Way behind on blogging (can we call this "blagging behind"?) due to ridiculously intensive preparation for teaching previously untried material on the Flemish Renaissance.
Top this, Michel[freaking]angelo!--
Went to see Beowulf and Grendel. I'm not familiar enough with the poem anymore to say whether this was tribute or travesty, but we really liked it. The Icelandic landscape is absolutely breathtaking-- various in form, always both majestic and brutal. We found it a tale well-told, as only non-Hollywood film-makers could tell it. I have no doubt that some portion of purists will despise it. Well, goodie for them.
One outstandingly bad element was the token Canadian actress (this is a U.K./Iceland/Canadian-taxpayer-funded production) playing a witch with dyed dreadlocks and an otherwise vogue face with pink lipstick, which perfectly complemented her irritatingly flat accent. Even within Canada, Sarah Polley is pretty-much B-list (maybe even C), remembered most for her childhood TV role in the somewhat corny but cute "Chronicles of Avonlea," and seems a desparate choice to have cast in the film when there is a plethora of much better underemployed actresses floating around. (I could have found them a couple of Ryerson Theatre School grads of my acquaintance-- April Mullen and Chelsea O'Connor, call your agents.)
Anyway, it's the (roaring/whacking/pissing/baptizing/bardic) sleeper hit of the season. You could have nightmares just from the waves hitting the beach.
WAR AND REMEMBRANCE
Just me and some Iranian Communists –
hangin’ out on street corners
March 11, Stand Up For Denmark rally, Toronto
The crowd has been estimated at up to 150—it was certainly no more than that. We were overwhelmingly middle-aged, but the young were really young, like the two organizers, Nav Purewal and Daniel Dale, who looked about 20.
We had an Iranian communist on the bull-horn, passionately reciting the sufferings of his countrymen under an Islamic theocracy, followed by a young Hindu cataloguing the ongoing (for YEARS) massacres of his co-religionists by Indian Muslims, which continue to go unremarked in the Western press. Behind us on the steps, taking pictures, was a 60-ish man who was plainly too shy to take the microphone, but muttered an undercurrent of what had been done to him and his family in his Islamic homeland.
The secularists, the humorists, the true internationalists (those who support the anti-terrorist war, not those who jibber/blubber about paying fealty’n’homage to the UN), were gathered together in the shadow of a concrete curtain-wall of office buildings (holding back the tidal wave of crass modernity that looms threateningly over the corner Church of the Redeemer -- nothing has spared it from the tide of crass modernity which has devoured the Anglican communion from within, however!—but I digress…) within which is tucked the Danish Consulate. The day was perfect, bright and sunny with a hint of crispness in the air appropriately akin to that mini-snap heard when you break a Danish flatbread. (Truly the most tortured simile of my entire writing life. Ha-ha! I kill me!)
Met some nice people, with a willingness to strike up conversation, somewhat uncharacteristic of Torontonians as a whole (or so one of my seminary students has observed, previously a lifelong resident of wee Brantford). All in all, a good day—no low-grade insults, ranting, or hatemongering, just wise words from bitter experience, and the satisfaction of saying what needs saying. (That's me quoting Shakespeare on the right.)
Amusing, predictable sidelight, as quoted in Now Magazine:
Toronto Coalition to Stop the War member James Clark , on the other hand, wonders if those behind the Toronto Supports Denmark rally aren't trying "to use the cover of freedom of speech to spread intolerance, [which] undermines the freedom of speech of everyone."Ow, ooch, don't hurt yourself dude, bending and twisting so far over to arrive at your pre-determined conclusion.
Some Cuban human rights advocates came forward to speak, and provided an interesting footnote as the event wound down, inviting one and all to another rally-- but they were not too adept with the bullhorn, so the details didn't come across. However, I saw their small group on the following Saturday, in front of a building quite close to my home. Had I but known! As it was, I could only honk the horn as I passed and give them thumbs up, which seemed to excite them no end. Have to keep an eye on developments from them.
COUP D'ÉTAT RESCHEDULED
The reported overthrow of the American government, originally scheduled for March 15, has apparently been moved back to tomorrow, March 20. Guess the kids were on spring break and couldn't tear themselves away from Myrtle Beach and Aruba long enough to get it together. We await with bated breath the first intiatives of the Amnesty International platform on Tuesday morning. Should be heaps of unusable ploughshares available on e-bay by week's end.
