Thursday, December 27, 2007

Just in case you were wondering why we're still having trouble with that "PEACE ON EARTH" thing....

Priests brawl at Bethlehem birthplace of Jesus

As they say in the world's Parliaments [ you know, "Parliament" -- that glorious gift of British "Imperialism" to the entire globe] :

There's a reason why my most profound spiritual experience in the city of Jerusalem was visiting the Western Wall and the archaeological site at the base of the Temple Mount: because, as important as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is for the Christian, it was tainted by these same inter-Christian tensions and rivalries, such as competitive simultaneous Masses between the Copts and the RC's-- not to mention the fact that the Christian custodians seemed more interested in marking out their own territory than in maintaining any sense of reverence among the cell-phone-toating, underdressed tourists.

Meanwhile, back in the war zone where American "Imperialism" has ruined everything for everybody.....

Shiite tribal leaders attended Christmas Mass in Iraq [hat-tip: Gateway Pundit]

Alleluiah, Hosanna, and OOH-RAH.

Meanwhile, back in nuclear Pakistan,
to no one's great surprise

Benazir Bhutto assassinated.

Religion of Pieces chalks up another one.

Drive-by Media To-Do List, Item (1):

Figure out how to blame George Bush.

Monday, December 24, 2007


Even as the Vatican is doing a funk'n'bunk-- stiffing persecuted Middle Eastern Christians and moving the living Nativity scene from Bethlehem to Nazareth [hat-tip: DavidWarrenonline]-- over in the original Holy Land (Ur of the Chaldees), Christians are re-staking their 2000-year-old claims and re-filling the churches of Baghdad. [Hat-tip: JammieWearingFool, via Instapundit]

May the Prince of peace stand guard at their doors.

Saturday, December 22, 2007



Life is too short to explain that just now [the story of the Great Choir Massacre of '07 will have to wait] -- so listen and enjoy, in these last days of Advent.


How many of us grew up listening to Der Bingle singing that song, and never knew that it referred to the troops of World War II. Now I know -- in every sense of the word.

Cincinnatus blogs from Al Asad, at the near edge of the original Holy Land, and gives us a new take on the seed of Abraham, promised by God to be more numerous than the stars.

Well, there's been little to report because little out of the ordinary has been going on here the last few weeks. The day guys go out and fly their missions, and then the sun sets and every few days (or nights, "days" for me since I'm up for 14 hours, but . . . I'm not going to explain it anymore, because it makes my head hurt and my brain is starting to reject the programming) I launch and spend a few hours staring at the green world around me through my goggles.

Last night was about as uneventful as it gets, especially considering we went out on an eastern route we're not allowed to fly during the day that takes us within sight of the lights of Baghdad. And lights there are, in the city itself and extending north along both the rivers that run through it. Mesopotamia is lit up like a Christmas tree (or the hajj equivalent, this time of year) through our night vision goggles, though not like cities and towns are back at home. At home, urban centers are these big blobs through the goggles, sometimes big and sometimes small, but generally kind of circular in shape. Out here, night shows you how much of a river culture Iraq truly is: cultural lighting is almost continuous as it spreads out along the rivers from the seat of the old caliphate, but it rarely extends more than a half-mile from either river-bank.

The night sky is also a veritable blaze of light, given that we rarely see clouds and there's nothing on the horizon to obstruct one's view. Sure, it's all green in the NVGs, but you can see thousands more stars than back in the real world, and the goggles help amplify the light from shooting stars that you'd never see unaided. Last night they were falling everywhere, the bigger ones leaving a trail of fire in the heavens that lingered on our artificial eyes. It was a night where little on the ground (except the landing phase) was as interesting as the patterns on the tapestry above.

Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson gets up-and-down reviews as a campaigner, but when the rest of the field, both parties, are making goofballs of themselves trying to win votes with Christmas themes, Fred just says what should be uppermost in the mind this Christmas whether your loved one is Over There or not.


