A Star Is Born
The Hunter Has Arrived
My new godson, Orion Michel M., was born at 10:13 pm on Monday, July 24, 2006. He has ten fingers, ten toes, and is nine pounds, three ounces, and twenty-one inches of adorableness. See? (Click to enlarge.)
Yes, "Michel" is his middle name; and yes, it is intentionally spelled that way; and yes, he is named after someone; and yes, that someone is me. I'm moved beyond words. Tomorrow I could receive a job at the White House, be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and be knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and those would only be the second- through fourth-highest honors bestowed upon me this week.
And you, you'll be blessed
You'll have the best
I promise you that
I'll pick a star from the sky
Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that
Promise you that
Promise you that
You'll be blessed . . .
—Elton John, "Blessed"
It's My Birthday
26th, To Be Precise
I need cash.
That is all.
Protest Supermodels™ Spotted In Bolivia
Over the last few months, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has begun to expand his sphere of influence in South America. In Bolivia, socialist stooge Evo Morales is starting to remake that country in the image of Chavez' Venezuela and Castro's Cuba. Last week, half a million Bolivians rallied in the eastern province of Santa Cruz
for the cause of Autonomia
— autonomy. And, following in the steps of other democratic revolutions worldwide, it just so happens that Autonomia
is pretty easy on the eyes, too:
Polls show an overwhelming support for Autonomia
in Santa Cruz. However, rulers like Morales, Chavez and Castro, despite their claims, usually aren't too keen on what the people want.
Big Picture, Part II
Independence Day EditionTheoretically, this wasn't supposed to take more than a month to write. But because I'm so slow, several news events caused me to almost literally scrap the entire essay and rewrite it from scratch. Also, I needed to know a certain fact from someone, and only got confirmation of it yesterday afternoon.
When last we left the drunken private party between "Piranha" and I
, we were both pretty solidly three sheets to the wind and catching up on old times. Sooner or later, a question came to mind that I didn't want to ask — but I had to: "So what's next for you?"
I didn't want to ask that question because I didn't want to remind him of combat when he was safe here at home. And every soldier, sailor, marine, and pilot faces this same dilemma when their tour of duty ends: part of them doesn't want to return to theater. They're home now. Safe. But the other part yearns to go back: there are still more enemy asses to kick, and his brothers are still out there in harm's way. I could see it in Piranha's face the moment I asked the question, and the answer was just what I expected: he doesn't want to go back, but he might have to.
If he wanted to, he could have stayed here permanently. He was back stateside because his division, the 1-13 Armor, was being dissolved as a combat division. Everyone in it had their choice of reassignment duties. Piranha could, if he so chose, join another unit that would redeploy, or, since he was close enough to the end of his enlistment period, ride it out until his tour of duty ended. So if he had to go back, it wouldn't be because he was ordered to: it would be because the same incorporeal force that draws men and women like him to serve their country in the first place — and what drove Piranha to join the U.S. Army despite nearly being killed when he was run over by a car — would compel him to do it again in order to finish the job.
And let there be no doubt about it: this war is winnable. Piranha, and his brothers, aren't stupid, or suicidal. For every veteran who comes back and joins anti-war groups or writes vitriolic essays about the mistakes made in the operation, there are easily hundreds, if not thousands, who still believe in the mission and are willing to see it through — even if it costs them their lives. From behind the wheel of his M1A1 Abrams tank, Piranha has seen things that the rest of us, whether we're media types writing from the safety of the Green Zone, or pajama-clad bloggers screeding ourselves into cyberspace, can never see. Piranha told me we're winning. I believe him.
But there was another reason that yearn to reenlist and continue the fight held such power over Piranha. He had a hard time telling me, so he used some of the people he recognized in the bar to demonstrate. That woman over there, wearing a wedding ring and dancing very very
closely with a man who was not; another, very drunken girl living it up well after 2 AM even though she was the mother of a toddler, who was at home. I quickly saw where he was going. He pointed out these people because he had just sacrificed some of the best years of his life for something greater than those years, and he came home with new eyes to a society which, for the most part, thinks only of the now as opposed to the future. I understood, and sympathized: even though I haven't made the same sacrifice he has, people who practice such hedonism bother me. I don't rail about it constantly because it makes me look like an old fuddy-duddy or a pompous moralizing preacher, neither of which I am. But it still grates on me, just as it grates on Piranha.