Department of You can't make this stuff up:
Quoting from a report on the well-attended anti-war march in Los Angeles yesterday:
A middle-aged woman carrying a picket sign for the demonstration said this was the first time she had ever gotten politically involved. She explained that she used to be one of those many who never questioned the government and couldn’t understand why people in other countries hated America. She said this was not her government, asking how America could be attacking a poor country like Iraq. After living 15 years in France, she returned to California to find the social conditions here absolutely appalling.That's fifteen years in FWANCE, my fwiends. Their meat may be cooked to a delicate medium rare, but their grandparents get cooked well-done in the long hot summer. (Scroll down and see Speaking of myths, below)
LARGEST AIR ASSAULT
SINCE THE LAST REALLY LARGE ONE
This past week there was much ado about a massive air assault (Operation Swarmer) conducted in Iraq, based on intelligence gathered and plans formulated by the Iraqi army. Not sure what to make of this. I have a feeling it Is pretty much an exercise in political theatre, but if so I don't have too great an argument with it.
A couple thousand Iraqis participated in a serious, professional military manoevre where they performed everything they have learned, under pressure, ferried in by the most powerful military machine with the hottest equipment in human history, and they did so in the interest of bringing order to their own society. Now they'll all go home and tell many more thousand Iraqis how it all went down-- how well they did, how responsible they were, and most importantly how it feels to work as a team-- something which, according to knowledgeable people, could be a whole new concept within their culture.
It is unclear whether any significant military objectives, of the conventional kind, have been achieved by the raids (weapons caches have been found, and about 80 possible bad guys picked up), but that may never have been the point. If the point was to test the previously untested, and instill in them the pride and cohesiveness necessary for their long-term success, I suspect the campaign will prove a signal accomplishment.
The best eggs in one basket: JEWISH WORLD REVIEW
Every single day (amazingly) Jewish World Review will send you, for the asking, a round-up of the best current events commentators in the business (as well as the best cartoons, and a bunch of other stuff I'm too busy to allow myself to read). The mix of writers and points of view is different from day to day (only on rare occasions is the selection predominantly Jewish, despite the site name). Some days there's an overriding theme, usually dictated by events, but more often there's a wide spectrum of subjects that have piqued the commentators.
The March 16 issue featured a couple of juicy tidbits, the most sizzling touching on one of my favorite recent themes, "Mr. President, I can't take it anymore, you are such a damned DOOFUS." In more serious tones,Victor Davis Hansen, eminent classical historian, sticks it to an administration whose insistence on operating from a distant Olympus screwed up the Dubai ports deal beyond saving, despite the veracity of its conviction that the deal would be advantageous in a host of different ways (the LEAST important of which was financial). Actually, Hansen pretty much sticks it to EVERYBODY-- both major parties, the press, and the American public, all of whom are equally guilty of complacent ignorance about how the practical world works, even within the homeland. It's a concise and much-merited equal-opportunity spanking. Enjoy.
[BTW, JWR exists on donations -- those who benefit from the daily email should contribute.]
OSCAR THE GROUCH, part deux
In the same Jewish World Review issue, Max Boot, foreign relations expert and prominent author on the U.S. Marine Corps required reading list (betcha didn't know they had one), gives Way-Lefty Actor/ivist George Clooney the worst possible spanking by awarding him the statuette for "Best Supporting Neo-con." Boot demonstrates, rather handily, how the themes of some of Clooney's better film work score big geo-political points any neo-con would endorse. Neo-con movie of choice?: Three Kings, or How I Learned To Stop Abandoning The Iraqis And Embrace Regime Change. Check it out.
SPEAKING OF OSCARS, seems we had another (much less pivotal) Nixon-Kennedy Debate media moment regarding Jon Stewart's performance as emcee. Those of us who didn't watch the award broadcast but only read the text of the opening monologue had a much different view of the proceedings than those in the audience (live or TV). On paper, Stewart's material was hilarious, or at least wickedly funny. But the audience impression was that he bombed, because liberal Hollywood could not manage to have a sense of humor about itself when he repeatedly poked truth-based fun at its predominant ethos. (I believe that's the dictionary definition of satire.)
