Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Aswan to Abu Simbel--and Back

(Note: we're off on a Nile cruise now. Be ready for a possible four-day lapse in communications. Keep checking in. Bear with me, too, on the hastty writing and the lack of editing--hence probably typos. Thanks...PAL)

Up early this morning for a day trip down to Abu Simbel, then back to Aswan in the evening to join the boat, where we’ll be for four nights. Again, some uncertainty about Internet access.

A delightful late afternoon-evening trip yesterday, leaving by boat up the Nile to a group of Nubian villages. The Nubians were relocated to this area when the dam flooded their villages south of Aswan, so they bear some resemblance to the American Indian reservations. But the comparison doesn’t carry through very far, as we discovered shortly after disembarking and boarding the four pick-up trucks that were to transport us through the villages. On the face of it, there’s a great deal of poverty and subsistence living. But we were fortunately to discover the more cheerful underlying reality. These people, though deprived of their homelands, proved remarkably outgoing and welcoming to visitors.

Soon after leaving the boat, we spotted out first camels! Quite a thrill, to those of us who have seen them only in zoos! In this area, they are regular working animals, carrying loads of alfalfa and other greenery, loping slowly down the roadside, or galloping off away into the distance. At least one, we noted, we spooked by the pickup trucks, and started to give trouble to its rider. Then there were donkeys, horses, cattle …

And people. Such great, friendly people, Bush, all along the road and all through the villlages. Greeting us with big smiles and shouts of “Allah!” (or maybe it was just “Hello!” Toothless old men and tiny children—the latter galloping along behind us an seizing on to the back of the pickups, if we slowed enough, to hitch a ride. We stopped, apparently pretty much at random, in the middle of one ot the villages, and Fadel hopped out to chat with some of the villagers, eventually inviting us in because he wanted us to see something of the simple architecture of the Nubian homes.
Given that we had just invited ourselves in, all twenty-five plus of us, we got an extraordinary welcome. Four sisters, I’d guess at their ages between twelve and twenty, beautiful faces, delighted to have us visit and show us their home. Not simple girls, either. The two older sisters were both in college, one studying French literature, the other, social services. But the simplest of possible homes: a single large sand courtyard, neatly swept and not a piece of trash in sight—gthe kind of floor they say you could eat off. Fadel explains that this is their living room, and that the Nubians are known for their fastidiousness, despite the simplicity of their envirnonment. Bedrooms, off to each side, had the sparsest of furniture: two or three iron bedsteads with minimal coverings, a chair or two, a chest of drawers. A laundry room. A kitchen. The girls gladly posed for pictures, without the usual request for bakseesh, and said goodbye in French and English, a little shy, but at the same time without any lack of sense of confidence in who they are.

Back on the trucks, we trundled through more villages and pulled up finally in a bare, sandy square to disembark and make our way through the side streets to the house where we were to dine. Again, greeted with huge courtesy and friendliness by our hosts, who provided a wonderful feast of chicken, rice, okra, beans, and a mixed vegetable casserole, all at long tables laid out for us in their courtyard. The men stopped by with a few words of greeting, then went off to their prayers (we glimpsed them later through the open window of an area that seemed reserved for men. The womenfolk did the work, having cooked, and now serving, all the while tending to the children who were running more or less wild around the courtyard—all about five years old, I’d guess, spunky and not in the least impressed by their Western visitors. One little boy had a toy machine pistol, which he brandished menacingly not at us, but at his sisters. A truly joyful occasion, where we felt most warmly welcome and appreciated.

As an aside, Bush, I need to add that we were pretty friendly, too. I do think that Americans, as a rule, are generous and outgoing people, anxious to be liked, and always ready to like others. We had the best time waving from the trucks, shouting back the greetings as warmly as they reached us. It was, as they say, a gas.
Back home by nine-ish, ready for bed to prepare for an early morning departure.

Finished most of our packing, so that we’d be less hassled in the morning.

Thursday, March 31, 2005 (I think—I’ve lost track of time)

Up shortly before six, and out for a pleasant breakfast on the terrace. Then boarded our bus and headed out to the Aswan airport to catch a place down to Abu Simbel. It’s a bit of a discipline to maintain a semblance of equanimity at any airport these days, and Aswan was no exception. Security—everything had to be scanned, twice. And delays. This one apparently due to air force exercises: they share the airport to protect the dam! Fadel tipped us off to find seats on the port side of the plane, to enjoy the better view, so we had a great view of the huge reaches of Lake Nasser and its surroundings: blue-green water, black rocks scattered everywhere, and rising to some height, in some places forming mesa-like plateaus’ and of course, the golden sand.

