Monday, January 31, 2005

Pathos and Tragedy

Good Monday morning, Bush! You must have woken up all bright and… um, bushy-tailed. I haven't yet tuned in on the news of the day, but initial reports on the Iraq elections on last night's late night local TV suggest a great step forward there. Good news! I couldn't be more delighted, and only hope that this one day of optimism will lead to many others. Of course, there is the matter of how many had to die along the road... But let's not mar the good news of the day.

While I know your mind is on far weightier matters, I'm thinking today, on the first day of his long-awaited trial, of Michael Jackson. From the sublime to the ridiculous, no? But I have to tell you that I'm genuinely conflicted in my thinking. On the one hand, if he really did what they accuse him of, he needs to be held accountable in some appropriate way. I myself, however, am not convinced that the peculiar form of torture to which this obviously shy and emotionally damaged boy-man has been subjected for months now, even years, is appropriate to a crime he only possibly committed. Nor, if found guilty and convicted, are the twenty years of jail time that he stands to earn.

For once, as you might say, I do know a little bit whereof I speak: I was "molested" as a little boy--as Jackson's accuser claims to have been, at the age of twelve. And I've had the opportunity, in recent years, to hear the stories of countless men who have had similar experiences. It's simply astonishing how many of us there are--and I believe the same is true of an extraordinary number of women. Priests, teachers, relatives and parents--we seem unable to keep our hands off children. For myself, it was a case of what I can best describe as attempted fellatio: I did not have the physical maturity to provide the teacher who inveigled me into his bed--nor myself--with the satisfaction I somehow knew I was supposed to give.

Well, there was fear, and shame--and, yes, guilty pleasure--at the time. But damage? I have to say that I suffered far, far more at the hands of my peers in the twelve years I spent at boarding school. In the range of indignities to which I was subjected in childhood, being diddled by a lecherous teacher ranks pretty low, frankly, on the scale. I have to recognize, of course, that many experiences of molestation are far more psychically and emotionally damaging than mine, and that different children will respond to them in different ways, some very severe. Still, understanding that this might be an heretical position, I wonder from this very personal perspective if one's earliest sexual encounters--even if illicit and abusive--merit the kind of hysterical alarm they're met with in our cultural climate today. A surprising number of us have experienced something of this nature, and most of us managed to grow up relatively well adjusted.

This is not to say, clearly, that we are not obligated to take care of those who were indeed deeply wounded by such experiences; or that the abuse of children, when uncovered, should go unpunished. But let's not react as though all "inappropriate touching" were either uncommon--it's not--or so heinous as to arouse the kind of mass hysteria that surrounds the so-called King of Pop. Let's see things in some kind of sane perspective. Let's bear in mind that there is, after all, a common-sense distinction between pathos and tragedy, between distress and disaster. It's something we tend to forget amidst the hyperbole and sensationalism that we're offered by ratings-hungry media.

So that's my own, admittedly conflicted thinking, Bush. I wonder what you're thinking about the media circus now pitching its tents in Santa Maria, ready to give us minute-by-minute coverage of this earth-shattering event?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Tough Buns

Just a wee bit of Sunday bloggery between friends, Bush. First to say how much I admire the courage of those Iraqis who made it to the voting booth, despite mortal threats. I trust the outcome will be as we all would want it: a greater independence from the United States.

Also this: I wish people would stop saying things like "the world changed on 9/11"--as did at least two letter-writers in today's New York Times. The world didn't change on 9/11. People in other countries have had painful, first-hand knowledge about the slaughter of innocent victims on their soil for countless years. What changed was America's perception of the world. We lost that blinkered, disingenuous belief that we're sheltered from that weird old world out there, that we can somehow do no wrong. Well, many of us did. It's a shift in consciousness that may be uncomfortable, but brings us a little bit closer to reality: there are actually people out there who don't share our concept of happiness and freedom, or our way of realizing it--let alone our way of imposing it on others. Hard though it may be for us Americans to believe, there are even people out there who don't like us.

That's what we learned, to our infinite shock: we're not protected. That what we say and do in the world has sometimes unknowable ramifications. That we're exposed to the very same dangers as the rest of the world. If we don't like it, well, tough buns, as an old friend of mine used to say. And welcome to reality.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Freedom Calendar

Okay, just a thought on reading an article in this morning's Los Angeles Times about your "2005 Republican Freedom Calendar", promoting the Republican party's civil rights history. Each date lovingly recalls a memorable contribution to the advancement of black people in this country. What struck me, again, is that it's all about ideology, all about getting the votes, expanding the power base. It's about using words and image to promote a positive spin on history, to persuade. It's basically propaganda, Bush. A strategy proven successful by numerous dictatorial rulers. Because it works. It seems, sadly, to work better than actions. Better than the Democratic approach: "What can we do now to improve the social and economic standing of people who are less fortunate than ourselves?" No, this is about "What do we need to do to get them to vote for us?" Talk about cynicism, Bush. Just thought I'd mention it.

A Kiss and a Promise

A short, sad tale this morning, Bush. A recurrence of the hives last night around nine (I've begun to think it's the chlorine in the jacuzzi that might be causing it). Took a pill--one of those antihistamines the doctor prescribed last week--and it knocked me out. Fast asleep by nine-thirty, and hardly stirred until eight this morning. Still feeling doped and bleary. More tomorrow, perhaps. Thinking about the Michael Jackson circus, up in Santa Maria… Maybe something for Monday, when the trial starts. Cheers to you for the weekend.

Friday, January 28, 2005


Do I detect the stirrings of life in the moribund body politic of the Democratic Party? Have you noticed, Bush? First, Senator Barbara Boxer (my Boxer, if you like!) seems to have rediscovered something of her old feisty self in leading the charge against the nomination of your Rice as Secretary of State. Then good old Teddy, Mr. Massachussetts Liberal in person, my Teddy, comes up with the beginnings of a withdrawal plan from your Iraq adventure. 12,000 troops, I heard him say, immediately following your election there!

Of course, no sooner does he utter the words than your attack dogs come out to snarl and bite. "Kennedy's partisan political attack stands in stark contrast to President Bush's vision of spreading freedom around the world," the Republican statement said. Of course! So I'd hope, from the loyal opposition. But "partisan political"? Come on, please. And Republican suport for your war is not partisan? Nor political? Why is it, Bush, that every time anyone opposes you, it's either "partisan political" or a lack of patriotism?

Then the day before, a group of 23 Democrats (count 'em, Bush! This is large-scale revolt!) introduced a resolution on the floor of the House, calling on you to withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately. "We have a moral responsibility to leave," said one of the sponsors, "in order to stem the violence." Partisan politics, of course. No one could honestly stand in opposition to the spread of freedom around the world.

There are even a few rumblings of revolt against your policies in your own party, Bush. Senators, Congressmen and -women expressing doubts about your Social Security scheme. And then there's Christine Todd Whitman, your former Secretary of the Interior, putting out a book complaining that "It's My Party, Too." She made a nifty appearance on The Daily Show last night--and also, I understand, on The Today Show, earlier--touting her book, and her weird notion that the extreme right wing is paralyzing your Republicans. I think I can quote her (almost) exactly, saying the party used to include a spectrum of opinion, from conservative, to moderate, to (yes, Bush) liberal! She said this. A liberal Republican! What a concept! How partisan political is that?

And I believe she's right. But your literalist fundamentalists--whether evangelical or constitutional--have got you by the balls, Bush. Their intransigeant ideology threatens to be the death of the Republicanism that we know and love. Time to face up to them, perhaps. And face them down.

Question is, are you paying attention, Bush? Are you listening to the country, or stirctly to your neocon psychophants (with apologies for the neologism)--the folks who promised you--and us, heaven help us!--that your Iraq war would be a cakewalk, and its costs handily covered by Iraqi oil. Now you're asking for another $80 billion! I'm usually hesitant about offering my own advice, especially to so astute a politician as yourself. But here's my two bits' worth for the day, with more apologies for my presumption: Shut up, Bush. Shut up about democracy, and liberty, and spreading freedom all around the world. (You couldn't resist doing it again, I notice, at your Rice's swearing in.) Just shut up. And start listening to other voices than your psychophants. They're just plain nuts.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Let us not pray,
since prayer offers us
the comfortable exculpation
of piety. Let us not say, once again,
Never again: we have shown ourselves
incapable of honoring such oaths.
We kill. We kill in the hundreds,
in the thousands, in the hundreds
of thousands, in the millions.
We kill each other, our own species,
the human race. We have no excuse.
Let us not resort
to words: words have already
failed us, repeatedly,
and emptied of their meaning:
Atrocity. Depravity. Barbarism.
Inhumanity. God.
We cannot atone for our actions
with empty expressions of piety or regret.

So let us not speak today. Let us be silent,
and breathe, and be thankful
for each breath, and acknowledge
simply who we are, and what we have done,
and grieve.

Liberation of Auschwitz, January 27, 1945

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Manpads Are Coming!

