Archive for May 2007

Michael Moore the effective Catholic

May 31, 2007

America’s most effective Catholic is at it again.

Michael Moore’s latest film has struck another prophetic blow for the common good.

Moore continues his brilliant muckraking and concern for ordinary people. Fahrenheirt 9/11 pointed out that the faux warriors, the war shirkers like Cheney and Bush will go and have gone to any length to avoid fighting themselves but show no compunction about sending other people’s kids to the front lines. Many go because again in the richest country in the world a basic right, education, is not a public good.

Don’t mess with the myth. John Wayne whose huge persona filled the big screen was a war shirker; Sylvester Stallone who made 5 ugly movies about a psycho named John Rambo, hid out in Switzerland when he had a chance to go to Vietnam. Instead he made jingoist films about war. They perpetuated the myth about the noble brave American whose major concern is “democracy” and “freedom”. Moore committed the unforgivable—he messed with the myth.

“Mission accomplished” said W as if he were Churchill or FDR.

And now Michael Moore takes on those disgusting Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs),the for profit hospital chains and lobby group which keeps so many good people on tender hooks in the USA.

SICKO documents the appalling state of US health care, the stunning fact that 47 million human beings do not have health coverage in the richest country in the world. Not only that but he documents the incredible lengths these HMO’s will go to to harass and shove ordinary citizens around. These are the people who think they have health care—until the bully boys and lawyers go after them and litigate them into bankruptcy.

In the land of the brave and home of the free, always money for war and imperial misadventures and peanuts for the people.

If Jesus were here today, his parables would be films that would generate great discussion. Let’s hope SICKO does.

Canadians need to see this film and be aware of the constant pressure that our health care system is under. The privateers here and abroad can’t wait to get their hands on our jewel.

Techne bypasses the human

May 25, 2007

The wise man of Israeli politics former Knesset member Uri Avnery cuts quickly to the chase in his evaluation of the Winograd Committee of Inquiry, the official government sponsored report on the Lebanon War of last summer.

“The army has lost its deterrent power? We shall get it back in the next war. There was no successful ground attack? We shall do better next time. In the next war, we shall penetrate deeper.

The entire problem is technical. New leaders with military experience, orderly staff-work, meticulous preparations, an army chief from the ranks of the ground forces instead of a flying commander – and then everything will be OK.”

This is how bad things are in Israel—”the whole problem is technical.”

Avnery makes the obvious moral point:

”What is missing in the report? Hard to believe, but there is not a single word about the terrible suffering inflicted on the Lebanese population.”

Recently Amnesty International added to the above helping us to understand the terrible disproportionate suffering of Arabs in this ongoing bloody conflict. This is a summary of its report.

More than 320 civilians were among a threefold increase in the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces last year. The human rights group’s 2007 report says that over half of the more than 650 Palestinians killed in 2006 were civilians, 120 of them children and young people under 18. Amnesty defines civilians, “as people that are reasonably supposed never to have been involved in armed operations”.

While Amnesty said that dozens of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank it pointed out that most of the increase resulted from aerial and artillery bombardments in Gaza after the abduction of the Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit in late June and in response to increased Qassam rocket fire on Israel. These included, for example, the shelling of a house in the northern town of Beit Hanoun which killed 17 members of the Athamneh family.

The report said 21 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians militants in the same year, the lowest figure since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000.

Avnery is among many Jews in Israel who keep alive the human voice so important in the absolute rejection of war as a political tool. It is simply too costly in human terms. All casualties, Israeli and Palestinian are ikons of God.

Israel is caught in a terrible dilemma. Its people are exhausted with the interminable war. It is an economic basket case only bailed out by the $3 billion dollar subsidy of the USA. It has lost its moral compass by voting for Sharon, a lifelong antisemite (read Baruch Kimmerling’s Politicide, a devastating critique of Sharon by an Israeli professor) thinking that he would solve the whole mess. From the beginning it was hopeless in that Sharon’s whole history was violence and force. It solved nothing and continued to treat Palestinian life as absolutely expendable.The hapless Olmert following Sharon met stiffer resistance and failed to win a victory.

But look who is in the wings—Benyamin Netanyahu another hawk. And behind him the ugly partners in the crime of Occupation, The United States. Read Jimmy Carter’s book.

