Archive for June 2008

$490 billion on defense? Are we nuts?

June 30, 2008


When will this interminable hagiography of Rick Hillier stop?

On June 28 Canada’s paper of record,the Globe and Mail  profiled, in adulatory terms “the straight talking general”  Rick “Kill the scumbags” Hilier, the chief of defense defender of the War in Afghanistan. Here the puff piece was out of touch with most Canadians’ sentiments. Polls show we still don’t buy our role in Afghanistan. We continue to be a nation of peaceniks who cringe at our change in the role of our armed forces. And now we have the dead to prove it, not to mention “the highway of heroes.”

Hillier the loquacious Newfoundlander fulfilled his role as the poster boy for the Harper government’s outrageous plan to spend $490 billion on defence in  the next 20 years.

Think about it.$490 billion—a lot of infrastructure will rot, environment will be degraded, foreign age will continue to plunge in order to protect ourselves from whom? The churches should be screaming about this awful squandering of money.

$490 billion? Have we gone insane?







George Carlin, Catholic iconoclast

June 24, 2008

George Carlin was a giant of comedy, a trail blazer and better described like Alan Watts as “a standup philosopher.” The only one close is Robin Williams.Larry King devoted an hour to Carlin the day after his death. Other comics had their say about what made Carlin tick. Jerry Seinfeld was absolutely lame while Lewis Black and Bill Maher made the most sense mainly because their comedy, unlike Seinfeld’s, actually makes a point. As Maher said  after you take out the laughs you actually heard a thought provoking lecture.

George Carlin was a natural contrarian, a man who distrusted all organizations but from all reports in his personal relationships, honoured everybody’s dignity. He probably was THE successor to Lenny Bruce who we know was hounded to death by the thought police.In a sense Bruce paved the way for Carlin. But not for Dennis Miller a smart ass who has used his gifts to suck up to imperial power rather than challenge it.

The last time I saw Carlin was about a decade ago and then he was spiralling into misanthropy, becoming dark-yet outrageously funny. 

That night I saw him eviscerate the obsessive lifestyle consumerism of North America. It was brutal. The pony tailed, cell phone at the hip “boys” in front of me were howling at his comments but as George increasingly got closer to the bone—particularly about “white guys who shave their head” the laughter got very uneasy. The awareness grew that this ain’t so funny anymore, that George was actually cutting them a new rectum. He was Dean Swift brought back to life. This was about the same time that Carlin’s wife had died so I presumed he was suffering a lot.

I have not seen anywhere Carlin’s debt to his Catholic school upbringing in Morningside Heights. I maintain that this was a key to his whole comedic orientation.

George Carlin was not shy in taking on “bad religion.” And he got plenty of it in the pre-Vatican classrooms of the late 40s. An Irish Mick he found himself in Catholic schools till he was tossed out and it showed in his comedic writings and rantings.

Carlin quite correctly skewered the “invisible man in the sky” who watches over us all the time—”big time major league bs.” This god “has 10 things he does not want you to do…and if you do them he will send you to the special place of fire, burning and anguish—-but He loves you! And He needs money.He’s all wise but he just can’t handle money.

I really tried to believe in this guy but  something is wrong—war— disease, hunger, filth..,something is wrong. This is not good work. This is what you can expect from an  office temp with a bad attitude. Now I say “this guy” he has to be a man—no woman could f… it up like this.” Well maybe Thatcher and Hilary Clinton but we get the point. We need a feminist god. The male sky god who blessed wars has had his day.

Carlin’s take on petitionary prayer could profitably be played in seminaries rather than promoting Karl Barth’s take on theodicy. God gets “Trillions of prayers—new car,success etc. Usually on sunday—His day off! Why are these people praying when God has a divine plan? How arrogant of them.Do they expect God to change His plan because of their prayers…and what if prayers were not answered?…”

Carlin was one smart observer of humanity and as it turns out, very bad theology. He pointed out the logical inconsistencies of so much human thought and activity. Did he profer solutions? No…but maybe that was not not his role. He sure made you think and he was unlike Dennis Miller (now there’s a real cynic) consistently on the side of the little guy.

I am sure if you had asked him to think through his Catholic parochial school upbringing he might even admit that the great commitment those nuns  made to the poor of New York city, in the end spoke louder than their patently inadequate theology.

Tim Russert “Stenographer of power.”

June 24, 2008

Once again the brilliant Chris Hedges, rapidly becoming America’s most fearless truth teller, rips the mask off the late Tim Russert. The closest Canada comes to a Hedges is Rick Salutin, strangely enough like Hedges a former divinity student.

“Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.