So now it's Manpads, Bush! Another thing to be scared of. The word itself is pretty damn scarey, no? Manpads? It evokes a weird scenario for a late night TV ad, along with tampax and those prophylactic devices that protect against unseemly urinary leaks. Turns out, though, MANPADS is a somewhat clumsy acronym for Man Portable Air Defence Systems, and the RAND Corporation has recently completed a study to assess its threat to civil aviation. They say, among other things, that "Al Qaeda and its affiliates have the motive and the means to bring down U.S. commercial aircraft" with these unfortunately-named shoulder-fired missiles.

Well, I'm sure your people comb the streets and rooftops for miles around before you take off in Air Force One, but that's scant comfort to the rest of us, Bush. I don't see the Secret Service scanning the horizon at Burkbank Airport, or Ontario. The rest of us have to take our chances when our plane takes off. We get little reassurance from the Rand report: "No such attempt has been made yet on a U.S. carrier, but given the measures being taken to preclude 9/11 style attacks, the use of Manpads will unavoidably become attractive to terrorists."

I don't like the sound of that word "unavoidably", do you, Bush? It makes it seem like it's bound to happen.

And coincidentally, of course, Airbus just happened to unveil its brand new A380 jumbo jet just last week. They say it can carry more than 800 passengers!

Coincidentally, too, I'm sure, Frontline aired a piece last night about the spread of terrorist cells in Europe. What a dreadful Hydra you've created here, Bush. Well, it's unfair to credit you with responsibility for the entire mess. There's blame enough to go around, not least to those barbarous terrorists themselves. But it's like I was saying just yesterday about our response so Castro: as I see it--as many of us out here see it--violence fails singularly as a cure for violence. On the contrary, it simply creates more. One of the French (uh-oh!) pundits whose expertise is in the field of terrorism was saying on Frontline that many experts are simply incredulous to see the United States address the terrorism of the 2000s as though it were the terrorism of the 1980s. It's a completely different animal, he insisted, multifarious, multi-cellular, continually expanding. To cut off a head is not to kill the creature, but rather to stimulate the growth of another two heads in its place. Your war in Iraq was the gift beyond Osama's wildest dreams: you created not only the motivation but the perfect training ground for those fanatics you claim to be defending our country from.

By the way, Bush, I did catch most of your news conference this morning--even though Ellie, the smarter of the two of us, was trying to get me to change channels. (Fortunately, I had the remote!) You were telling us all again, for the umpteenth time, how much safer the world is now, without Saddam--in that tone of yours that's calculated to suggest that anyone who questions the wisdom of the commander-in-chief is an idiotic child. Safer? Maybe as you see it. But with the reported proliferation of these MANPADS, I personally think not.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

An Outpost of Tyranny

I hear, Bush, that you enjoy an occasional cigar. As do I. As did your predecessor in office--though in a peculiarly scandalous manner. Generally, though, it's an arcane, somewhat big-boyish pleasure, and one which, if not too frequently indulged (especially for a reformed cigarette smoker like myself), does little harm. Word has it that you have a couple of rooms set aside for the purpose in the White House, as in those good old days when men could discreetly retire after dinner for brandy and cigar and, of course, some weighty man-talk.

Ah, well. Those days are long gone, Bush. I take my cigar outside, on the balcony, on a Sunday afternoon, where my wife is spared the aroma as I smoke--though she still finds cause enough to complain about the odor on me afterwards…

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is simple: Cuba. Why Cuba? Well, just because a reader of these letters was kind enough to ask what I thought about our relations with that tiny island nation. That thorn in America's side. That "outpost of tyranny" to which your Rice referred in her confirmation hearings (I haven't heard word from your Cheney yet: are we planning another attack?) And my mind began to wander to cigars, and whether you, in your position of power and--let's admit it, Bush--some privilege, might not have access to the occasional Havana? Perhaps through the good graces of your brother, Jeb, and his connections down there in Florida. Or whether you have the deep moral fiber to resist temptations such as this, given their illegality. (I must confess here that I myself generally succumb, when I have the opportunity: I have managed to smuggle in the occasional handful from the duty-free shop, when returning from abroad. And I haven't been arrested yet. Touch wood.)

But to get to the meat of the matter: our friend Fidel. His revolution, I have to say, was hard to resist in the glory days of the sixties. Not only did it have a decidedly romantic flair, it succeeded in toppling a regime so corrupt, so brutal, so alien to the interests of the poor and downtrodden that it deserved to fall. And I was young enough then, along with great numbers of my contemporaries, to share Castro's socialist zeal. Remember how it was? Power to the people! Such a seductive cry, back then. Dr. Fidel, with his black beard and fatigues and cigar, his fiery rhetoric--not to mention his sidekick, Che--was an unlikely but, yes, a curiously appealing hero to the youthfully naive.

Well we've all grown up a bit since then. Except Fidel. The trouble with the revolution was that it became itself a tyranny, as revolutions tend to do. Fidel's passion to do good things for his people degenerated into a familiar, tired old lust for retaining power, and thence into untrammelled dictatorship. The line between taking care of people and abuse is a fine one, even in personal relationships. Once you know what's best for everyone else and start to impose your vision on them, no matter how seemingly altruistic, you cease to be the cure and become instead the problem--a danger you yourself, Bush, might know something about! Once you stifle all disagreement and jail the dissidents--or worse, eliminate them--you have not only descended into the worst of tyranny, you have effectively deprived yourself of the source of all creative thinking and, with it, the possibility of change.

So I do not subscribe to the political thought and practice Castro borrowed, despite all evidence of its abject failure in the real world, from the already bankrupt Soviet brand of communism. I personally reject tyranny, without equivocation, whatever its form and wherever it is manifest. I despise the abuse of power to force people into submission.

That said, I also believe that, since the revolution, we have gone about our relations with Cuba in entirely the wrong way. We could long ago have killed the regime with kindness, as I see it, had we taken that tack. Instead, this country mistakenly chose to use its muscle to defeat the monster. We tried a military coup. Invasion. We know how well that tactic worked. And for decades now we have been trying trade and travel embargos, which have worked no better. On the contrary, they have succeeded only in further isolating Castro and his regime, and inducing him to consolidate his desperate hold on power through desperate means. They have alienated those who suffered under his rule, contributing to the deterioration of the social and economic fabric of their country.

Castro's brand of poison, I believe, could not so easily nor so long have survived the benefits of friendship, diplomatic exchange, trade, education, and a free exchange of ideas with the United States. But no. Instead we have allowed ourselves to be held by the short hairs by a relatively small number of disgruntled exiles, who infiltrated the political life of Florida--with its key position on our own national political map. And now our hostility is such that we're willing to sacrifice our own best interests, and those of a whole nation of the oppressed, in stubborn resistance to this one intransigent old man and his obsolescent vision.

Sadly, now that the "axis of evil" has been expanded to include "outposts of tyranny", I don't see much coming from your administration, Bush, by way of hope to change this situation. If it were up to me, I'd throw the whole thing open. But it's not, Bush. It's up to you. Give it a thought, okay?

And to the reader who brought the subject up: thanks for asking.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Note to Readers...

... and lurkers, especially if you live in countries other than the U.S.: I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts about the inauguration speech. Just click on the comments button. No need to register, if you respond as "Anonymous". Thanks, PeterAtLarge

Good Luck!

I read in Sunday's New Tork Times how Gen. Gary E. Luck, the retired general your military folks sent over to Iraq to assess the situation there, is preparing a report that will recommend that much more effort go into the training and fielding of Iraqi troops for the protection of the populace. More advisors, more resources. Better training, better weapons. And soon, devoutly to be hoped, fewer American soldiers in harm's way. In view of which, I find myself unable to resist the awful pun: Good Luck! (Sorry! The poor general must have suffered from it all his life!) In this instance, though, it does seem especially appropriate.

The sad truth is, Bush, I personally don't have too much faith in those Iraqi troops. In the first place, they have been too long promised--and that promise, like so many others in this dreadful fiasco of a war, has fallen way short of fulfillment. We did talk, didn't we, a couple of days ago, about your Rice's bald-faced prevarications in her confirmation hearings… with the candidate for the highest foreign policy office in the country insisting that the count of troops already trained amounted to 120,000, while Senator Joe Biden's count, on the strength of reliable on-the-ground military reports from that troubled territory, amounted to a mere 4,000 ready to go? I'm afraid I was more ready to believe the Senator.

And here's the other thing that leaves me thoroughly unconvinced that the good General's recommendation would ever be realizable in hard, practical terms: I recall quite clearly (don't you, Bush? Yes, surely…) the frankly abject performance of those supposedly crack Iraqi troops--the Republican Guard, wasn't it?--as early as your Dad's initial invasion of the country, some twelve years ago: they threw down their weapons and surrendered as soon as we, their enemy, appeared on the horizon. The TV screens showed them lining up by the roadside, waiting to be captured. Such images don't get easily erased. And it was pretty much the same thing with your own, more recent invasion, Bush. In the face of American might, they disappeared--wisely, I have to add--like gophers down a hole.