Avnery is right. The Winograd Report is a hopeless and cynical failure. It bypasses the humiliated faces of the suffering. This can only be addressed by justice and an end to Occupation.

The pro torture gang

May 23, 2007

On May 15, 2007 during Republican presidential debate in South Carolina,almost all several of candidates endorsed the appalling, anti-human practice of torture It was a stunning example of just how far the United States has sunk as a putative moral arbiter and beacon human rights.

To his credit the one dissenter was the only one who had ever been tortured, John McCain.

The most appalling pain lover was Mitt Romney the telegenic former governor of Massachusetts. Romney had graced the cover of Time the week previous and came across as an empty suit with big teeth and bigger ambition. His remarks should immediately disqualify him as a candidate for president though GW BUsh has dragged the oval office to its nadir. Things can only go up after W. The pathetic words of Romney follow shortly . Several of the others who said they were Roman Catholics uttered similar repulsive sentiments. so much for the human being as an ikon of the divine.

At last count over 100 people have died in U.S. custody, according to recent records the Pentagon revealed to the Associated Press. Most of them died violently. The American Civil Liberties Union alone has documented forty-four deaths, twenty-one ruled as homicides. The International Red Cross determined, in 2004, that 70 to 90 percent of American detainees in Iraq were innocent of any ties to terrorism. Remember Abu Ghraib?
And now, Romney.

“I’m glad they’re at Guantanamo,” Mitt Romney said of the detainees. “I don’t want them on our soil. I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo.”

De mortuis: Jerry Falwell

May 18, 2007

Brother Jerry Falwell has passed and maybe the most honest and witty line about his death was that penned by writer Alan Wolfe of who wrote:

“One never wants to speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Jerry Falwell, how can one not? “

One can not think of anything worthwhile Falwell said or did as a Christian minister with a bully pulpit. A master of spite, division and anti-intellectualism, he played into the darkest fears of evangelical Christians conflating America and the Republican Party with the kingdom of God…and then in turn he would demonize the same US of A as hopelessly sunk in depravity.And then there’s this classic which should have insured his absolute marginalization as a Chrsitian gospeller. Jerry on 9/11:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

Falwell was a low level southern bigot who when he catapulted to notoriety tried to excise his racist past and lines like this:

“The true Negro does not want integration… He realizes his potential is far better among his own race… It will destroy our race eventually… In one northern city, a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife… It boils down to whether we are going to take God’s Word as final.”

In the end he helped denigrate the message of God’s reign of peace and justice, turned Jesus into moralizing judge and did little for the poor of America. He spouted biblical words but knew very little about scripture or serious theology.”The Bible is the inerrant … word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etcetera.” A pure product of television and its dumbing down effects, Jerry was living proof of P.T. Barnum’s adage that there is a sucker born every minute. To think of all those poor folks who sent his “ministry” their hard earned dollars is enough to make one weep.

One can only hope that in his personal life he was a decent human being but the worst thing that ever happened was that someone once put a mike in front of him and convinced him he had something useful to say which would enoble the human condition and help heal the nations. It never happened.

The circle is tightening

May 17, 2007

The circle is tightening around Israel.

Jimmy Carter rendered the cause of justice a great service when he placed his considerable bona fides behind Palestinian justice.

Now another voice which can not be ignored.