From what I've read, most of the attendees went glum and sat on their hands because Stewart dared to associate them with terminal self-importance and the Democratic Party, and dared to hint that the movie business has some Jews in it (gasp). IMHO, Stewart did great work-- which is why he'll never eat lunch in that town again.
P.S.: I heard, and I think it's true, that Chronicles of Narnia has made more money than all five Oscar Best Pic nominees COMBINED. Wish someone would 'splain to me how Tilda Swinton managed to escape nomination for Best Supporting White Witch-- she scared the bejeebers out of me, so evil she could make a thousand Orcs wet themselves with one withering look.
SPEAKING OF MYTHOLOGY
The March issue of that raving racist heartless extremist right-wing media rag, POPULAR MECHANICS, [!] carried a fascinating article on "Debunking Katrina Myths-- What really happened, what to do next time" (and there will be a next time). [full PM Katrina archive here]
Covers almost everything on offer as an indictment of the evil feds, and pretty much demolishes the notion that the Bush administration deserves the lion's share of blame for everything that went wrong-- noting that a lot of what people believe went wrong actually went right. Why aren't these Mechanics more Popular?!
I bet they wouldn't be so popular in France were they to do an analysis of how FIFTEEN THOUSAND PEOPLE died in the heatwave of 2003. (Where was the tsunami of Hollywood hand-wringing then?) Not to mention (and how dare we) an audit of the 1995 heatwave in which ONE THOUSAND CHICAGOANS died WHILE A DEMOCRAT WAS PRESIDENT! (hat-tip, the Galvin Opinion) Unthinkable! Impossible! FEMA was PERFECT back then! (Hillary said so.) We had a fully-functioning Federal Department of Emergency COMPASSION back then! There's only one possible explanation!-- I guess nobody in Hollywood gave a flying fig-newton what happened to poor black people when Clinton was the first black president. Because he CARED-- and that's all that mattered.
BTW, that bit above about Popular Mechanics being a "right-wing rag" was intended to amuse for its total absurdity, but I have since discovered that there are those who believe it is precisely that, because it's published by Hearst Communications! Orson Welles, call your agent.
WHO LET THE DOCS OUT?
After due consideration (and a commission or two) the Bush administration, under the guidance of our Delegator-in-Chief, decided to claim error about Iraqi WMD, and to embrace the weenie fall-back position that they "never SAID Saddam had anything to do with September 11."
Now, at long last, the White House has finally gotten around to arranging for (by pleading where they should have compelled) the public release of millions (yes, millions) of documents seized in the course of the invasions of Afgahanistan and Iraq, many of which are likely to demonstrate that the original suspicions about WMD were substantially true, and that Saddam and Al Qaeda were thick as thieves (Saddam being a generous facilitator of, and therefore accessory to, any and all Al Qaeda undertakings including September 11). Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard has been documenting all this as best he could for YEARS, even while agitating for the release of the rest of the files.
It has been unspeakably painful to watch the administration at first maintain pointless silence in the face of a flood of criticisms and slanders on these issues, instead of answering back with the known facts, such as they were-- and then finally respond by caving in with the concession that they must have been mistaken, when there is a barrow-load of evidence to the contrary.
Why, for instance, did they never draw anyone's attention to the massive April 2004 chemical weapon attack thwarted in Jordan, the only possible explanation for which was transport of Iraqi WMD into Syria (observed at the time by satellite, and now claimed by former Hussein regime officials)? Does no one in the Big House do their homework? Stupid question. (Nine men were sentenced to death for this plot last month, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This is one of the most heinously under-reported stories in western media.)
Republicans are now begging the administration to do a Vincent Van Gogh: "If you love me, cut off your ear." That is, the astonishingly tin ear this administration has about public perceptions and the persuasive power of facts-- not to mention good old American common sense, which is certainly not infallible (heh!) but does sometimes serve us well.
Common sense dictates that NSA wiretaps on international conversations reasonably suspected to involve Al Qaeda are a GOOD THING, and that the thoroughly unqualified Harriet Miers on the U.S. Supreme Court is a BAD THING. In the absence of the kind of specialized information which could sort out the role of port facility management, common sense told people that the Dubai ports deal smelled bad. This was perfectly justified skepticism, despite not being grounded in an explicit understanding of the facts.