No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists. Ask Seymour Hersh and Amy Goodman how often Bush or Cheney has invited them to dinner at the White House or offered them an interview.


407 Dead Palestinians; 7 Israelis

June 22, 2008




So Israel brokers a cease fire with Hamas. This is good.


Still 1.5 million people are under siege and those pathetic Qassam rockets can still rain down on innocent Israelis.

But the stats which accompany the cease fire are revelatory, Since the Second Intifada, 407 Palestinians have ben killed and 7 Israelis. Each life  as the Talmud says, is a universe unto itself. 

The staggering asymmetry between the two sides  is breathtaking. The massive injustice toward Palestinians stands out and a 2 state solution is an absolute sine qua non in the Middle East.

Former Israeli PM  Ehud Barak told journalist Gideon Levy in an interview that if he had been a Palestinian, he would have joined a terrorist  organization. MMM. Interesting, Ben Gurion said the same thing. No reporting of this in major western media,

Meanwhile while the cease-fire with Hamas was being hammered out in Cairo, the construction of 1,300 Jerusalem housing units outside the 1967 border was authorized. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was furious with Olmert. So what if she was. She also reportedly said that expanding the settlements sabotages the peace efforts. True enough. The Israeli government knows the USA is all bluff. As Sharon said to Shimon Peres (Oct.2,2001)  “I want to tell you something very clear, don’t worry about American pressure on Israel, we, the Jewish people control America, and the Americans know it.”, 

Too little too late from the Americans. The hapless Bush administration has totally failed as peace broker because it refused to confront the illegal “facts on the ground” which the global community points to. Stephen Harper has embarrassed the traditional Canadian position of neutrality and sided with Israel.

There is only one side here—humanity but the Western blinkers keep missing it.





Lovely man-lousy journalist

June 19, 2008

Latterly you can not turn anywhere in the mainstream to see extraordinary eulogies for Tim Russert the moderator of Meet the Press. He died at age 58 of a heart attack.

Russert seemed to be a lovely man liked and loved by many. He was a genuine Mick who was never shy of promoting his genuine working class Catholic values of family, football and his native Buffalo.

But he was a lousy journalist who never pressed the neocons like Cheney on their lies about Iraq. Cheney of course praised him to the skies when he died. The Bush admin regularly used Russert’s show to promote their noxious views.


Tim Russert had regular access to Washington insiders and there is only one way you get that.

My Name is Rachel Corrie. Come see my play.

June 15, 2008



My Name is Rachel Corrie is playing at Toronto’s Tarragon theatre for virtually the month of June. The play is based on the journal entries and emails of a young American activist from Olympia, Washington. Corrie was cruelly bulldozed to death on March 16,2003 by a thug in the uniform of the Israeli Defense Force


Corrie was a woman of extraordinary sensitivity to the plight of oppressed peoples. In fact this moving one woman play ends with a heart rending home video of her at age 10 challenging adults to give a damn about the world’s hungry. Corrie had gone to Gaza as a a member of the International Solidarity Movement(ISD) and met her cruel fate near Rafah at the Egyptian border. Silence in the Bush White House  as a American citizen was murdered in broad daylight.

What evolves in the play is a gradual coming of age of an idealist. Her understanding of Middle East realities is astounding for a 23 year old young person. She has embraced nonviolent Gandhian principles  and indeed was well marked in the ISD colored vest and had a megaphone in her hand as she was ground to death. The collective punishment of razing houses is condemned by the UN but is routinely ignored by the IDF.

Corrie (played by the brilliant actor Bethany Jillard) has her heart broken by the relentless battering of the Palestinian people by the IDF, the thuggish destruction of green houses and orchards which leave the people she lives with reeling with despair and hopelessness. she contrasts the power of the state (the fourth largest army in the world backed by the US) with the virtually defencerless Palestinians. She can not believe  that the world is not crying out. Particularly poignant is her exchange of emails with her father trying to help him understand what a supine American press is unable to.

For 95 minutes we see the energetic Jillard bounce around the stage conversing out loud about her family, her Northwestern American roots and the grinding lives of the Palestinians she lives with. It is fitting that Jillard gets a couple of standing ovations each night.

Maybe the more interesting story is the bravery of well known actor Alan Rickman in staging this award winning play in London in 2005. It was launched in Ireland and Scotland in 2006 and then the fun started in New York City. Here the Jewish thought police reared their ugly head and forced one cancellation. Ditto Toronto’s Centre Stage. Jack Rose  who served on the board while admitting he had not seen or read the play said “ it would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community.”The late Bluma Appel concurred saying “ I would react very badly to a play that was offensive to Jews.” The subtext was : if you are smart, Martin Bragg (the director) all future funding will dry up for you.The play went unperformed before  Theatre PANIK stepped up with Jewish directors Paul Lampert and Niki Landau who braved the wrath of the thought police.

