Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Great Seal of ObamaNation:


But not before somebody could come up with this:

Some things just cry out for parody.
When it happens, answer-- oh yes, answer.


Saw film of Kite Runner.

Pale and shrunken version of book. "Hassan" best actor of the pack.

Save your money.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Even the New York Times
has noticed that this is a little bit


not to mention


Monday, June 16, 2008



Scottish National Theatre production,
presented in Toronto at the
Luminato Arts and Creativity Festival

We (me and the spouse) were at a considerable disadvantage watching this play because almost the entire cast had thick Scots accents. While I'm better at deciphering this than a lot of folks, for me the accents rendered about 60% of the dialogue incomprehensible. [Correction: 60% of that portion of the dialogue not consisting of the F-word, which turned up at least twice in every sentence.)

Accoustics in the hockey arena venue probably exacerbated the problem, but this is a "promenade" style production, performed with the audience on bleachers incorporated into the set structures and playing area, so it's always going to be in a sound-challenged environment. The audibility problem meant that I never heard the names or ranks of any of the characters, which made it impossible to know which actor was which, and how well he was developing his character.

On the other hand, we were at a considerable advantage o
ver the entire rest of the audience, in that we were attending the play as guests of a couple whose son is an officer on active duty with the Black Watch, and who has served with the regiment in Basra, Iraq.

So there.

As a piece of theatre, Black Watch is a powerful, well-crafted, and well-acted drama with original touches that successfully integrate the flash-backs and historical background material with the present context of post-war interviews. And it is respectful enough of its subject and its audience to avoid being a rank piece of agit-prop.

That's not to say that the play has no point of view, about both the military and the Iraq war. The slant was clearly there, and when it was most intrusive it rendered the play just, well, silly.

This is perhaps best illustrated by listening to director John Tiffany talk about how the "daft" behaviour of the Black Watch Iraq veterans became the catalyst for Gregory Burke's script. Here's a telly-trailer advertising the
play in Britain, which gives a good impression of the production style, and includes the artiste's-eye-view of what the play has to say.

Okay, so the vets are
acting a bit crazy and getting into trouble with the police, and the playwright decides to interview them to get their perspective on their war experience.

One is led, quite deliberately, to believe that this makes the play "truth" or "reality," as opposed to an entertainment, selected and constructed of component bits shaped consciously by a writer (Burke) who grew up as a "forces brat" -- one who has developed very specific viewpoints about nationalism, militarism, and the Scottish society in which he had to find a place for himself after having lived abroad in the British military community for a number of his formative years.

In addition to that background, there are a few truths with which everyone attending Black Watch should be armed before permitting it to shape one's opinions about this or any other war:

(a) The perceptions of any ten soldiers must not presume to represent those of tens of thousands of their comrades; and there isn't a single soldier alive who, in the glow of attention from a reporter, will not be tempted to embroider on the facts [as Shakespeare advises us, they might well "remember, with advantages," something they have earned the right to do], not necessarily in a self-serving lie, but in a game of yanking a malleable journalist's chain. Furthermore, there is the God-given right of every soldier to indulge in the Gargantuan Gripe, as defined so astutely by LT G at Kaboom;

(b) We have it on good authority -- from the above-mentioned young officer in the Black Watch --
that the men under his command were inclined to daft behaviour and getting in trouble with police before ever setting a toe in Iraq. He had tremendous affection for his men and felt that they made terrific soldiers, but they were, by nature or nurture, rough, short-fused, hard-drinking, street-fighting, and half-mad at the best of times. The discipline of military life may have been the best thing that ever happened to them.

That's not to say that their service in Basra was not terrifying, frustrating, and perhaps even ill-conceived. As recent events have highlighted, the situation in Basra was different from most of what has gone on elsewhere in Iraq, most explicitly in the fact that Al Qaeda was barely a factor-- inter-tribal civil warfare has been the nature of the beast all the way along, and the British, rightly or wrongly, came to believe they could not contribute to the solution.