A good view, as Fadel promised, of the Abu Simbel monuments on our descent. Still even that left us unprepared for the grandeur and the splendor of these massive, serene monuments. Again, this is not the place for me to try to recall every detail of Fadel’s fascinating explanations. Guide books will do that far better than I. And to tell the truth, it’s hard to find words adequate to the experience to these temples. You see them in the art and archietcture books about ancient Egypt, but to see them is to experience and overwhelming awe for the magnitude of man’s ambitions and abilities, as well as his dreadful capacity for destruction.

The carvings, the hieroglyphs, the monumental sculptures, these are quite simply beautiful beyond imagination. What you get in their proximity, of course, that you don’t get in the pictures, is the human interaction with his natural environs to create, by hand, the image of his own vision of the world and where he fits in it. It’s a visceral thing, felt more than seen, understood in the gut more deeply than through explanations—though these, of course, add immeasurably to the experience: the more we understand, the more fully we’re capable of experiencing
I wondered, too, as I’m sure many have, how it would seem to these ancients to see the streams of moderns tramping through their temples, mouths agape and cameras at the ready.

Anyway, back to the airport a couple of short hours later, to go through more security and board the flight back to Aswan. Arrived to board the ship which will transport us down the Nile (north, that it) in time to check out our cabin (quite luxurious and surprisingly roomy) before a buffet lunch in the dining room. This spread was more to our American taste that the Nubian food we have been sampling, and I shared in the general gluttonous comsumption.

After lunch we were left with a bare half hour to get ourselves back together. I’ll take a breather at this point, and catch up with the afternoon later.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Still in Aswan

First, Bush, before I forget it, an observation from yesterday at the Philae Temple. It has to do with defacements. Defacements of three kinds. The first is the familiar “Kilroy was here” kind of defacement, where people succumb to a very ancient need to mark their presence in some way. Since the temple has been around for so many centuries, it bears many of these marks, in Greek, in Latin, in English—one, I remember particularly, from 1823. And then too, alas, contemporary. It’s an old impulse and one which led, some think, to the birth of lyric poetry. The inscription poem, to mark a single moment in the passage of time, when a human being is inspired, usually, by love, or by the beauty of nature.

Somehow I understand this need. It’s sad to see a wonderful heritage spoiled by a single, selfish instinct. But the other sort of defacement, to me, is much sadder. It’s defacement for religious reasons. In the case of this temple, the Copts came along after the age of the Egytian gods and wanted to convert it to their purposes. They left their mark in the form of crosses and other images and writing. I suppose that this is the nature of all religions: if you believe in some form of absolute, everyone else gets to be wrong. And to assert your own moral and religious rectitude, you condemn what others believe, of what has gone before, and erase all traces of it. A sad commentary on human religions, human beliefs, that they are unable to tolerate others.

Perhaps even worse, though, was the erasing of images by later generations of Eupoean visitors who believed, according to our Fadel, that the images on the temple walls had certain healing powers. So they scraped them off. Where there were once beautiful figures, there are now only outlines left, the spaces only a mass of vertical scratch marks. This is akin to the wanton slaughter of tigers or rhinoceros for theis supposed medical powers. Again, the human species asserting its supremacy over all others. I wonder, too, Bush, if we could think of our depletion of the world’s oil resources in this context? Think about it, okay?


A good breakfast in the hotel’s magnificent, domed dining room, then off with a group to the African bazaar, the day already warming considerably by 8:30 AM. The walk led us into the center of town along the river bank, with its hundreds of tourist boats, large and small, moored alongside—not to mention the crowd of boatmen eager to offer us a sail.

The market proved to be a series of small streets with open shops and vendors on either side, and festooned above by colorful displays of materials of all kinds. The vendors, as usual, were all over us: “American?” they ask. “Good. Good morning. Lovely day.” All smiles, and full of wonderful offers on their wares. We could have bought anything from a set of tools to a lamb’s head of innards, from pipes and cigarettes to shawls, spices, jewelry, t-shirts, beaded work, headgear… Ellie enjoyed the bargaining, ending up with four scarves, but managing to resist the jewelry. Very friendly, most of them, but persistent if you showed a gleam of interest. And most came down to rock bottom prices once we showed signs of walking off. Todd wondered, as we left, whether we’re taking advantage of these good people. I don’t know. It just seems to be a way of life, a kind of a game they play with tourists, most with a certain enjoyment. Even their grumbling, when they lose a sale, seems a part of the act.