Story here.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007


ANDY BOROWITZ strikes again:

Kim Jong-Il Kicks Iran out of Axis of Evil

Nukeless Nation Just ‘Not Evil Enough,’ says Korean madman
With a National Intelligence Estimate revealing that Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, North Korean president Kim Jong-Il ejected Iran from the Axis of Evil, calling them "not evil enough."

"I can't tell you how many times Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looked me in the eye, told me he was developing nuclear weapons, and cackled like a madman," Kim said. "That man does not deserve to cackle."
Read the rest here.


Michael Ramirez, Investor's Business Daily political cartoonist.

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment:

And not so funny:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"I'll see your Muhammady Bear,
and raise you a Digital Deserty Marine Bear"

...who, according to Marine General James Mattis , thinks it might be "fun" to terminate with extreme prejudice "guys who slap women around for 5 years because they didn't wear a veil"-- or maybe folks who want to flog and jail a woman for letting her student name a stuffed animal after himself. (Anybody flogging the kid for violating the tenets of his own religion? After all, he's old enough to train as a suicide bomber.)

Flogging -- now what does that actually look like again? Oh yeah, it was in that movie everybody got so excited about a few years ago, where Jesus took a whuppin': "Blood, flesh, bone, teeth, eyes, eye sockets, ribs, limbs -- the man is skinned alive, taken apart." Fiction? Tell it to this guy:

[This year's line of Highly Controversial Muhammady Bears on view here.]



Brian de Palma's execrable anti-military hate-film Redacted opened in fifteen whole theatres (!) on the weekend of November 16, and the 5-million-dollar film made a whopping great $25,000. [then down to nine theatres for week two, making only $10,000, then in ten theatres for week three, making $5,500] That should just about cover the catering and limousines for the various pampered participants. No, on second thought, that's about the value of one or two Oscar-presenter loot bags.

However, I'm sure it was worth it all if the director could bask in this kind of critical acclaim. (more here and here -- hat-tips Boston Globe, Maxim, and

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Michael Yon weighs in again, hot on the heels of his "Thanks and praise" photo essay (which went deservedly viral in the blogosphere this week), because the hits just keep on comin'. Today's entry tells of the inspiring restoration of normal life and worship in St. John Church, almost three years to the day after it was severely damaged by car bombs [November 8, 2004], and six months after the church was forced to close because of violence in the neighbourhood.

Mass was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of the Chaldean/Assyrian Catholic Diocese, who alternated between Arabic and English to make sure that members of the U.S. Army's 2-12 infantry battalion got the message: thank you, American soldiers.

But there was an even more important message being conveyed, not only in words but in the mere presence of the congregation, because the Christians in the church were apparently well outnumbered by Muslims from the neighbourhood. Their message: COME HOME.

"Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq."

Christians once made up about 5% of the population of Iraq, but even that slim fraction has shrunk, as hundreds of thousands have fled to other countries-- estimates as of last May put their numbers at less than 400,000 of the 1.5 million who once lived more or less in harmony with their Muslim neighbours (no less terrorized under Saddam than anyone else, but no more either). In Baghdad at least, these neighbours are imploring them to return home and reclaim their houses and business, to resume the way of life they once all shared, but in a country now with real hope of deliverance from the pangs of rebirth.



Says a Washington Times editorial:
All of this is the result of the most underreported successful military operation since the invention of the telegraph... But the point to take away from the surge is that, though a brilliant military operation, it was never just a military operation. Rather it developed a political, economic and communications infrastructure that is permitting local-level reconciliation. We are creating representative governance from the bottom up — not from the Green Zone down. Despite a frail and inept national government, the people in the towns and provinces (under the tutelage of the U.S. military) seem to be forming order out of the chaos.

Now I see.
Simple dimple.

Joe Klein of Time Magazine doesn't see it quite the same way. I quote him here so we can add him to our collection of people who are going to sound UNBELIEVABLY STOOOOPID much sooner than they could ever anticipate. Say it ain't so, Joe!
Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America's moral, military and diplomatic status globally. It can not be "won" militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shi'ite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us.
Wow, Joe -- you write for Time -- you must be really smart.