Not that I'm blaming them. Who'd want to risk his life for the likes of Saddam Hussein? No one with an ounce of sense in his head. And yet… and yet… I can't help feeling that there's more to it than this. Is it possible that these men are smart enough to be less trainable than our guys? Does their warmest heart (like that conscientious objector's in the e.e.cummings poem) recoil at war? Are they ever, I wonder, seriously, going to be the army that your generals want and need them to be? Are they ever going to embrace the iron discipline it takes to want to be a kill-and-be-killed fighting force? To stop at nothing in defense of freedom?

I don’t see it as just a matter of courage, either. Look at the courage it takes to simply participate in an election over there! No, there's another, more complicated factor at work here, and my inexpert judgment is that it has more to do with history… and loyalty: a quality I know you set great store by. I'm no historian, but a public television broadcast about T.E.Lawrence last night reminded me that the map of the Middle East was created, after the bloodbath of World War I, by a secret agreement between France and Britain--an agreement which betrayed every promise the perfidious Brits had made to persuade the Arab tribes to fight with them against the Turks. The illusion of a united and independent Arab world was snatched away from them, and Iraq was cobbled into existence out of a patchwork of angry and resentful tribes. It's hardly surprising, then, that that deep, gut-level, historical loyalty to nationhood that can be used by politicians (such as your good self, Bush) to summon men to fight is in short supply in that part of the world.

As I see it, you're going to need a whole lot more than Luck to find some resolution to this quagmire you've created. I wish I could be more optimistic for you. I just don't see it happening.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A dissent

Well, I changed my mind. I woke up with the beginnings of a dissent from your inauguration address, and the words began to flow. So here it is, Bush. I don't suppose you'll like it, but it would be great if you'd read it anyway. It's called:

Inauguration: A Dissent

So when does the thinking start?
At what point do we all decide,
as Americans and world citizens
that we will not allow ourselves
to be transformed again into a horde
of vacuous nodding dolls at the sound
of a simple word like "freedom"?
When do we finally see through
the rhetoric of what-we-want
in favor of what we truly need?

Behold the man. He speaks. He lays
one hand on the Bible and he swears.
He smiles a sort of smile, and speaks
of spreading liberty to every country
throughout the globe. A preacher now,
he tells us every one of us was made
in the image of his Maker, insinuating
he was sent by the Almighty--the same,
perhaps, as the one who orchestrated,
in his almighty and ominisicent power,
that tsunami.

Are we to be the sheep,
then, of this blind, cocksure shepherd?
Are we to be herded by his sheepdogs
over the precipice of another war,
or blight, or famine? How long do we
allow his sponsors and protectors
to foul our waters and pollute our air,
then turn around and sell us back,
at obscene profit, the shoddy products
of their abuse of our common wealth?
And how much longer do we continue
to call this exploitation "liberty"?
For how much longer do we consent
to the barbarity of preremptory
imprisonment, torture, and, yes,
even execution--even execution
of the young and simple-minded
under the guise of human rights
and justice? And close our eyes
to the sick, and poor, and needy,
in the name of Christian values?
How long do we worship money,
"business", the corporate interest,
the self-interested accumulation
of property, and weapons of death,
all in the name of God and Country?

When do we all wake up and shed
the blindfold? When do we start
listening to content, past the words
of empty rhetoric. When, friends,
when does the thinking start?

Thanks, Bush, for listening. Have a good Sunday!

Saturday, January 22, 2005


A day off today, Bush. An early meeting--up at five-thirty and an hour's drive up to town, then a three-hour session before driving another hour to get home. Pooped. No thoughts. See you tomorrow. Perhaps Monday. Have a good weekend…

Friday, January 21, 2005

Words and Deeds

Well, I read it, Bush. The speech. Every word of it. And who but the churliest of churls could disagree with your panegyric championing "liberty" and "freedom" all around the globe? I didn't make the count myself, but someone this morning had done the counting for me: forty-nine times you used the words. (Is there a difference, I wonder, between them? Or are they interchangeable?) Anyway, the way I see it, it's an inarguable ideal, and I'm with you: everyone in the world does indeed deserve to enjoy the rights that we associate with freedom.

But, listen, Bush, I do have a couple of problems with your speech, and it would be dishonest of me not to put them out for you to hear. One of them had to do with tone. To start with, that "we've got it, you ought to have it, we're going to help you get it, whether you ask for it or not" kind of attitude is likely to make more enemies than friends. One critique I read this morning in the Los Angeles Times used the word "messianic", and that one word caught the tone that I'm referring to. It's not only the grandiosity of your vision, your assumption of superior, even god-like understanding of the world, its neeeds, and the problems that beset it; it's also the religious fervor that--however subtly--pervaded the language of your speech. Was that reference to all of us bearing "the image of the maker of heaven and Earth" really necessary? And how about those more subliminal references to the words of biblical texts and hymns? The "release of captives", for example, or the "day of fire", or the "author of liberty"? Tell me there weren't messages buried in there, for the faithful.

And here's my second worry: the devil, as the saying goes, is in the detail--the implementation. I wouldn't even bring this up, because I understand that an inauguration speech is not about the detail, but about the big picture. But you can't avoid the context of the recent past when you speak in these big terms. Your talk of freedom all around the globe, for me, rather than evoking the image of world peace, raised the specter of threats, and threats of bombs, and bombs. It brought to mind words like "If you're not with us, you're against us," and "Bring it on!" (I read, also this morning, of your Cheney's newest sabre-rattling, this time toward Iran, on the Don Imus radio show--and on the very same day as your inauguration: a curious counterpart to your conciliatory tone.) Don't tell me that this was simply your Vice President mouthing off-the-cuff. I don't believe that anything in your administration is unplanned. Except, of course, for those non-existent mistakes. But, really, is this is to be our way of supporting "the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture" and "ending tyranny in our world?" It smells a bit tyrannical to me.

In the next breath, turning to our problems here at home, you spoke of "divisions, which must be healed to move forward to great purposes," and promised to "strive in good faith to heal them." Again, fine words. But the context bothers me: is it "good faith", even before your inauguration, to rush to resubmit the nomination of twenty judges previous rejected by the loyal opposition on the grounds of their extremist views? Is the plan for "privatization" of the Social Security system put forward in a good faith effort to heal divisions? Is it "good faith" for your Rice to sit before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and deny any smallest error of judgment in the Iran fiasco, or grossly misrepresent the current situation there with regard to the training and preparation of Iraqi troops?

I guess it comes back down to a question of trust, Bush. The words sounded good. Who could quarrel with the ideal of "freedom in all the world"? But these words don't come devoid of context: they come in the shadow of four years of actions past, and actions now contemplated, begging the question of the integrity of words and deeds, ideals and implementation. It would be great, Bush, if your actions in the coming year prove my skepticism groundless. If they do, as we Brits used to say, I'll be the first to eat my hat. Or at the very least, some good, old, homegrown American crow.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inauguration Day

Well, Bush, guess what? I missed your speech this morning. Totally. Well, almost totally. Fired up the TV at eight AM. Sat through the arrival of quite a number of dignitaries, like Oscar night. Listened to your Lott and the however-many-gun salute. Heard the songs, nicely sung. Watched your Cheney sworn in. Watched you sworn in, and then… you'd hardly uttered but a few words of your speech when the contractor arrived. We have a number of jobs to be done in and around the house, so it took some time to show him what's what. And by the time we were finished, so were you. Bad timing, I guess. Then I had to go to the doctor about my hives.

Not a truly propitious start for us, Bush. Anyway, I imagine I'll have the chance to catch up with your words in the newspaper tomorrow. Meantime, not a bad word from me today. Just to wish you not only the very best of luck but, more importantly, the best of wisdom for your second term. And the same wish for those Democrats in Congress. May they loyally oppose. And indeed for all of us out here in the so-called "real" world. May we all survive, and thrive, and stay alive. May we all find the kind of happiness that detracts from no one else's. As my teacher says, the world would be a better place if we all found that true happiness that can exist only in the real "real world", within.

With that, a Happy Inauguration Day to you, Bush. Do right by the world, and you'll do right by me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Transformational Diplomacy

I'll be brief today, Bush. Promise. I'm actually suffering from an attack of the hives, which hits me from time to time for reasons I have never been able to fathom. Enough to say that it feels like your whole body is burning up, with a thousand little eruptions exploding everywhere underneath the skin and transforming into these huge areas of horribly itchy welts. Last night, I got the worst attack I've ever had, and the welts are only now, this morning, beginning to subside. If you've never had the experience, Bush, I don't recommend it.

