodgers and others with legal problems, so I ignored it and missed the application deadline-- only to discover too late that a lot of foreign students like myself had taken advantage of it to acquire Landed Immigrant status, and the benefits (especially work permits) that went with it.

By the time I had de
cided to stick around after graduation and accept a job offer, Landed Immigrant status had become much more difficult to obtain. I ended up staying in town as a visitor, working for no pay, and leaving the country to undergo an interview at the Canadian consulate in Seattle – [“Parlez-vous français?” I was asked without warning, mid-conversation—an absurd question to almost any Canadian west of Wa-Wa, Ontario] – and later exiting once again to, enter properly when my papers finally came through.

I planned to stay for a few years before returning Stateside— even bought a one-way airline ticket back home once, which I ended up selling to someone else. But in 1980 I married a Canadian and have lived here ever since. Nationality was not a particularly big deal in my mind when I went north the first time, and I was fairly indifferent to the idea of becoming a Canadian citizen. I have periodically flirted with it over the years, especially back when I still thought it might be nifty to promise allegiance to the Queen. But between the ongoing follies of Her Majesty’s pathetic offspring, and the picture of increasingly unchecked anti-Americanism among many Canadians, especially those in high government office, I have never been less interested in signing on to the electoral rolls than I am at this present moment.

I have great Canadian friends, and a small, close community I would be reluctant to part from. I’ve always cheered for Canadian Olympians (and for their Olympic TV coverage, which is consistently superior to the smarmy American stuff). NHL hockey’s not what it used to be, but I’ve been to the Gardens and Forum, and still watch the play-offs (LEAFS SUCK – GO HABS). I am never reluctant to sing the National Anthem in both official languages—been doing that since I was about 8. Still, I’m an alien in a foreign land. And although now having a Canadian husband and children probably protects me from certain punitive measures, I have never believed that, were I to run afoul of Canadian law, I should be above deportation to my country of citizenship.

When the joints we
re being passed around at the university house parties, I would have fully expected to get the boot if we got busted. (As if anybody would care! It was B.C.!) I’ve attended a demonstration or two in my time—had I ever been detained for any reason, I would understand if my residential status were to affect the legal consequences of my actions. If I failed to pay my taxes or to declare my purchases at the border, if I scammed old ladies out of their pensions and the government out of its benefits, should Canada choose to draw a distinction between the penalties for citizens and those for foreigners like me, that has always seemed reasonable to me. I’m not a Canadian citizen, nor likely to be.

As it happens, in the past 40 years Canada has modeled itself so closely on continental Europe that its own indifference to citizenship concerns leaves me and my fellow Landed Immigrants pretty safe. It’s hard to imagine what anyone would have to do to actually get deported from here. (Deportation orders do get issued, but enforcement is ridiculously lax.) Yet I have never taken for granted any right to be treated like those who have signed on for Queen and country. I’ve made a conscious choice not to, and my status is no more than what it is. On the other hand, I did stand in line, and went to the trouble of obtaining that status properly, legally. This does accord me a certain prescribed set of rights and privileges.

That’s a status I share with the people who came before me: my Irish ancestors who entered the United States (some via Canada) in the 1850’s, as did the Bavarian farmers of Minnesota, or my Greek grandfather whose name is on the Immigrant Wall of Honor on Ellis Island, where he entered, a boy of ten all alone, in about 1905. I entered Canada on a well-maintained, gleaming white car ferry that docks in the downtown harbor in front of the old-world-glamorous chateau-style Empress Hotel, amid banks of flowers and shops peddling tea and tartans. I didn't share my ancestors' experience of stinking steerage and sea-sickness and button-hooks under the eye-lids. But we all waited our turn, and jumped through the hoops required of us.

I have always thought Canada's official bi
lingualism was the stuff of a foolish delusion, but they tested my French before admitting me, and that was their right. Should I ever seek citizenship, it will be expected that I'll have a grasp of Canadian history and be able to sing the anthem (no sweat on either scale), and if my 32 years of residence without citizenship were to give anyone pause, that's their right too. Love of an adopted country is important, but it is first and best expressed in respect for its laws, and humility in the face of its gracious welcome.

The spectacle of thousands of Mexican flags waving above bullying avowals that "Tomorrow We Vote" told a tale that could not be obscured by mist of sympathetic reportage. People who have worked h
ard, paid taxes, and kept out of trouble have not done the United States a kindness, nor have they "earned" a reward-- they have exploited the country's administrative incompetence for their own self-interest. Not a mortal sin -- maybe -- but not, by any stretch, a virtue.
It's a situation that
must be dealt with, with justice (which may not be easy to define) but without guilt-laden hand-wringing and bathos. We used to be made of stronger stuff than that-- and we looked to our immigrants to follow our lead.

Why don't we start by checking to see if the guys picking grapes in
Nancy Pelosi's
non-union California vineyards have any genuine ID.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Curling isn't the only ice sport where things get swept



On last night's "Daily Show" Jon Stewart's lead fake news items included a report about the graduation ceremonies of a battalion of Iraqi soldiers, 1000 Sunnis strong, who, upon learning that they were to be assigned to protect a Shia area, immediately began a full-tilt rebellion, hollering and stripping off their uniforms. The appropriate film footage was provided, first showing the men marching somewhat clumsily on parade, and then mid-riot-- with the clear implication that these were the same people, and their two behaviors were separated by mere minutes. [In the era of Michael Moore-style editing, one is wise not to trust one's lying eyes on these matters.]