To be fair, the play Black Watch does give he impression that the soldiers have no quarrel with military missions or discipline (though I would be interested to know from our young friend whether there is any basis for t
he play's portrayal of a certain slackness in protocol during the more boring stretches of the mission-- something most playgoers would fail to notice, but we military parents do not). What the men do object to is the fact that they were trained to fight, but spent far too much time pinned down inside a fortification, from which they ventured out on patrols that all too often made them sitting ducks.

From what I have read, that is not an inaccurate picture of how it went for the Brits, and for many of the Americans before General Petraeus took command. However, we also have it on good authority (from our young friend, and from the best reporter on the scene with the British, American journalist Michael Yon, here ) that the Brits, including the Black Watch, had a bellyful of some pretty serious fighting.

(c) It is clear from headlines all over that it doesn't take immersion in combat to produce a global outbreak of young people behaving badly. Vast numbers of so-called disaffected youth lash out at society and each other with staggering regularity, and so-called experts offer a thousand reasons why: unemployment, broken families, drugs and gang violence. Combat trauma is at least an easily identifiable source of hostility. But I would suggest that, among the sparks that set off eruptions of uncivil behaviour must be the frustration born of minds incapable of formulating an expression of their feelings.

In times past [not that long past -- say, 50 years], the letters and reminiscences of ordinary soldiers bore witness to the benefits of a substantive basic education: men looking for words to tell of their fear, shock, longing, and suffering, could find them at hand, because the building blocks of conventional schooling had set them to reading Aesop's fables and Caesar's wars, and to memorizing poems, speeches, and passages from the Bible. They had listened attentively while teachers read to them in school, or families told stories and sang ballads to pass the leisure hours. They had paid hee
d to the experiences of people other than themselves, so that when it came time to put their own experiences into words, and into the context of the human story, they had the tools and the vocabulary to do it.

Young people for whom education has been a self-referential skid over the surface of randomly arrayed information can often find no words to communicate their reality. They can be heard to complain that they have ideas but just can't express them. Not so-- the sad truth is, if you have no words, you have no ideas, period. You have feelings-- twinges and pangs and impressions, ricocheting around an empty box -- but you do not have ideas. Can anything be more
isolating and frustrating than that?

And the most evident sy
mptom of this vacuum in our modern age?: the relentless resort to the F-word.

If there is one scene in Black Watch which does speak the truth about the fight in Iraq better than any other, it is the slow motion enactment of a suicide car-bombing. The vets in the pub talk about it to the interviewer, so the audience (if they've been listening carefully -- and could understand what they heard!) knows what's coming.

The scene switches to the dusty Iraqi townscape, with the squad taking measured steps, armed and armoured to the teeth, while de
scribing what they see: two officers and an interpreter go to meet a car which has approached in a suspicious manner.

The men
wait and watch, and then suddenly a massive flash-pot and explosion sound go off at the curtained end of the playing area. The curtain drops to reveal three men suspended on wires, nearly upside down and at contorted angles, a good ten feet off the ground. Their clothing is shredded and red with blood, and over the next thirty seconds or so, they make their writhing way to the ground, as their personal serial numbers and the numerical designation of their degree of injury are called out over a speaker. When they finally land, the action goes back to a real-time flurry of emergency procedures as the injured are evacuated.

This slow-motion picture of the bomb's concussion matches many a description I have read, usually from the survivors of an IED rather than the observers. It was, in my view, the most evocative and brilliantly realistic passage in the play.
Which is why the finale -- a much-admired sort of "advance-of-the-troops ballet" -- seems, by contrast, absurd and foolish.

The production uses the march in formation, with drums and bagpipes, which will appeal to any audience, perhaps in spite of itself-- in spite of what many will disdainfully identify as obsolete, jingoistic spit-and-polish pageantry.

As the small company do their arm-swinging, high-stepping march and hard right-face turns, running and re-forming all over the playing space, they begin to fall down one at a time, as if wounded in battle. This would have been totally trite but for the fortunate touch that each fallen man was rescued and picked up by his fellows, rejoining the formation for its next charge.