Cincinnatus has been 'in country' just a few weeks, and Treats for Troops wasted no time in delivering a giant snack attack, within about ten days of my order. You can send goodies of all sorts to your own special set of boots on the ground, or adopt a whole regiment, or adopt one individual who's been noticed as not getting enough attention by mail. TFT takes care of all the details, knows what kind of stuff survives mailing halfway around the world, and delivers the air-drop to the target. (And, I'm told, provides fantastic chicken fajita jerky.)

Want to help support the troops? Order up some intercontinental ballistic jerky.



The branches of the military services have been competing to raise money for Project Valour-IT (the Army beat the Marines, but that's kind of demographically inevitable) -- but you can donate any time to purchase voice-activated lap-tops for amputee veterans. (That's why they call it Project Voice Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops.)

reflecting on modern apathy towards the observation of Veterans Day --
attention must be paid [hat-tip Human Events] -- money quote:

Military moms have trouble watching television or reading the newspaper when they read over and over that their children are fighting or were wounded or were killed for nothing. Military moms hear their officemates, their neighbors, their fellow parishioners, sometimes even their other family members disparage the war effort, or famously declare that they “support the troops but not the war” as if that is a rational statement. Military moms hear and see that their sons and daughters names are used by anti-war politicians and activists in an effort to score political points, using their children’s blood and sacrifice as a cover. And military moms try not to be bitter, not to be angry, not to profane their children’s decision to protect and defend the United States. Military moms try to live up to their children who tell them: “Mom, don’t get angry at them. I am fighting to protect their right to be jerks.”

This put me in mind of a memorable column by Renaissancy gadfly Ben Stein expressing his personal gratitude to all military wives [hat-tip Opinion Journal] via a letter written to one of them in August 2004. To 'Karen' he writes:
I have a great life. I have a wife I adore, a son who is a lazy teenager but I adore him, too. We live in a house with two dogs and four cats. We live in peace. We can worship as we please. We can say what we want. We can walk the streets in safety. We can vote. We can work wherever we want and buy whatever we want. When we sleep, we sleep in peace. When we wake up, it is to the sounds of birds.

All of this, every bit of it, is thanks to your husband, his brave fellow soldiers, and to the wives who keep the home fires burning while the soldiers are away protecting my family and 140 million other families.

Always worth a re-read.


Andy Borowitz reports at the Puffington Host [hat-tip Jewish World Review]:

Hillary Refuses to Answer 'Paper-or-Plastic' Question

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) raised eyebrows in Iowa today when she refused to respond to a supermarket cashier's question about her preference for paper or plastic bags, calling the inquiry "totally hypothetical."

Mrs. Clinton's aversion to hypothetical questions has been a hallmark of her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, but her refusal to answer the paper-or-plastic query during a campaign stop in Davenport took even some of her closest supporters aback.

The New York senator had stopped by the local supermarket for a photo opportunity, but her appearance ran off the rails when she was blindsided by the cashier's unexpected question.

"This paper-or-plastic business is one of those 'gotcha' questions that I'm not going to get into," Mrs. Clinton said. "I don't want to be in a situation where I've chosen one and that takes the other one totally off the table."

Shunning both paper and plastic, Mrs. Clinton left the store clutching an unwieldy assortment of groceries in her bare hands.

Monday, November 12, 2007



(As part of her exit strategy she gives policy advice about how "the bases aren't weighted enough." She should know. Check out the weight of her base as she exits. MUST LOSE THOSE PANTSUITS!)

from Duncan Maxwell Anderson AT American thinker:

Are modern-day monuments to heroism merely "Monuments to Wimpdom"?


I don't entirely agree with
Anderson's assessment of Frederick Hart's trio of figures created to face, and humanize, Maya Lin's searing "Vietnam Wall" -- he [Anderson] thinks the guys look tentative rather than determined.

I dunno -- tired, maybe, but in control of their situation.

The back view speaks as well.

But, fair enough-- it's not quite the triumphant stance that other more traditional memorial statues might convey. However, it is miles better than architectonic "absences" that pass for memorials today.

