Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is it a crisis yet?

   Whether this week's deadly attacks on Canadian Forces members in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu are organized acts of war by committed jihadists or self-motivated copy cat rampages by disenfranchised and deranged social misfits, there's no longer any question that Canada is in the grips of a terrorism-related national security threat.  Anyone still arguing otherwise is more than likely motivated by a political agenda that stands to suffer from the possibility of strong and decisive leadership from the Harper government in a time of crisis. Meanwhile, the tinfoil hat crowd already theorizing that the crisis is a conspiracy manufactured by the Conservatives for political gain are too detached from reality to be ashamed of themselves, so they're best ignored. 
   To this point, the government has been cautious and even-handed in its handling of the homegrown terror threat.  Dozens of radicalized ISIS sympathizers across the country have been identified, but subjected to nothing more serious than surveillance and travel restrictions.  Even in the wake of today's attack on Parliament - the very symbol of Canadian democracy - the response has so far been methodical and by the book. 
   If the government has a breaking point for extraordinary measures that would suspend civil liberties, it hasn't been reached yet.  Contrast that measured response with how the government of the day responded during the FLQ crisis in October 1970, when hundreds of people were arrested and jailed without charges after the War Measures Act was Pierre Trudeau.    
   The mind boggles at the irony. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spin doctors report to emergency, STAT

   It'll be fascinating to see how the Kumbaya crowd tries to spin the hit-and-run death of a Canadian soldier in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and subsequent fatal police shooting of the alleged driver - a reported Islamic convert.
   I can see the narrative taking shape already: in the absence of a wave of similar attacks on Canadian soil, this one will be dismissed as an isolated incident (9/11 was also an isolated incident; it only happened once).  Framing it as "terrorism" will be shouted down as an exaggeration because there's nothing that directly links the suspect to any known terrorist organization. That he converted to Islam and targeted military members of a coalition partner in the war against ISIS on the heels of that organization's latest death-to-all-infidels fatwa will be chalked up to unfortunate coincidence, and we'll be urged to explore the "root causes" of how and why the poor fellow became marginalized by western culture. 
   The real misdirection, though, will be in the focus on the municipal police officers who shot the suspect to death after he put his car in a ditch and allegedly came at them with a knife.  Mark my words: this will become less about the soldier who was killed and more about procedure and perceived police brutality in how the response was handled.  
   The lunatic fringe, of course, will dispense with progressive niceties and proceed directly to the conspiracy theory wherein the whole thing was staged by Stephen Harper, the CIA and MOSSAD at the behest of the Elders of Zion.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The toughest call

   While I sometimes struggle with the fundamental contradiction between keeping Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams alive on humanitarian grounds and shooting up Grandma with a lethal dose of morphine because we're pretty sure that's what she'd want, I don't have a default position on euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide.  The issue is far too complex and important to be either unequivocally endorsed or summarily dismissed.  
   The re-emerging national debate over the right to die with dignity and/or by choice is being framed along familiar lines, between old school moralists and new school progressives.  It's logical to believe that there's merit in using modern medicine to bring a peaceful end to needless suffering.  We routinely extend that compassion to sick and dying animals, including household pets whom we love and treasure as we would any family member.  At the same time, the notion of the sanctity of human life as a divine gift still holds strong sway, and just because faith-based ideals are being increasingly pushed to the fringe of the modern moral landscape shouldn't mean they're no longer up for discussion - at least not in an open, diverse and tolerant society.  
   Somewhere between the archaic notion that undignified suffering is God's will and the supposedly enlightened concept that our lives are our own to be dispensed with at our whim there is common sense.  Unfortunately, common sense and the law don't always intersect, which is what makes this particular issue so difficult, and why it's so important to get it exactly right.  
   It's literally a matter of life and death.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Fury" - not great but good enough