Met at eleven with Fadel, who led us on a short, hot walk a couple of blocks up the hill to the Nubia Museum. Plenty of security there, too. The Egyptian authorities worry a great deal about security, he told us, especially for the American tourists: “Lose one American,” he said, “and it will be all over the media all over the world.” A disaster for the tourist business. So they watch over us carefully. Two security checks to enter the museum.

The Nubia Museum is a brand new one, covering local archeology and history from ancient times to the present. Some beautiful objects—from prehistoric rock carvings to ancient monumental statuary and artifacts such as jewelry and ceramic ware. We were also treated to a video about the rescue of archeological sites from the flooding caused by the new High Dam. UNESCO helped in mounting a massive conservation effort, which involved the moving of whole temples, literally cutting them from the rock and transporting them, slab by slab, to be reconstructed at their new site.

We’ll be seeing some of the results tomorrow. But the video, and the extensive collection of documentary photographs reminded me that there is a fourth source of vandalism to be added to my earlier three: civilization itself, and its need to progress and answer to the needs of ever growing numbers of human beings on the planet. While obviously superhuman efforts were made to spare some part of the great Nubian heritage, much was also lost to the dam—much of which will now remain forever undiscovered.

Back to the hotel around one for a swim in the pool, and lunch in the cafĂ© down by the pool. Not great cuisine, but I enjoyed my pizza, while Ellie felt obliged to abandon a good part of her tuna sandwich because it was mixed with raw vegetables and we have been warned to avoid uncooked, unpeeled foods as the common source of tourists’ stomach ailments. Then a brief nap by the pool, and back to our room to begin packing for an early departure tomorrow. My intention is to use the little time I’ll have in the morning to get this last piece posted, and find time to catch up with the rest of the day’s activities some time tomorrow. Perhaps from the boat, on our four-day Nile cruise.

Monday, March 28, 2005

A note...

Best thanks to those who have been writing to me, and apologies that I'm unable to respond individually. Time is short, and connection, as you'll have gathered, is uncertain. One thing, though: the nature of this tour is such that connecting with local people in any depth is virtually impossible. In part because of the language issues, in part because the tour is by nature a kind of closed group, and we're kept very busy. Still, per your requests, I'll do what I can... Best of everything to everyone out there... PAL

From Aswan, on the Nile

Well, Praise the Lord, Bush! Another connection! Again, a bit hard to find, since the hotel’s access was for some reason disconntected when I first tried last night. But then I got some help from Fadel’s son, Islam, who is accompanying us, so here I am again, a little before six, sitting on the terrace outside our room at the Old Cataract Hotel. A truly beautiful spot, unlike any I have ever seen in my life before. Very African, someone said last night. A little green oasis corner of the river, swarming with boats and people. Even this early, the place is alive with the sound of birds and cicadas. A sense of intense life, surrounded closely by the barrenness of the desert. The thoughts that follow may seem a little disjointed, since some of them were jotted down along the way. Again, you’ll probably find scads of typos. Have no time to edit. Here goes:

Notes from the air, Cairo to Aswan. Sand, sand, sand. Nothing but sand, as far as you can see. An arrid, barren landscape.

Because Egypt Air is a monopoly, Fadel tells us, they schedule flights according to their own whim. To get our party to Aswan by regular commercial flight, he said, would have meant splitting the party in two (not enough bookable seats on a single flight) and leaving at four and five in the morning. His solution: charter a plane. So here we are in our own Boeing 737, traversing the desert.

A propos of nothing in particular: our friend Todd White observed—and I, too, had noticed this—how many men are on hand to work at jobs that seem to require far fewer. With the result that many of them seem to be just standing around, waiting for something to do. I noticed this at our hotel: a huge staff, far more than you’d see at a comparable American hotel, all ready to jump and help at a moment’s notice. Same thing at the airport, as Todd noticed. Even the security men lining the highway on the way out to the airport (there were more of them, I noticed, along the runway as we took off—posted in little shelters a couple of hundred yards away.) And the riot cops yesterday. So many of them. So many men, and apparently so little work. Fadel mentioned a figure of 20-25% unemployment.

