Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2009 -- off to a flying start [updated*]

First Monday of the New Year I wake up suddenly from a long deep sleep, smack in the middle of a dream in which I am moving into a holiday rental apartment in some sunny European country, with my family, friends, people I've never met, and Christopher Hitchens. [finger warning]

I swear it's true. I referred to him by name, and it was all so real. I think he was even red-faced and smoking. I don't think this augurs well.

There's all sorts of stuff, political and cultural, going on that's worth keeping an eye on, but such trivial matters must give way to real earth-shaking news, or, more appropriately, First Things first.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has died.

Fr. Neuhaus
is best known these days as the editor of what is arguably the finest English-language journal of thought now in print First Things, published by the Institute for Religion and Public Life. Among other things, Fr. Neuhaus coined the term "the Naked Public Square" in reference to the wave of protests and bannings of Nativity scenes on public property at Christmastime. This became the consummate expression of modern ignorance and confusion at the intersection of Church and State.

There will be many words spilled over the coming weeks to memorialize Fr. Neuhaus, most of them more eloquent and knowledgeable than mine. But here's my 2-cents' worth.

Fr. Richard Neuhaus, was once Pastor Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister as his father was before him. This was one of his many conversions. Born in Ontario, he became an American citizen. Active in the anti-war and civil rights movements (you can see him at Dr. King's elbow in various snaps of the Selma march), he retained those principles and watched the movements abandon him as they morphed into Free Love and Black Power.

His most powerful epiphany came when, as pastor to a largely minority Lutheran church in Brooklyn, he looked out onto his faithful congregation and realized that the "quality of life" arguments being made in favour of abortion and euthanasia would have excluded in some measure almost everyone sitting in his church -- all of them endured some hardships which the Culture of Death would declare to constitute a life not worth living. This, for him, remained the civil rights issue of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Not long after this, Fr. Neuhaus found his home in the Catholic Church, but never lost his attachm
ent to the spirit of Ecumenism and interfaith dialogue based on these universal principles. I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Neuhaus a couple of times, and hearing him speak. His talk for the Toronto St. Thomas More Lawyers Guild dinner was typically sharp and intelligent and substantive and inspiring.

But most memorable for me was his speech to an annual pro-life conference. Many of those in attendance were under-impressed. The
y said it didn't tell them anything new, or particularly deep. They had been looking for the intellectual Fr. Neuhaus. What they got was the pentecostal Lutheran preacher. For my part, I LOVED IT.

[*update: listen to the closing minutes here]

I would never have imagined that this often drily humorous, brainy, and pithy man had an "I have a dream" streak a mile wide rumbling inside of him. It was sheer delight to hear it. And when I finally saw the film of him dodging Bull Connor's dogs and thugs, the portrait was complete, and coherent. Without having known him well or read everything he wrote (not even close), I feel I have had a glimpse of who he really was.

As for the future, the United States has just elected as president a politician probably unmatched, over so short a career, in his dedication to the legislative furthering of the Culture of Death. Barack Obama is, beyond any possible question, the Abortion President, capital A. Never in the history of the country has a voice like Fr. Neuhaus's been needed more, and yet we are to move forward into this battle without him. How will we manage?

I suspect that our prayers for this good man will now be largely superfluous. Better to ask that he will pray for us.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus 1936-2009

Requiescat in Pace


Harry Reid is still nuts.

I agree on that last point, Harry.

But it's not just his military effectiveness that makes General David Petraeus my PERSON OF THE YEAR for 2008 -- it's how he changed the equation, and changed history, for all of us (and I mean ALL).

Months before the battle had really begun in earnest, Harry declared the war itself to be "lost". He was in abundant, if not good, company. But he and his company were wrong then, and remained wrong right up until a few minutes ago when the attempt to re-write history, and to credit the win to The Obamessiah, surged (as 'twere) into full swing.

Chronology: the "surge" strategy was adopted and began to play out in January of 2007 -- that is, the scheduled troop build-up of an additional 30,000 began at a trickle, [to continue until completed in June]. AQI reacted with the predicted mini-surge of their own, and on February 7 they flailed out desperately in the direction of a CH-46 piloted by
Marine Lt. Jared Landaker, my son's Quantico room-mate, and ended his life along with all others aboard -- an act they turned into a sick ullulating-Allahu-akbar music video.

As events played out, following that particular flail AQI
began to head down the straight road to being last-gasping dead-enders. Still, it was a road lined with land-mines of defeatism detonated almost daily by increasingly desperate congressional Democrats and their willing accomplices in the mainstream press and the Hollywood film machine.

During the period of the surge build-up, General Petraeus, along with Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, reported to Congress in July of 2007 and again in September of that year. The July report was preceeded by a panicked Democratic congress denying the surge's success, and trying to pass withdrawal date legislation to counter the threat of a positive report splitting the party. Ah yes -- could there be anything worse for the Democrats than that the American military might be winning?