I could have lived with this part, despite its flirtation with triteness. The silly aspect was that it had been preceded by the commanding officer calling the lads together to prepare them for some sort of pivotal confrontation the next day, speaking of it as if it would be a do-or-die turning point in the war for Iraq. He ended his pep talk by calling them to attention and then counting down to the rush into battle-- as if fighting in Iraq was ever, at any time, this type of "big push, going over the top" exercise resembling the trenches of the Great War.

What nonsense. Nothing in the Iraq war, ever, has been a matter of sending wave upon wave of men into a battle line, marching and falling and pushing onward in the fashion evoked by the finale of Black Watch. The toughest fighting has been house-to-house urban warfare, up stairs and down alleys, avoiding booby-trapped rooms or bodies, picking off snipers before they pick off you.

People often accuse the military of fighting the last war, but in the first war of the 21st century it is the spectators -- the pundits, the carping politicians, the mouthy celebrities -- who have been fighting the last war, and the one before that, and the one before that, doing their level best to see a quagmire through every cloud of desert dust. [Early on Donald Rumsfeld tried to fight the next war, the long-distance high-tech robot war of his imagination -- we all saw how well that work
ed out!]

Playwright Burke, of course, would likely claim that his finale was not trying for the realism claimed for the rest of the play. Rather, it was a universalizing of this particular war into all wars, in all times. "In the end, we aren’t witnesses to the soldier’s experiences alone," wrote John Heilpern in his October 2007 review in the New York Observer, "but to a dance of death."

Blah blah blah. Ho-hum. Talk about trite.... Not to mention irrelevant.

There remains
among those who deplore this war an astonishingly stubborn refusal to see that it is a conflict unprecedented in human history: a war that transcends nation, race, territory, and the concept of armed forces as history has understood them. Universalizing any war is a simpleton's game, insulting to all who lived through it and all who desire to learn from it. It is also a game which has never been more pointless, and morally indefensible, than it is now.

I would urge anyone who has the opportunity, by all means, go and see Black Watch. But keep in mind the caveat that it is but one version of one slice of this war's still unwritten history. And it doesn't hurt to have actually talked with one of the "lads" to make sense of the story.


by Khaled Hosseini

Life in Afghanistan, from the end of the monarchy to the beginning of the end of the Taliban. Excellent. Must rent film.

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

I've probably only seen Meet the Press a couple of times in my life -- I don't do TV on Sunday mornings. I've seen many a clip from Russert's famous interviews where he dredges up extensive quotations and confronts the speaker with contradictions between his words then and his words now.

I've watched Russert moderate political debates, and have to say that the last one I saw him do was not a credit to his reputation as a fair and insightful questioner.

Sometimes I think I've heard his voice most often doing public service ads for the local radio station in his home town of Buffalo, New York, since I am a frequent listener to WBEN (known affectionately as "Radio Free Canada")-- those ads have now come to an end, and I'll miss them.

The "all-Russert, all-the-time" bathos visible on the major networks, especially CNN, since the man's death has been a spectacle I imagine he would not have cared for, celebrating the mythological importance of news punditry rather than the man himself. But amid the din were enough comments, from enough people who knew him well, representative of every possible viewpoint on the spectrum, that it's fair to say he must have been a helluva guy as well as a newsman of higher caliber than just about anybody else in the business. The arid desert of mainstream television news just got a whole lot dryer -- that can't be good for anybody.

Russert wrote two books: one about being a son, and one about being a dad. Good choice for immortality. Requiescat in Pace.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Evening in St. John's, Newfoundland


experiences a SURGE:

We welcome a third little boy-sprout into Generation Next.


Friday, June 06, 2008

D-DAY [the real one] + 64

A teenager remembers.

These kids today, eh?



Here's another newsflash, John: who asked ya?



Edwards was speaking to the Spanish journal el Mundo while on some inexplicable mission to Madrid. Money quote: "We don't live in a dream world and we have a lot of work to do..."