About your Rice: to be blunt, my personal opinion is that she should not be confirmed. I'll admit I didn't sit around all day listening to her testimony, but from what I heard, and from what I read in the paper today, I remain unconvinced that she has the qualifications or the temperament to be our country's senior diplomat. On the policy front, she talks about "transformational diplomacy." What does that mean, Bush? If it means, as I think it does, that we approach diplomacy with the idea of transforming the rest of the world to our way of thinking about freedom and democracy, I happen to believe that's a terrible approach. Diplomacy, as I understand it, is about listening, negotiation, tact, give-and-take. It's only in part about persuasion.

And then if your Rice's prickly, defensive exchanges with certain senators provide the example of her personal diplomatic skills, again I say No. She could not, would not admit of any view other than her own, or to any failing on her own part or the administration's. She had to be right, all the time, every time. Oh, she mouthed a couple of admirable concepts: "The time for diplomacy is now," she declared: and diplomacy should be "a conversation, not a monologue, with the rest of the world." But she failed notably to engage in such a "conversation" with either Senator Biden or Senator Boxer, insisting against all evidence that our troop strength had always been, and continues to be, adequate to the task; and that trained Iraqi forces now total 120,000--a figure wildly in excess of the 4,000 claimed, according to Biden, by the US military experts on the ground.

And, yes, there was one brief aside conceding that "some of the [adminsitration's decisions] may not have been good." But that was brief. And it was an aside. The main thrust of your Rice's testimony did not waver from the party line, and inspired no confidence in the possibility of a change of heart and tactic for your second term. I was one of those, Bush, as I expect you know by now, who stood against your return to office. I stand against the elevation of this, your most faithful ally, to a position which supposedly represents this country to the world.

And now, back to the hives. I expect that's why I'm so crotchety this morning.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Think Blue..

Here's an idea... Think Blue is making and selling blue plastic bracelets (like those yellow Lance Armstrong bands that you see everywhere) to remind us that "elections matter every day of the year." The bracelets cost all of a dollar each, with a $2 shipping fee per 5 bands purchased, and proceeds go to a good cause of your choice--I chose For information, go to thinkblue. Think about it.


Did you happen to catch the History Channel's special on the French Revolution last night, Bush? You'd have found something of interest there, I think. Not that it was a terribly good or deep analysis of an event of extraordinary historical complexity: a couple of hours necessitated a good deal of shorthand thinking and easy answers--like when Marie Antoinette is described as "the Imelda Marcos of her day." Some truth to that, surely. She was by all accounts a mindlessly extravagant person. Even so, she suffered in proportion to her extravagance.

But the whole idea of revolution got me thinking about what you have been trying to pull off in Iraq--because, in a real sense, that's revolution, too. What is revolution but a complete turn of the wheel, the violent overthrow of a demonstrably corrupt regime and its replacement with another, hopefully more enlightened, more humane? Trouble is, I believe that revolution has to come from the hearts of the oppressed themselves, from their passion to make change. In Iraq, you persist in trying to do it for them. The revolution may have been smoldering in the hearts of Iraqis terrified by the Saddam regime, but it had not yet reached boiling point, where their passion for change was such that it could not longer be contained, where they were ready to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for freedom.

No, it was you, Bush, who were ready to sacrifice their lives--and the lives of Americans. And it was not their vision of a better future. It was yours--your vision of what freedom means, and how it works; your vision of democracy. As I see it, that's why this particular revolution fell apart, and continues to fall apart as we march on toward an election that will be seen by large numbers of Iraqis as anything but the free exercise of democratic rights.

Another thought, this one having to do with the whole notion of karma. One of the lessons of the French Revolution is surely that no one among us is immune from the consequences of the actions that we undertake. It's not so much a question of just desserts, but rather what comes back at us as a result of what we do, and how we do it. Louis XIV and his queen, his family, his court, were not simply brought to justice by those they had cruelly ignored, exploited, scorned, oppressed. They lived out to the full the consequences of their cruelty and indifference, their lack of compassion for those they were given power over. The same with their oppressors, the revolutionaries. Robespierre went full circle in his life, from idealist reformer to autocratic tyrant, and died in the bloody manner he mercilessly prescribed for others. An incredible reversal, packed into the space of a few short years.

I believe we do need to think seriously about our actions, Bush. You have been given a place of special privilege in life, and that privilege has brought you, now, to a lofty place of power--more power, perhaps, than any one human being can, or should rightly hold. You have the greater obligation, then, in that place of privilege, to practice what the Buddhists call "right action": to act in the interests of the weakest of those you hold power over, not simply those you know the best, those closest to you, those most like you--like Louis' aristocrats. But take note of Robespierre, Bush, lest your ideology, like his, should lead you to neglect the greater call of wisdom and compassion. Because your actions will surely bring about results proportionate to the breadth of vision that informs them. And your actions, of all people's, for good or ill, will affect every living being on this planet.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Oh, Bush, Bush, Bush. More lies. More prevarications. More half-truths. More exaggerations and distortions. More alarmist tactics. That's it, isn't it? You scream crisis, and get your faithful all lined up behind you, echoing your screams. Then comes the Bush fix, based, it seems, entirely on divinely-inspired Bush ideology. It's your pattern, Bush. We saw it in your first election campaign, and 9/11 gave you the indisputable opportunity to do it again. Then came the War on Terror. Then the weapons of mass destruction and the Al Qaeda connection with Saddam... And then your second campaign.

And now Social Security. The chosen issue, it begins to emerge, for your second term. What alarms me is not the imminence of disaster on this front, but the way you revert to pattern. Virtually every balanced, carefully reasoned article I read on the subject comes up with the same conclusion: there is no crisis. There are concerns, certainly, and there's a need to make adjustments, tweak a bit here, tweak a bit there. But there's no need to jump immediately into the radical ideological change that you're insisting on. And yet, so I hear, you're leaning on the good folks at the Social Security Admininstration to cheer-lead and promulgate your view--just as you leaned on the good folks at the CIA to validate your preconceived plan to invade Iraq. We saw where that led.

So where are the reasoned arguments about this issue? Where is the thoughtful consideration of other views? Where's the debate? There is none coming from the White House, so far as I can see. Just the propaganda. Just the same old "Trust me/Trust us" rhetoric.

And the sad truth is, Bush, I don’t trust you. I don't trust your rash judgments when it comes to the financial security of countless millions of future retirees. I look at the deficit you've created. I look at what your "privatization" plan would add to the existing deficit. I take into account the fact that you have failed to veto a single spending bill since you came into office, and that you have instead lavished money on absurd and needless military ventures, even while insisting on ideologically-driven tax cuts that the country can't afford. I look at these things and I say, No, Bush, I don’t trust you when it comes to money matters. I don't trust you one little bit.

And while we're on the subject, what happened to all that aid your promised to the sub-Saharan African countries? What happened to the funding for your No Child Left Behind act?

That's another tactic, isn't it, Bush? Mouth a few feel-good slogans to get the votes or rally the support, then forget the promises at pay-out time. In the case of No Child Left Behind, it now appears that your Ron Paige at the Department of Education put out nearly a quarter of a million precious education dollars in payment to a hack journalist for his collaboration on the propaganda front! So your people have resorted, now, to buying the favor of the press? There's some of us out here wondering just how far that goes… There's some of us who still remember the service provided you by Robert Novak, outing the CIA wife of the man who gave the lie to your Iraq war pretext, Ambassador Joe Wilson.

Trust? You broke that relationship with us years ago. I swear I personally cannot take anything on trust from you or any of your people.

And speaking of education, I have a thought or two about Harry. Prince Harry, that is, and his Nazi uniform. I can't believe that this outrage reflected any ill will on the young man's part. It was simple, disgraceful ignorance. He did not know enough to understand that a dress-up party costume could cause offense. He was so uninformed about the history of the past century that he failed to understand the enormity of the Nazis' crime, and to see his action in that context. To him, I suppose, it was just another ancient war. And yet it's safe to assume, I think, that Harry was provided with the best education that money can buy.

Here's my point, Bush. If a "well-educated" young man like Prince Harry of England can be so ignorant, what's happening to the minds of millions of young people here, in our country, who have the disadvantage of geographical as well as historical distance from the events of the early and mid-20th century? The great lesson of the Holocaust--remember?--was Never Forget. But it has already been forgotten, Bush, not just by a few ignorant people, but by multitudes. And this is not something that can be rectified by tests. This goes to the very root of education: the development of a depth of character and human understanding, along with the capacity for critical thought and the ability to grasp complex, even ambiguous or paradoxical issues.