I've written on this elsewhe
re, for instance, about the proposed Disabled Veterans LIFE Memorial, a noble idea, but I think the design suffers from the same image-free vapidity as those criticized by Anderson. He missed another one too -- the sadly underwhelming World War II memorial on the Mall bolsters his thesis. I wonder, though, if he thinks that the grim and struggling look about the figures at the Korea memorial counts it as one among the "wimpy" -- I sure don't.

Still, the essay is a thought worth thinking on this Remembrance Day weekend (God bless the British/Canadian way of "saying it with poppies").

[Canadian vet Alfred Finlay, in 1996]

Last Post played here

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Our intrepid (understatement of the century) reporter, MICHAEL YON, offers this photo of today's explosive events in Baghdad.

Muslims and Christians join together to replace a cross on the dome of the Church of St. John in Baghdad. Damn that George Bush! Peace is breaking out all over Iraq! How did this happen? Yon has profferred his own cautious explanations, but mostly he just places himself in medias res and lets us see what he sees.
His minimalist report of this particular revolution is here with more coverage and comment here. Money quote (from our victims, the Iraqis):
Thank you for peace.... all the people in Iraq, Muslim and Christian, is brother.

Some folks couldn't help but think of another, long ago iconic war photo-- the one that vast swaths of the political left in America have been actively (if sometimes subconsciously) wishing would be recreated in Iraq (you know who you are, and don't waste your breath denying it):

It ain't over till it's over, but don't look for this scene transferred to Baghdad any too soon.

Michael Yon is a self-embedded reporter, one of a handful who (history will show) have been the only living journalists telling the true and unadorned story of the Iraq war. His work is supported only by donations or purchases of his photos. I've got two-- I now see myself buying a third. Go to th
e website and help make it all possible. His Pulitzer may yet be in the mail.

Cincinnatus chec
ks in from Al Asad

He's too busy to check in very often, but we look forward to all he observes from the bottom of the Sandbox.

While he's making himself useful for the future of the planet, back here at home....

Rip Van Kerry wakes up four years later and says, "Hey! Wanna
piece o' me? Bring it on!"

Fully occupied with the business of being outraged by the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth in 2004, John Kerry failed to present a single piece of evidence to counter their accusations that his military decorations were nearly as bogus as his Winter Soldier testimony and colleagues.

But this time, by gum, he'll answer every single charge that's raised-- if he could just get someone to raise them. Again. Cuz he's ready. Just say "go" and he's out of the blocks. Pow. He's got the answers. So there 's no need to sign that Standard Form 180 for the full release of his military records, cuz he's got all the stuff right there in his briefcase-- just ask him, and he'll produce it -- pronto. Just ask him. Please?

Anybody got any questions? Any at all? You in the back row.....

Senator Ted Kennedy -- Memo to File and Note to Self:
"Mary Jo Kopechne would have survived waterboarding."

As a long-time expert on the drowning of people trapped in confined spaces, Kennedy should know this, as he bloviates on the subject of barbaric acts.

Appropos of absolutely nothing: Gary Sinise is under attack

I'm a big Gary Sinise fan, as both actor and human being (devoted supporter of the troops and the USO, and of the kids of Iraq), but I'm very concerned about what I have just observed in the latest episode of his series CSI:New York. It is my considered opinion that his head is occupied territory, the victim of an invasion by one of the worst hairpieces on television. I've long suspected that he wears a rug, but at least it didn't used to sit on his head like a furry yarmulke of a slightly different shade of henna than the rest of his hair. Am I right?

Come on, folks-- this is a fine actor and a good guy. He shouldn't have to go around looking like he's got an auburn tribble on his head.

(Wouldn't it be great if people like this could just come out of the wig closet and show off their shiny tonsures with pride?)

Previously undiscovered species found in District of Columbia

You've heard the saying "Once a Marine, always a Marine." (Well, you shoulda heard it.) Perhaps we all spoke too soon, because the
re's been a possible historic sighting, perhaps the first ever recorded, of that most rare, basically legendary, species, "the Ex-Marine." It has beady little eyes in a rodentesque face, and sits back on its big fat hanches, making bellowing noises and counting its earmark money. It is said to resemble this:
Recently spotted roaming the halls of Congress. Considered to be dangerous, armed with a poisonous tongue, though not particularly intelligent. Has eyesight too poor to see what's right smack in front of it. Feeds on a steady diet of pork.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Number One Son shipped out for Iraq Saturday October 20.