Then Lynn Slotkin stepped in.The theatre critic of  CBC Radio in one fell swoop turned the Corp into Fox News. Shockingly Slotkin who is Jewish literally ranted that “there was not one thing” she could recommend about this play.

She said that it  was “an infuriating presentation”, that Corrie was ignorant of the facts.” The fact that Rachel Corrie lived for a short while the grinding, daily humiliations of average Palestinians, that collective punishment referred to above is forbidden by international law seems to have meant little to Slotkin. In the end she simply says, “Don’t go.”

She  must have missed the two standing ovations the play received when I went. In the end it is this word of mouth which carries any piece of dramatic art. The thought police always fail.




“War is stupid”

June 11, 2008


No one wishes to acknowledge that their children died in vain but it is refreshing that the father of the latest Canadian casualty in Afghanistan David Foster said the obvious:”War us stupid. Everybody knows that,..Well no they don’t. The politicians don’t know that.”

And most of all the petulant interim Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not know it.

Like GW Bush, politicos like Harper are very good at sending other people’s children off to war but never their own. Film maker Michael Moore discovered the same thing when he made Fahrenheit 9/11—only one person in the US Congress had a child in Iraq.

Harper walked out of the Commons as MPs voted to accept American refugees from this ugly war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Snyder a high school English teacher and a former reservist thought the Afghanistan involvement was unnecessary as most Canadians do. According to the local chaplain, Snyder viewed the military like Canadians used to “for improving humanity, not blowing  things up good.”

Dan Berrigan at 87

June 10, 2008

 Daniel Berrigan: Forty Years After Catonsville

“The good goes somewhere.”


40 years after Dan and Phil Berrigan burned draft records in Catonsville, Md. to protest the illegal immoral war in Vietnam, Dan is still trucking at 87, faithful to the radical vision of the nonviolent Jesus which has sustained him. 


The great journalist Chris Hedges interviewed him recently in his New York apartment and Dan though hopeful was not optimistic. And there is a difference. Hope believes and banks on the “things unseen.” And this always sustained him.


“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said to Hedges “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”

Berrigan always found inspiration in the pacifist monk, Thomas Merton who told him “Stay with these, stay with these, these are your tools and discipline and these are your strengths.’” Good advice.“ He could be very tough,” Berrigan says of Merton. “He said you are not going to survive America unless you are faithful to your discipline and tradition.” And that discipline links us to the Holy Spirit of Resistance to a world going in the wrong direction, a world spending way too much on armaments and not enough on human uplift.

Dan sees very clearly the internal damage done by John Paul ll within the Catholic Church, a man who silenced the radical voice of the progressive Church and, “introduced Soviet methods into the Catholic Church including anonymous delations, removals, scrutiny and secrecy and the placing of company men into positions of great power.” 

He estimates that “it is going to take at least a generation to undo appointments of John Paul II.” He despairs of universities, especially Boston College’s decision last year to give an honorary degree to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this year to invite the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey,who justified torture for the Bush government to address the law school. “It is a portrayal of shabby lives as exemplary and to be honored,” he says. And he has little time for secular radicals who stood with him forty years ago but who have now “disappeared into the matrix of money and regular jobs or gave up on their initial discipline.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.

A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.

“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

The Trouble With Our State”
By Daniel Berrigan

The trouble with our state
was not civil disobedience
which in any case was hesitant and rare.

Civil disobedience was rare as kidney stone
No, rarer; it was disappearing like immigrant’s disease.

You’ve heard of a war on cancer?
There is no war like the plague of media
There is no war like routine
There is no war like 3 square meals
There is no war like a prevailing wind.

It flows softly; whispers
don’t rock the boat!
The sails obey, the ship of state rolls on.

The trouble with our state
–we learned only afterward
when the dead resembled the living who resembled the dead
and civil virtue shone like paint on tin
and tin citizens and tin soldiers marched to the common whip

–our trouble
the trouble with our state
with our state of soul
our state of siege–

Bishop Geoff Robinson: Sex and Power

June 6, 2008


Bishop Geoffrey Robinson the author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus spoke to a large crowd at  Emmanuel College on the University of Toronto Campus on Sunday June 1. He spoke at Emmanuel because word went from the Chancery that his visit “would be an embarrassment.” Such is the state of the poor Church today that thinking seems to be out of fashion and bishops are mere ditto machines for what emanates from Rome.


Fellow Australian bishop Pat Powers said about him:


“The lot of a prophet is rarely a comfortable one. Geoffrey Robinson with his great knowledge and love of the Scriptures would understand that better than most. Yet he chose such a path when he wrote Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. In many ways, he had no other option but to write such a book. 