Our way is quite different, Bush. We’re all business, all efficiency. We pay well, by comparison, but we employ as few as possible and expect a maximum of work. The result is more wealth but less happiness. We’re all about success and getting ahead. When it gets to be about subsistence and survivial people seem more able to be in the moment, and value other things in life. Themselves, each other, family, clan. I recalled how shocked the Dalai Lama proclaimed himself to be, on first encountering the unhappiness, and the desperate need for psychotherapy in the affluent Western world.

Back to the landscape: more of the same. Sand. And then suddenly a great swath of dark green fertility as we cross the Nile. And soon again, more sand.

We arrived in Aswan without incident, and set off in a bus that led us past the old dam, engineered by the British in the early 20th century (and a distant glimpse of the new one, which is supposed to have caused the flooding of many ancient archeological sights.) Then embarked on a boat that ferried acoss the dam to the Philae Island, where they moved the Philae Temple in the 1980s. Fadel brought on a whole team of Nubian musicians, who sang and strummed their haunting music as we made the crossing. A nice touch—and time for a tribute to Fadel, whose knowledge of the people, the history, and the terriotry makes our journey so much richer at each stop along the way. (Ellie spotted an ibis, pointed it out. A thrill!)

The temple, then: no matter how many pictures you may see of the archeological sites of Egypt, the first glimpse of a temple in real life comes as an awesome delight. I found it simply overwhelming: the scale, the grandeur, the incredible detail of the relief work and the hieroglyphs is unbelievable. This particular temple is devoted to Isis, we learned, the mother of Horus, the sun god, and one of the inner chambers is devoted to the story of his birth.

Fadel gave us an excellent run-down of the history of the place and the mythological stories that it celebrates. But my purpose here is not to try to give a potted version of either Egyptian history of Egyptian mythology—about both of which my ignorance is vast. Just to recall the experience, standing there in the heat of the Egyptian sun, gazing up at these marvels engraved in monumental slabs of sandstone, and to be awed by the human spirit—not to mention the skill and the labor—that made them possible.

On the boat back, Fadel introduced us to his Nubian friends, who were now anxious to sell their wares, producing from nowehre a whole inventory of beads, necklaces, scarves, beaded headwear. Their families, Fadel explained, depended very much on the small income they could glean from sales to tourists. The jetty, when we reached it, was now crowded with small stalls, and seemingly hundreds of needy Nubians. I succumbed to a nicely carved black cat and snake, and probably paid too much for it. Our friends Todd and Linda got one for much less. But it was smaller.

Heading on toward our hotel, we made a stop at a granite quarry to see where much of the stone for the temples—even those further north—was quarried to be ferried downriver. (Two men at the entrance, one handing out tickets, the other, standing right beside him, tearing off the stubs!) The quarry was an impreesive sight in itself, with its jagged granite boulders left since the early times. But the notable piece was an unfinished obelisk, which apparently would have weighed some 12,000 tons. A gargantuan piece of stone, its shape was already carved out in the rock, but only at the sides: the undercutting work, to release it from the quarry, had been abandoned because of a flaw discovered late in its creation. We were fortune to have been the first to be escorted to another section of the site, where most of the undercutting work had been done on another massive obelisk, also still not yet completed.

On the way out, more sales. The salesmen are persistent, always ready to bargain. It’s clearly a way of life here. Along with baksheeh. Everyone is ready for, expecting a handout. For photographs. For offering a hand up a steep step, for small acts of service. It’s simply expected. Fadel counsels, wisely, not to be irritated by it. As for the salesmen, tuning out is better than allowing yourself to be hassled by them. “You’re here to have a happy time,” he told us. “Not to get mad.” But it is different, Bush, from our way. It comes with beautiful smiles and infinite politeness, but it is about subsistence.

We arrived at the Old Cataract to find one of those grand old Victorian-style hotels—something, I suspect, like Raffles in Singapore or the Peninsula in Hong Kong. High ceilings, lots of exotic decoration, slightly over-the-top, slightly decadent grandeur. Took a rest and emerged, at dinner time, on the terrace, to find this incredible view of the river bend at dusk. And took a boat, again, to dinner—a Nubian restaurant high above the water, long tables, exotic decoration… And settled down to a Nubian feast of spicy casseroles, before returning to our hotel from drinks under the starlight on the terrace before bed time.


(Forgive typos, Bush. In haste.

These words are written from the balcony of our twelfth floor hotel room, overlooking the Nile River. A spectacular view. A pale moon, nearly full, surviving into the dawn. The bridge across the river crowding up with early morning traffic. Across the other side of the river, a mass of monumental buidlings, apartments, offices, mosques… And one the river itself, two fishermen in a scull, plying the calm water for an early catch.

