Saturday, March 01, 2003
Let us hope every piece of useful information is wrung out of him before he is shot while trying to escape.
But Saddam's friends will try to challenge the result.
Update: The Speaker of the Turkish Parliament nullified the vote, on the grounds that a majority of those present had not voted for it (there were 19 abstentions).
Maybe it is time to walk away from the concept of a two-front war, send the 4th Division to Kuwait, leave the sodding Turks to fend for themselves, and just get the job done. Leave the Turks and their expected aid package high and dry, and start talking about a Greater Kurdistan as part of the peace settlement. Reward treacherous allies thus. Besides, with something like 94% of the population against a war with Iraq, Turkey would not be a good base of operations (we could be continually held up for more money, or our troops and logistics attacked, perhaps even with the connivance of the Turkish military).
It isn't worth the delay. The Iraqi army will collapse whether we attack from two fronts, or one. Most of the Iraqi oil is in the north, but once we take the southern area around Basra and Abadan (oil fields, refineries, and shipping terminals), there is little they can do. Do you seriously think they will destroy the oilfields in the north if we don't attack from that direction?
Besides, the objective is to get to Baghdad quickly. That can be done even more easily from the south as from the north (the terrain seems easier to traverse-less mountainous, though dams may be destroyed). Cram Kuwait with troops, and let's roll. Moving the Fourth Division's assests by ship from the Med to the Persian Gulf itself will take a couple of weeks. We can't wait too much longer. By April it will begin to become too hot for troops in NBC gear to fight effectively.
We can't get to the point where the summer heat makes offensive operations more unpleasant than they would otherwise be (the term the generals will use will be "less than optimal", implying that it is still feasible, though they would rather not). This whole effort is starting to degenerate into farce. It is looking more than a little like the Russian navy trying to get from the Baltic to the Pacific to fight the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War: a vast effort dependant on contingencies that are pulled away at the last minute.
Faster, please. Time is not on our side.
A traditional Welsh martial song.
Hark, I hear the foe advancing
Barbed steeds are proudly prancing
Helmets in the sunbeams glancing
Glitter through the trees.
Men of Harlech, lie ye dreaming
See ye not their falchions gleaming
While their pennons gaily streaming
Flutter in the breeze.
From the rocks resounding
Let the war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The haughty foe surrounding
Men of Harlech, on to glory
See your banner famed in story
Waves these buring words before ye,
"Welshmen scorn to yield!"
Mid the fray see dead and dying
Friend and foe together lying
All around the arrows flying
Scatter sudden death.
Frightened steeds are wildly neighing
Brazen trumpets loudly braying
Wounded men for mercy praying
With their parting breath.
See they're in disorder,
Comrades, keep close order
Ever they shall rue the day,
They ventured o'er the border.
Now the Saxon flees before us,
Victr'ry's banner floateth oe'er us,
Raise the loud exulting chorus,
"Welshmen win the field!"
Part of another version is sung by members of the 24th Regiment of Foot (South Wales Borderers) defending Roarke's Drift at the climax of the movie, Zulu.
Hear the tune in midi format here.
We have reached the first of the three spring-time feasts of the patron saints of the British Isles. Saint David (Dewi Sant) is the patron saint of Wales. Welsh troops fighting English troops (I believe on Saint David's Day, if Shakespeare was correct) in the medieval period needed something to distinguish themselves from the enemy. They pulled up coarse grass which rather resembled leeks, and stuck it in their caps. Thus the leek became associated with all things Welsh.
Tonight is the grand dinner in the officers' mess of the Royal Welch Fusileers (formerly the 23rd Regiment of Foot), a regiment with, shall we say "unique," folkways. The Regimental mascot is traditionally a goat with gilded horns. The goat actually went into battle with the grenadier company at Bunker Hill and survived. The 23rd Regiment had a splendid fighting record in the American Revolution, and was considered one of three "elite" line regiments selected for Cornwallis' southern campaign. On Saint David's Night guests and new members of the mess, after considerable draughts of the "water of life" stand (if they can still stand) with one booted foot on their chair, and one on the table, and eat an entire leek (yes, including the hot part) while saying "For God and Saint David," in Welsh. I've done this.
Happy Saint David's Day to my friends in the Royal Welch Fusileers.
According to tradition, St. David was the son of King Sant of South Wales and St. Non. He was ordained a priest and later studied under St. Paulinus. Later, he was involved in missionary work and founded a number of monasteries. The monastery he founded at Menevia in Southwestern Wales was noted for extreme asceticism. David and his monks drank neither wine nor beer - only water - while putting in a full day of heavy manual labor and intense study.
Around the year 550, David attended a synod at Brevi in Cardiganshire. His contributions at the synod are said to have been the major cause for his election as primate of the Cambrian Church. He was reportedly consecrated archbishop by the patriarch of Jerusalem while on a visit to the Holy Land. He also is said to have invoked a council that ended the last vestiges of Pelagianism. David died at his monastery in Menevia around the year 589, and his cult was approved in 1120 by Pope Callistus II. He is revered as the patron of Wales.
Friday, February 28, 2003
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the request for a rehearing failed to persuade a majority of judges on the circuit, so the controversial June 2002 ruling by a three-judge panel stands. The court also said it would not accept any other petitions to reconsider.
In Washington, a Justice Department spokesman said the department's only recourse is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For the record, to heck with the 9th Circuit:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In his speech at the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday evening, George W. Bush turned into Abraham Lincoln.
I think the comparison will hold. Lincoln went into the Civil War with one purpose, to preserve the Union. Freeing the slaves was not one of his motives. Likewise, George W. Bush came into the war on terrorism solely to protect the American people from further terrorist attacks.
With the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln brought that bloody war of attrition to a higher level. He gave the people of the North something even better to fight for. No longer would it be just a war to restore the Union as it was. Elevating and enhancing human freedom became a stated goal. With his speech the other night, the importance of which, I think, has largely been ignored, President Bush added a significant new war aim, one that the UN will never endorse; liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator. No longer is this to be a pitiless war just to exterminate terrorists and their allies. The Iraqi people are now intended beneficiaries of US-led liberation. We are now fighting for something more than our own safety (though that, like restoring the Union, remains the primary goal).
The American people need high ideals to be committed to a strenuous war effort. Those ideals are now being engaged by President Bush.
New Stuff: Cardinal Medieros was under pressure to find a black priest for St. Joseph's parish in Roxbury in 1976. He obtained the services of Father Dozia Wilson from the diocese of Albany. But Father Wilson was under suspicion of sexually abusing teenage boys in Albany. In fact, the Albany Police demanded that Father Wilson leave Albany, or a public scandal would emerge. He apparently brought one or more teenage boys with him from Albany to live with him at St. Joseph's rectory.
On it goes.
March starts tomorrow. Here in Irish Boston, that means the start of Saint Patrick's Month. Almost every Irish music group of note will be appearing somewhere in Greater Boston between now and Saint Patrick's Day. For us, it is the opportunity for our first "seasonal" viewing since Christmas (there are just no good Candlemas movies around).