This caused me to think, and think hard. Piranha, I, and all of the other people who have supported and continue to support this great conflict the United States is currently engaged in do so because we believe the sacrifices we make today will lead to a better future. We are opposed by people who, obviously, think the opposite: that the lives and treasure lost aren't worth it. A subset of this group of people have held that "it's not worth it" from the very beginning of the conflict, and while I think that a no-war-at-any-cost mentality is a flawed and dangerous ideology to maintain, my main disagreement is not with them. It's with the people who signed on in support of the war at its outset but have since changed their minds based almost solely on the fact that we have lost so much. It is true: this conflict has cost us dearly. But that doesn't mean it has ceased to become worth fighting.
On June 7, Coalition forces bombed the hideout of Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killing him and his lieutenant and spiritual advisor, Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman. Less noticed but perhaps more important was that information gleaned from the safe house allowed Coalition forces to roll up dozens more of the terrorist network's heavy hitters. This, unequivocally, is a win for the forces of freedom. But almost immediately, the war's detractors sprung up and attempted to downplay this accomplishment. Of the complaints, the less insane ones were that Zarqawi's death won't make a difference in the long run, since he will have a successor, and so on. Somehow, these people seem to think that the al-Qaeda chain of command works similarly to the U.S. military, where competent people wait patiently for their turn to be promoted, and command flows relatively seamlessly. How silly. If someone smarter, better, and more ruthless than Zarqawi had existed before he was killed, he probably would have killed Zarqawi himself and assumed operational control of Iraq's al-Qaeda cells. This is not an organized regiment of soldiers we're up against: it's essentially a pack of wolves in humanoid form. Zarqawi's successor is someone who's virtually unknown, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. "Al-Muhajir" literally means "the immigrant" or "the foreigner" in Arabic. It's very tough to believe that this dark horse will be able to have the same effects in Iraq as Zarqawi did.
When the anti-war critics failed to sour optimism due to the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they seized on the one thing that has bothered them more than anything else: the rate of combat deaths. On June 15, that number reached 2,500. With that grim milestone came a slew of front-page stories by news media which, by and large, refuses to treat each combat death as the tragedy it is unless it is a nice round number like 2,500. The 2,500th soldier's death is no more or less a tragedy than the 2,136th or the 2,487th, but every time the combat toll rises to an easily-remembered number, that's somehow newsworthy. But I digress.
The 2,500th combat death renewed calls in the United States Congress for timetables for the Coalition exit from Iraq, as if victory could follow a schedule like a train station. On June 22, Senator John Kerry took to the Senate floor in support of an appropriations amendment that would force withdrawal from Iraq by July 1, 2007
The fact is, sure you can muddle along with this course. None of us have come to the floor and said the cause is lost. None of us have suggested that you just have to walk away and leave chaos. That's not what this plan does. This plan honors the investment of our troops. And in fact, what it does is provide a better way of not only empowering the Iraqis, but of empowering the United States of America to fight a more effective war on terror. Let me say it plainly. Redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq.
Now, I'm not a military guy. When Piranha and I talk about the things he did in Iraq, every time he used some military jargon I had to make him explain what exactly he was talking about. But even I know that while in a technical sense "redeployment" can mean what Senator Kerry is using the term to mean
, a near-full scale withdrawal isn't referred to by military personnel as "redeployment" — it's called "bugging out."
The purpose of the Kerry Amendment seems to be that Iraq should be left to the Iraqis — and they treat this like some sort of revolutionary new plan. But President Bush's plan all along has been the "Iraqification" of the conflict. How many times have we heard Bush say "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"? If you Google that exact phrase, you get 14,300 hits
. But Kerry, his amendment's cosponsors, and the rest of its supporters (including Hillary Clinton, who agrees with the basic idea behind the amendment but not rigid timetables per se
) evidently think that the plan in place right now is some clumsy neverending commitment to a status quo of watching American servicemen come home in boxes and doing absolutely nothing about it.
In reality, there are two competing plans for Iraq. Here's an analogy: the Bush plan is that U.S. forces are like a professional swimming coach, patiently teaching the nascent Iraqi government and their military forces how not to drown. The Kerry "plan" tosses them overboard and hopes like hell they don't get eaten by sharks. Perhaps the Iraqis will survive, but even with al-Qaeda diminished following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's doubtful. Far likelier is that despite Kerry's claim, his "redeployment" would, in the end, precisely "walk away and leave chaos."
