Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hockey as balm for the Canadian soul

Just three weeks into their first season as the guardians of a sacred public trust, Hockey Night in Canada's new overlords bore a heavy burden.  They had to balance traditional Saturday night escapism with real world tragedies that were still reverberating across the country, and they were equal to the daunting task. Between a brilliantly written and produced opening segment, the coordinated coverage of pre-game ceremonies in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, and giving Don Cherry carte blanche to turn Coach's Corner into a military tribute that was passionate and emotional without being maudlin, Hockey Night in Canada demonstrated an uncanny sense of occasion and tapped perfectly into the prevailing national mood.

In the aftermath of last week's game-changing national security crisis and the polarizing debate over Muslim extremism, it's useful to have at least a fundamental understanding of the modern Islamic world.  The non-partisan Pew Research Center published results of a global survey that makes for instructive reading for anyone interested in the basics of Muslim beliefs, attitudes and trends.  Not surprisingly, the results suggest Islamic extremism is neither Nan aberration nor is it monolithic.  As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, which is where the debate needs to focus.  The extreme views at either end of the spectrum are worse than wrong and useless - they're detrimental to the pursuit of understanding and peaceful co-existence.

British entertainer Russell Brand is a natural comedian, which makes it odd that he would take himself seriously as a social commentator.  Brand made me laugh out loud towards the end of his 15 minute You Tube rant against Prime Minister Harper.  Unfortunately, he spent the first 14 minutes proving that as a geopolitical analyst, he makes a fine actor and comedian.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Timing is everything

   Some people get it; others - not so much.
   Members of the Quebec National Assembly get it.  MNAs from all parties wore red poppies in the legislature yesterday in a show of solidarity with the military and out of respect for the two Canadian soldiers killed in terrorist attacks this week in Ottawa and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu.  
   Ian Orr gets it.  A member of Royal Canadian Legion branch 66 in east end Montreal, Orr told the Montreal Gazette that he and other veterans will wear their uniforms proudly during Remembrance Day ceremonies.  "We've been under fire before," he said,  "and we're not going to run away."
   Members of the Montreal Police Brotherhood get it.  They'll dispense with their pension plan protest wardrobes and go back to wearing full uniforms on the days of the funerals for the fallen soldiers.
   Glenn Greenwald doesn't get it.  The left wing American lawyer and journalist wrote an article this week saying Canada has reaped what it sowed as a military aggressor, and told an audience at McGill University last night our perception of ourselves as a peace-loving nation is entirely at odds with who we really are.  Greenwald's lack of timing, judgement and self-awareness makes him a fine bedfellow with Quebec Green Party leader Alex Tyrell - a leading proponent of the white poppy campaign drummed up by a social fringe element who've deluded themselves into thinking the red poppy glorifies war. Tyrell says this weekend's cross-country demonstrations by something called the Canadian Peace Alliance are perfectly timed.  The grieving personal and professional familes of Warrant Officer Partrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo would probably disagree. 
   It's easy to march in the streets wearing your white poppy and demanding peace, just as it's easy to lecture a neighbor on your perception of their shortcomings.  It's easy because while you're living in your self-righteous, holier-than-thou cocoon, someone else is making the difficult real-world decisions and sacrifices on your behalf.  
   But just because it's easy doesn't make it any less inappropriate and distasteful.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stand firm

   Contrary to the predictable platitudes on the editorial and op-ed pages of newspapers across the country, Canada did not lose her innocence yesterday, nor has our nation been forever changed.  
   If a brazen terrorist attack on a national symbol is the criteria for a seismic shift in the Canadian experience, the country would have changed on Monday, when a homegrown jihadist killed a Canadian soldier in a hit and run in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu.  But Parliament Hill has an infinitely greater media presence than a strip mall in the Richelieu Valley, so yesterday's tragedy becomes the seminal moment, if only as defined by the earnest scribblers of the fourth estate. 
   Anyone who was completely shocked by yesterday's events hasn't been paying attention.  The lunatics-in-chief of the Islamic State have been publicly clamoring for their brainwashed adherents abroad to kill the infidels where they live, and it's been well-documented and widely reported that Canada is home to dozens of known radicalized Islamic extremists.  Factor in the unknown and their ranks could number in the hundreds.  On the basis of two attacks this week alone, rooting them out without further violence seems improbable.  But root them out we must, while at the same time remaining militarily committed to the anti-ISIS coalition attacking the poison at its source in the Middle East.  The violence at home is a terrible price to pay, but Canada is doing what's right and good, as we have always done.  
   The day we acquiesce to evil on evil's terms will be the day we lose our innocence and are forever changed.

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.