People, Bush. That’s the first impression of this metropolis. Millions of them, crowding the steets, the shops, the cafes. Some, particularly the women, in traditional Arab—ranging from a simple headdress to the full burkha, depending, I suppose, on the orthodoxy of their religious views. And many in jeans and t-shirt. A wonderful, teeming mob of them, everywhere.

And the next first impression: satellite dishes. Driving in to town from the airport, these were the most prominent feature of the landscape, sprouting from the roof of every building, rich and poor. And we passed through them all, Bush. Past the mansions of the very wealthy—including President Mubarak’s. And the tenements of the very poor, great blocks in row after row of them, rising in the dark- and golden-brown colors of the desert sand, with their balconies, their lines of washing and, in many cases, their peeling paint and crumbling plaster. And on top each of them a dozen satellite dishes. The information age. No wonder so many in the Arab world are growing impatient with the regimes that keep vast numbers of the people in poverty even as they enrich themselves.

Interesting, then, that as we approached the center of town we found our way blocked by batallions or police in full riot gear, helmets, riot sticks, heavy shields. From the raised highway, we looked down into one of the major city squares and found it crowded with demonstrators, carrying mostly primtive, home-made signs. The police called in by the government to contain them within a few square blocks, we discovered later. Nearing the hotel, we found serried lines of them blocking every street corner. But not grim. They were grinning, some of them sheepishly for how they must have seemed to us, mugging for our photos from the bus, giving the thumbs up sign. Americans. A strange breed, in our tourist bus.

It took us a good while to get to our hotel and, when we finally did arrive, there was considerable delay getting to our room . They had overbooked. Had been overbooked, we learned, for weeks, with the influx of tourists in the spring season. Sat in the lobby for an apolgetic mango juice (delicous, fruity) and, for me, a strong and equally delicious cup of Turkish coffee. Then up to our room for a brief rest before dinner.

Dinner at the Sea Horse, a huge restaurant on the river bank, empty at this early hour except for the twenty-five or so of us. The sun setting across the other side of the river, with the glimpse of the tip of one of the pyramids of Giza popping up beside the minaret of a mosque. It all seemed very exotic and, in our exhausted state, quite improbable. Fishing boats with their slant sails tacking up the river. The glow of the sunset. Waiters, scurrying with trays and drinks. In one corner of the huge space, a whole adjacent space with row after row of hookahs. Asked our guide what they smoked in them and he joked that they’d be smoking hasish. Would I like some later? He had me going for a moment there. Of course, all drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden in this Muslim society, and the penalties are steep.

Couldn’t eat the dinner. Too tired. And glad to get back to our hotel room. One of the assistant managers came up to help me get online. Will it work this morning? We’ll see. Have a good day in Washington, Bush—if you’re there. And think of us, flying this morning to Aswan.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Off the Coast of Newfoundland

On board Egypt Air, headed for Cairo, Bush, after a pleasant enough day in New York. Woke early and none too pleased, having inherited Ellie’s cold. Tended to the blog and a bit of email while Ellie slept in, then we took our time repacking for the different climate and emerged into the city only around noon. Strolled up toward Central Park, and stopped to enjoy a group of African American performers, a dozen of them in a team—red t-shirts, baggy jeans, and Nikes—at the southeast corner of the park. A blend of what used to be called break-dancing (stilll?) and sheer acrobatics, exquisitely timed and co-ordinated to loud rap music, funny, cheerful, a joy to watch.

Then we crossed over to the Plaza to bemoan the old lady’s imminent demise. They’re turning it into condos, so we hear. What a shame!

People were lined up at the turnstile door just waiting to get into the lobby—many with the same idea as ourselves, I guess, paying last respects. The lobby was crowded, too, with looky-loos like us. Felt a bit foolish taking a pretty silly digital picture of Ellie with the Palm Court in the background, and wandered out onto the street again with the idea of checking out the Oyster Bar. That, too, gone. Boarded up. Scuzzy. We began to feel old.