But here we have the competing ideologies, not just on this conflict — large as it may loom at this moment, it is just one conflict — and what motivation drives them. One school of thought sacrifices the short term for the big picture, and their opponents care nothing except for what happens now
it's a mess, now
there's been 2,500 combat deaths, now
it's time for us to get out — excuse me, "redeploy" — and of course we can't simply settle for "redeploying" eventually, we have to do it now
. Whatever consequences happen — Iraq really falling into civil war (and not the phony civil war claimed to be ongoing, but a real one); the terrorists interpreting our "redeployment" as surrender; other nations becoming increasingly hostile toward us because they know tnat even if we invade (and that's a big "if"), we'll walk away after three years — are irrelevant, and secondary to what we should do now
I should interrupt right here, because another odd characteristic of those who support immediate "redeployment" is that they seem to interpret any and all criticism of them as "questioning their patriotism." I wish. It'd be a lot easier to dismiss them if they were being un-American. But they're not: they earnestly believe in withdrawal because they feel it is the best course of action for the United States. I don't think they're unpatriotic — I think they're myopic. Short-sighted. Ignorant, but not in a stupid way — in a childish way. "I want it now."
And of course, there is no better poster boy for politics according to now
than John Kerry, who famously voted for the war before he voted against it, before he attached a cut-and-run amendment to the defense appropriations bill before he called it "redeployment" before the amendment failed by a vote of 86-13 before he went ahead and voted for the appropriations bill anyway.
Of course, there are many other examples of people who practice the politics of now
. Some are pretty harmless, like the adulation showered upon Stephen Colbert after his painfully unfunny performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. However, many are quite dangerous, like The New York Times
' revelations of the SWIFT program. But I've gone too long on this already, and a third installment on Labor Day would seem somewhat cheesy.
So, on this one day when we celebrate the vision and imagination of a group of men who declared that we would be free for all time, I want you to think about America's future more than just its present. I try to whenever I can, and my friend Piranha does too. He didn't want to come home just yet, but he also took his friends' death in Iraq awfully hard, and he didn't want to be a tattoo on my arm, either. Last night I learned he split the difference, signing on the dotted line for a four-year extension to train new recruits on how to drive tanks.
I don't know who should be more frightened: his future students, or the insurgents in Iraq, who'll soon have dozens of Piranha's clones running them down in 63-ton tanks at 45 miles per hour.
Memorial Day Essay, Part I
If this is your first time here, welcome. If you've been here for a while, I apologize. I update this blog only sparingly. Last year when I started this monstrosity, it was mostly to have a creative outlet. I never once wanted to be a pseudo-news source. For one, there's already an established field of people who do it way better, and secondly, I soon discovered that writing 500 words on today's late-breaking news was, well, a waste of time. I'd just have to write 500 more words tomorrow when the news changed. And, as far as that goes, the day-to-day changes didn't mean much in the grand scope of things.
Here's what I mean: take immigration. Bloggers have vented thousands, perhaps millions of words on the ins and outs of this hot-button topic. And where were we now compared to a couple months ago? Not much has changed. There's been several protest marches, a big kerfuffle about a Spanish "Star Spangled Banner," a bill proposed and batted around, but in the end not much has changed.
In other words, I like to think about the big picture. Too much arguing over small things bores and irritates me.
A few months ago, I had my world expanded by a couple orders of magnitude. I'd been sitting, with a first draft of a blog essay gathering cyberdust on my computer and an e-mail address stuck on a post-it note to my monitor, laboring under a case of writer's block weighing down on me like the world on Atlas' shoulders.
The e-mail address belonged to someone whom I'll call "Piranha," and besides being one of my best childhood friends, at the time he was serving in the 1-13 Armor Division
in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I'm calling him "Piranha" here because, well, that's what he reminds me of: he's small in stature and doesn't, on first view, appear particularly threatening. But cross him and you'll have one hell of a fight on your hands. Also, Piranha drives tanks for the Army, and "Piranha" is the name of a Swiss-based model of tanks for which (among others) the U.S. Army Stryker
is based on. (The 1-13 drives M1A1 Abrams
For some reason, one conversation he and I had on one sunny day sticks out in my mind more than any other. I don't know how or why we got to talking about what would happen if we were near death. We'd probably exhausted the usual roll of pre-teen boys' conversational topics. At any rate, Piranha concluded that if he were ever attacked by a mugger, say, or maybe a bear or some other wild animal, that he should be left to die if he were unable to move. If he couldn't move, he said, he might as well be dead. In fact, he was already dead. I don't quite remember what I thought about that. I'm still not sure what to make of it.