Words fail me.

Fortunately the Psalmist doesn’t have that problem:

…[4] he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
[5] You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
[6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
[7] A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you...
[10] no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
[11] For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.
[12] On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

---Psalm 91 [ 90 for us Papists -- but it's the Soldier's Psalm, and that designation doesn't work so well if you alter the numbering, as explained here.]
Flyboy is now blogging from the Sandbox as Cincinnatus at ThermopylaeUSA.
As always, a good read.


It is hard to predict how many
generations and/or conflagrations are yet to pass before our society (i.e., what we call the West) no longer knows instinctively which war is meant by the words “THE war.”

For now, for us, “THE war” is still World War II, so Ken Burns’ recent seven-part documentary needed no other title.

Based on Burns’ reputation as
America’s best living TRUE documentary film-maker (as opposed to the relentlessly ballyhooed
reekingly FAKE documen-tarians, Michael Moore and Al Gore), the series was predicted to be his greatest work yet, focusing narrowly on a handful of people in just four smallish towns from the four winds of the contiguous United States: Waterbury, Connecticut to the east; Luverne, Minnesota to the north; Mobile, Alabama to the south; and Sacramento, California to the west.

The approach was deeply personal and poignant, never pretending to comprehend the full sweep of history or the
panorama of the war. While it is perhaps unfair to criticize him for not making the film that others might wish he had made, it is fair comment to wonder about the ultimate worth of a documentary (however truthful) so limited in its perspective as to convey a defective understanding of historic moment which is the genesis of the story being told.

“The War” had genuine human interest at any given moment, but as a whole there was an unexpected and peculiar tedium creeping over it. And despite Burns’ claim that he was trying to tell stories that were true to the people and their time, untainted by present events and military (mis)adventures now in the making, one couldn’t shake the feeling that the material had been selected and shaped by the film-maker’s own strong opposition to war in Iraq.

This is not to say that there was any reason to question the truth of each veteran’s experience and his memory of it. But the sum of the parts had an overriding sadness and a sense of regret (regret!) that simply defy what most people of sound mind consider to be THE lesson of the Second World War: THAT THE CIVILIZED WORLD HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO FIGHT IT, AND THAT THE VICTORY WAS WORTH EVERY SACRIFICE ENDURED.

This sadness, and the regret, were the substance of honest reflections from one or two veterans (most notably and, frankly, most irritatingly, from Sam Hynes of Minnesota), whose stories made up the threads of the narrative. But for most of these men, no matter how wretched their suffering, it is difficult to believe that the most powerful impression they would want the viewer to come away with is one of regret. I don’t buy it.

Burns’ ma
nages his material so as to suggest that, for the average soldier, no rationale for beating back the naked aggression of a fascist power ever made itself obvious to him until he saw for himself the concentration camps of Europe, or experienced the sadism of a Japanese prison commandant. I don’t buy that either. These citizen soldiers were not all simple, parochial, and ignorant of the consequences of letting tyranny prevail and gobble up continents. They weren’t all in a state of disconnection between the horrors of their own battlefields and the larger consequences for the world if their mission failed. Sorry-- I don’t buy it.

Oddly (and, I suspect, unintentionally on Burns’s part), the view from within the tunnel of the veterans' experience of the war in the Pacific gradually made the best case I have ever heard for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.

I have always struggled with that event. I do believe that the full scope of consequences of the bomb over the long, LONG term (such as radiation-related disease, deformity, and death, decades after the event) were probably unknown at the time, but there was never any doubt about the short-term catastrophe that the bomb would unleash. And arguments based on projected loss of life due to invasion vs. bombing have always been problematic. However, “The War” presented in searing clarity what may have been the de
terminative factor in the decision to bring hostilities in the Pacific to their quick and terrible end: the singularly crazed appetite of the Japanese for wholesale suicide.