Here is a line-up of favorites for the first half of March (* means we have it on VHS or DVD):
*The Year of the French You won't find it on IMDb or on Amazon.com. As far as I know, it was never put in wide distribution in the US. But Irish TV produced this good adaptation of Thomas Flanagan's historical novel about the 1798 French invasion of County Mayo (second only to Patrick O'Brian's work, in my opinion). The only star most Americans might recognize is the late Sir Robert Stephens. The "Cornwallis" character dominates every scene he is in and gets way too many good lines. The Chieftans did the excellent soundtrack (Paddy Moloney has a bit part). I taped it off the old Boston Channel 38 Movie Loft more than a dozen years ago, and the tape is in danger of wearing out. I would love to get a hold of a good DVD copy of it, or transfer my tape to DVD, if possible.
*The Secret of Roan Inish This heart-warming fantasy also stars no one American audiences would recognize, except maybe Susan Lynch, who was also in Waking Ned Devine . A family from an Irish island, evacuated during World War II, comes back to their ancestral home through the agency of seals and a long-lost baby. Good soundtrack.
*Waking Ned Devine We still laugh about the Brussels Sprouts. The late Ian Bannen and Susan Lynch head the cast of this modern Irish comedy set in the rural West. Two elderly schemers plot how to cash in the winning lottery ticket of a villager who died of the shock of winning millions. The ending song is a great rendition of The Parting Glass.
*The Quiet Man Irish-Americans John Ford, John Wayne, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLagen, and Maureen O'Hara combine to give us a quintessential tale of American Irish nostalgia about returning "home" and adjusting to rural Irish life. The climactic scene was re-worked as the climax of the western McClintock with Wayne and O'Hara.
*Angela's Ashes Dark, gloomy, and depressing tale of growing up poor, Irish and Catholic with a good-for-nothing father, and a mother scarcely better. Yes, it is negative, profane, and more than a little bawdy in places. But the Irish are not saints. There is more than a little truth in McCourt's story. This is an excellent and very faithful adaptation. Rising stars Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle head the cast. The movie is set in Limerick, and my grandparents hailed from Ennis, Co. Clare, only a few miles away.
*The Devil's Own Unfortunately, Brad Pitt is in it. But Harrison Ford is not too bad as an Irish-American cop who unwittingly takes in an IRA terrorist. The title is an interesting use of the nickname of my grandfather's regiment, the Connaught Rangers, popularly known as the Devil's Own Regiment for its fighting qualities. Simon Jones ("Bridey", in Brideshead Revisited, has a small part as the SAS agent on Brad Pitt's trail).
*Patriot Games Harrison Ford as Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan again thwarts IRA terrorists, this time led by Sean Bean (Sharpe). Inexplicably, I did not detect any use of Makem & Clancy's excellent, if bitter, song of the same title. We see via thermal-image satellite US or SAS commandos taking out a terrorist camp. The war on terrorism is bound to be much like this, small groups of commandos descending on and exterminating the inhabitants of terrorist camps in a few minutes in an unnamed country, with entry and exit utterly unknown to the terrorists' host government.
Michael Collins Yes,the movie was marred by the presence of Julia Roberts and the fact that every-other word is the script was "f-ck." But I include it for family reasons. Collins was a friend of my grandfather. An autographed photo of Collins, taken a few days before he was assasinated by the anti-Treaty element of the IRA, hangs here in my study, next to that of another great Irishman, Ronald Reagan.
Saint Patrick: The Irish Legend This will be our first year watching it. It has an excellent cast (Patrick Bergin, Malcolm McDowell, Alan Bates, Susannah York).
I'm not including Richard Harris' The Field, or Meryl Streep's Dancing At Lughnasa, because I have not seen them. The Fighting Sullivans, The Fighting 69th, and Yankee Doodle Dandy are a little too peripherally Irish to qualify, I think. Going My Way is a little too schmaltzy. Besides, it is more of a Christmas movie.
What is surprisingly missing is a tribute to the Irish soldier. I have really not seen a good tribute to the Wild Geese (a movie of that title starring Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore and Hardy Kruger was about mostly-English mercenaries fighting in Africa in the late 1970s) , who fought in the French Army of the 18th century (most notably at Fontenoy), the Irish Brigade of the American Civil War (though they appear in Gods & Generals), or the hundreds of thousands of Irish redcoats or Tommys who helped vanquish Great Britain's enemies from 1753-1918. If done well, I would love to see movies on any of those topics.
"For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad."
"It is necessary to constantly discover and live the beauty of prayer and of the liturgy. One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way," the Pope said during today's general audience.
"In this connection, the Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and song will return increasingly to the liturgy," he added.
Not exactly a direct challenge to the regime of Haugen and Haas and the, "Am I not wonderful?" school of liturgical music, but you would not expect the Holy Father to be that direct. It would be beneath his dignity to mudwrestle with their adherents.
Mark Sullivan has unearthed a heart-warming story of Pope Pius XII thanking and blessing US and British servicemen after the liberation of Rome.
Ralph Reiland, writing for FrontPage Magazine spells out the price in blood the US paid to protect France in the last century.
Maybe Air France Concorde flights need to be halted again. Safety is, of course the primary issue, but sticking it to the French is, admittedly, also a factor.
It will be 86% after we win.
The granddaughter of former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev came out last night at a Paris debutante ball in a Christian Dior gown. Soviet Marxism really is dead. The Lord be praised for the lifting of that scourge.
The Washington Times' Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough report that Iraqi troop morale is low, that some units are only at 25-35% combat effectiveness, and that young conscripts are speaking openly of surrendering before they are overrun by US troops or of deserting. And these are the units that will face the weaker prong of our offensive, the one that will be coming from Turkey. These are also the troops who will have to guard the northern oilfields and refineries around Mosul.
The defenders on the Kuwaiti front face more than 3 divisions and a lot more airpower. Saddam pulled a Republican Guard division out of the northern front recently, and has garrisoned them, at least temporarily, in his home town of Tikrit, though they may be headed for Baghdad to stiffen the expected main line of resistance. They could be in Tikrit to raise "volunteers" from this loyalist area.
Gertz and Scarborough are good investigative reporters. I don't think they, or the US intelligence reports they are relying on, are being suckered by Iraqi counter-intelligence. The regular Iraqi army will crumble once the offensive begins. The only stiff fighting will come from the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard. I also don't think there will be any significant popular uprising from the Iraqi people. If there is one, it will be to lynch the Saddam loyalists.
I wouldn't want to be perceived as a pro-Saddam human shield when that happens. Remember what the Afghani people did to al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts in Kabul? And General Franks' comments of the other day made it clear we will not go out of our way to protect, avoid, or safe-guard the human shields. Nor should we. We should also not go out of our way to target them, but if they happen to be at sites we need to destroy, well that is just too bad for them. They made the decision to side with the enemy, and put themselves in places of great danger. Sometimes, really bad decisions have mortal consequences.
The B-52, you will remember, was designed in the late 1940s. Ronald Reagan made a campaign issue of the fact that the planes were usually older than their crews, more than 20 years ago. The planes have not grown younger in the last two decades.
Lord protect their crews on whatever missions are assigned.
I'm probably the last blogger to comment on this issue. The Bangor paper carried it on Monday, and the Washington Times, yesterday. Rush, Howie Carr, and Michael Savage (and I'm sure Sean Hannity as well) have all commented on it extensively. But the facts of the issue seem to be somewhat murky and disputed.