A few years later, it wasn't a mugger or a bear who left him unable to move — it was a car. He was hit by a car in the morning on the way to school. And I don't mean he was in a car that was struck by another car — I mean he
was hit by a car. A driver ignored the warning lights of Piranha's school bus and hit him in the middle of the street with such force that it literally knocked him out of his shoes. But evidently his views on the equivalency between immobility and death had changed. Despite being laid up in a hospital room trapped in a full-body cast, then weeks of rehabilitative physical therapy, he continued to follow his dream, which was simple but magnificent: to serve in the United States Army.
So what could I write about such a person here? What could I tell him in an e-mail? What words could demonstrate the awesome character of such a person who endures such a life-threatening ordeal just to volunteer to put his life on the line again thousands of miles away, or the immense personal gratitude I feel toward him for that act of sacrifice and service? If such words exist at all, I could not discover them. "Thank You" just seemed so inadequate.
And so I sat, in my writerly impotence, for weeks, until I received an e-mail which said that Piranha's unit had been shipped home, and his family would be throwing a welcome-home party for him. I was thrilled, of course, but also nervous; if I couldn't express my gratitude in an e-mail — even knowing that for him out in combat, correspondence from home is a godsend — if I couldn't talk to him in that case, what the hell could I possibly say to his face? Luckily for me, interpersonal communication doesn't always require words. I didn't have to say "thank you" — it was written all over my face.
The stereotypical character traits of an American soldier are brash and cocky. To be fair, Piranha did display those characteristics some of the time. But the only person more uncomfortable at that party than me was him. For those few hours, he looked positively puzzled that anyone should want to throw a party for him because of his job. He was mostly silent and still, and when he walked, it was slow and deliberate. I'm not sure whether that is a remnant of the accident or because he simply didn't feel comfortable. Perhaps it's both: I know if I were ever hit by a car, I'd feel a lot more secure behind the wheel of a 63-ton tank than I would while walking.
When the party wound down, and the friends-of-friends had left and only the people who mattered most to him remained, he finally opened up a little. He mostly talked about his best friend, a sergeant, who wound up getting killed in action by a roadside IED. Most of the "happy soldier" pictures on the wall also had the sergeant in them. And in the middle was a "In Memory Of" poster of the sergeant. Piranha also has a tattoo on his right forearm with a cross and his sergeant friend's name. (Piranha is quite tatted up; he also has another ink memorial on his back, for one of his high school friends who was killed by a drunk driver.)
Piranha wondered why the friendliest, best guys were so often the ones who lost their lives. In addition to his sergeant friend, he lost another man in his unit, a tank gunner, when he was waving to an Iraqi child from on top of the tank and a sniper shot him, from the side, through his ribcage, when he lifted his arm to wave.
It was a question I couldn't answer until a few days later, when I treated him to the ultimate manly display of gratitude: getting him totally plastered. This was a fairly expensive night, since Piranha and the rest of his unit only enjoy one alcoholic beverage: Hennessy cognac and Red Bull. It's called "Crunk Juice." Those run about eight bucks apiece, but they do the job quick. (As per my diet, I had the Henny and Sugar-Free Red Bull.) After we wiped out all comers on the billiard table, somewhere around the fifth or sixth drink, I finally figured out the answer to his question: the reason why the best men die is because the enemy they fight prey on the good and the decent. They see it as weakness. The soldier who waves to the child, the scout sent to determine if the road is clear — they make themselves easy targets, and the cowards who can't take on the whole unit without getting destroyed just pick off individual marks. Hence, the good guys, the ones most willing to lay down their lives to protect the rest of their crew, usually wind up doing so. Piranha's eyes welled up and he nodded silently as I was explaining my theory. For once, I wasn't the only one of us who had problems with words.