Which brings us back to where we started out this morning, Bush. I sometimes have to wonder--forgive my skepticism--if you and your ultra-conservative friends don’t have a vested interest in the growth industry of ignorance. The better to sell your ideology to uncritical minds.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

116 Fears. By my count.

Sorry about yesterday, Bush. As predicted, I didn't get around to making an entry for you. I was thinking about you, though. Speaking the other day about your exploitation of our fears, I began wondering what I myself might be afraid of. I came up with quite a list. Some big, some small…

116 Fears

Pain. Death. Dying. Dying alone,
dying in pain, sudden death, death
in a car crash, death in a plane crash.
Death by fire. Burning. Injury.
Losing an arm, losing a leg, a finger.
Incapacity, disability, impotence.
Incontinence. Needing people.
Needing someone to clean me up,
get me dressed. Needing someone
to feed me. Not knowing. Losing
my way, losing my mind, losing
my manhood. Losing control. Losing
my wife, my daughter, my sons,
my grandchildren. Losing everything.
No money. No place to live, no job.
No means of support. No love.
No belongings. No clothes. Being seen
naked. Being seen to be foolish
or inadequate. Dancing. Being awkward,
being incompetent. Being in unknown
territory. Being unknown. Finding
myself in situations of perceived danger
or discomfort. Being ridiculed, hated,
scorned, mocked. Being exposed
for the fraud I suspect myself to be
at weak moments. Weakness. Being
seen to be weak or incompetent. Seen
to be small. Inconsequence. Cowardice.
Vulnerability. Being put on the spot.
Public speaking. Being called upon.
Falling. Falling from a great height,
being pushed. Being pushed into
something. Fear of the void. Fear
of nothingness, emptiness. Fear
of no meaning. No sense. Being hurt
by others for no reason. Being beaten.
Hurting myself by hurting others.
Cruelty. Torture. Being deprived
of air. Being crushed, being buried
alive, not being able to move a limb,
being pinned down, stuck, powerless.
Earthquakes. Being taken. Taken
for a fool. Being robbed. Being
taken advantage of, being taken
for granted. Not being loved, or loved
too much. Being suffocated, smothered.
Drowning. Watching suffering. Watching
others suffer without being able to help.
Cancer. Disease. Slow death by cancer
or disease. Lacking the courage to face
disease and dying. Living a life without
meaning, without purpose. Being useless.
Knowing nothing about whatever lies
beyond life. Not being alive. Oblivion.
The end of everything. No me.
Nothing. No more. Never.

That's it, Bush. Not a comprehensive list, I guess, but it will do for now. I wonder if you have your list, too? I hope it's not as long as mine. And not so scary.

Friday, January 14, 2005


A day off today, Bush, you'll be happy to hear. Maybe tomorrow, too. I'm headed down south on a visit and theater tonight.

One quick thing, though. I'm reading so many good things about charitable efforts to aid the tsunami victims… everything from celebrity telethons to a news item in our local rag, this morning, with a picture of our good neighbor, a hair stylist, who along with her colleagues at the salon, has pledged 100 percent of her earnings today to the relief effort. These things are wonderful indeed. I'm worried now, though, that we (I don't exclude myself) tend to respond to the great dramas and tragedies, and that other, less spectacular crises get lost in the press.

My pledge today, then, is that I will put my money where my mouth is by seeking out some equally needy cause in Africa on my return, and sending an amount equal to my contribution to the tsunami victims. That's the least I can do.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Search for Perfect Safety

So, Bush, I happened to be listening to the car radio with half an ear a couple of days ago, as ones does, you know, when driving, when the phrase jumped out at me: "the search for perfect safety." A nice one. The broadcaster was NPR--of course, what else would you expect from me by now?--and the person being interviewed was talking about the withdrawal of Vioxx from the market, and its subsequent banning by the Food & Drug Administration. The drift of his argument was that Vioxx and other, related drugs have enormous potential therapeutic value, despite their known--and unknown--risks; and that the decision about whether or not to use them should be the province of doctor and patient, not some government agency. It would be short-sighted, he suggested, to deprive all patients of a valuable source of pain relief just because some might be at higher risk.

I don't claim to know much about medications and their side effects, but I've been thinking a good deal about risk itself in recent days, particularly of course since the tsunami and, closer to home, the mudslide in La Conchita, California. We all live, to greater or lesser extent, at the mercy of Mother Nature. If not by disaster, she'll catch us by disease; or if not that, she'll certainly catch up with us in time. Age is nothing to her, and everything to us.

But I've been thinking too about that obsessive--some might say quixotic--American search for perfect safety, about the great, imponderable hazards we encounter every day of our lives, about the fears we carry around with us, and about how readily we allow them to be exploited. I've been thinking about your Department of Homeland Security, for example, Bush, in view of your latest appointment. And I've been thnking about all those crises you persist in alarming us with--in order, it would seem, to save us from them: the world-wide terrorist conspiracy (I'd love to see the new three-hour BBC special about the myth of Al Qaeda!); your weapons of mass destruction and the imminence of the threat from Saddam Hussein; and the imminent demise of the Social Security system as we know it, among others. You, Bush, have become quite the expert in exploiting our fears; and quite the hero, strutting your fearless leadership as you confront them, fearlessly. Trouble is, they all turn out to be illusions.

There's a curious illogic to our American attitude in the face of the dangers that indubitably surround us, if only because we happen to be mortal creatures. On the one hand, we run risks that to other peoples throughout history would have been unimaginable. We hurtle down freeways at eighty miles an hour, in blithe denial of the possible consequences. We allow access--virtually on demand--to weapons designed to kill a maximum number of humans in as short a time as possible, and then install metal detectors in our high schools (let alone our airports!) to protect ourselves against them. Against all odds, we fly continually through the air. We place men and women atop a tin can full of highly volatile explosive and launch them spectacularly into space. We are a marvelously adventurous and daring species.

And yet at the same time we fret immensely about safety, and spend inordinate amounts of time and money attempting to assure our invulnerability. We furnish our cars with seat belts and airbags, we equip our guns with safety locks. We examine every bag that goes on every airplane, and poke our women's breasts and crotch to be sure they're not boarding with explosives. We scrap valuable science projects in the effort to assure the perfect safety of those who knowingly and willingly devote their lives to the hazards of space flight. It's interesting, too, that our perceptions of safety change. A mere handful of years ago, we had no objection to people smoking in bars and restaurants. If they wanted to run the risk, we thought, on their heads be it. Now our knowledge base has changed: we know about the risks of second-hand smoke, and the banning of smoking indoors has come to seem a reasonable measure of protection for the rest of us.

It's all so odd. I know I risk beginning to sound like a libertarian on this issue, Bush, and you'll be laughing at me by now. But I have to say that I'm genuinely confused. On the one hand, it seems smart to vigorously fight those risks that pose a threat to us, as individuals or as a society. On the other hand, we're all too ready to take things to extremes, and be led around by the nose by those (including, in my view, your good self) who want to take advantage of our vulnerablity. Politically, ideologically, commercially...… Living on a network of earthquake faults, as we do here in California--and driving on the freeways--I know we have to settle for a certain amount of denial. On the other hand, foolhardiness in the face of danger is not the answer either. Perhaps, Bush, the answer lies somewhere in the area of that old chestnut, common sense--a quality that we seems in notably short supply at this moment in our history.

All of which said, life without risk would be a poor adventure, wouldn't it? Another paradox: perfect safety is likely not attainable without first plunging into risk. Having spent the better part of my life as a writer working principally with artists, I know enough about the creative mind to understand that risk is its primary advantage, the fuel on which it thrives and without which it doesn't even get its engines started. If we're not close to the edge of our intellect and abilty, we're nowhere. So here's my invitation to you, Bush: stop scaring us half to death and take a risk yourself. I mean, of course, an intelligent, thoughtful, meaningful, positive risk, not another foolhardy invasion. In the Middle East, for example. Stick your neck out. You might find that no one will chop your head off after all. It will take some big risks to arrive at peace.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Murphy's Law

It's Murphy's Law, isn't it Bush, that says anything that can go wrong, will go wrong? I've been thinking about that today, following the past couple of days' series of mini-disasters in our personal lives. Small things, really. We returned home from our weekend out of town to find that ours was the only house on the street, in the middle of the storm, without power. The electrical box in the broom closet looked okay. Our neighbors reported no problems. We couldn't survive the night (we thought! So many do!) without electricity, so we called in our friend the electrician on an emergency basis. It was the main power breaker that had blown, where the power comes in from the street. A temporary fix saved our lives for the night.

Then the car, yesterday morning: it was supposed to have been an hour's job. It lasted two. The paperwork from the purchase, nearly a year ago, was all screwed up, and my maintenance contract had been lost in the mail. More hassles. I got home, finally, to find my online connection gone--because of the power failure, I had to assume. A couple of calls to my computer guru (a UC Irvine student, pure genius!) got me back online…

Well, I know I promised I wouldn't burden you with all this, Bush, but there you go. It seemed relevant today, with so many other things going wrong. The dreadful weather here and throughout the country, deadly mud-slides, floods, accidents everywhere. And I can't help thinking, still, so much about those good people on the borders of the Indian Ocean, their lives destroyed.

And so I got to thinking about you, with everything going wrong in Iraq this month: the elections threatened by insurgent violence, the troops and the Iraqi police under increasingly bloody, violent attacks, the civilians' lives lost or devastated. And not only over there. So much here that's running off-track: train wrecks spewing chemicals, gas trucks exploding, and of course the weather--all the way to the nomination of your Bernie Kerik. A smooth recovery yesterday, with your latest nomination, by the way! Only Hillary could object. But I heard somewhere that thirteen previous candidates had turned you down. Is that the truth, or is that just more scurrilous rumor-mongering?

