By Jefferson Flanders

As Jimmy Cannon, city columnist extrordinaire, used to say, “Nobody asked me, but…”

THE HUMAN IMPACT OF THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ rarely touches most of us, as relatively few Americans are connected with the volunteer military, (those who bear the brunt of the fighting and dying).

Two passengers on the southbound Amtrak Regional caught a glimpse of what the war means for one family this past Thursday. They helped a young mother who had boarded the train in Connecticut mid-route (struggling with her two children, a stroller, and two large rolling bags), to negotiate her way to her seats in Business Class.

When one of the passengers asked the young woman where she was going, and she answered “Quantico,” the other asked her whether her husband was in the service. “He is in Iraq,” she said, and burst into tears, before apologizing. “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

The passengers tried to console her, and learned that her husband, a Marine, had been recalled for duty, and was involved in detecting and disarming roadside bombs. Looking over at her children, a girl and boy (five and one), at least one of the passengers offered a silent prayer that her husband would return safely home at the end of his tour.

MOVIE MOGUL SAMUEL GOLDWYN EARNED FAME for his response to those in Hollywood who hoped to make political films: “You want to send a message? Call Western Union.”

That advice was apparently ignored by the producers and directors of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” a one-woman play about the young West Coast left-wing activist killed by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003 during a protest of the demolition of a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip. The reviews of the New York staging of the play—a controversial production because of the play’s perceived anti-Israel slant—have not been kind.

The New York Times theater reviewer, Ben Brantley, expressed lukewarm ambivalence towards the play: “Toward the end of the performance I attended, I heard one man choking back sobs and another snoring. I could sympathize with both responses.” Jeremy McCarter of New York magazine called the play “thin” and offering “no culmulative power.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout pulled no punches, suggesting that “Politics makes artists stupid” and adding:

“Co-written and directed by Alan Rickman, one of England’s best actors, “Rachel Corrie” just opened off-Broadway after a successful London run. It’s an ill-crafted piece of goopy give-peace-a-chance agitprop–yet it’s being performed to cheers and tears before admiring crowds of theater-savvy New Yorkers who, like Mr. Rickman himself, ought to know better.”

Teachout concludes: “The script is disjointed to the point of incoherence, the staging crude and blatant, while Megan Dodds’s performance as Rachel Corrie is frankly cartoonish.” Will I be attending the play? To again quote Samuel Goldwyn: “Include me out.”

THE TERRORIST AND THE TICKING BOMB SCENARIO, often employed in debates over torture, has apparently found Senator Hillary Clinton and John McCain (putative presidential nominees for 2008) taking different stands, according to the New York Post.

The Post poses the question this way: “If an underling of Osama bin Laden were captured and American intelligence had reason to suspect he possessed intimate knowledge of a plot to unleash nerve gas over New York City in just a few short hours, who would you want prying the relevant details from the terrorist?”

Senator Clinton apparently wants a legal right to torture such a suspect; McCain doesn’t (although he suggests that an interrogator who overstepped the bounds in such in a case would receive lenient treatment). Look for this Clinton “torture exception” to come back to haunt Senator Clinton in the primary season as the Democratic Left attacks her as too pro-war on terror.

WHAT ELSE IS WRONG WITH HILLARY AS A CANDIDATE? Some mainstream Democrats seem particulary nervous about the idea of Senator Hillary Clinton as their 2008 presidential standard-bearer.

The latest boomlet for an alternative—Senator Barack Obama, who is flogging his new book as media types like Joe Klein and David Brooks tout his as Democratic hopeful. Even John Kerry holds out hope for another try, although Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman captures the disbelief of many Democrats that Kerry is a credible candidate: Wasserman offers this Kerry 2008 slogan: “MY BAD: I won’t blow it this time.”

ACTOR WESLEY SNIPES, WHO FACES SERIOUS TAX EVASION CHARGES in the United States, is apparently away for the time being, making a movie in Namibia. Snipes clearly agrees with Sir Winston Churchill—“There is no such thing as a good tax”—but he may find the American tax authorities hold a different, and more punative, view. Snipes should place a call to Willie Nelson, the country music singer whose battles with the IRS are legendary, for advice.

THE PORNIFICATION OF AMERICAN CULTURE continues (somewhat blithely) with the recent adoption of “risque costumes” for Halloween, with women donning “costumes of questionable taste” that are more “strip club than storybook” according to the New York Times: “The trend is so pervasive it has been written about by college students in campus newspapers, and Carlos Mencia, the comedian, jokes that Halloween should now be called Dress-Like-a-Whore Day.”

Linda M. Scott, an academic at the University of Oxford told the Times. “It’s a night when even a nice girl can dress like a dominatrix and still hold her head up the next morning.”

The Gray Lady suggests that this trend may hold darker overtones: “Many women’s costumes, with their frilly baby-doll dresses and high-heeled Mary Janes, also evoke male Lolita fantasies and reinforce the larger cultural message that younger is hotter.”

Note bene: I am not making this up.

SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY, locked in a nasty divorce battle with wife Heather Mills, might very well take heed of author Rita Mae Brown’s observation that: “Divorce is the one human tragedy that reduces everything to cash.” Think the former Beatle now regrets he didn’t insist on a pre-nupital agreement?

I’M ROOTING FOR THE DETROIT TIGERS over the Cardinals in the World Series, just as I did in 1968 when McClain, Kaline, Lolich and the rest pulled out the win.

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders

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