On 15 May 2007, 22 Black American professors, writers, religious figures, and other leaders issued a call to Black America to join in the June 10 March and rally, and break the silence on the injustices faced by the Palestinian people.
To Black America:
It is time for our people to once again demand that the silence be broken on the injustices faced by the Palestinian people resulting from the Israeli occupation.
On June 10th, the national coalition known as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation ( will be spearheading a march and rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
We, the signatories of this appeal, ask that Black America again take a leading role in this effort as well as the broader work to bring attention to this 40 year travesty of justice.
United Nations resolutions have called for the Israeli withdrawal, yet the Israeli government, with the backing of the USA, has ignored them. The Israeli government has appropriated Palestinian land in open defiance of international law and overwhelming international condemnation.
Within the USA anyone who speaks in favor of Palestinian rights and justice is immediately condemned as being allegedly anti-Israel (and frequently allegedly anti-Semitic), shutting down legitimate discussion. A case in point can be seen in the current furor surrounding former President Jimmy Carter who was criticized for his assertion in his best-selling book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, that Israeli obstructionism lies at the root of the failure to achieve a just Palestinian/ Israeli settlement.
As Nobel prizewinner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written, “People are scared in the US, to say ‘wrong is wrong,’ because the pro-Israeli lobby is powerful–very powerful. Well, so what? For goodness sake, this is God’s world! We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists.”
Many of those who most outspokenly agree with President Carter and Archbishop Tutu are American Jews. And many American Jews, including the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace, will be among those rallying for Palestinian rights on June 10th – as will many other Americans, including member groups of the leading anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice.
Leaders from Black America have repeatedly and historically been among the most outspoken proponents of justice for the Palestinian people. Our leaders have defended the Palestinian people’s right to full self-determination and an end to the Occupation as central to peace in the region. Our leaders have not criticized the Jewish people but they have expressed outrage at the Israeli government that collaborated with the apartheid South African government (including in the development of weapons of mass destruction) and emulated South Africa’s treatment of its Black majority in its own treatment of the Palestinian people.
As we struggle to build our country’s support for Palestinian human rights, we widen the door for both Arab and Black Americans to deal with the issues that join them together, as well as those that separate them. We will help to energize – and to heal – both communities.
June tenth and Juneteenth: will our struggles lead the way to a new emancipation of others? Our own integrity as a people, let alone our own experience with massive injustice and oppression, demand that we step forward, speak out, and insist on a change in US policy towards the Palestinian people. Since when have an illegally occupied people been wrong in demanding and fighting for their human rights and land? Since when have such people and their cause not been worthy of our support?
Please join us on June 10th!
Signed by (affiliation for identification purposes only)
·        Salih Booker, former Executive Director of Africa Action
·        Khephra Burns, author, editor, playwright
·        Horace G. Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Political Science
·        Dr. Ron Daniels, President, Institute of the Black World 21st Century
and 18 others

Slopes, dinks, Pakis, ragheads-not worth much

May 14, 2007

The NY Times recently reported that the yahoos in the U.S. Marines in early March went on a killing rampage near Jalalabad in Afghanistan after a convoy of Humvees was ambushed. The yahoos went ballistic along a 10 mile stretch murdering civilians- including a 4-year-old girl, a 1-year-old boy and three elderly villagers” — and wounded 34. According to a report by Carlotta Gall of the New York Times, a “16-year-old newly married girl was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family’s farmhouse…. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son did not recognize the body when he came to the scene.”

On May 8,2007 David S. Cloud of the New York Times, reported that Marine spin doctor Col. John Nicholson, a brigade commander, met with the families of the (now) 19 Afghans who had been killed and the 50 who had been wounded by the Marines. “I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people.” And then he paid approximately $2,000 per death to family members. The military calls these “condolence payments”.This is standard practice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This practice is familiar to the US military whose members are challenged by the omnipresent belief that these “Ragheads” and “Curry snappers” and “Pakis” are not worth much. During the Vietnam War, as part of the American pacification program, the army paid $35 (U.S.), while children’s lives were worth about $15. That’s all “Gooks” and “slopes” were worth.

As journalist Tom Englehart reported after 9/11, the family or spouse of a loved one murdered on that day was given $1.8 million, thanks to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, created by an act of Congress, signed into law by President Bush 13 days after the attacks.

The value of an innocent civilian slaughtered by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001 to his or her family: $1.8 million.

The value of an innocent civilian slaughtered at Haditha, Iraq, by U.S. Marines: $2,500.

This is all you need to know about American exceptionalism and the state of Christianity in the Empire.

Mothers’ Day domesticated

May 12, 2007

Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was sickened by the terrible carnage of the Civil War. Across the pond and equally jingoist and obtuse, Europeans were busy needlessly spilling blood in the Franco-Prussian war. Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 (see below) and took it to a peace conference in London. By 1872 she began lobbying for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” to honor peace and motherhood together . For a while the idea caught on in many US cities but it eventually died out. But a good idea eventually gets legs.

In 1910 others had picked up the torch but the peace dynamite had been pulled and in 1913 the US House of Representatives declared a Mothers’ Day and in 1914 the second Sunday in May it was made official. A national holiday was instituted. Canada soon followed suit.

Sadly today’s Mothers’ Day is to Howe’s idea as Christmas is to Jesus, a pale imitation of the radical original.