We talked about a lot of other things that night. I can't remember a few of them, due to the several (Diet) Crunk Juices I'd consumed. He did tell me what became of the terrorist who was the suspected IED triggerman who killed his sergeant friend (it involves the Iraqi army soldiers the 1-13 was working with, and the word "dudecki," which is Arabic for "faggot" — needless to say, it did not end happily for the terrorist). But before we left, before I gave him my going-away present (a fifth of Henny and an entire case of Red Bull), we talked about something far closer to home.
What it was, and why it had me thinking, and what it all means? That's for Part II.
Until then, if you still have some Memorial Day barbecuing and celebrating to do, I have one small request. Men like Piranha fight and die so that the rest of us can have our barbecues and shopping, so it's all well and good that we do so. But just take one moment to offer thanks to veterans. If you know one, thank him (or her — Piranha's mother is a veteran of the United States Air Force) personally. If not, do it silently — offer a prayer both for those who died and those who are still serving. If there's one thing I learned that doesn't require an entire series of essays to explain, it's that "Thank You" is more than adequate.
Back For Another Shot
I had the date of April 28 circled on my calendar for weeks. And when my car broke down earlier this week and became unavailable, I didn't let that stop me. I walked, six miles round trip, to and from the multiplex where United 93
would be shown. I didn't do this because I wanted to see the movie. Nobody wants to see a movie like this; we already know it won't have a happy ending.
I was compelled
to see it.
Two September 11ths ago, I visited the temporary Flight 93 memorial
. It is every bit as moving as going to Gettysburg Battlefield or Arlington National Cemetery. But, tremendous as it is, what the memorial has in patriotic glory it lacks in gritty realism. I'm never one to shy away from waving the flag, but seeing the Stars And Stripes and the phrase "Let's Roll!" emblazoned everywhere you look at the memorial site doesn't exactly lend you to stop and consider the awesome, earth-shattering events that happened there, the way the far less decorated places like Gettysburg and Arlington do.
Last September 11th, I watched the amazing docu-drama The Flight That Fought Back
on the Discovery Channel. It, too, was gripping and powerful, depicting the final voyage of Flight 93 in meticulous detail. But most of the purpose of the film was to create a fuller picture of the forty people onboard who sacrificed their lives, relying on extensive interviews with surviving family members. Despite the painstaking completeness of the documentary aspects, it still didn't quite feel real: between weaving back and forth from the story to the backstories, and the narration (though excellently done) by Kiefer Sutherland, it simply couldn't capture the primal, basic fear of the situation in its entirety. It was reality, but coated with a part-Steven Spielberg, part-60 Minutes
sheen and bookended with reminders to contribute to the official Flight 93 memorial.
Both the real place and the realistic drama were stunning and remarkable, but left just a tiny twinge of the antiseptic, unreal nature of observing an event after the fact.
But how could United 93
have been any different? It, after all, has debuted nearly five years after its subject matter occurred, and it couldn't possibly be based on all completely true events since nobody really knows what exactly happened in those frantic final moments, and it explicitly said that in some cases creative license was substituted for historical accuracy.
September 11, 2001 was a day of fear and chaos, both for the people on board the planes and those who witnessed it from the ground. United 93
doesn't back away from this agony one bit: from the moment the first batch of terrorists hijack American Airlines Flight 11 to the final plunge of Flight 93, every frame of the movie has the same disjointed, surreal quality that perfectly encapsulates the raw havoc of that dark morning.
It doesn't tell a story so much as it simply lets it unravel itself. We are told preciously little about the heroes onboard the plane. Most are never even introduced to the audience by name. They were strangers to each other, therefore they are strangers to us. Meanwhile, the air traffic controllers and the military commanders frantically attempt to regain control of the situation amidst the jumble of thousands of planes in American airspace, not learning the full scope of what was happening until they saw it on CNN.
But the most brilliant element of the film was the performances, which felt utterly and undeniably real, because they were
: the pilot and co-pilot were played by actual pilots, one of whom was a United Airlines employee; two of the five flight attendants were played by actual United flight attendants. And nearly all of the ATC and military personnel were played by themselves (including a brilliant turn by FAA Operations Manager Ben Sliney, whose first day on the job was 9/11).