But he saw the need to go deeper. It is imperative to look not just at the causes of individual instances of abuse, but to try to understand the systemic weaknesses and failures which underlie such a betrayal of trust and power. “

Robinson from 1994-2003 was a member and for the last six years chairman of the committee to investigate sexual abuse so the Australian Church could coordinate a response. he spoke and listened to hundreds of victims  and offenders. “It dominated my life and it changed me in so many ways and even if I wanted to i could not go back to the person I was.”

Robinson’s conclusion: “If we are ever to look to the future with a clear conscience there  must first be profound change in the Church.This will lead us to look at all aspects of power and sex in the Church. It’s at least as much about power as about sex.”

“You are aware that many in Australia, America and Canada are not happy with the book I have written. We start from different points. they start from the teachings of the Church. They are set in concrete. You may not question them-not even in trying to respond to abuse. I start from the opposite end Here is this horrendous fact. let’s find out what caused it and let’s follow the argument wherever it leads. If it leads to ask questions about solemn teachings let’s ask them.”

Very brave and very necessary but not too much in vogue in the corridors of power in the Catholic Church .

He spoke about papal authority and creeping infallibility on almost every issue.  The Vatican is spending so much energy and time on sexual issues that the peoples of the church (and even the clergy) come to believe that these are infallible teachings. Humanae Vitae is a classic example  Therefore one is not allowed to question.  This has led to weakening authority because people say (for instance)  ‘Well,  I think the Pope is wrong on birth control, so what else is the Church wrong about?  or we might think that if we now accept women priests, does that mean that we have 2000 years of wrong teachings?Robinson asked, “Is church teaching on homosexual acts infallible? No, but it would be defended as strongly as if it were”. Celibacy for example is a law—it could be changed tomorrow but it could be implied that  1000 years of papal teaching is wrong.


Geoffrey Robinson maintained that there can be change in the Church. Both communism and apartheid ultimately fell. He recognized the need for confrontation but it was not enough–and here he was challenged from the floor in the question period by people who had worked for many years on reform and received a stony silence from the hierarchy. These maintained that it was only the threat of lawsuits, dramatic public disclosures and confrontations that did force the hand of the hierarchy. 


The question period went on for several minutes and could have gone on for many more. They were many and varied. Geoffrey Robinson candidly answer as many as possible. He did insist that the sexual abuse issue has the energy to create change and he implored those in the room to hang in an dialogue with the hierarchy. He was deeply chagrined that in the USA 30 million had already left the church and now were not part of the chorus for change that is so necessary.


A prolonged standing ovation ensued as Bishop Geoff Robinson walked to the back to autograph his book.























Foreskin’s Lament

June 6, 2008

A quiet best seller in the Jewish community Foreskin’s Lament is a blistering attack on fundamentalism—this time Jewish fundamentalism. It bristles with vitriol and dark humour. And it is unrelenting. And sad. I laughed in only a few places.

Raised in an Orthodox community called Monsey up the Hudson from Yonkers, New York, Shalom Auslander struggles to understand the God of the Jewish Bible, the one who slaughters, kills and who the community prays to – “Blessed be He”. His life is in constant turmoil battered by a permanently angry father and a psychologically abused mother. He will not survive this Freudian beginning.

This vengeful god stalks Shalom day and night. He is driven to make deals with him as he attends the local Yeshiva and finally a similar school in Israel. He is driven to see a shrink for $300 a session. In the end, redemption of a sort only comes in his relationship with a fellow “exile” from this narrow world, his wife Orli and of course, his new son Paix. He is still convinced that this angry god will kill his son at child birth.

In a quite moving scene Shalom looks in on his son (still breathing, the ritual of all new parents) and views him in his crib. It reminds him of Moses in his and “the lifelong journey he made to a Promised Land, a land of God, a land he never quite reached.” It reminds him of his own journey his own Promised Land, “the one I had been stumbling around looking forward to for these past 30 years” and he concludes  that his safe haven would be “one with no God at least not with the God I knew”. Maybe his son with his unjewish name “has a shot.”

Paix has just had his first birthday. His grandparents have seen him once and now they are history. shalom is a dead man for having him circumcised in the hospital and not on the traditional eighth day. On Paix’s cake  is written: “Happy Birthday Paix from Mommy,Daddy, Harley, Duke and no one else in our families because they are bitter miseries who’d rather drag us into the morass of their bleak, tragic lives….”

As he and Orli climb into bed in the book’s final scene, she takes his hand and sums up this whole 300 pages:”They really did a number on you.”