It surely is time, particularly in the heart of darkness, the global epicentre of violence, the USA to hear the cry of a great American, Julia Ward Howe:

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

As Canada under the Harper government moves to ape the worst instinct of the United States, we need to imitate the spirit of the first Mothers’ Day.

The new atheism

May 8, 2007

At mass on sunday a question was posed to me: What do you make about this buzz around the sudden appearance of books and forums on atheism in the media. I believe the most recent attack on God is by the contrarian who supported Bush’s War on Iraq, Christopher Hitchens. The more noteworthy carriers of this phenomenon are Professor Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Sam Harris in the USA. They are all advances on the crude Madeleine Murray O’Hare, the angry atheist of yesteryear.

My response to the question was this.

The latest arguments, some “better” and more nuanced than others. are a response to the lousy track record of Christianity in the media and the market place. The media, simplistic as it is, revels in cartoonish approaches to Christianity and Islam for that matter. George Bush has done a fantastic job at discrediting Christianity in the world. I make no judgment of him but when people see him and his constant posturing as a born again, they look at the abysmal record of the US on the national stage from its ugly war making, to its support of global thugs who have guaranteed them markets in Latin America or Africa or Asia, its enbarrassing record of generosity on the global stage—less than .15 % of 1 % of GDP—-last among advanced capitalist countries. If this is Christianity, give me atheism they say. This thinking accelerated after WW ll—60 million dead in the heart of Christendom. How could this have happened?

Church attendance as well plummeted after WW l when the Churches caught up in a jingoistic fervour were seen as little more than microphones for an unreflective nationalism. Instead of being salt and light, the church was a bloated reflector of the prevailing zeitgeist.

What these people often are rejecting is the theistic, god of the gaps, the divine pupeteer who grants some prayers, ignores others and watches the Holocaust happen and babies die regularly. An outmoded view of God. Give me atheism these people say.

Atheism is unknown before the late 18th century. The incomprehensible Mystery, why there is something rather than nothing, the numinous, the Wholly Other has been part of humanity’s experience since recorded time. Our idea of God is still growing as it must. The Divine who chose only Israel, ordered the deaths (100 times in the Jewish Bible) of nonbelievers etc is surely dead. We are struggling to understand God and in the process are leaving behind childish notions.

The Russian proverb, “the fish first rots in its head” might apply here. Reason can only take us so far in this debate. The new atheism is understandable, maybe even necessary in this time of crude fundamentalism.

God uses the weak

May 5, 2007

Cab driver, trainer, social worker. Born Oct. 26, 1929, in Toronto. Died March 26, in Toronto, of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 77

Archie French was an original urban character, a beloved figure who overcame a devastating childhood injury to become a pivotal figure in the lives of hundreds of young people whom he dubbed his “protégés.”

When the presiding minister opened Arch’s funeral with the hymn Open My Eyes That I May See, half the congregation burst into laughter. Although he had not known the “dearly departed,” the minister struck the perfect chord in the celebration of the life of a man who, among his many accomplishments, had been a legendary baseball umpire on the sandlots of Toronto.

In 1935, at age 6, Ronald (as he was then known), was vacationing with his family in a cottage community called West Hill on Toronto’s eastern flank. Riding on the back of a local grocer’s truck, he “forgot to duck” and was knocked unconscious by an overhanging branch. Arch barely survived — with a fractured skull and a face paralyzed on the left side. During the next 30 months, he had five operations with little improvement in his facial muscles. The famous Archie French “kisser” (as he called it), with the lopsided grin, became a permanent fixture. At 9, another operation destroyed the hearing in his left ear.
For hours every day, Arch would stand in front of a mirror making funny faces in a futile attempt to co-ordinate his features. Every other day he would take the streetcar from his east-end home to the Toronto General Hospital for shock treatments on his face. After that he could never ride the TTC; the memories were too searing. Lesser mortals have been overwhelmed by such a painful start in life. Arch, fortunately, was rescued by love: First by his family, then by a kindly playground trainer named Matty Eckler, who started Arch off on his umpiring career.

Sent on a scholarship to Florida in 1951, Arch was pulled aside by legendary umpire Al Somers who told him with tears running down his face. “Kid, you got the goods but with your kisser, the players will run you out of the league.” Arch loved him for his honesty.

