Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Serious Funnyman

Until recently, I'd never heard of Rick Mercer. Mercer is a political satirist in Canada who hosts the "Rick Mercer Report." It's like "The Daily Show" but Mercer manages to do what Jon Stewart cannot (or will not) - use his sharp wit with relative equality on politicians from all of Canada's approximately 237 political parties.

Mercer is a funny guy who gets to do a lot of interesting things - drive a tugboat, run a tank over a car, and go skinny dipping with a former Liberal Premier. In one segment of his show, he convinced the leader of the Canadian Green party to cut down a tree.

He's also a strong supporter of the military, so when Noreen Golfman, a women's studies professor in Newfoundland, wrote a column in which she complained that her holidays were ruined by sad stories about injured soldiers ("poor sods" she called them) in Afghanistan and questioned Canada's mission there, Mercer got angry. Especially since the "poor sod" she wrote about was a friend of his - Master Cpl. Paul Franklin.

His column is a great exercise in smackdown. Sure, it's a few months old, but it's good stuff.

Fighting words

By Courtesy (St. John's)
The Independent
Friday, January 26, 2007

By Rick Mercer

For The Independent

Poor Noreen Golfman. She wrote in her Jan. 12 column (Blowing in the Wind … ) that her holidays were ruined by what she felt were incessant reports about Canadian men and women serving in Afghanistan. So upset was Noreen that, armed with her legendary pen, sharpened from years in the trenches at Memorial University’s women’s studies department, she went on the attack. I know I should just ignore the good professor and write her off as another bitter baby boom academic pining for what she fondly calls “the protest songs of yesteryear,” but I can’t help myself. A response is exactly what she wants; and so I include it here. After all, Newfoundlanders have seen this before: Noreen Golfman, sadly, is Margaret Wente without the wit.

Dear Noreen,

I am so sorry to hear about the interruption to your holiday cheer. You say in your column that it all started when the CBC ran a story on some “poor sod” who got his legs blown off in Afghanistan.

The “poor sod” in question, Noreen, has a name and it is Cpl. Paul Franklin. He is a medic in the Forces and has been a buddy of mine for years. I had dinner with him last week in Edmonton, in fact. I will be sure to pass on to him that his lack of legs caused you some personal discomfort this Christmas.

Paul is a pretty amazing guy. You would like him I think. When I met him years ago he had two good legs and a brutally funny sense of humour. He was so funny that I was pretty sure he was a Newfoundlander. You probably know the type (or maybe you don’t) — salt of the earth, always smiling, and like so many health-care professionals, seemingly obsessed with helping others in need.

These days he spends his time training other health-care workers and learning how to walk again. That’s a pretty exhausting task for Paul … heading into rehabilitation he knew very well his chances of walking again were next to none, considering he’s a double amputee, missing both legs above the knee.

At the risk of ruining your day Noreen, I’m proud to report that for the last few months he has managed to walk his son to school almost every morning and it’s almost a kilometre from his house. Next month Paul hopes to travel to Washington where he claims he will learn how to run on something he calls “bionic flipper cheetah feet.” The legs may be gone but the sense of humour is still very much intact.

Forgive me Noreen for using Paul’s name so much, but seeing as you didn’t catch it when CBC ran the profile on his recovery I thought it might be nice if you perhaps bothered to remember it from here on in. This way, when you are pontificating about him at a dinner party, you no longer have to refer to him simply as the “poor sod,” but you can actually refer to him as Paul Franklin. You may prefer “poor sod” of course; it’s all a matter of how you look at things. You see a “poor sod” that ruined your Christmas and I see a truly inspiring guy. That’s why I am thrilled that the CBC saw fit to run a story on Paul and his wife Audra. I would go so far as to suggest that many people would find their story, their marriage and their charitable endeavours inspiring. Just as I am sure that many readers of The Independent are inspired by your suggestion that Paul’s story has no place on the public broadcaster.

Further on in your column you ask why more people aren’t questioning Canada’s role in Afghanistan. I understand this frustration. It’s a good question. Why should Canada honour its United Nations-sanctioned NATO commitments? Let’s have the discussion. I would welcome debate on the idea that Canada should simply ignore its international obligations and pull out of Afghanistan. By all means ask the questions Noreen, but surely such debates can occur without begrudging the families of injured soldiers too much airtime at Christmas?

Personally, I would have thought that as a professor of women’s studies you would be somewhat supportive of the notion of a NATO presence in Afghanistan. After all, it is the NATO force that is keeping the Taliban from power. In case you missed it Noreen, the Taliban was a regime that systematically de-peopled women to the point where they had no human rights whatsoever. This was a country where until very recently it was illegal for a child to fly a kite or for a little girl to receive any education.

To put it in terms you might understand Noreen, rest assured the Taliban would frown on your attending this year’s opening night gala of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. In fact, as a woman, a professor, a writer and (one supposes) an advocate of the concept that women are people, they would probably want to kill you three or four times over. Thankfully that notion is moot in our cozy part of the world but were it ever come to pass I would suggest that you would be grateful if a “poor sod” like Paul Franklin happened along to risk his life to protect yours.

And then of course you seem to be somehow personally indignant that I would visit troops in Afghanistan over Christmas. You ask the question “When did the worm turn?” Well I hate to break it to you, but in my case this worm has been doing this for a long time now. It’s been a decade since I visited Canadian peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and this Christmas marked my third trip to Afghanistan. Why do I do it? Well I am not a soldier — that much is perfectly clear. I don’t have the discipline or the skills. But I am an entertainer and entertainers entertain. And occasionally, like most Canadians, I get to volunteer my professional time to causes that I find personally satisfying.

As a Newfoundlander this is very personal to me. On every one of these trips I meet Newfoundlanders who serve proudly in the Canadian Forces. Every day they do the hard work that we as a nation ask of them. They do this without complaint and they do it knowing that at every turn there are people like you, Noreen, suggesting that what they do is somehow undignified or misguided.

I am also curious Noreen why you refer to the head of the Canadian Forces, General Rick Hillier, as “Rick ‘MUN graduate’ Hillier.” I would suggest that if you wish to criticize General Hillier’s record of leadership or service to his country you should feel free. He is a big boy. However, when you dismiss him as “Rick ‘MUN Graduate’ Hillier” the message is loud and clear. Are you suggesting that because General Hillier received an education at Memorial he is somehow unqualified for high command? We are used to seeing this type of tactic in certain national papers — not The Independent.

You end by saying you personally cannot envision that peace can ever be paved with military offensives. May I suggest to you that in many instances in history peace has been achieved exactly that way.

The gates of Auschwitz were not opened with peace talks. Holland was not liberated by peacekeepers and fascism was not defeated with a deft pen. Time and time again men and women in uniform have laid down their lives in just causes and in an effort to free others from oppression.

It is unfortunate, Noreen, that in such instances people like yourself may have your sensitivities offended, especially during the holiday season, but perhaps that is a small price to pay. Best wishes for the remainder of 2007; may it be a year of peace and prosperity.

Ouch. Makes me almost (sort of) want to go out and drink a Molson.

It's kind of sad, though, that a Canadian entertainer can speak out more strongly on issues of war and the need for force than most American politicians.

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