The September report was preceeded by by the heinous slan
ders of Moveon.org's "General Betray-us" ad, and the spectacle of then-President-presumptive Hillary Rod'em Cowboy essentially calling the general a liar to his face. The entire period of January to September (as I waited for my son to deploy to Iraq in October) was a pageant of Democratic strategies to denigrate the American military and the Iraqi people at every turn, and to collapse the Iraq war effort before it could be turned into victory.

Most of the poseurs in this pageant made impossible proposals that would have left our military ridiculously vulnerable to slaughter-in-retreat. But the more they spluttered and fumed, the more they were frustrated by the word leaking out that the corner had been turned in Iraq and that peace was in danger of breaking out all over.

Petraeus and Crocker arrived in Washington in September, to sit in the hot-seat with every Democrat gun-site trained on them. They stood their ground. They spoke the truth, unadorned with excessive optimism but unapologetic about the prospects for success. They maintained more dignity in one fingernail than the entire Democratic caucus could muster in its collective flesh on a good day. Together they punched a giganticus hole in the defeatist balloon, and went back to walking the dusty path to victory.

That was 2007. Why is Petraeus the Man of 2008? Because, for better or for worse, his successful strategy shaped the politics of this election year. At first he gave John McCain his most winning issue (support for the surge) and weakened the effect of Barack Obama's important anti-war credentials. This left Hillary somewhere in the serious, moderately hawkish middle.

But in the end the success of the surge robbed all three candidates of what everyone had assumed would be THE issue for 2008
-- it fell off the front pages for lack of death and destruction to report, and McCain's prescience lost its punch. Suppression of battlefield realities also permitted Obama to charm his way centerward with candyfloss pronouncements on much less strident and divisive issues than war. By the time the conventions rolled around, it was all about the cult of personality. A week or so later it was all about the pocketbook and the stock market.

Petraeus kept his steady hand on the tiller and engineered a brilliant counterinsurgency, and the now almost secret victory in Iraq transformed the 2008 political landscape for both parties, with all that this implies for the immediate global future as approached by the new leader of the free world (Inshallah?!).

That's Part One of my Man of the Year argument. Part Two is much shorter: think how DRAMATICALLY the political landscape, both national and global, would have been transformed had Petraeus been permitted to implement his counterinsurgency strategy when he first recommended it. I BELIEVE THAT WAS SOMEWHERE AROUND 2004. I suspect we might now have a Republican president, and it wouldn't be John McCain.



Between September of 2007 and May of 2008, the following feature films (fiction, and I mean it) were put into commercial release for the delectation of the public:

In the Valley of Elah
Lions for Lambs
Grace is Gone
The Battle for Haditha
In the "documentary" category, between March 2005 and January 2008, we had:

Gunner Palace
Iraq in Fragments
Home of the Brave
No End in Sight
Taxi to the Dark Side

[confession time: of these, the only one of the twelve I've seen is Gunner Palace, which was well-done but achieved its goal of being disturbing by profiling only metal-head army privates]

This list of Iraq-war-related films is not definitive, but includes most of the high-profile ones-- to the extent that their box-office returns can be said to reflect any profile at all. The statistics are telling:

Total domestic box office for
all twelve films combined -- $45.6 million

That's 54% of the domestic box office for
The Passion of the Christ on its opening weekend alone.

That's 64% of the domestic box office for
Finding Nemo on its opening weekend alone.

That's less than each of the opening weekends of the three parts of Lord of the Rings.

I'm just sayin'.

I left out of this calculation the film Jarhead, which was released in November 2005, but was ostensibly about the first Gulf War in 1990-91 (yeah, right). That film grossed a respectable $62.6 million -- $10 million less than it cost to make. Fortunately it made another $34 million and change in foreign distribution, and so was saved from ending in the red.

By recycling the previous war, Jarhead was able to get the jump on other productions, and catch its audience in a foul mood about a present war going badly. But it also gave the first taste of how far Hollywood would go to dump on the American fighting man. By the time the anti-war film machine got primed with fresher material, the American public had no appetite for what Hollywood was selling.

Speaking of "in the red" (and in Hollywood we're always at least in the pinko), the only films among the listed dozen to have supplied their budget figures to Box Office Mojo were Stop-Loss and Lions for Lambs. The former made less than half its cost back, and the latter made a profit only because its foreign box office was more than three times its domestic gross.

That, of course, is one of the great scandals of this film-wing of the leftist propaganda machine -- it sells better to our tepid "allies" and enemies than it does to the home front, sometimes substantially -- foreign distribution of
Redacted, for example, out-grossed the domestic box office by 11 to 1!
[Bringing total revenue to a whopping great $780,000!!!!! Boy, was that a stinker!]

-- I hope?

In 2006 Warner Brothers/Valhalla Motion Pictures
/Legendary Pictures snagged the rights to do a flick of Col. Matthew Bogdanos' book Thieves of Baghdad. Haven't been heard from on this subject since, as far as I can tell.

We're ready now -- the public has demonstrated (1) zero appetite for trash-the-troops movies; (2) big appetite for support-the-troops, support-the-Iraqis, support-the-mission fare.

So let's get on the project, people!!! I nominate
Gary Sinise to star.


special program this Saturday on FoxNews at 9:00 p.m. eastern. Be there.