Anyway, my guess is that it must sometimes feel to you like Murphy's Law is the law that drives the world, one disaster after another. But maybe not. It may be, Bush, that you're a cool enough dude to be impervious to the vicissitudes of the world out there. Maybe you take it all in stride. Personally, if I were in your shoes, and judging by the way I jumped right off the deep end yesterday, I think I'd be getting a serious case of the stomach ulcers by now. Here's hoping nothing bad will happen for the rest of the day--for either one of us.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Desperate Dan, the Anchor Man

Okay, then, Bush. A quickie… I'll resist the temptation to tell you all my troubles. They're not so terrible as those the storms visited upon the unfortunate people of La Conchita, California, not too far from here, where the entire hillside collapsed and buried their homes; let alone the dreadful fate of the tsunami victims. We're fortunate, here at home. We have our power back, and our lives are restored to their normal, somewhat humdrum routine. Besides, you probably wouldn't be interested in such petty problems. Suffice it to say that I'm back in action, and have time at least for a brief entry for the day.

So… About Dan Rather and that pesky news report on the subject of your service in the Texas Air National Guard: from what I read, it's the journalistic methods that came in for such a heavy reprimand from the independent panel appointed to review the incident. No doubt, from this point of view alone, it was a rushed and sloppy job. Too bad. It gave Dan's right-wing critics the chance to pontificate about his liberal bias, and denied us all the opportunity to learn a little more about you.

The liberal bias is not one I see myself, qute honestly. On the contrary, I find Dan's news, like most of the mainstream media's work, far too timid and willingly uncritical of the things you do in your administration. And I was frankly disappointed to note that the independent report did not address the veracity of the content of the news item; on the contrary, it pronounced itself unable to judge the authenticity--or otherwise--of the documents which formed the basis of the CBS new special.

Okay, so it wasn't their job to do this. I understand that, Bush. Even so, the omission leaves open some serious unanswered questions, doesn't it? Given the pivotal role played by that Swift Boat gang in smearing your opponent's character last summer, the question of military records became fair game in the 2004 election. And yet you succeeded remarkably well not only in ducking the issue insofar as your own record was concerned, but also, through your insipid and unconvincing rebuke of the Swift Boat veterans' tactics, in supporting them with a kind of tacit virtual approval. Nice job!

If I were a conspiracy-minded person, though, I'd be wondering whether CBS wasn't set up by their detractors for this blunder, in order to discredit them--along with the rest of the mainstream news--in the eyes of those who are all too willing to get their information straight from the Fox's mouth. And nicely timed for the election, too!

Anyway, now, to my personal regret, we still don't know to what extent those documents were trustworthy, and instead have the dubious pleasure of watching you sail back into office with impunity. Talk about Teflon presidents, Bush! I'd certainly welcome a word or two of explanation… but I don't expect to get them.

A kiss and a promise

Sorry, Bush. It's been a terrible morning. No more rain. But also no power at our house. No car (in the shop.) No computer (crash). Everything beginning to come back online now, slowly, so not to worry. I may catch you later in the day. If not, then tomorrow…

Monday, January 10, 2005


Whoever next happens on this blog will be my 1,000th visitor. Welcome. And thanks. I'm still new at this, and need your help in spreading the word, if you enjoy what you read. I also appreciate your comments. Just hit the comment button at the bottom and say... whatever. "Great blog today, Peter." Or, if you're that way inclined, "You're full of it." Love and blessings to all, and great, warm thanks to regulars!


Rain, Bush. It's been going on for days now and even this morning, Monday, it shows no sign of letting up. They say we're in for another couple of days before we see the sun again.

We're not used to such foul weather here. We're the lucky ones. We get warm days and sunshine most of the year. Still, while I've been living in this part of the world for thirty-five years, I can't remember anything like this. Storm after storm, coming in from the north and the west. It's big news on the local TV stations. Three people dead. Which seems small potatoes, really, when you think of it, in view of the tsunami victims back there in Southeast Asia. Still, they do need a drama, don't they, Bush? The media. And this seems to provide it for them. Twenty-four hour coverage. Rain-soaked reporters checking in from all points of the compass, their hair-dos all awry, breathless with the breaking news: an SUV crashes in a storm ditch; a tree falls in Alhambra; a mud slide threatens a home in Sierra Madre…

I have a little saying when these bad things happen. It helps a bit. I just mutter under my breath, "It's Bush's fault," and that seems to take the sting out of whatever bad thing's happening. Just a joke, really, Bush. Don't take it personally. Although, this weather, with the effects of global warming… Who knows?

Anyway, good news this morning, about the Palestinian elections yesterday, right? The fact that they seem to have gone off smoothly, for one thing. No bombs. But also the election of Mahmoud Abbas. That seems promising, given that he went on record calling for an end to violence. From this distance, he sounds like one of the saner voices in the region. Let's hope he has the strength and the perseverence to match the sanity.

Wouldn't that be a blessing, though, Bush? To find some way to bring peace between Israel and a new, neighboring Palestine? Because that would go a long way toward alleviating the Muslim sense of grievance, which is spreading so much poison in the world. It's still a stretch, of course, because the hatred of the state of Israel goes deeper even than the Palestinian problem. I know that millions of their neighbors simply cannot tolerate the nation's presence in their midst. But it would be a start, no, Bush? It would be a good start.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Old stories...

The two images that haunt my mind today, Bush, are from yesterday's New York Times: Edgar Ray Killen, an old, frail, balding, wispy-haired, pathetic wreck of a Southern Baptist preacher standing before Judge Marcus Gordon of the Circuit Court of Philadelphia, Mississippi; and the 1964 mug shot of the same Edgar Ray Killen, grim-faced, defiant, cruel, contemptuous, at the time of the murders of those three young civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, whose crime was to participate in the registration of black voters in the state of Mississippi.

So do we now look at this pathetic old man and have pity on his decrepitude? I say no. We cannot, as a society, compound our shameful inaction of forty years ago with shameful inaction today. The man has never, as I understand it, expressed a moment's remorse for that dreadful episode. He has continued to preach hatred and racial prejudice as the explicit intention of his unmerciful God. His contempt for the justice system, back at the time of the crime, should be matched by our respect for the justice system today. Let him stand trial and, if found guilty, let him spend the rest of his days in jail. I like to think that I'm not a vindictive man, but justice, in this instance, should no longer be delayed.

Anyway, Bush, I wish you'd had it in your heart yesterday to say just one or two words in public, in all gravity, as our nation's leader, about this significant moment in the country's history. I understand that it's inappropriate to comment on a case that's going to trial, but maybe some words about a still open national wound, a stain on this country's honor and reputation, an opportunity for healing… Something.

Instead of which you go ranting on to your hand-picked audience about the need to place a damages cap of $250,000 on medical malpractice suits--in order, I can only assume, to protect those good people in the insurance business. Imagine, though, Bush, were you an average middle class American and your daughter, God forbid, had been condemned to life in a wheelchair--or on life-support--through the sheer negligence of some doctor or hospital, how would a quarter million dollars see your family through a lifetime of her dependency and medical costs? Impossible, no? There has to be a better answer than simply slapping an arbitrary cap on every case, no matter what the circumstance.

You do have a way of finding those issues that can be sold to a public eager to find easy targets to blame for their misfortunes. In this case, it's trial attorneys. And then coming up with simple-sounding answers that can be counted on to rally the mob. The end result, though, as you play to the gallery on relatively minor matters, is that we sink deeper into the mire of incompetence and neglect in the face of such truly pressing issues as health care for those millions of Americans who simply can't afford it.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


I was blessed with a remarkable insight this morning, Bush. If you have been clicking on the "Comments" button once in a while, below, you'll have noticed that I have this Steve. Steve is my perpetual nay-sayer. He finds fault with everything I write. He's sharp, acerbic, cocky, obstreperous, unabashedly rude, and quite frankly he has been bugging me. Every time I open up my email and find a message from him, I'm annoyed to feel a rush of apprehension and, yes, pique.

But here's the thing: what came to me in a moment of clarity this morning is that Steve--I'll call this one Steve-Out-There--is no more than an external voice for the Steve I have been carrying around with me my entire life. I'll call him Steve-In-Here. Steve-In-Here has been the bane of my life as a writer. Every time I put pen to paper--well, really, finger to keyboard these days--Steve-In-Here pops up to tell me kindly that I'm full of shit, I'm a lousy writer, my ideas are trite, my thought prcoesses untrustworthy, my logic feeble. He tells me that I'm really pretty stupid, and that my efforts are a waste of time. (I hear Steve-Out-There all ready to tell me I should listen to this Steve more often!) He reminds me how much smarter others are than I, how other writers manage to get rich and famous, and mocks my relative obscurity. And of course, no matter how much I've managed to publish over the years--and it's not insignificant--my first instinct is to believe every word he says.