Even in our modern society, in which an overt suicidal impulse has gained “respectability” through the euthanasia movement, and a more subtle cultural suicide of plummeting birthrates drifts toward irreversibility, still we can scratch our heads at Japan’s long history as a suicide culture. The honourable self-disembowelling of Sepuku is now the stuff of legend, but its logical offspring persist in Japan to this day, in the country’s disastrous abortion and birth-rate demographics and, more literally, in such incidents as the recent spate of group suicides arranged among strangers via the internet.

Civilian and military prisoners of war—men, women, the elderly, and the infants—who endured the sadism and racism of their Japanese captors knew that within this hierarchy human life was worthless. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines who confronted human waves of outgunned Japanese armies and masses of kami-kaze pilots in the “floating chrysanthemum” attacks, and who witnessed the forced or voluntary mass cliff-jumping suicides of cornered Japanese civilians, knew that they were fighting an enemy who would feel honour-bound to keep killing until there was no one left to kill or be killed.

Whatever the other arguments may be about the morality of any particular kind of weapon, or of the choice of targets, there seems to be no question that the crushing bombs of August 1945 spared both Allied and Japanese lives in the hundreds of thousands, compared to the certain costs of an invasion of Japan.

The Pacific theatre of World War II is far less well-under
stood than that of Europe, and even as I was underwhelmed with Ken Burns’ “The War,” I was grateful for its equal concentration on both theatres, and the stark portrait of the tentacles of Japanese conquest in the Pacific. Japan and Germany were a perfect marriage of racist madness in quest of world domination. Had they triumphed in their ambitions, the two empires would very likely have turned on and eaten each other, probably on a battlefield carpeted with Chinese corpses.

Ken Burns has described the subject of his latest documentary as something quite different from “The Good War” that it has so often been called. In fact he did his level best to counter that image-- but I don’t think
he succeeded. The most revisionist of his veteran spokesmen, the aforementioned Sam Hynes of Minnesota, flew over a hundred bombing missions at Okinawa, for which he must be given due credit and honour (and lots of it). But of all the voices in “The War,” Mr. Hynes probably served the shortest time in active combat, that being several months in mid-1945. (I consider those like Glenn Frazier, imprisoned for four years, to have been in combat every minute of every day.)

His tone throughout the series was, not to put too fine a point on it, that of a classic “bleeding heart.” At one point he talked about going on a close-in bombing raid and taking out a building. “There may have been people in there. I may have killed some people. I hope I didn’t…” Then why were you there, sir? Was the building going to kill you? Or capture chi
ldren in the Philippines? Or behead Chinese men and gut their pregnant wives? No, people were going to do that—Japanese people—the enemy. So don’t be such a retrospective weenie, Professor Hynes, just to keep your street-cred in the halls of Princeton.

In other interviews Hynes was prepared to call World War II a “just war”—but (clinging to the street-cred again) it was, in his opinion, “the last just war.”

I think it was the last just war that we went into with national belief in it being the right thing to do," said Hynes, 83, of Princeton, N.J…"We had been attacked by an enemy force. Roosevelt spoke to us all on the radio, told us this is the day that would live in infamy. Congress met and declared war. We did it right. We didn't just creep into war on false pretenses and say, 'Here we are at war.' It was the last war that everybody understood was just.
Yes, read it (not very well-hidden) between the lines: “Bush’s war was crept into without the same justification.” Oh really? No attack by an enemy? No day of infamy? No congressional approval? With all due respect, Professor Hynes (and much is due), your memories of both long ago and last week are being filtered through ideology, and I suspect that much of the PBS audience for this documentary figured that out.

Burns’ decision to confine himself to four American any-towns has met with criticism, mostly because the concept seems to have left him short of interesting material as well as broader perspective. However, in my view he failed to make use even of the material likely to have been available from these four towns. Where were the women, taking up the slack in factories or learning to be tractor mechanics, to cite just one example? His most prominent female voice was that of Katherine Phillips, who was utterly charming but unquestionably upper class.

