"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Journalistic privilege
Arthur Sibler has a great piece on just what journalistic privilege is and is not. Once Upon a Time...: The Privilege to Destroy: The Priesthood of Journalism

"As we've seen in the sorry saga of Saint Judy of the Times, this turns the idea of protecting confidential sources on its head, and completely reverses its intended aim. The idea had once been to protect a person who revealed wrongdoing by the powerful and who might be retaliated against, possibly severely, by those same powerful people or their powerful friends. It was critical to this idea, although almost everyone now seems to have forgotten it, that the person who revealed wrongdoing was telling the truth. That was a crucial part of the original context in which this idea arose. It has now been dropped entirely. Journalists can peddle the lies told by the false confessors with impunity, and the liar goes scot free. The lies can cause great damage, and the liar is never called to account."

'A Long, Long Way': Harrowing but elegant tale of World War I
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
A Long, Long Way
By Sebastian Barry
Faber and Faber
292 pp, 12.99 pounds

Given the poetic quality of his prose, it is hardly surprising that Sebastian Barry's A Long, Long Way was short-listed for the 2005 Man Booker prize.

In the end Britain's best-known literary award went to Barry's fellow Dubliner John Banville for The Sea, but that in no way diminishes Barry's considerable literary accomplishment.
The novel, Barry's third, tells the story of Willie Dunne, who leaves his home in Dublin in 1914 to fight for the king of England in Belgium.

Raised with his three younger sisters by his widowed Catholic father, Willie joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at 18 because he is too small to follow his towering father into the police force. As Willie suffers the horrors of trench warfare in Europe, his heart is torn between loyalty to his father, England's strong arm of the law as the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and his growing sympathy for the Irish nationalist cause embraced by so many of his fellow soldiers.

His first brush with "The Troubles" comes a year before the war begins, when he delivers a gift from his father to a man injured by the police in a street demonstration and falls in love with the man's daughter, Gretta.

Throughout the book, Willie's relationships with Gretta and his father mirror the political developments in Ireland.

Shipped off to war, Willie and his comrades are treated as cannon fodder by the condescending British staff officers. Barry's harrowing, yet elegant, description of a gas attack against soldiers unaware of the deadly power of such modern weapons is chilling and visceral.

While Barry's descriptions of the battlefield are rich with poetry, they are the harsh music of jagged shrapnel tearing flesh, of liquid mud swallowing men whole and the frenzied, scrabbling brutality of hand-to-hand combat. There is no glory in war where the brave and cowardly alike are exterminated like vermin in their holes--Willie regularly wets himself in fear, and the dead lucky enough to be buried have their stiffened limbs broken with spades so the grave diggers can fit them into their shallow plots.

Images of death and destruction run through most passages. Even when the soldiers get a well-earned rest and a joyous bath, Willie pictures God as a fisherman and his fellow soldiers in their tubs as salmon in pools to be hooked and eaten.

Barry captures well the minutiae of a soldier's life: the rough camaraderie; the stench of the makeshift latrines; the pleasure taken in a rare hot meal, no matter how meager, and most especially the treasuring of letters from home. Gretta can't or won't write to Willie and he is forced to watch the declining state of affairs at home through the keyhole of short notes from his father and younger sisters.

About to return to France after his first furlough, Willie and a group of raw Irish recruits are called back into Dublin to quell the Easter Rising of 1916, and the young soldier's sympathy for the nationalists is stirred when a young rebel dies in his arms outside Dublin's General Post Office.

A letter home questioning the execution of the leaders in the uprising causes a rift between Willie and his father. As the nationalist movement gathers strength in Ireland, those Irish fighting in Europe for England are seen as traitors by their countrymen, while the rebellion leads the British to doubt the loyalty of the Irish troops.

Barry skillfully spins an extended metaphor from a bare-knuckle boxing match between fighters drawn from two Irish regiments, a hulking Ulsterman and a wiry Dubliner who beat each other to a bloody pulp while the British staff officers in their fancy dress uniforms cheer them on.

As the political and family situation at home deteriorates, Willie slowly sinks into the mud of Flanders, losing all the things that motivated him to go to war and finally all the things that gave him hope for life after the war.

The catastrophic effect on the Donne family of the Irish rebellion and then the country's partitioning into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State in the early 1920s has been the mainstay of Barry's fiction-writing career, starting with his award-winning play The Steward of Christendom. In that drama, Willie's ghost haunts his father as his world comes apart with Irish independence. And Willie is briefly mentioned as the departed brother dimly remembered in Barry's acclaimed 2002 novel Annie Dunne.

A Long, Long Way is a powerful account of the destruction of youth in the no-man's-land of Europe's Great War and Ireland's revolution.
(Nov. 20, 2005)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

His Lordship, Prisoner 543647
I think Christmas may have come early this year
And all I wanted was an ipod -- a sweet, sweet kiss on the lip from blind lady Justice is so much nicer, what comes around goes around.

And he cheated on his prep school exams too!

"After a series of vicious canings, I became completely and perniciously insubordinate and undermined the school in various ways, culminating in stealing the final examinations and selling them to the boys in the school. It's not something to be proud of, but I'm not ashamed of it either...The school threw me out at age 14. I bear UCC no ill will. I think it's a good school and I wish it well. But I do not seek any acts, symbolic or otherwise, of reacceptance by them."

Conrad Black (UCC 1951-1959), media baron, evildoer

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The legacy of Negroponte
When the U.S. finally does leave Iraq, we can be sure it will leave a rich legacy worthy of former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

He really ought to run for office
John Cusack has always been one of my favorite actors, but he is on his way to becoming a great pundit too.