There's more. Steve-In-Here is capable, if I allow him, of putting his absurd and negative restrictions on the decisions I make and the way I live my life. It's a battle, Bush, to stay awake to who he is and how he operates. So Steve-Out-There, somewhere in blogosphere, is a healthy reminder and even though--no, because--his input irritates me, I have to be grateful for the gift.

This is not the first time, of course, that I've been aware of Steve-In-Here. I used to call him my "Editor", and envisioned him sitting behind my shoulder as I wrote. The title of my memoir, "While I Am Not Afraid", was taken from the wording of a photograph and text piece by the artist Duane Michaels. The photograph was a male nude (not insignificant, because this is about vulnerability, about stripping off the outer clothing that protects me), and the text read: "I must write this now/This very moment/While I am still foolish,/Before I become sensible again/And know better,/And while I am not afraid/To say things out loud." I love that text, and deeply honor the feelings from which it came.

So now what I'm wondering is whether you, Bush, have a Steve-In-There? (I know you have no shortage of Steve-Out-Theres!) But, really, do you? You may be one of those people who get along without one. But what I realize, bottom line, is that in many ways he's the best friend that I have. No doubt that he has my best interests at heart: he wants to protect me from making a total fool of myself, in public. Above all, he keeps me honest. He asks me constantly to check up on myself, and think more carefully about what I do and say.

But (take note, Steve-Out-There) there are plenty of times when I wish he'd just shut up and go away.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Ellie's Birthday!

A Happy Birthday to my wife. I'm not telling you, Bush, how old she is today, but at least she still stays a good bit younger than me... and young in everything she practices in her life. A shower of blessings on her for the coming year!
That said, I've been meaning to ask what Presidents do when they need a breath of air for the soul? I mean, aside from their personal devotions. One great thing to do in Washington DC (there have to some advantages to living in the nation's capital) is spend a couple of hours at the Phillips Collection. I say this because we did a walk-through, last night, of the selection from that wonderful collection which is currently on tour, and has reached our local museum.
Great pictures, Bush. I think you'd get a kick out of the magnificent big Renoir--the icon work, really, of the Phillips Collection--of a boathouse party by the river outside Paris. Then there's the three van Goghs, breathtaking, along with a stunning landscape through a window by Bonnard, a series of Picassos, and a Giorgio Morandi still life of a couple of vases and a jar that knocks you out with its absolute, unquestionable, simple there-ness. I don't know about you, but I get that little flutter of the heart in front of some of these pictures, reminding me that sometimes the human species can come up with something so undeniably great that all you can do is stand there and say, Yes! It's a refreshing change from the news headlines that hit us every day.
Anyway, then a birthday dinner for Ellie with good friends, who got me thinking again about what I'm doing with this blog, these Bush Diaires. My friend Donald pointed out that I risk alienating readers with the tone of this writing and some of the more obvious tricks that I resort to (calling you "Bush", for example, and talking about "your Rumsfeld" and "your Cheney", and so on); and with the somewhat irreverent attitude I have toward the President and his policies. He thought I might be more persuasive if I expressed myself with greater understanding and respect for opinions on the other side.
Which got me thinking once again about what I'm doing here. And one thing I realize I'm NOT doing is trying to persuade anyone to come over to my way of thinking. I don't think of my writing as political--though obviously it has political themes and political implications. I'm not attempting to be "fair and balanced". Nor am I attempting to address the issues of the day--though sometimes they do crop up. When I address you directly, as I do, it's not with the illusion that it's actually you, Bush, the President, that I'm addressing: I keep coming back to that useful insight of my daughter's, that "Bush" in a sense has become my muse. No, I do realize that I'm pretty much talking to myself. I'm writing, which is not much more nor less than my way of talking to myself. I'm satisfying my writing jones, that weird little addiction that requires some daily satisfaction, and seems to have found an outlet for it in this wonderful new medium--which allows me to actually publish what I say, and hopefully engage a few interested readers, who find some kind of pleasure in the texture of the words I weave. For Duncan Phillips and his likes, the jones was about acquiring art. He was one of those who couldn't live without it and I, for one, am happy to benefit from his addiction. Maybe, with luck, there's a few people out there who will benefit from mine. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but it does to me.
Good for my friend, then, for challenging me to think a little more about what it is I'm doing here. I feel just a little clearer about it all this morning, though--happily--still not blessed with any certainty. Once I get to be sure about myself and what I say, I might was well trash my keyboard. It's all about the adventure. As another friend put it to me long ago: "How do I know what I think 'till I see what I say?" So, as the Hokey-Pokey puts it, that's what it's all about.
Thanks, Bush, for being a good Muse.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A great teacher, a lesson learned...

First off today, Bush, a regrettably much belated tribute to a man who died last November, but whose death I only heard about yesterday. I don't suppose you will have heard about Dr. Ed Wortz, but he was a West Coast pioneer in biofeedback work back in the 1960s, and had the added distinction of knowling how to bring the special knowledge and wisdom of that field of inquiry to the world of contemporary artists.

I believe that the avant-garde work of the so-called Light & Space artists in California owed much to Ed's thought, teaching, and example; and that internationally-renowned artists like Robert Irwin were deeply in his debt, both from the point of view of the science and technology involved in their work, and in their breaking away from conventional art attitudes and concepts. He was an important part of a whole shift in consciousness in the art world, in which the "object" began to take second place to the experience of the observing mind. In addition, Ed's personal counseling sessions with numerous creative people was, I am sure, instrumental in shaping their lives.

An equally important gift to many of us who knew him was his understanding and teaching of Buddhist thought and practice. Not one of his close friends, but never anything less than a serious admirer, I was always aware of Ed and his work: he was a gentle, magnanimous, and mind-expanding presence in my life, as in the life of countless others; and that presence will itself be lasting, even now that Ed himself is no longer with us.

I have a particular reason to be telling you about Ed, Bush, because the great and manifestly simple lesson that he taught me might prove useful also to you. It came at a time when I was in a terrible mess: I had taken a job as Dean of the arts at a local Catholic university, and was at loggerheads with the Carmelite priest who was effectively my boss there. Attempting to boost the quality of arts education at the university, I was agitating for more money, more resources, more faculty, more funds to attract new students, and was running into the brick wall of stubborn, priestly oppostion. Convinced that right was on my side, I was perpetually angry, frustrated, confused… and giving myself ulcers for my pains.

I went to see Ed. He listened to my caterwauling for quite a while, then took a pillow from the couch and held it up. "What color is this pillow?" he asked. Ridiculous question, I thought. "It's red." No question. "Are you sure it's red?" Absurd. "Quite sure," I said: "any fool can see it's red, plain as day." "What if I told you it was blue?" asked Ed. "You'd be wrong," I told him. "And if I insisted?" "You'd still be wrong. It's red. No amount of arguing can make red blue."

So Ed quietly turned the pillow around to face the other way. Seen from the other side, of course, Bush, it was blue…


I'd intended today to talk about your Gonzales. But everyone else is doing that anyway. Just to note, though: another nice little trap you set for the Democrats, Bush. Those good folks certainly recoil from his record of providing you with clever justifications for the arbitrary arrest and indefinite imprisonment of citizens without recourse to legal representation; for the nice excuse for torture that led to the Abu Ghraib scandal; and not least for his odious Texas record of scant legal shrift in his mercy briefs for those about to sent to the death chamber--amongst other dubious distinctions.

Opponents see in him a man who is all too ready to provide you with the answers that he knows you want to hear, rather than one who exercises his own deliberate judgment on the merits of any given case. But--here's the trap--he is, after all, Hispanic. The first Hispanic to rise so high on the ladder of public service. Trump card, Bush. No? What Democrat will dare to stand in the way of his appointment, and risk being tarred (forgive the expression, Bush!) with the racist brush?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Is there no end, Bush, to the depravity of the human species? Here's something you and I can agree on, surely. I read this morning about an Internet offer of 300 orphans of the tsunami up for sale--into slavery or prostitution. Some of them are reported to be as young as three years old, and they have been abducted from hospitals and relief centers by adults posing as their parents.

"They refer to people like this as animals," my friend Kirsten said, when she heard about it. "But animals are so much better. Who ever heard of animals selling their young?"

She's right, Bush. No? This kind of depravity has to be stopped. We need to put some serious resources into preventing this exploitation of those whose lives have already been devastated by an act of nature; let them not, now, fall victim also to the schemes of man. From a wider perspective, we need to work to put an end to this vile practice on a global scale. I think I'm right in saying that you yourself have made a public point of this, Bush--though I'm unsure just what kind of solutions you proposed. Your evangelical supporters are behind you, too, on this one; and believe me, I'm personally with you, a hundred percent. The present dreadful circumstance provides the opportunity.