The gravamen of the charges is that the Maine National Guard began a support program for families of its personnel who either have been mobilized or are about to be. Some of the feedback they got indicated that some of the children of these servicemen and servicewomen have been harassed at school, in some cases by teachers and teachers' assistants.
Children of military parents across Maine are being harassed in school, in some cases by teachers who claim the little ones' mothers and fathers are wrong to fight for their country, according to families' complaints.
Outrage is palpable all over the country, and justifiably so. The details of the harassment have been thin (we are dealing with first and second graders here). But it is clear that something of the sort has happened, and probably not just in Maine. We probably only know about it in Maine because other states' National Guards have not been so pro-active, or have just decided to shut up and not raise a stink.
Conservatives make up a small minority of teachers at all levels. Public school teachers are unionized, and a great many have a left-union mindset that transcends issues like more money for themselves, and encompasses the whole agenda of the left. Private and parochial school teachers attend the same education schools and absorb the same mindset as the public school teachers.
So it is no surprise that many teachers are anti-war. I think we all remember the pro-nuclear freeze, anti-Reagan agitation from teachers in the 1980s. As an outspoken conservative from a precociously young age (I was listening to conservative talk-show host Avi Nelson and handing out literature for John Ashbrook in 1972 at the ripe age of 8), I got more than my share of rolled eyes and condescending attitudes from grammar school and high school teachers. Now we are getting more of the same. But some teachers have not been professional in drawing the line between personal opposition to war and objective presentation of information for their students. And that is an understatement.
When I told her about it last night, Mrs. F. was furious. She taught for years at a private Catholic school in Anchorage which had a lot of military families sending kids. Firings, she said would be appropriate. Teachers must not tear down the image young children have of their parents. Especially in this case where they are doing their lawful duty, and in a good cause in the service of their country (it is not like the military is being secretly mobilized to overthrow the elected government, for Pete's sake). But, she said it would not happen because of the unions. And she was right.
Misguided views of academic freedom combined with the power of the unions will shield these low-lifes who pick on the kids of military personnel from any disciplinary action. They really are as contemptible as those maggots who spit at and derided soldiers returning from Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s (in some cases, they may even be the same maggots).
The best retort to these bottom-dwellers is from a modern song about Irish soldiers enlisting in the Union Army:
"Fill the ranks and march away
No traitors do we fear.
We'll send them all to blazes
Said the Irish Volunteers."
One of my regular treats is a couple of cups of coffee on a Friday morning. It compensates for going meatless on Fridays year-round. I used to be a 2-3 cup per morning drinker. Now I limit myself to one day per week (and not even every week). But starting Wednesday, I'll be giving up coffee, tea, and cola along with meats, alcohol, cigars, and cake-like sweets for the duration of Lent.
Each one of my Lenten sacrifices is marginal in effect. Taken individually, I don't miss any one too much (I haven't had a cigar since November, a drink since Epiphany, more than 3 teas and 3 colas, including iced teas, since New Year). But taken together, the cumulative effect of my sacrifices is felt. By the third week, I feel hemmed in and constrained, all the more so because I don't like most seafood or vegetables. Cheese pizza and filet-o-fish sandwiches get old really fast. It is then that the other part of my personal Lenten program, increased devotional reading and prayers, really starts to help.
But for now, in the spirit of Carnival, I'm enjoying my last Friday coffee until mid-April. Cheers.
In a 241-155 vote, the US House of Representatives has voted to ban all human cloning. This is exactly the bill that needs to become law. President Bush supports the ban. The difficulty is the Senate, where Democrats oppose it, along with a few key Republicans like Orrin Hatch. I doubt that the Senate will pass the ban in its current form. I also doubt that it will seriously take the issue up before the war starts (and ends).
So we have time to influence senators who are on the fence. Write your senators and urge them to support the ban. Human life is too precious a thing to play with, even in the cause of science, research, and health.
Thursday, February 27, 2003
The University of Texas Library On Line maintains an excellent set of maps with details on the Iraqi oil industry, the topography of the country, the Baghdad area, dissident areas, ballistic missile-related facilities, chemical weapons facilities, ethno-religious groups, and just about everything else.
So if you are like me, and your first response to an international crisis is a Churchillian, "Break out my maps," try this site. If you look around, you should find what you need.
It will be tough. But it can be done.
It means no brie during Lent. Lent is so bereft of pleasures for those of us who give up meat, that losing the option of baking a wheel of brie is a tough one. There is always English cheddar, or Italian provolone.
Replace the Sauternes you might have served for dessert with Port. Italian or California table wines make a good replacement for the produce of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Champers? Well, there isn't a replacement for Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial, is there? But for the next 61/2 weeks, we should not be celebrating anyway.
Laying off the Cointreau and Courvoisier will be easier. I haven't actually had either since Christmas. And since I give up alcohol for Lent anyway...
No truffles? Well, you save money that way. Buy the cheaper Italian truffles, if you must have your fix of the "millionaire's mushroom.".
Poland Springs is much more patriotic than Evian or Perrier.
But French toast, French fries, and French bread? Since the stuff is made in the US, why not?
Grey Poupon, by the way, is a Nabisco product, made in New Jersey, according to the jar in the fridge.
Buy British. Give Tony Blair a bit of a boost. He has been a lot more stalwart than people thought he would be. Colman's Mustard is a good substitute for the genuine French stuff. Make it strong enough, and it will clear your sinuses, too.
The Italians, Australians, Spanish, Danes, Portugese, and all of Eastern Europe are in our camp. If you can think of a way to support the companies of those countries, and ignore French and German products, do so.
If you drink beer, lay off the German and Belgian brews for a while. English Woodpecker Cider, Dutch beers, Foster's, Guiness, or the innumerable American standards and microbrews would be nice. Who needs German and Belgian beer, really?
If you want to travel in Europe, visit those countries favorable to our policies. Try not to spend money in France, Germany, or Belgium. Visit the Scottish Highlands. Ireland in the spring, or the home shires of England are both inviting. And it is so pleasant in Italy or the Iberian Peninsula at this time of year (compared to New England). Save the trip to Provence for a happier time.
Hit the bastards where it hurts. Reward our true friends.
I only wish Easter was earlier this year. A late start to Lent means Opening Day falls within it (and that means no hot dogs that day). When Easter falls in late March, that is not a problem.
Tolkien need no longer be a vaguely guilty pleasure for pious Catholics.
Some protestors tried to disrupt the speech. But President Bush quipped, "We've found another good use for duct tape." He also also recalled a demonstrator at a speech he made some years ago, She was, he said, just about the worst-looking woman he had ever seen. She was carrying a sign that said, "Stay out of my womb." "No problem, lady."
Aside from going back on the tax pledge, I thought President Bush was a very good president. He wasn't Ronald Reagan, but who is?
A Danish pizzeria owner has taken the unusual step of banning Frenchmen and Germans from his establishment to protest those governments anti-US policies. The French are under a lifetime ban. The Germans can come back if Germany changes its policy on Iraq. Not everyone in Europe is a Euroweenie. If you happen to find yourself in Nordby on the island of Fanoe, stop in at Aage's Pizza, smile, and leave a nice tip. This fellow deserves some encouragement. Three cheers for Aage Bjerre!
How long that will last, I have no idea.
Courtesy of FrontPage Magazine.