The deal should have been tastefully scuttled at the earliest possible stage, back when the savvy businessmen of Dubai would likely have understood the "optics" problem and cheerfully agreed to back off the American portion of the purchase (which is a small part of the total operation). The administration's grandiose bungle was in failing to recognize this until so late in the process that the only possible political solution involved humiliating the Dubai-guys, in a wave of what looked like rank racism. And theirs has not been an Arab-machismo type humiliation, either-- the kind that gets young Muslim girls murdered for an ill-considered glance or conversation. In this case it's largely a professional humiliation, an offense to personal dignity of the "no-Irish-need-apply, no-pushy-little-Jews-in-our-club" sort.
Typically, the Democrats tried to sieze the ports issue to look like they were being stronger on national security than the administration-- Democrats who appear to have had no idea that a substantial proportion of American ports, plus the Panama canal, are now managed by the Chinese government-- Democrats who didn't know the difference between a cargo "manifest" and the "manifold" that makes your car go. (Chuck Schumer, to name names.)
Those in the know about the running of ports and 21st-century trade routes now say that the United States and the world in general may be substantially LESS SAFE than they would have been if the deal had gone through, and perhaps even less safe than we were before it was ever proposed. Peeving off the Dudes of Dubai could make them less co-operative about intelligence sharing than they have been hitherto-- whereas opening American port management to them might have given us access to more security information and a hand in inspection processes within Dubai Ports World's far-reaching global management purview.
Nice going, everybody.
I was totally befuddled as to what to think of the deal when I first heard about it-- in one ear was my mother (most often a barometer for dubious positions in desperate need of "nuance") saying, basically, all Arabs look alike to me; and in my other ear is Jimmy Carter (a barometer for positions to be dismissed out of hand as childish, spiteful, and dumber than dirt) saying it's a good deal, go for it. Somewhere in the middle was Charles Krauthammer (one of my oracles) saying this thing is questionable and ill-considered at best, and politically doomed. HELP! Krauthammer probably had a few things wrong in his assessment of the dangers, but he was spot-on about the doom.
SPEAKING OF "NO IRISH NEED APPLY"
Who says we don't learn anything from experience? Gerry Adams was back in the U.S. and hoisting Guinness (or something) at the White House on St. Paddy's Day, even though his name still turns up on the odd terrorist watch list (he missed his connection to Buffalo when detained at Reagan International Airport on his way out of town, where his luggage, if not the man himself, got the old anal probe). Adams' nosh companions at the D.C. reception were a few women who believe their brothers to have been murdered by the IRA-- awkward? I hope so.
Meanwhile the junior senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Broadbottom, joined the Arizona chameleon, Sen. John McCain, in a pander-fest to aid the FIFTY THOUSAND illegal IRISH aliens now in the United States, in their quest for the (appropriately seductive) Green Card. Now as someone whose forebears arrived Stateside from Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840's and got into the United States the old fashioned way-- shipping over in fetid steerage holds and standing in line to be poked, prodded, and pronounced legal-- let me say a hearty "sod off, eejits!" to those who now wish to jump the queue because they find the Emerald Isle, grown fat with the goods of the EU to which they sold out their independence for a mess of secularist pottage, no longer brassy and sassy enough for them. Jaysus, boyos-- think about it-- soggy Fr. Jack's mantra: "Drink, arse, feck!" Hillary?!
SPEAKING OF JOHN MCCAIN & common sense (or is that straight talk?)
He was my guy in the 2000 election primaries, and, like him, I've been all over the map in the interim, wondering if that was really such a good idea. I now think that the gas in his engine is predominantly self-interest, and I don't much trust him-- but there are days when the Delegator-in-Chief makes me wish for somebody in charge with just a soupçon of McCain's ruthless political instinct, instead of faith in the Rapture.
But the thing McCain and I will always agree on is that there has been one key factor in everything that has gone wrong in Iraq: the big fat hole where 30 to 50 thousand additional troops should have been. And still should be.
Notwithstanding the scoffing historical revisionism of the left, we WERE, in fact, welcomed as liberators. But blink and you missed it. What we lost in those four days of looting, April 2003 [primarily the confidence and good will of a hopeful Iraqi people, who reasonably expected that the fearsome American military machine would easily impose order on their Hussein-raped nation] we haven't entirely made up for since. That's my talking-points memo, and I'm sticking to it.