Weird little British former pol, wearer of red tights, beneficiary of the oil-for-food scam, and terrorist-hugger, George Galloway goes orgasmic for Barack Obama.....for awhile. Here he is in his new avatar as a radio talk-show host [just listen for a minute or so-- it's all anybody can be expected to bear]:

Then, durn, doesn't
Obambi go over and talk to the Jews and unsay what he said before and say all this stuff that doesn't sit too well with Hamas-hugger Galloway:

Think I'll pull my old flip-flops out of storage to keep up with this campaign.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Taking my advice (and doubtless that of many others), Cardinal Francis George of Chicago pulled the execrable Fr. Michael Pfleger out of his parish for a couple of weeks of reflection. Too little, too late, I fear, since his personal corruption of the priestly vocation has too long infected his flock and now they are howling and hunger-striking for his re-instatement.

It should never have come to this -- Pfleger has a history of histrionic and outrageous behaviour, arrests for showboating acts of civil disobedience, and has clearly cultivated a form of worship which is antithetical to the condu
ct of a Catholic Mass.

[Listen to the
rambling, hysterical recorded sermon from a week ago, available on the parish website-- listen to the mindlessly raucous response among the congregation, and you'll get the picture. It's the sermon where he compares Herod and Pontius Pilate to Hannity and Colmes, and is basically an anti-YouTube diatribe making excuses (without mentioning any names) for what we've learned about him and Jeremiah Wright. Note that the recordings available for sale feature sermons by celebrity guest preachers, predominantly non-ordained, even non-Catholic -- Harry Belafonte, Cornel West, Otis Moss, Marian Wright Edelman -- which is a violation of Catholic liturgical directives.]

Pfleger has been pastor of St. Sabina's for over 25 years. I don't know how common that is in American diocesan practice, but it's unheard of in my neck of the Catholic woods, where a priest typically stays in one parish between 6 and 10 years -- precisely to avoid the kind of entrenched fiefdom and personality cult Pfleger has created for himself in south Chicago.

Check out the
Pastor's CV link on the parish website, and see what he's been up to all these years: a huge scroll of social activist credits and community awards suggesting careerism and publicity-seeking that could hardly spare him time for conventional, unspectacular Catholic pastoral work. In the most obvious case, Pfleger has conducted an ongoing public battle against a wide range of liquor advertising, some of which seems a very conventional exercise of freedom of expression about a legal product, by companies like Seagram's, on the grounds that it is somehow targeted to children. As a priest, would it not have been better to expend this energy within his parish sphere, preaching against the kind of personal moral decay that leads to neglect of children, broken families, and alcohol abuse?

This man has clearly been out of control for most of his tenure at St. Sabina's, and the fact that he has operated unchecked all this time betrays rank negligence on the part of the current and previous Cardinals. Amongst other things, he has adopted two children, now adults-- who let this happen? Sorry, dude, but when you become a priest you choose a way of life which precludes behaving like a married man, including taking on private, personal fatherhood, which can only come at the expense of pastoral fatherhood -- or vice versa. Pfleger's has been a career full of grand public gestures. He may well have taken decent care of his adopted sons, and he may have worked for worthwhile social causes-- but that doesn't mean these were appropriate to his vocation as a pastor.

Now Pfleger is an international scandal (thanks to YouTube). This should never have happened. Sadly, given the state of Catholic leadership in the past few decades, it is no great surprise.

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal... [h/t New York Times ]
Sweet Jesus!!!! (And I DON'T mean YOU, Barack!)

I'd be the first one to acknowledge that
John McCain exudes a certain type of grating arrogance from time to time, but he's got NOTHIN' on Barack -- a man who can't seem to stop at mere [vapid] rhetorical flight, and plows on to borderline blasphemy. The only thing new in his victory speech was an odd sense of anger that arose a few minutes in (shortly after he tried to redeem himself by hauling his grandmother out from under the bus where she'd been dragging along since March) and persisted to the end.


Hillary Clinton announced this evening that she will suspend her campaign as of this Friday.