Other than those whose role in the film was to be part of the “oppressed minority” contingent, we heard little from those on the home front who were left to scrabble for their next meal in the absence of their bread-winners. The few dozen principal voices that weave the fabric of this story fall somewhat short of representing a cross-section of regular folks. They are not all the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker, offering up long-suppressed accounts of the harrowing experiences no one else can understand. This small group seems disproportionately weighted towards professionals—lawyers, businessmen, professors, some of whom have published accounts of what they did in the war. Burns did not really live up to his own ambition to view the war through the eyes of the American "Everyman."

[Interestingly, the man made famous by Burns's "Civil War" epic, Major Sullivan Ballou, was similarly atypical. While the viewer may have had the impression that Sullivan was an ordinary and surprisingly articulate man, in fact his beautiful letter to his wife Sarah was the work of a Rhode Island politician and lawyer, with an educational pedigree parallelling that of the most prominent modern political families, the Kennedys and Bushes. And, like the grimmest letter highlighted in "The War"-- that of Quentin Aanenson to his fiancée-- Ballou's now famous letter was never mailed.]

Critics of “The War” have also bemoaned the repetitious use of still photos of certain landmarks in the four towns, like the movie theatres. While there was something a little ho-hum about returning to the same framework time and again, I was more irritated by repetitions in the slices of stock combat footage used. The re-use of certain bits of "kaboom" footage made the viewer too aware that at any given moment the pictures in view may have nothing whatever to do with the scene being described by the narrator.

I'm sure there are many battles and incidents for which there is no photographic record, so the temptation to fill in with representative pictu
res is powerful. But the impulse to illustrate every single incident referenced in the film with some clip or other had the effect of undermining its authenticity, and causing it to drift into mere visual distraction. (This probably made the film longer too. Not a plus-- it was plenty long, thank you).

During the pre-broadcast publicity blitz, Ken Burns was often heard to say that this film was to be the story of selected individuals from selected places, and “if you weren’t in this war or waiting anxiously for someone that you love to come back from the war, you’re not in our film.” He noted that there would be no retrospective commentators, even of the caliber of the esteemed Shelby Foote who had given the historian’s view of “The Civil War.”

Yet Burns still employed the sonorous voice-over of a narrator, one who was hardly objective. At one point he comments that the war "brought out the best and the worst of a generation and blended the two so that at times they became indistinguishable." This observation is controversial at best, denigrates the citizen soldiers, and is an editorial intrusion of the sort the film-maker himself has characterized as inappropriate to his project.

Negative criticism of “The War” was admittedly countered by much high praise, but at the end of the day it is fair to say that the audience was not only disappointed, it was disappointing— PBS released some initial figures for first-night audience numbers which turned out to be inflated by as much as 100%. (See here, here, and here.) Burns has one land-mark documentary monument to American socio-military history under his belt—“The Civil War”. It seems clear now that he does not have two. There was much that was of interest—moving, instructive, revealing—in “The War.” But this is a historical chapter which not only merits a vast panoramic treatment, its essential truths are ill-served by anything less—and Ken Burns’ “The War” is so much less than it should have been.

Rock-blogging from Newfoundland again.

Home soon, and back to our irregularly scheduled programme.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The man synonymous with the word "mime" died in Paris on Saturday September 22. The incomparable
MARCEL MARCEAU was buried today in the equally incomparable Pere Lachaise cemetery. Every non-clever epigram about "silence" has been written and uttered a thousand-fold, and if there's a clever one out there, I haven't heard it. This genius of gesture will be mourned by everyone who loved and appreciated his art-- and faux-mourned by a whole ton of people who have for years been exchanging groaning mockeries about mime over their coffees and cocktails.

At some point, perhaps in the 80's, it became fas
hionable to pronounce mimes of all sorts ridiculous and annoying. I suppose there were members of the profession who brought this on themselves: TV variety mimes Shields and Yarnell made it a coy and sentimental mass-marketed art, and it seemed for a time that big-city squares were teeming with street buskers who thought there was nothing more to the art than painting on a clown face and moon-walking inside an imaginary box. And then asking for money.