The Vatican announced yesterday that the Holy Father had approved some changes in the handling of cases of pervert priests. Cases where there is a confession of guilt or overwhelming evidence will be handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith without trial, not the Holy Father. So it will be up to Cardinal Ratzinger for the time being to decide the easy cases for laicization. The Holy Father himself will continue to decide the tougher, disputed cases. And laymen can serve on the tribunals that will try the laicization cases locally.
Victim's groups are snappish and sulky about these positive changes. In fact, their credibility has suffered badly by their tendency to carp about positive changes when they don't get 100% of what they want immediately. The only other interest group known for such sulky, childish behaviour is trial lawyers. Frankly, I don't care what the victims think about the structure of the Church and how it deals with de-frocking perverts (as long as the perverts are de-frocked). If they are God's instruments in cleansing the Church of deviants and dissenters, let them stay just that. We don't need to get a steady diet of their often-uninformed and inarticulate opinions on matters well beyond their competence. We just need their existence and the basic justice of their cause.
Hughes is implicated in both the Geoghan and Burns cases.
Fred Rogers, known to a couple of generations of TV-watching crumb-crunchers as the gentle and soft-spoken TV show host Mister Rogers, died of stomach cancer early this morning at his home in Pittsburgh at the age of 74. He was diagnosed just about two months ago. Rogers had been on public TV from 1968 to 2000. His last episode aired in August, 2001, though the show will live on in re-runs. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and is survived by his wife and their two sons, as well as two grandsons. According to friends, his real personality was much like his TV persona. Mister Rogers, Captain Kangeroo, Rex Trailer of Boom Town, and Miss Jean of Romper Room were staples of my own childhood. Requiescat in pace.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
We already have almost an hour and a half more daylight each day than at Christmas. The forsythia should start to turn yellow in about a month.
We are now in the heart of Carnival Season. Ash Wednesday is a week from today. Before the mid-20th century Lenten fasting and abstinence requirements were much stricter than they are now. Today, we get away with limiting ourselves to one meatless meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and two incomplete meatless meals or snacks) and abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Before Vatican II, giving up meat for the entire period of Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday morning) was more common. Genuine fasting was the norm for Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. And not only meat was given up, but dairy products as well. Though, by a strange quirk, medieval nobles found a way around the abstinence requirement by getting churchmen to rule that geese and ducks, waterfowl, did not count as meat, but as fish.
Since Lent meant no meat, Carnival, or "Good-bye, flesh" in Latin, was a last fling with rich foods and the good things. Six and a half weeks of abstinence and fasting was a daunting prospect. So a wild, raucous celebration featuring lots of meat, and alcohol (and sex, remember the other context of "the flesh") was a natural thing. Today, the last remanants are Rio de Janiero's Carnival and New Orleans' Mardi Gras.
Since my personal Lenten penances are stricter than the Church requires today, I tend to fall back into the ancient custom of relishing the bacon, tenderloin, ham, cheeseburgers, pepperoni, lamb, corned beef, sausage, alcohol, and tobacco that I won't be able to taste again for 47 days (except for a 24-hour dispensation I grant myself around Saint Patrick's Day, to honor the Saint). I don't give up the dairy products that medieval Europeans did, since I dislike most seafood and vegetables. But I make up for that by also giving up coffee, tea, colas, and cake-consistency sweets (cake, muffins, brownies). I also abstain from chocolate and ice cream on Wednesdays and Fridays. Chocolate is just about a daily part of my diet. If I tried to give it up for the 47 days, I would be a bear after the first week. If you think Verus Ratio is a little on the gloomy side now, try reading it when its author has been chocolate-free for 4-6 days.
So it is time to eat, drink, and be merry, for next Wednesday we fast.
Now it is just HaloScan.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for an 8-1 majority, ruled that RICO canot be used as a tool against aggresive anti-abortion protestors. The two cases are Schiedler v. National Organization for Women, and Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women. I'll post a link to the opinion once Cornell's Legal Information Institute posts it.
The Administration seems to be moving very slowly. Flexibility in planning an attack is useful. We can't be locked into an irrevocable timetable like the Germans were in 1914. But the Administration needs to be reminded that "time is not on our side." There are other Islamo-fascist tyrants to be toppled after Saddam, more al Qaeda terrorists to squash. And there are different threats that need to be focused on (North Korea and China, Cuba and Venezuala). Best to get the job done as quickly as possible, certainly by the end of March, and move on.
If we are not in Baghdad, and Saddam is not in hiding, a prisoner, or a corpse by this time next month, President Bush is seriously risking squandering the good will and approbation of the American people. Once the people are steeled for war, as we are now, inaction is deadly for national morale. That means a decisive turn in public opinion against the Administration if things are not begun soon. Even Rush, who is very reluctant to criticize the Administration at a time like this, was saying yesterday that it is time to fish or cut bait. The financial markets are intolerant of the uncertainty the situation holds. The price of oil is skyrocketing and closing in on $2.00 per gallon. President Bush needs gasoline to be $1.20 per gallon or less one year from today, and throughout 2004, to be re-elected.
George W. Bush and Karl Rove would be wise to remember John Adams, who after the XYZ Affair had the American people solidly behind a war with France in 1800, which would have propelled the Federalists to solid victory and Adams to re-election. American ships were already capturing French ships on the high seas. But Adams accepted a diplomatic settlement in the summer of 1800 (he probably was "right" to do so) and it cost him the good will of the Federalist Party. Conservative Federalists rebelled. Adams lost his bid for re-election because they split from him. And the Federalists did not survive as a viable political force.
TownHall.com did not have Mona Charen up when I checked it out early yesterday morning. But it is up now, and well worth the read.
Backwardness, despotism and a violence-prone religious elite have made the Arab world a cauldron of radicalism. But if the nation in the geographical and metaphorical heart of the Arab world were to be firmly planted on the road to freedom, prosperity and pluralism, it will represent a decisive rollback of the forces of darkness. It's no wonder that Saudi Arabia, Iraq's neighbor to the south, is scheming for Saddam to be deposed and publicly calling upon him to commit suicide. They know very well that a reformed Iraq will be a beacon for all Arabs. No wonder Syria is helping Iraq to hide its weapons of mass destruction.
Americans have scorned nation-building in the past. But we can no longer afford that particular luxury. The repressive, cruel and closed nations of the Muslim world have bred a fanaticism that has already been profoundly painful to us and may be catastrophically so in the near future. The question of war will be decided within weeks, but there is far more at stake than Iraq's fate.
By the way, I saw her new book in Barnes & Noble yesterday and it looked intriguing. Nobody, not even Rush Limbaugh, has spelled out how very wrong the left was about the nature of communism and the Cold War from 1968-1990. Useful Idiots is as step in that direction. I still want someone to reprint every pro-Sandinista, anti-military, anti-Reagan utterance and vote of Kennedy, Daschle, Gephardt, etc. They got off scot-free after the fall of the Soviet Union. They were never called to account for being wrong, for putting obstacles in the way of victory. They were even allowed to bask in the sun of that corrupt historical oddity known as the Clinton Administration. Records need to be re-examined, and those who were wrong held up to the ridicule they deserve.
Scandal-plagued Bishop Robert J. Banks of the Diocese of Green Bay Wisconsin submitted his resignation yesterday on reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, another figure deeply implicated in the Boston scandal, submitted his resignation last fall, also on reaching 75.
But Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack, only 71 and the most deeply implicated of all US bishops (with a history of protecting pervert priests going back to the 1960s, even before he was a diocesan official, and a history of social association with monster Paul Shanley), vows to stay despite mounting calls for his resignation. But a forthcoming release of thousands of pages of documents on New Hampshire priests, some of it concerning events during his tenure as bishop, may change that determination. Moral lepers have a way of driving people away from them. Let us hope the people of New Hampshire get the message being sent to them from their southern neighbors.
Howie Carr's Boston Herald column today gives details on the hacks holding largely meaningless, but well-paying, jobs on the campus of U-Mass Dartmouth. Should we continue to tolerate what former Governor Weld (in full campaign mode) termed these connected "walruses" battening on the public payroll for little worthwhile effort when the state faces an enormous budget crisis?
This time it appears that fire tore through a Hartford nursing home early this morning. At least ten are dead. About 20 are injured. A hundred elderly residents had to be evacuated. One person is under arrest.
A new case of an alleged pervert priest has surfaced. This one is in New Hampshire, domain of the most despicable serving bishop in the United States, John B. MCormack.
The Rev. Joseph Maguire, who was assigned to various New Hampshire parishes during the 1970s and 1980s, was charged with raping two boys under age 13 in Dover between 1977 and 1981.
Maguire faces three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, which includes rape; 23 counts of felonious sexual assault; and eight counts of sexual assault. He faces more than 200 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Father Maguire was arrested at his home in Dennis. Like Geoghan, Shanley, the late Father Birmingham, and Bishop McCormack himself, he is 71 years old (but, unlike them, he was not a graduate of Saint John's Seminary class of 1960, but was a late vocation). Interestingly, in 1986, McCormack's predecessor as Bishop of Manchester sent Maguire to Ireland, probably to be rid of him.
In May, police in Dover said they investigated Maguire in 1986 after receiving an anonymous letter accusing him of molesting boys in Dover and Boston, as well as giving them alcohol and taking pornographic pictures of them.
Police said Maguire admitted molesting four boys at St. Joseph's Church in Dover, as well as one at St. John Evangelist in Hudson in the 1970s just before being transferred to the Dover area.
Officials said the abuse in Dover occurred during the late 1970s, mostly in the church rectory, and involved altar boys between the ages of 9 and 13. They also said Maguire took the boys on trips.
FrontPage Magazine today carries a Mark Steyn piece that originally appeared in the National Post on the paradox facing us: how can we extend unlimited tolerance to a religion that ultimately has no tolerance for us?
Though it had erased all the comments again. But when I woke up this morning, the comments were gone again. How long...?
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Sorry about that. Ever since Mark Shea converted to HaloScan, and Amy's volume of comments was dumped into Mark's comments boxes, we have been having this problem. So it is all Mark's fault. :)
Like many a great artist, Bernard Loiseau was a fragile and sometimes tortured soul, a perfectionist tending to one of France's greatest passions: food.
''All these people, all these exceptional beings who give you the impression of so much assurance, they are all very fragile, they all have such strong moments of doubt,'' said Loiseau's wife Dominique.
He blew his brains out, not over losing a star in the Michelin Guide, but losing 2 points in the 20-point rating system. Oh the incredible pressure of life!
Can you say, "frivolous beyond the point of decadence" ?
Here is an oldie but goodie, my Bastille Day column from last year.
Tomorrow (July 14th) is the national day for the people most of us love to hate, the French. What is it that we dislike so much? The answer depends upon your perspective. There are so many things to dislike about the French that it is difficult to pick out just one.
As a veteran British re-enactor, I can say that there are few joys greater than driving home a bayonet charge against "French" troops. Some of that is just disdain for lazy re-enactors who chose the French because they could keep their moustaches, whose drill is poor, and who are slow and unskilled on the battlefield. But it goes much deeper than that.
Someone portraying an 18th or early 19th century Brit is necessarily steeped in what it was like to be a Brit of that period. For them, the great enemy was France. Britain and France were at war from 1689-1698, from 1701-1714, from 1740-1748, from 1755-1763, from 1778-1783, from 1793-1802, from 1803-1814, and again in 1815. And that came a couple of hundred years after the Hundred Years' War. "Confusion to the French" was one of the most popular toasts in any British officer's mess, in war or peace (and is still heard after the first couple of bottles of port today).
In the 18th Century, England looked to the continental colossus across the Channel with fear, disdain, and loathing. Of course, there was the religion issue. England was protestant, isolated, xenophobic. Catholic France was the "great nation" the largest single one in the West, with a population more than twice England's. France was despotic under the kings, dangerously chaotic under the Terror, and globalist and destabilizing under the Directory and Bonaparte.
Englishmen viewed Frenchmen as poor, priest-ridden, ignorant peasants. The diet of the ordinary Frechman was represented as thin gruel, while Englishmen ate roast beef. If the French had wine, England had much more healthy beer and cider. Check out this print by William Hogarth called O the Roast Beef of Old England. Notice the greedy monk fingering the joint of English beef, while the half-starved French soldiers follow along. Note that the hand of authority is resting on Hogarth's shoulder on the left of the print (he was detained for sketching in Calais in real life).
Frenchmen were so poor, the English thought, that they wore clothes made from canvas and wooden shoes (the wooden shoes that we Americans think of as a quaint Dutch thing were seen by 18th century Brits as signs of hopeless poverty, and possibly tyranny: a British politician opposed a census or a tax, or some centralizing measure, with the dire prediction that the the "canvas frock and wooden shoes will soon be pressed upon us."). This attitude was reinforced by Englishmen on the Grand Tour, who were met at the quays of Calais not with glasses of Chambord or French noblemen, but by hordes of beggars hoping to batten off the rich Englishmen.
And the policy of the French government, harboring the Jacobite pretenders to an English throne they could only reclaim at the point of French bayonets, did not soften the British view. The French managed to support Jacobite invasions of the British Isles in 1715 and 1745. In 1798, the Directory aided and abetted the United Irishmen in their rebellion, and even managed to send a small force of French troops to Ireland (a rebellion put down by Lord Cornwallis, of Yorktown fame). Bonaparte threatened to invade England itself with a large French army, until Nelson smashed the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar.
You think I'm making this up, don't you? Well, if you don't believe me, read these passages from the works of the historical novelist (and Brit) Bernard Cornwell.
In Sharpe's Siege, Sharpe, commanding a small British force near the close of the Napoleonic Wars, is holding a fort miles behind French lines (Wellington at the time was invading France from Spain), but is uncharacteristically low on confidence (because of the feared illness of his wife). He confides this to his friend Captain "Sweet" William Frederickson. Cornwell puts this gem of a reply in Frederickson's mouth,
...I...would fight the bastards...Why?...Because they are Crapauds! Because they're slimy Frogs! Because as long as they are fighting us they can't go south and give the Peer a headache! Because the English have a God-given duty to rid the world of the French! Because its what I'm paid to do. Because I've got nothing better to do! Because Napoleon Bonaparte is a foul little worm who
grovels in his own excrement! Because no one's ordered me to surrender just because the odds are unhealthy!
Because I don't want to live under French rule and the more of those bastards I kill the more the rest of them
will slowly comprehend that fact!