Well, that's the campaign for the Presidency. Her campaign for the Vice-Presidency was launched full tilt boogie in her speech after winning the South Dakota primary last night, stealing Obama's thunder on the night he, truly, accomplished a revolutionary moment in American political and social history.

Be it understood: the serious candidacy of a woman and a black man for the office of President is a revolutionary moment, and is welcomed, in theory. But it's kind of a sad moment, too, in that neither this woman nor this man is fit to hold that office.

Cynics and America-bashers enjoy accusing the country of not being ready for a woman or a black president. BOLLOCKS, as the Brits would say. We're ready. But this is not the right woman, and not the right black man. Together, or separately, I believe the country would recognize this and not elect either of them. The bashers will attribute all kinds of vile motives to it, but it's only wisdom.


McCain will never win on style, though it would be possible to write a speech which better suits his limited rhetorical gifts than the one he gave, so very lamely, last night. Speech writers, please, do not try to put the cheap gimmick of the Pentecostal refrain into McCain's mouth ["That's not change you can believe in......"]-- it's just not him. The word-smiths did him no service.

Obama has proposed to re-visit the Lincoln-Douglas debates: prepared statements lasting 90 minutes! [Like a sermon at Trinity United? Arghhhhh.] Perfect for Barack the teleprompter king. McCain has proposed, more realistically, a series of town meetings, taking questions from Real People: perfect for him, disaster for the fumbling unscripted Obama.

Let the games begin.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008



Jack Kelly over at Jewish World Review scans the dossier on the incredibly junior senator from Chicagoland. It's worth posting the whole durned thing:


"We have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting the Iranian threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them," Sen. Barack Obama says on his Web site. "If Iran abandons it nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization."

It was Albert Einstein who first defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

"Perhaps Mr. Obama is unaware that one of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad's first acts was to freeze Tehran's efforts for securing WTO membership because he regards the outfit as 'a nest of conspiracies by Zionists and Americans,'" wrote Amir Taheri in the Wall Street Journal Wednesday.

In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice offered Iran a package of incentives including "improving Iran's access to the international economy, markets and capital, t
hrough practical support for full integration into international structures, including the WTO..."

Sen. Obama can escape Einstein's charge of insanity by pleading ignorance. He didn't know about U.S. overtures to Iran, or Mr. Ahmadinejad's rejection of them. But shouldn't a candidate for president know these things?

In last week's column, I twitted Sen. Obama for saying he'd campaigned in 57 states, for not knowing that his home state of Illinois borders on Kentucky, and for claiming the Cuban Missile Crisis (October, 1962) was defused by President Kennedy's summit meeting with Nikita Khruschchev (June, 1961). Earlier, Sen. Obama said 10,000 people were killed when a tornado struck Greensburg, Kansas last year (the death toll was 12), and assumed Afghans speak Arabic (they don't).

After Sen. Obama took opposite sides on successive days last week on whether Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez should be engaged or isolated, ABC's Jake Tapper described him as "a one man gaffe machine." And that was be
fore his Memorial Day twofer. Speaking in New Mexico, Sen. Obama seemed not to understand Memorial Day honors those who died in war, and claimed his uncle was one of the soldiers who liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp. Since Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army, and Barack's mom was an only child, this is unlikely.

When this misstatement was spotted by bloggers, the Obama campaign said the senator had in mind his great uncle, Charles W. Payne, who, the campaign said, had served in the 89th Infantry Division, which liberated Ohrdruf, a slave labor camp that was a satellite of Buchenwald. This explanation has satisfied most journalists. But Charles W. Payne is not listed on the roster of the 89th Infantry Division, perhaps because the Kansas State Historical Society says Charles W. Payne entered the Navy on Nov. 10, 1942.

Sen. Obama has told the Auschwitz story before. But in an Oct. 2, 2002 speech, the protagonist was his grandfather:
"My grandfather signed up for the war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army," Mr. Obama said then. "He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka." (Stanley Dunham entered the Army on June 18, 1942. Treblinka, which, like Auschwitz, is in Poland, was liberated by the Red Army.)