   Greater film critics and better-informed military geeks than me will point out more plot holes and historical inconsistencies than met my eye in "Fury" (trailer).  I only had to suspend belief in what I know to be true once in the entire movie, but it was at a key point - the final battle scene.  The suggestion that five Americans buttoned up in a broken down tank could have waged an all-night battle against a battalion of crack SS troops is the stuff of Sgt. Rock comic books.  In reality, the SS would have taken out the tank inside of five minutes.  It also didn't help that the script resorted to a cringeworthy "Sarge, I'm scared"/"I'm scared too, kid" exchange - a shopworn war movie cliche if ever there was one.
   All of that can be forgiven, though, because "Fury" isn't based on a true story, and it otherwise delivers what I expect from a big budget Hollywood war movie starring Brad Pitt: great acting and terrific special effects.  The fact that Pitt is a pretty boy actually works against him when it comes to his craft, because people get so caught up in his good looks that they can't or won't take him seriously as an actor.  Pitt and his immediate supporting cast - especially Logan Lerman - offer performances in "Fury" that would be worthy of Oscar consideration in a movie with a stronger script.  "Fury" also recreates the meatgrinder reality of the World War Two battlefield as well as any movie since "Saving Private Ryan", which was widely praised by WWII veterans for its accurate portrayal of the horrors of mechanized war.
   The quality of the acting and action are best summed up by two people who - like me - are not professional movie critics.  My friend Terry DiMonte said of Pitt,  "The first time you see him on the screen, you think 'There's Brad Pitt', but for the rest of the movie he's Sergeant Collier."   My wife, Danielle, said the 2 1/4 hour duration of the movie felt like 45 minutes.
   If you go to "Fury" looking for pinpoint historical accuracy and cliche-free dialogue, you'll leave disappointed.  But as an entertainment vehicle with convincing performances and smothering intensity, it more than holds its own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Master Baiter

   Well, it seems safe to assume that Milan Lucic didn't spend his summer in behavioral therapy or attending Bible camp.
   Six months after literally uttering death threats in the handshake line following the Canadiens' playoff series win over the Bruins, Lucic was as unhinged as ever last night at the Bell Center.  In a profound demonstration of his retarded emotional development, Lucic made the jerk-off gesture at the crowd after taking a boneheaded penalty that sealed the Bruins' fate in a 6-4 Montreal win.  Lucic was fined $5000 and is lucky he wasn't suspended, if the October 2010 James Wisniewski-Sean Avery incident served as a precedent.  The main difference is that what Wisniewski did was actually pretty funny, whereas Lucic's display was just pathetic.
   It was also confirmation of just how far inside the Bruins' heads the Canadiens remain.  It's not as if the Habs go out of their way to conduct psychological warfare against the Bruins - it's usually the opposite. Gamesmanship aside, Boston has by far been the more successful franchise in recent years, but when it comes to the Canadiens, the Bruins are still living in the distant past.  Their massive inferiority complex persists, with Lucic as its poster boy.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hey Hey, My My, Shut Up

   Neil Young wasn't satisfied with just being stupid.  He had to be reprehensible as well. 
   In an interview with radio shock jock Howard Stern this week, Young decried western military action against the ISIS terrorists who've been raping and murdering their way across Iraq and Syria, and said we should be fighting climate change instead.  Okay, fair enough.  An old hippie who made his fortune caterwauling off-key protest songs 45 years ago hates war and wants to save the planet.   
   But Young wasn't finished.  He went on to suggest that the American-led coalition is actually worse than ISIS because the terrorists' carbon footprint is only one percent of the US military's - a number he randomly pulled out of his ass, but that's not the point. Young effectively applauded a group of inhuman lunatics for conducting their campaign of genocide in an eco-friendly fashion.
   I think we should send Neil Young to Iraq - not so ISIS can kidnap and behead him, but as our secret weapon.  Have him yowl and warble his entire music catalogue in chronological order over a loudspeaker, and I'll bet ISIS surrenders before he gets halfway through side 1 of After the Gold Rush.  
   Come to think of it, send Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan with him and the whole thing is over by lunchtime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blessed are the gays

   There's a looming same-sex showdown between progressives and conservatives at the highest levels of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and it's a battle the old guard can't win.
   In keeping with Pope Francis's "Who am I to judge?" comment in July 2013, Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican have released a draft report showing an unprecedented openness towards gays, whom the bishops said had "gifts" to offer to the church and should be accepted, although same-sex marriage is still off the table.  A group of conservative bishops quickly distanced themselves from the report and promised to fight any attempt to soften the church's traditional stance against homosexuality, showing just how badly out of touch they are with present day sentiment.  In western liberal democracies, including Canada, anyone who unequivocally opposes or condemns the gay lifestyle has been successfully marginalized.
    Tolerance, however, is a two way street.  Contrary to the claims of the most strident sociopolitical progressives, it's possible to have faith-based moral misgivings about homosexuality without being homophobic or bigoted.  While Jesus didn't include anything about "blessed are the gays" in the Sermon on the Mount, love, understanding and compassion are consistent New Testament themes.  Pope Francis and his supporters are putting those  principles into practice with their willingness to adjust longstanding church doctrine to fit with modern times.  
   In the interests of mutual tolerance and acceptance, it behooves the organized gay rights community to accept the olive branch graciously without demanding the whole tree.