And that from an urbane gentleman who spoke fluent French, loved nothing better than to sit and sketch architecture, and appreciated French food, art, and culture. British troops always called the French the "Crapauds", which in French means "Toads". The French, by the way called the British troops the "Goddamns" because of the norotious profanity of the British soldier.
A great deal of what we Americans think comes from 18th Century England. An American whose attitudes were not formed in part by Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, Edward Gibbon, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and, yes, John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson is actually quite rare. Of these, Jefferson was the only one who was an all-out lover of all things French. He was also the least sound and stable of the Founding Fathers. John Adams set the good American precedent of speaking English to the French king, and just making it slower and louder when the king could not understand. Washington fumed over the pretensions of the French ambassador Genet.
Americans thinking back to the early days of our own republic can recall the arrogance of the Directory in general, and Tallyrand in particular, in demanding that we grease the Great Turncoat's palms before he would deign to meet with our envoys. That was the XYZ Affair, which brought on an undeclared naval war between the US and France during John Adams' term (we got the better of them, but with help from the Royal Navy). "Millions for defense: not one penny for tribute!" was the first rallying cry of our government. And it was directed at France.
The event the French have chosen as their national day, the storming of the Bastille, represents one of the saddest events in world history, not the triumph of liberty they tell us. The French Revolution is better forgotten, not glorified. Burke spelled out the reasons for this more than two hundred years ago in Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Terror was not a step forward for freedom, but a triumph of barbarism. Bonaparte was no better, a man of blood ruling by the sword, and trying to force the rest of Europe to adopt France's "system". Why couldn't they pick the feast day of Saint Joan of Arc, or a date in the life of Henry IV? Why not the day in August when Paris was liberated?
Nor have the French done much since Waterloo to gain the approbation of the right-thinking. Socialism first reared its ugly head there, as the red flag waved over the barricades in 1830 and 1848, and 1871. Once the Germans put France in its place in 1871, French national policy consisted of nothing but revenge.
When the opportunity came for revenge in 1914, French armies failed. They were again out-fought by the Germans. Then as the war dragged on, it was the French army that was in the greatest danger of mutiny and collapse (in the same manner and in the same cause as the Russian army did-communism). France between the wars was even less enthusiastic than Britain in restraining Germany.
The collapse came in 1940, after weak resistance. There followed four years of pouring wine for their occupiers, and precious little genuine resistance, despite all the movies about the Maqui. Meanwhile, in the south, Vichy did its best to toady to the Germans, and happily shipped its Jews to the gas chambers. When American troops landed in Operation Torch, they were fired upon by the French. Then, when the Germans were too weak to hold on any more, the French finally found courage and organized an army (with American help). Even when deigning to deal with allies, they could be dificult. Churchill said that the heaviest cross he had to bear was the "Croix de Guerre", referring to de Gaulle. Winston also said that sometimes he managed to get de Gaulle into a towering rage, when he resembled nothing so much as a female llama who has been surprised in her bath.
Since World War II, France has paid nothing but lip service to the cause of the alliance. It was unable to maintain its responsibilities in Vietnam, which led the US to get involved there. The French could not even keep Algeria, which they considered administratively part of France. The French, in a fit of pique (their distinguishing national characteristic of the 20th century) and jealousy at American leadership, bolted the military part of the NATO alliance in 1966.
Almost every time the US has needed to get something done, it has been France that has put roadblocks in the way. When President Reagan bombed Libya, France refused to allow US aircraft in England to fly over France, forcing a long detour, that, if I recall correctly, contributed to the loss of a plane and its crew. France was a force against determined effort in Desert Storm. Its brittle military was entrusted by General Schwartzkopf with as much as it could reliably handle-- basically guarding empty desert.
Today, the French refuse to extradite Moslem terrorists to the US because of their hypersensitive disdain of the death penalty. As the US urges action against Iraq, it is France that is the great nay-sayer. With regard to Israel, France has praised the Palestinians, permitted anti-Semites there to conduct a vicious campaign against Jews and synagogues (as if the poor Jews of France had not been adequately betrayed by their government between 1940-1944), and counseled the US to put pressure on Israel to just roll over and let the Palestinians murder Jews to their hearts' content. And they are the leading force in creating a United Europe, not to cooperate with the US, but as a rival.
And then, there is French "culture". I'm not talking about Fragonard, or David, or even Renoir or Manet. I'm talking about that ethos so compelling to Bohemian lefties the world over. That "culture" consists of nothing but sitting in cafes on the left bank, sipping coffee that is too strong, talking about nothing (like a never ending episode of Seinfeld but with the air of a philosophe), praising the truly reprehensible Picasso and Sartre and Camus and partaking of decadence combined with communism and nihilism, and cultivating a nasty self-important attitude while wearing black.
Anti-French sentiment has really taken off in the last ten years. A good deal of the credit goes to Jonah Goldberg of National Review, and his inspired adoption of the Simpsons' "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" monicker for the French. The war-years' attitude that the French were gallant allies forced to surrender by circumstances and who rejoined the fight as soon as possible has been replaced by a new consensus. The readiness of the French to give up and live under the heel of any oppressor has been given more attention. Doubt it? Check out this Get Fuzzy cartoon Darby Conley produced on July 3rd. Brits have been playing villains in Hollywood for years. But the French are about to eclipse them. Think about the NATO admiral in Behind Enemy Lines. Even if he wasn't French (he may have been Spanish) his character had the feel of a French admiral.
Of course, the French are not all bad. Some few Frenchmen are still pious Catholics. French peasant culture is fairly healthy. Peter Mayle writes amusing books about them. They produce nice wines (though California is gaining on them). The world owes Angier a debt of gratitude for Cointreau. Pates and truffles are the embodiment of high cuisine. France has managed to do what Britain has not-elect a conservative government. And years ago, the French actually had the chutzpah to sink the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior when it got in the way of a French nuclear test. That was the last time I gave the French a cheer.
If we wish to summon up warm thoughts for our French "partners" this Bastille Day, I'm afraid the best we can do is to sip a nice Sauterne ("its heaven with strawberries"- points if you know where that comes from), serve a nice goose pate and some brie, and fondly recall the Rainbow Warrior going to the bottom.
So, this Bastille Day, I offer this, "Confusion to the French!"
And John Derbyshire, writing today for National Review On Line, adds more badly needed anti-French sentiments
She takes on the absurdity of liberals trying to find an alternative to Rush.
After nearly two months of almost non-existent leadership, the Archdiocese of Boston's Apostolic Administrator has surfaced to ask all Catholics, including both priests and laity to do special penance this Lent for the healing of the Church.
I don't want to sound negative here. Prayer and penance are necessary components of the healing the Archdiocese needs. But as the song in the Christmas special says, "Even a miracle needs a hand."
What needs to be done is fairly clear. The seminary and the chancery bureaucracy need a thorough flushing out. Dissenters need to be purged from positions of responsibility. Traditional devotions need to be re-emphasized. Pastors and liturgists with plans for wreck-o-vating traditional churches and further watering down the Mass need to be told to cool it, permanently. The centrality of the Eucharist, both to devotion and in the physical plant of the church building needs to be emphasized. Liturgical innovation needs to stop. There will be enough legitimate change with the adoption of the new norms. The Archdiocese needs to get the litigation behind it. Pay the bill. End the bleeding. Close a few redundant and withering parishes. Find an effective way to recruit zealous, orthodox men to the priesthood, and leave them that way (don't destroy their faith in making them priests). The forces pushing for changes in the structure of the priesthood (priestesses, married priests, gay priests) need to be told to talk to the hand, and need to know that they will always be talking to the hand, no matter who is the next Cardinal, or even who is the next Pope. Maybe if they get the message, they will make their pilgrimage to the Unitarians, and we can get on with the serious business of the Faith.