Nothing, however, could have topped the accomplishments of the actors playing passengers onboard Flight 93. None of them are big-name stars, which goes against the trend in virtually every other blockbuster movie, but a story like this can't have one superstar sucking up all the screen time. They worked without a script, improvising their roles in the tragedy based on biographies of their characters and, in many cases, one-on-one communications with the families and friends of the people they portrayed.
How, then, could that be real? Because everything that happened on Flight 93 was itself improvised, when a group of individual Americans decided on their own to command their own destiny armed only with their wits and whatever makeshift weapons they had available. What really took place onboard Flight 93 can never be known; the closest approximation we can get is to have forty seperate people ad-lib their roles as the ad hoc citizens' brigade. A "Hollywood" treatment would probably have mentioned that, say, Mark Bingham was gay, in order to demonstrate the diversity of the random assortment of passengers who boarded that flight from Newark. But it's not the details that matter, it's the core of the story, and this movie strips everything else away. It is visceral, it is completely unrefined, and it is the absolutely perfect depiction of the sheer and abject horror of that fateful day, and also the absolutely perfect memorial to Flight 93's innovative, spontaneous counterstrike against the nihilistic forces of darkness.
Paul Greengrass, who directed and wrote what few parts of the film that were actually scripted, also deserves commendation for his production. Most of the cinematography is bare-bones minimalism at its finest. Far from being the pornographic jingoism many outraged people feared, the film turned out to be quite stripped down, focusing more on what happened than what it means. A couple of times he lapses into Hollywood cliché: for instance, shortly after taking off, Flight 93 passes close enough to the World Trade Center for the pilots to prompt passengers to look at the Lower Manhattan skyline out the windows to their left. Two problems: Flight 93 was supposed to be headed west, from Newark to San Francisco, but the World Trade Center is several miles east of Newark International Airport; furthermore, delays at Newark forced a 47-minute postponement of Flight 93's takeoff, scheduled for 8:00 AM; by then American Airlines Flight 11 had already crashed into WTC Tower One.
But he can be forgiven for this, as well as those well-known details about Flight 93 and its passengers that were not in the movie. The passengers famously took a vote on whether or not to storm the cockpit; in the movie, the decision to rush the hijackers was much more spontaneous and frantic. Todd Beamer's impromptu battle cry of "Let's roll!" was downgraded to just a hurried murmur: Let's roll, c'mon guys, let's go already.
And the final scenes show a frenzied struggle for the aircraft's controls; but according to the 9/11 Commission, the hijackers brought the plane down before the passengers could breach the cockpit.
Despite the factual inaccuracies, what United 93
leaves you with is still reality, cold and violent and awful. There are no rallying cries, no uplifting speeches, no authoritative characters whose sole purpose is to explain to the audience that everything will be all right. When the passengers finally jump the terrorists, it is brutal and gruesome. Jeremy Glick, a collegiate champion in judo, is shown breaking a hijacker's neck; the terrorist who had strapped a fake bomb on his chest was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. Greengrass uses mostly handheld cameras, placing the viewer in the center of the carnage. And when the plane finally does descend into a remote, empty field in Pennsylvania, the camera POV spirals rapidly into the ground. And then there is silence. It doesn't fade to black. Nothing fades in this movie. It jumps to black.
I wept when I went to the Flight 93 memorial, and I flat-out bawled when I watched The Flight That Fought Back
. But I couldn't cry during United 93
: there was simply no time. When it's over, you feel like you've been kicked in the gut: Numb. Shocked. Dumbfounded. Very much like I felt on a certain late summer morning five years ago. And the credits roll, in simple black and white, with subdued low music behind them.
I didn't want to see this movie. It was horrifying and disturbing, but also phenomenal and brilliant.
I walked six miles to see it. It was worth every step.UPDATE 5/1 3:55 PM: Ace and Charles apparently haven't seen it yet, but I posted comments with a link here, so I oughta bounce it back to them. Allah, in his new gig at Hot Air, posted a round-up of reviews, of which the best by far is Rick Moran's.
UPDATE II 5/1 5:49 PM: Oodles of kudos to Mrs. Peel, Skylark of Valeron. She's hot, nerdy, has an awesome blog name, likes my review, and linked to me? I'm in love. Wait . . . "Mrs. Peel"? Damn. She's taken.
Fair warning: I reserve the right to post any and all criticisms and flames, in their entirety. Seriously. Just ask