This in turn gave a lot of cool sophisticates and stand-up comics license to put mimes on their list of people to be anathematized without fear of argument. Some of us, however, stayed quietly loyal to the great art, and kept an eye out for people who were actually good at it, or drew on it in a newer context. Johnny Depp comes to mind, in Benny and Joon.

But the Undisputed Master of the art remained this man
I'd had the privilege to see in live performance a couple of times when I was in high school. (I think I have an autographed programme somewhere.) I never saw him again after that, but paid him the best tribute I could by taking two semesters of mime from another, albeit unsung, master, Kaz Piesowocki at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

Mime was part of the Acting program. I took the one compulsory Acting course without intending to ever put it to use in performance. But the mime component I returned to for a second round. I was just interested in finding out how it works-- gaining an appreciation for the way that acting starts with a physical "impulse" from the heart, and seeing how stripped-down essentials can communicate as much or more than busy details.

I wanted to know h
ow you walk against the wind, and how you reach out to pluck the leaf with the smoothness of mercury. Kaz knew how to teach that, and I wasn't half bad at it. He was a pleasure to watch in action, either at mime, ballet, or as a director of full-length stories in mime, like the (oh-so-badly-lit!!!) story of Joan of Arc. (How we all laughed about the notorious Joan in the Dark.)

Kaz retired in 1998, the same year Marcel Marceau came to the U-Vic Phoenix Theatre and spoke to the students. Wish I had been there for both events.

I knew of Marcel Marceau as a clown and a tragedian under the Klieglights, but never knew until the obits [and here] came out this week about his role in the great tragedy of our time: being a Jew in France during the Nazi occupation, working for the Resistance to help others escape, losing his father to the ovens at Auschwitz. One is left wondering how, after all this, the optimistic spirit of his "Bip" could ever be born. Yet he was, and lived to be 84, and left this world unrivalled. I'm not sure he would have been so happy about that: a rival would have also insured a successor, which he plainly desired. Let's hope for that.

Adieu, Bip.

Au revoir.


Magazine fancies itself the Time or Newsweek of Canada, and in the worst sense it may well have achieved that status. Continuing its sterling tradition of intelligent commentary on world events,
as displayed in these cover stories of the past few years.....

... like their 2004 American election special....

Or this gem from 2006 (the answer t
o their question being, of course, "NO, that would be Jimmy Carter, by the landslide the voters didn't give him in '76.

Now the editors have gifted us with this:

Now that's HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM, EH? We're so proud, up here in the Great White North.

And how do we know this cover is a lie? HOW DO WE KNOW THAT BUSH IS NOT SADDAM, and that any suggestion of a resemblance between the two is so unspeakably, ungratefully STOOPID that is just defies human understanding????????

Because there's not a cloud of toxic gas now floating north of the 49th parallel in the vicinity of the Maclean's head office (that's One Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto...). Because Maclean's Editor Kenneth Whyte has not, to my knowledge, been hung on a meat-hook and beaten to death. Because, ... because, ... well, as Kathy Shaidle [new blog alert!] might put it, "If
Bush is a Nazi why aren't you a lampshade?"


Speaking of Nazis-----


Whadd-I-say??? Huh? Hey, don't taze me, bro!

New York City opens its doors (well, a few of them) to our buddy, Madmood Ahmadinnerjacket, so he can lay down some peace, love, and sure-I'm-a-feminist vibes for his adoring left-wing public. There were lots of places he wanted to go, but couldn't manage to get them all onto his already crowded itinerary [smiles and a hat-tip -- Hart Seely at].



Film "auteur" and perennial ghoul
David Cronenberg unveiled (as 'twere) his latest work and won the big prize at the TIFF. It's called Eastern Promises, and is the latest venture in a time-tested cinematic genre that has become Cronenberg's new signature style: Naked Tattooed Viggo-Vision. Our spies are certain they overheard the feted (fetid?) director muttering: "Well, if I can't have him, at least I can watch."

This review brought to you by someone who hasn't seen the movie. Too busy watching 3:10 to Yuma.