Someone in authority in the Church needs to stand athwart the path of "history" and yell, "Stop!"
The members of the Turkish Cabinet have been sufficiently bribed to permit the US to deploy troops in that country for the Iraqi offensive. Now we have to buy off the parliament. The vote may come today.
From Will's syndicated column, carried today at TownHall.com.
There is not much to be gained just now from additional attempts to reason with a leader that tone-deaf, or from attempts to soften the monomania of those swarming in the "European street." Perhaps U.S. policy can change European minds by changing facts in Iraq.
Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review, in his syndicated column, writes in praise of the values celebrated in Gods &
Generals, the values of "Red America"; patriotism, sacrifice, faith.
FrontPage Magazine offers a new book on the Left's anti-Americanism. Edited by David Horowitz and Jamie Glazov, The Hate America Left takes us to the belly of the beast and examines closely the reigning mindset of the Left. For those who wish to study this pathology, the book looks like a helpful resource.
John McMorran, born June 19, 1889 (the same year as my grandfather) died yesterday of heart failure.
The great and hopeful thing about McMorran was that, "He smoked cigars, drank beer ,and ate greasy food." There is hope for the rest of us. Requiescat in pace.
Four US soldiers were killed last night when the UH-60 BlackHawk helicopter they were participating in training in crashed near Kuwait City. I have said before that this sort of "friction of peace" is sometimes more costly than undertaking military operations. "Sooner rather than later" has been the cry of the Administration since the fall, even before the forces to do the job were in place. As soon as the forces are in place, let's roll. Our troops are probably safer fighting the Iraqis than dawdling in the Kuwaiti desert.
Monday, February 24, 2003
Reports are circulating today that a Massachusetts grand jury is considering indicting Bernard Cardinal Law for his complicity in the Scandal. My own view is that this would be counterproductive. Cardinal Law has fallen on his sword. He has removed himself from the problem. His doing so was a necessary first step. But even if he did break the law (and that is very questionable) I don't think it would serve anyone's interests to indict him. He is out of the way. The Church can heal now. I have never been a doctrinaire believer in the concept that, whenever a crime is committed, a criminal charge is appropriate.
On the other hand, the even-more complicit Bishop McCormack of Manchester remains running his diocese. His history as a protector of perverts goes all the way back to the 1960s here in Salem, before he was even a diocesan official. It continues to his present tenure as Bishop of Manchester. He was the man who knew where all the bodies were buried in the Archdiocese of Boston, practically the living embodiment of the Lavender Mafia. He is deeply implicated in the Birmingham, Shanley, and Geoghan cases, as well as others.
Unfortunately, the former Attorney General of New Hampshire was determined to get a resolution to the crisis there before leaving office last December. He allowed the diocese to merely admit that it might have been charged with a crime, in exchange for not prosecuting McCormack and the diocese. McCormack richly deserves to be indicted by a Massachusetts grand jury, especially if he does not follow Cardinal Law's lead and fall on his sword. I suggest that the grand jury proceedings be used to gain that result.
A federal judge in Boston did what the law requires of him, and dismissed a lawsuit by several Congressmen and some military personnel challenging President Bush's ability to initiate military operations without a further declaration of war.
The claim was so lacking in merit that Judge Tauro was compelled to dismiss it within two weeks of its filing. he ruled that the issues raised by the claim were unavoidably political questions, and therefore outside the jurisdiction of an Article III court. Judge Tauro is indisputably correct here.
The precedents on the President's power as commander-in-chief clearly indicate that that power includes the power to employ the armed forces of the United States in conflicts short of formally declared war. Individual congressmen have no standing to challenge that use of the President's war-making/foreign policy power. The War Powers Act provides a remedy if Congress as a whole wishes to terminate military action. But frankly, that act itself is probably an unconstitutional infringement on the President's legitimate power to control the use of the armed forces. If even the provisions of the War Powers Act are questionable, how much less standing do these individual members of Congress have to challenge the President's power in court? Nevertheless, the media breathlessly reported this claim as a legitimate use of the federal courts when it was filed two weeks ago.
So baseless was the claim, that the attorney who agreed to make himself a vehicle for it ought to be sanctioned under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The attorney could not, in good faith, have believed that the claim was valid. Precedents twenty years old and more make it clear that the courts have nothing to say regarding the use of the military forces of the United States by the President. An attorney is not to make himself a bullhorn for interest groups. He must act responsibly within the law as it exists. If an attorney lacks the discrimination to see where the lines lie in clear situations like this, he ought to get a serious kick in the pants from the courts.
Those who don't like the President's broad powers in this field have an option. They can try to get an amendment to the Constitution passed that would limit the President's power. These situations have come up often enough (Lebanon, Desert Shield/Storm, Haiti, Kosovo) in the last 20 years that, if there is a consensus in Congress that it is a problem, an amendment should easily pass. But there is no such consensus. Most people, including most members of Congress, are comfortable leaving this weighty decision to the only official elected by the nation at large.
Father Ronald Bourgault, the pastor of Saint Zepherin's parish in Wayland, will be re-instated at his parish this weekend after the Archdiocese was unable to substantiate a claim of sex abuse made against him last year for conduct that allegedly occurred more than 30 years ago.
Sunday, February 23, 2003
It certainly was long. There was ample opportunity in Ted Turner's Gods and Generals for the stirring battle scenes that we saw in Gettysburg. And good battle scenes there were, mostly lacking the realistic gore that has become the norm in war movies.
But what the viewer mostly came away with was that the movie was about Stonewall Jackson. Now history records that Thomas Jackson was a highly skilled officer who knew his business thoroughly. He was also a cold-blooded killer who calmly sucked on lemons during battles and whose blue eyes lit up at the prospect of battle. Once, when one of his chosen aides was killed in battle, he asked where he was. Another aide told him he had been killed a few minutes before. Jackson's reply was, "very commendable, very commendable." He also famously proclaimed that a man's entire duty in life was to "fight, f**k, and pray."
That isn't the Stonewall Jackson we meet in Gods and Generals. Turner's minions have taken the opportunity to present this cold-hearted fellow as a warm and fuzzy husband and father. We see much of his home life, we hear of his despair at the loss of his first wife in childbirth (the child died, too). We are "treated" to a long sequence during the winter of 1862-1863 in which Jackson befriends a 5 year old daughter of a wealthy family at whose house he is headquartered. She becomes a surrogate for his own daughter, born miles away a few days before he meets this family. When this child dies of scarlet fever, he cries violently.
We also see the religious side of Stonewall Jackson. This is an aspect of the movie that is sure to garner much comment. The 1860s were a more pious time than our own. Men on all sides of the war felt that the war was a mysterious manifestation of the will of God, and that they were merely instruments in the hands of God. We know Lincoln thought so. We see, not just Stonewall Jackson, who was notorious at the time as rather a fanatic evangelical, but also Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain speak thus in Gods and Generals. And this is true to life. Such was the known intensity of Jackson's religious devotion that he was even lampooned as such in northern newspapers at the time.