Let's get to it, then. And here I concede we might possibly disagree. I say, let us, with all the power and influence of the U.S., put our strong shoulder to the UNICEF wheel. These people have experience, and expertise. They have a system in place. Let's show the world, Bush, how we can work in the context of a truly global effort. An ideal moment to both enhance our image and do the right thing!


On a lighter note, I've been wanting to congratulate you on your Texas victory on New Year's Day. Football, I mean. You must have been qvelling all over the place when your guy put on that final, winning point!

I'm pretty pleased, myself, with the USC victory last night. You might not know it, but I taught at the school for eight years, back in the late 60s and early 70s. It's a funny thing, how loyalties work. I had, let's say, certain issues with the school when I was working there. I was young, had lots more judgments than I do today, and I didn't mind biting the hand that fed me. The school, I judged back then, was an expensive conservative finishing school for rich kids. I know it has changed a lot since then. And I've changed a bit myself.

Still, I find myself rooting for the Trojan team. It's a gut thing, isn't it, Bush? Who you root for? Try rooting for the other team. It doesn't work. If you're honest with yourself, you know your heart isn't in it. I'm only an occasional football watcher and, because I don't know the teams, I usually find myself rooting for the underdog. I tried rooting for Oklahoma yesterday, when they fell way behind. But it didn't work.

I'm interested in this because I was taken seriously to task, a couple of weeks ago, by a friend who'd read my early piece, in The Bush Diaries, about finding myself rooting for the insurgents. Not liking myself for it, but finding a place down there in the gut where I actually had to recognize a glimmer of understanding for their desperation. Just to reassure him--and you, Bush: I don't really root for them. I hate their indifference to human life, their brutality, their fanatacism. But I wish the picture I see were as simple as black and white--or as frivolous as a football game. The truth I see is much more ambivalent, much more heart-rending, much more complex and resistant to resolution. If I have to root for anyone, I end up rooting for the human species. We need all the rooting we can get.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

It's raining

Good morning, Bush. It's early here. And raining. A lovely sound, the steady fall of rain on our cottage roof. Lovelier, now that the roof has been fixed, and we don't have to worry about the leak over the chimney. And then the harsher drip of excess water from the gutter on the bricks below…

Anyway, no carp today. I almost wrote, "no crap." Just this little elegiac piece:

The Rescue

Days afterward
I saw the mothers
gathered at the sea's edge,
eyes distant, empty,
too weary
for more grief; watching
the movement of each wave,
awaiting the return of children
whom the ocean stole.

I saw men weep
and howl for those grabbed
from their arms, men lost
in the terrible nobility
of anguish, their strength
defeated, useless.

I saw children
beyond tears, eyes
in some country
other than their own,
a place of terror beyond
children's comprehension.
Beyond ours.

And six days after
the event, I'm told,
they pulled a man
from under the wreckage
of his fishing boat,
miraculously alive.

Monday, January 03, 2005

On fear

I wonder if you're as aware as I am, Bush, of the extent to which fear is growing in the psyche of this land? And I'm not speaking here of the fear of terrorists--the fear that you and your people sought so fervently to foster during your election campaign. No, I'm speaking rather of the fear of each other, and of the direction our country is taking under your aegis.

A small example, from a conversation yesterday: a good friend of ours was planning to go to Washington on January 20, to make a public demonstration of her disapproval of your policies at your inauguration. She made calls to a number of organizations with the intention of joining in their protests, but found they had no plans. (I imagine that would please you, Bush!) In any event, she finally cancelled her plan because she feared the treatment she might receive, as a single individual, if she were to be arrested. Knowing your peoples' propensity to associate dissent immediately with terrorism and treason, she was afraid that she could be simply "disappeared" for months or even years into a legal jungle with no recourse or protection.

Now you might scoff at such fears, Bush. But be aware at least that her fear was genuinely felt.

Another example: a not particularly religious acquaintance reports that he went, on Christmas Day, in the spirit of family, to attend a service at the church where a relative of his officiates. He was appalled to hear that relative pronounce, from the pulpit, in the guise of a sermon, his conviction that the Iraqis were a bunch of children who needed punishment from us to correct their bad behavior. Our acquaintance did not speak out, he said, against this kind of unreasonable prejudice and judgment, because of fear. He was afraid, in part, of offending his relative on a day of joy; but in part also of being identified as one who disagreed with the prevailing sentiment.

Small examples, Bush. And you might argue that our friends are simply lacking in the personal courage to speak out. But the examples are telling in the context of a multitude of similar small fears. And there is reason for fear.

There is reason for fear. There's reason for fear when men and women can be imprisoned without charges, without notice, and without legal representation. There's reason for fear when dissent is interpreted as a lack of patriotism, or worse. There's a reason for fear when judicial appointments promote ideology over qualifications and breadth of humanitarian compassion. There's reason for fear when you reward a general who speaks of the Iraq war as a "war on Satan" with promotion and, now, the prospect of an important position in your new administration. There's reason for fear when a Christian cleric believes that our government--your government, Bush! Not just Hollywood!--is dominated by Jews. There's reason to fear when our airwaves are awash in mostly unchallenged rage, and prejudice, and fear-mongering, and thinly-disguised hate.

Scratch the surface of America, Bush, and you'll find a culture of anger, a culture of xenophobic populist fervor, and a culture of growing fear.

And I personally fear--and I know that others share my fear--for the future of the world at large. I fear what might happen to our planet under the stewardship of those who care more for its exploitation for short-term commercial gain than for its preservation for the future of our species. I fear the plausible results of your impulsiveness, your certitude, your religiosity, your sense of divine mission in a hair-trigger world where reason risks being irretrievably replaced by fanaticism of one kind or another, and where the nuclear or the biological threat is never far from activation.

I have no wish to live in fear. I believe I have no shortage of personal courage, Bush. And yet I recognize to my dismay that fear plays a kind of constant bass line, mostly barely audible as such, but always present, in everything I say and do.

Not a cheerful note for the New Year, Bush, I think you'll agree. But I'm trying to be real.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Money matters

A reader complains that I haven't acknowledged your raising the offer of US aid in the Asian disaster to $350 million. Duly noted, with appreciation. I hadn't figured you for a good old Texas poker player, Bush--if your religion allows this artful pleasure--watching the pot and upping the ante as appropriate. It must have been a bit galling to see little Japan raise you by another $150 million within hours of your latest offer. Still, with the military costs involved in addition to the commitment of money, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that the U.S. is now beginning to pull its weight.

And yet, even with this acknowledgment, I admit that I persist in unfavorably comparing this $350 million to what it costs us to pursue your ill-planned, poorly-conducted war in Iraq (for a sobering assessment, watch the cost counter mount by the second; and to your grandiose announcement in 2002 of a Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year. According to a recent NY Times editorial, the account "has yet to disburse a single dollar." Oh, and how about all that money promised to New York City after 9/11? Did that ever materialize? I heard a lot of it went missing...

I was disturbed, too, by your Powell's appearance on this morning's Face the Nation, in which he claimed that, in the first days following the disaster, your administration was simply "concerned," believing there to be no more than about 10,000 victims. Excuse me, Bush, I don't believe there could have been a single person watching the developing news who could have entertained such a low assessment: it was clear from the start that the problem was infinitely greater than the one that Powell sought to describe.

Bottom line: in my perhaps misguided liberal view, the silver lining to this dreadful catastrophe is to offer the world a whole new paradigm, the opportunity for a collective change in consciousness about how we can live together on this increasingly small and overpopulated planet. It's a revelation to see so many nations rushing to contribute to the aid of those in need. Help might have been slow in coming, but it's surely on its way, and the much-scorned United Nations has the opportunity, now, to demonstrate its value and its clout.

Let's not go this one alone, Bush. Let's begin to see the value of followership as a part of leadership. I caught a snatch from one of the rabid right-wing radio talk shows just a couple of days ago, with the host ranting on about how it would be a cold day in hell before the U.S. should work with the U.N. again. I say, let's give it a try. Let's for once use our power and the undoubted goodness of our heart in the context of the collective power of the world's nations. Let's see how it works for us to be one among many, instead of The One.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A glorious morning

Good New Year's morning, Bush! It's a glorious morning out here in California. I expect you're back there in Crawford, Texas, feet up, watching the Rose Parade and envying our weather.

Anyway, I promise not to say anything negative this morning (that double doesn't count!) Texas in the Rose Bowl, huh? You must be tickled pink. But I wonder if it pisses you off a little that they've changed the rules about the bowl games. I mean, aren't we supposed to have a Pacific Coast team in the Rose Bowl game? What's Texas doing there? Is this another part of the sinister Bush plot to take over the world? My son took the time to explain it all to me the other day, but I've already forgotten what the rationale was. Something to do with money, I expect. Or the TV ratings. But--forgive me, on a New Year's morning--it does seem a little sad to me. It feels like they've taken the roses out of the bowl.

Ah, well, there I go again. Good luck to your team, Bush. I'll have to settle for watching this coming Tuesday. I'm told that's the one to watch.