It isn't a good idea to take what Sen. Obama says at face value. As facts emerged, he issued eight different descriptions of his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The "uncle at Auschwitz" story might be again revised.

Dan Quayle was just 41 and looked younger when George H. W. Bush plucked him from relative obscurity to be his running mate. Journalists portrayed Mr. Quayle as inexperienced and not too bright, an image cemented on June 15, 1992, when, while officiating at a spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, he corrected a 12-year-old's spelling of "potato," telling the boy there was an e on the end.

Mr. Quayle was wrong, but not terribly. "Potatoe" was an accepted spelling through the 19th Century, and the error was on a cue card provided by school authorities. But journalists needed no further proof that Dan Quayle was a dunce.

Journalists have been more kind to Sen. Obama, though his gaffes exceed those of Mr. Quayle, and he has less experience. Mr. Quayle had served four years in the House and eight in the Senate before becoming vice president.

Still, the question arises: Can Barack Obama spell "potato?"

Monday, June 02, 2008



Today is the opening day of the British Columbia Human Rights Commission kangaroo court trial of MacLean's Magazine for the thought crime of publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn's (as it were) seminal work on the demographic suicide of the West.

Canada inches closer to parallel rule by Shari'a? Follow the story as National Post reporter Andrew Coyne liveblogs from the courtroom here.

Keep up to date with the merry band at Free Mark Steyn who have nominated him an honorary Scotsman in the William Wallace mold.

Buy a tee-shirt to support Steyn's (much less affluent) fellow victims of HRC tyranny, the Canuck 6 .

ATE , even as we speak (8:00 a.m. Western time), oh hip and edgy Vancouverites who once prided yourselves at being part of the "revolution", northern-most bead in the demonic rosary of the left coast -- outside Robson courthouse, with the merry band from the Covenant Zone, folks bold enough to envision a new Canada where we back up and start again at Magna Carta.


Presidential Hopeful Barack O'Bama visits Mt. Rushmore and asks the kind of tourist question that gets Americans mocked and deplored in the high-culture hot-spots of Europe:

"Duh, how did Cary Grant get up there?"

The day before, the Obamas resigned from their membership in Chicago's infamous Trinity United Church of .... [oh God, I can't even say it] after yet another flagrantly racist foaming diatribe was delivered, this time by guest preacher (and long-time Obama spiritual adviser, until that evening when he got scrubbed from the website) Catholic priest Fr. Michael Pfleger. Observe the following grotesque white minstrel shows:

And later the same day, at his own church, Saint Sabina:

And Mr. Obama expects us to take him at his word when he asks, "Duh, how did these racists get up there?"

Memo to Chicago's Cardinal Francis George (my dinner companion once, and a very fine man):

This is NOT ENOUGH. You must deal with this man.

I understand that the diocese has been reluctant to move or muzzle him because he's "popular and successful" in his parish. As Mother Teresa once put it: God does not ask us to be successful -- he asks us to be faithful.

Fr. Pfleger is a perverse, delusional, unstable megalomaniac in the thrall of the Evil One. Such people are often successful, and tremendously popular too!

One of the advantages of a hierarchical Church is that people in authority can act to purge those with spiritually poisonous views. I am never one to advocate kicking our worst offenders out of the priesthood, thereby loosing them on an unsuspecting society where they can do further harm under no one's authority.

I believe Fr. Pfleger (like Cardinal Law, and any number of other bad apples) should be moved to remote locations where good priests and other religious labour from dawn till dusk to minister to the truly deprived: the diseased, disabled, abandoned and impoverished of Africa, India, Jamaica, Haiti -- where every day is like the last, and tomorrow will look the same, as you bathe, clothe, feed, bandage, comfort, bless, and finally bury the poorest of the poor, day in and day out until the end of your days.

It is good work. It can redeem, even the arrogant showboater, or the craven and comfortable bureaucrat. Cardinal George, for the sake of the reputation of your wounded Church, and for the sake of the corrupted soul of your Chicago priest, deal with Fr. Pfleger, NOW.