The religious fervor is one thing the movie does right. It is hard to criticise it, except from an irreligious perspective which I do not possess. Stephen Lang, who portrayed General George Pickett in Gettysburg, does a great job with the role of Stonewall Jackson. It is not his fault that the part was written as hero-worship of a southern icon rather than as even-handed history.
In fact, the pro-confederate bias of the movie is always and everywhere with us. We get no northern perspective until after the First Battle of Bull Run. The only pro-Union main character is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Maine college professor-turned-soldier, who was the abolitionist conscience of Gettysburg (ably played again by Jeff Daniels). Even after Bull Run, Chamberlain, his brother Tom, and Buster Killraine (both characters being played by the same actors who played them in Gettysburg) are the only northern perspectives. They get about 1/3 the air-time after Bull Run that southern perspectives get.
The movie's portrayal of slavery is nothing short of apologistic. We meet one freed black man who happily serves as Stonewall Jackson's cook. We meet a slave woman and her children who are deeply attached to the white family that owns them, and cover up to protect their property during the Union occupation of Fredericksburg. This is a highly skewed vision of black slavery. We see no one fleeing from slavery. We meet no field hands. The movie does not introduce us to overseers, or show us slave quarters or chains. Undoubtedly some black slaves were emotionally attached to the families who owned them. Gods and Generals is making a point that other films about the Civil War have neglected. But the absence of any truly negative views on slavery mars the movie.
The pro-Confederate perspective is understandable considering who funded this project. Those utterly hostile to traditional southern culture will have much to criticize in this portrayal. My own view on the subject is that there was much to praise in the traditional culture of the South, as explained by Russell Kirk among others. However, with Ulysses S. Grant, I have to say that the southern pro-secession and pro-slavery cause was one of the worst in which men have served. Other movies like North and South and The Blue and the Gray, and even Gettysburg, are more critical of traditional southern culture. I cannot say that the perspective represented by Gods and Generals ought not to be portrayed in film. I can say that while I'm not morally offended by it, I do find it ahistorical and somewhat off-putting.
The tempo of the movie itself is awkward. Scene changes are too abrupt. Also, lavish amounts of time are spent on relatively minor developments, but an entire year is passed over in almost the blink of an eye. Missing from a movie that purports to be the story of the first half of the Civil War is any mention of Union General George McClellan and his Montgomery-like obsession with training, organizing, and building up of the Army of the Potomac, and his equally Montgomery-like failure to make good use of the resource he built. The battles of 2nd Bull Run, the Peninsular Campaign, and Antietam, along with the Emancipation Proclamation (made possible by the victory at Antietam) disappear. The extraordinary succession in commanders of the Army of the Potomac also passes unnoticed. We meet General Burnside in one scene, in which (in typically foolish fashion) he refuses to take aggressive action. We only see General Hooker emerging from his headquarters at Chancellorsville as the stream of fugitives rushes by him. There is no mention of McDowell, McClellan, or Pope. But likewise, on the southern side, the period of General Johnston's command of the Army of Northern Virginia is unnoticed.
We only hear about the Emancipation Proclamation in a conversation between the Chamberlain brothers months after it was issued. The higher political leadership of the war does not emerge during the movie. There is not a single mention of Jefferson Davis or the Confederate government. Lincoln only comes up in two contexts. The first is the pressure being applied on northern commanders to act rashly, which leads to the disaster at Fredericksburg. The second is a telegram sent by Lincoln to the troops after Fredericksburg, in which he compliments them on their "comparatively light losses." The Buster Killraine character grumbles, "Compared to what? To the Scots at Culloden? To the English at Bunker Hill? To the French at Waterloo?" And yet, the movie lavishes time on the development of Stonewall Jackson's character as revealed in his domestic life.
The battle scenes are excellent. Thousands of Civil War re-enactors took part in them. One sometimes is amused to note the experienced re-enactors' predilection for falling forward instead of backward. For the record, that is a safety issue in re-enactment. If one falls forward one can control what one lands on. Falling backward is dangerous. There are plenty of thundering cannons and banging muskets, lots of smoke, though little field music. The casualties are not as realistically portrayed as in such recent movies as Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, and The Lost Battalion. The battle choreography is much like that in Gettysburg.
The high point of the battle scenes was the federal assault on Marye's Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The emotional climax was the fight between the New York Irish Brigaide and a Georgia Irish regiment. The battle scene reached its fullest intesity during the subsequent assault by Chamberlain's 20th Maine on Marye's Heights. However, the scene is not as intense as the defense of Little Round Top in Gettysburg. And the Battle of Fredericksburg scene comes before a ten minute intermission. The post-intermission Battle of Chancellorsville is not as well done, and is in fact, anticlimactic. The same pattern prevailed in Gettysburg, where the 20th Maine's stand on Little Round Top was the most intense part of that movie, while the final charge by Pickett's division on the last day of the battle was anticlimactic by comparison.
As for the acting, Stephen Lang was excellent in the role of Stonewall Jackson. Jeff Daniels did a fine job, with little to work with, in the role of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Robert Duvall was inexplicably virtually cut out of the first half of the movie, as Robert E. Lee. But he was an improvement over Martin Sheen in the same role in Gettysburg. Bruce Boxleitner took over the role of General Longstreet from Tom Berenger. Berenger had a more meaty role in Gettysburg than Boxleitner did in this movie, because Stonewall Jackson's part completely overshadows anyone else on the southern side in Gods and Generals. Mira Sorvino was absolutely wretched as Mrs. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. All the scenes containing her could have been left on the cutting room floor. The actor reprising his role as General Winfield Scott Hancock has more the demeanor of an aging biker than a Union General. A great many actors reprise minor roles from Gettysburg. That in and of itself is amusing, given that some of these actors have noticeably aged since then, but are supposed to be a year or two younger in Gods and Generals.
Some of the special effects work better than others. The ground charges were effective, if somewhat overdone (most of the projectiles fired would have been plain cannon balls, not exploding shells). Something that did not work well was the computer animation of the town of Fredericksburg seen from the heights above. It just lacked realism, looking more like a Thomas Kinkaide painting.
The movie has some nice touches, including showing the awkward fraternization between opposing sentinels on picket duty. This is an aspect of the Civil War that is often not shown. In fact, it was an unwritten rule that when sentry posts of the two armies were close together, they did not snipe at one another, as it would be pointless. It would be easy to say that this was a characteristic of the American Civil War, but the same pattern prevailed between the British and the French in the Napoleonic Wars, and between the Americans and the British in the Revolutionary War.
The scuttlebutt in the theatre during intermission was that the movie is going to be reworked as a mini-series. The mini-series would include lots of footage left out of the movie version. Perhaps that will redress the balance problem the movie has, or at least fill in some of the chronological gaps.
On the whole, Gods and Generals is a must-see for Civil War buffs and people proud of the heritage of the South. The general viewer will probably find it over-long. The effort to portray the first half of the Civil War in a single movie was bound to run into difficulties, escpecially in light of the fact that Michael Shaara wrote an entire novel about the three day Battle of Gettysburg. But we are promised not only a mini-series treatment of Gods and Generals, but a final epic of the last half of the war, based on Shaara's son's novel, The Last Full Measure. Civil War buffs will be waiting with eager anticipation.