Returning home, Arch got a job in the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey chain as a trainer. Working with St. Mike’s and the Toronto Marlies, his zany antics and his stream of one-liners quickly won him lifetime friends. In particular, a shy 14-year-old from northern Ontario named Frank Mahovlich became another of his protégés. In 1967, another friend, Carl Brewer, took Arch with him as a trainer to Muskegon, Mich. In 1970, he was hired at the University of Toronto’s Erindale campus as a trainer where he spent 14 more years doing his “social work” with young people.

In 1985, suffering ill-health that would dog him the rest of his life, Arch retired from Erindale and 1,000 people flocked to the Royal York Hotel to say thanks to “the little guy with the big heart.” For many years he umpired locally, but a series of ailments assailed him. When he had open-heart surgery the doctors discovered what we all knew: He had the biggest heart of anybody we knew.

Despite his many setbacks, like the alchemists of old, Arch had transmuted his pain and suffering into compassion for those like him, relegated to life’s margins.

In many ways Arch was our Pagliaccio, the clown who got into costume (“vesti la giubba”) and hid his sobbing with a silly grin. When we said goodbye to Arch at the beginning of Holy Week, I thought God, in St. Paul’s words, had “chosen the foolish to shame the wise.”

Ted Schmidt is a friend of Archie.

Globe and Mail April 25, 2007

Vincentian Values

May 5, 2007

Political science professor Norman Finkelstein – one of the country’s foremost critics of Israel is struggling to receive tenure at De Paul University in Chicago where he has taught for six years.He has been approved at the departmental and college level but the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,Charles Suchar has opposed it. A final decision is expected to be made shortly. Finkelstein has accused Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz of being responsible for leading the charge against him. Dershowitz admitted that he had sent a letter to DePaul faculty members lobbying against Finkelstein.This in itself is beyond belief.

Finklestien the child of Holocaust survivors regularly enrages diaspora Jews with his meticulous research on human rights violations in Israel. His book The Holocaust Industry shows how Israel for decades has used the Holocaust to stifle criticism of the Jewish state.

Dershowitz is a nasty piece of work. According to Noam Chomsky a longtime target of Dershowitz who was appearing on US National Public Radio recently, Dershowitz engages in smear tactics. Finkelstein proved how Dershowitz’s attacks on Finkelstein’s scholarship are “false and outrageous.”

Chomsky continies: “Dershowitz is intelligent enough to know that he can’t respond, so he does what any tenth-rate lawyer does when you have a rotten case: you try to change the subject, maybe by vilifying opposing counsel. That changes the subject. Now we talk about whether, you know, opposing counsel did or did not commit this iniquity. And the tactic is a very good one, because you win, even if you lose. Suppose your charges against are all refuted. You’ve still won. You’ve changed the subject.

The subject is no longer the real topic: the crucial facts about Israel, Dershowitz’s vulgar apologetics for them, which sort of are reminiscent of the worst days of Stalinism. We’ve forgotten all of that. We’re now talking about whether Finkelstein did this, that and the other thing. And even if the charges are false, the topic’s been changed. That’s the basis of it.”

Chomsky went on to describe Dershowitz’s failed crusade of 30 years ago when he tried to impugn the integrity of Israel Shahak, another fierce critic of the Jewish state. Shahak was a survivor of Begen-Belsen and also known for his meticulous research in this area.

What drives a man like Dershowitz batty is Finkelstein’s charge that Dershowitz plagiarized large sections of others’ work in his own Case for Israel. This does not interest me. What does is the craven attitude of Charles Suchar, the dean of DePaul’s College of Arts and Sciences who has turned turtle and recommended that Finkelstein not be granted tenure despite teaching raves consistently high evaluations, scholarly production etc—and most of all unanimous support of colleagues. Suchar has problems with Finkelstein’s lack of “Vincentian values” (the school is under the Vincentian Fathers).

What pray tell are those values? Surely nothing like slagging a colleague despite near universal support from others? Would it have to do with Dershowitz’s high profile (Harvard Law)? This is a shocking turn of events and a deep embarrassment to Vincentian values, the first of which I would imagine would be a commitment to a vigorous and rigorous search for truth which Finkelstein has amply demonstrated–not to mention his great courage in standing up to the pro Israel Lobby.

Wsatch how this unfolds.