I have been unable to verify from any other source that this event ever occurred, which is not to say that Stewart's show pretends to be a reliable source of true news. However, he normally doesn'
t have to stretch facts too far to find his fuel for mockery-- it's all about context.

And it's the context of his fake report that really irrit
ated me. He juxtaposed the set-up piece about the troop rebellion with what he characterized as the sole available item of good news from Iraq: that there are plans for a water-park tourist attraction in Baghdad.

This he treated as if it were evidence of both insanity and stupidity. Yes indeed, what can one do but ridicule the very
idea that anyone in Iraq is hopeful for the future, looking to transform their besieged surroundings into a place that will one day reflect the past greatness of this historic city, or at the very least to inject into its present insecurity some belief in the possibility of normalcy.

The truth is that even during the much-ballyhooed "shock and a
we" of March 2003, Baghdad was a city where lights were on and traffic flowed day and night-- we saw it on CNN's stationary camera which remained after their reporters got evicted. And to this day, in most of the city commerce goes on at a great rate-- people eat in cafés, and purchase cars and electrical appliances (including once-forbidden communications technology) in unprecedented numbers.

Furthermore, those of us who believe in keeping an eye on reality instead of comforting ourselves with our set fantasies, have followed the periodic reports of Iraqi plans for the eventual return of tourism-- courageous and entrepreneurial Iraqis (yes-- you know-- those craz
y brown A-rabs who live over there near that continent place) have been busy drawing up plans for hotels and civic improvements which they truly believe will be achievable sooner rather than later. And good for them. I suspect they will persevere, with or without Jon Stewart's approval. They have faith in their people. Jon Stewart craves acceptance from his.

So I'm prepared to buy that the "Daily Show" rebellion footage had its genesis in some episode of truth. But the con
text-- that nothing good ever happens, or ever will, in the vast pile of rubble that is Iraq-- falls into the category of malicious and manipulative LIE. It is a lie about, primarily, the day-to-day, person-to-person small victories being ground out by the American/coalition military in the field and their Iraqi allies. Stewart can do his thing and have great shows without resorting to insulting and condescending to these people. I wish he would. When he's on his game there's nobody better.

Stephen Colbert's game is of a different kind than Stewart's. I watched his opening show with great anticipation, but was disappointed. His usual schtick didn't seem sustainable for a full half-hour. But he found his groove, and mostly he's completely hilarious.

However, he got up in front of President Bush and the
assembled Washington press corps, and DIED. Now, I don't envy anybody who had to follow the Bush-and-doppelganger (impersonator Steve Bridges) duo

who had completely disarmed what can only be described as a substantially hostile audience pretending to be civil for one night. But Colbert just misfired, and I think he would have done so with this material
whether the President had upstaged him or not. Some of it is funny, but a lot of it just goes thud and lies there.

There was an overall real mean-spiritedness about the routine (even towards the press), which was a mistake, and is not typical of what he does on his television show. Worst of the night: the bit about keeping generals from retiring began on the taste borderline, and then crossed over into what can only be called shameful calumny with the closer: "If you're strong enough to go on one of those pundit shows, you can stand on a bank of computers and order men into battle." That one was truly disgusting.

He seemed to be falling in and out of his O'Reilly parody persona, when consistency as one or the other would have served him better. Mostly he just went on too long on a given theme-- like Bush's approval rating, for instance: again, borderline at best, and then he floggged it to death. It didn't help that the President(s) had pre-empted a lot of his jokes (and done them better). He paused and stared at his notes several times, as if jettisoning material that no longer looked promising-- at these times he seemed in danger of breaking into a Nixonian sweat.

A few of the bits were just too obscure, like the line on Scott McLellan, who was said to have retired because he "really felt like he needed to spend more time with Andrew Card's children." What was that about? Presumably McLellan doesn't have any children-- whether by choice or by fate, is that proper fodder for comedy? If it's a sterility problem, was the cruelty of the joke worth a laugh? Shades of Al Franken's "jokes" about Newt Gingrich's adolescent daughter and various people's ex-wives, back in '96.

The Colbert-as-press-secretary video was pretty good, and ended up, perhaps unintentionally, being a rather unflattering snapshot of some of the more prominent members of the White House press corps. Maybe that's why the reaction to it was tame-- or maybe the whole appearance had just gone on too long, with too many seconds of dead air.

It's not that the room was hostile to Colbert-- they erupted into laughter at the truly funny stuff. But the funny stuff was rare, and the mean parts were really mean, especially the slam at the generals-- that kind of thing can rob the routine of its oxygen.

In the cold light of day, Colbert's laugh-challenged performance has gone unmentioned by the media who couldn't bring themselves to gloss it up, and lauded beyond measure by those whose partisanship impairs their ability to discern what they're seeing. Some of the more myopic commentators have praised him for his courage. Daniel at Bloggledygook pours cold water all over that:

... it has become tiresome to hear talk of courage in this case, as if Colbert is in some fear for his life, but chose to stand against the fascist state and mock the president and media. Rubbish. The easiest place in the world to be snarky is Washington D.C. The Capitol virtually runs on snark. I pointed out that courage would be exemplified by an Iraqi mocking Saddam (when still in office) where speaking against the government carried very real danger.

The other point that begs to be made is that the shrieking about police states, etc. demonstrates just how humorless much of Colbert's audience is. There is less comedy being made than the fiction that Colbert and Jon Stewart "speak" for some voiceless mass. In the age of the ubiquitous opinion, screaming at the top of one's lungs that one's speech is being stolen is absurd and in itself, the best form of satire practiced today.