Then up to the park. A pungent odor of horse manure—I’ll resist the tempatation this time, Bush—from the horse and buggies out in full force for the tourists on the Easter weekend. We took a pleasant stroll up into the park, past the skating pond, and wandered back down Fifth Avenue where dozens of portrait artists plied their trade for sitters. Couldn’t help but notice that the samples (all celebrities—Pacino, de Niro, Marilyn, James Dean) were of much better quality than the ones being made there on the spot. Also, that the samples soon began to look identical from booth to booth…

Ended up back on 56th Street, where we found a part of the Whitney Museum’s Tim Hawkinson show installed early at the Daglesh (?) Museum on the corner of Madison: a huge piece called “Ueberorgan”—a complex of gigantic jerry-rigged bladders, tubes, and horns, all of which combine, it seems, to play a pre-scored tune, on the hour, every hour. We missed it by a quarter hour. Can’t imagine what it could sound like, but resolved to go back on the hour one day on our return to New York City on the way back home in April. Will also plan to see the work at the Whitney.

A brief stop at the hotel to pick up our bags, and a cab out to the airport, listening to the news from Haiti with our Haitian driver. Thence, of course, to the boarding gate, where we met up with the friends will be traveling with in Egypt. Took off without incident, though a half hour late. Next stop, Cairo. Have you been there, Bush? It will be strange, I think, to be for the first time in a predominantly Muslim country. A whole new world. We had a first taste of it aboard our flight: instead of the champagne you’re usually offered in business class (we had been fortunate to be able to upgrade for this long flight) we were regaled with a glass of apple juice. Much better, too. With this damn cold, the last thing I needed was to be tempted with alcohol! The apple juice went down just fine. But I did notice the difference.

(Easter Sunday in Cairo. Arrived safely. But it's as I feared, Bush. The Internet access is proving difficult. If you don't hear from me as you've come to expect, write it down to technology.)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

New York, New York

Well, the first leg is completed, Bush. We flew Jet Blue from Long Beach airport for the first time, and found it a perfectly easy way to get to New York City for a lot less money than the bigger airlines. The hardest part was saying goodbye to our George--the dog, Bush: surely you remember?--who reportedly was "bummed", accordingly to the note that was awaiting us from our charming dog- and house-sitter by email when we arrived at our hotel. At least until he found something else to catch his interest.

It felt good to be back in New York for the evening. We wandered the streets a bit in the midtown area, and ended up at an Italian restaurant for a too-expensive but otherwise good meal. And wandered back to the hotel for a bit of emailing--good to find out that this little computer hooks up nicely with the Internet away from home. Here's hoping for equally easy access from Egypt.

On the news front, nothing but Terri Schiavo. The cab driver had the story on loud all the way into town from JFK, and CNN was still running it on the eleven o'clock news. What strikes us is that the reports get slanted, always, toward the dramatic and the controversial: we hear from the angry family member who's demanding her survival, not from the husband who wishes only, quietly, for her release. We hear from the Catholic brother describing the poor woman in the same breath as Ausschwitz victims, not from the doctors and nurses tending to her peaceful, pain-free death. And this continues despite the fact that the vast majority of the American public simply want to allow her to depart this world in peace. The blowhards of the media have to whoop it up.

Sad, Bush, isn,t it? Perhaps tomorrow, in Egypt, we'll find some release. Unless the story is all over Al Jazeera. They're probably making hay over our hypocrisy. No?

The Fire Next Time

(noted in flight, Friday, 3/25)

I have to confess to a fantasy, Bush, as I watched the images arriving from Kyrgyzstan last night.

My fantasy was that hundreds of thousands of outraged Americans awoke one day to the autocratic theocracy you are creating in their country, and marched on Washington to demand your removal from office. They had suddenly had enough.

They’d had enough of your budget deficits, with the drastic cuts in essential services like education, and antipoverty programs, and medical assistance to those in desperate need, not to mention your indefensible tax cuts for the wealthy.

They’d had enough of your arrogant misrepresentation of the American spirit to the rest of the world.

They’d had enough of your cronynism with the corporate world and your rush to despoil the natural environment for their profit.

They’d had enough of your kowtowing on every issue to a relative handful of fanatics of the religious right and their self-righteous moralism.

They saw you for what you are. They saw what you are doing with the Constitution that they hold so precious. They saw your vision for America and judged it to be one they could not and would not share.

And all these good people descended on Washington in their outraged hundreds of thousands, waving their banners and shouting their slogans: Enough, they screamed. Enough of Bush! Demanding a return to sanity, and goodwill, and tolerance, and fair play, and justice.

That was my fantasy, Bush. I don’t expect you to share it. But may it one day become a reality, before we get the firestorm that they got in Kyrgyzstan.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

We're Off...

Tomorrow morning early, Ellie and I leave for Egypt. Or, in actual fact, we leave Friday for New York and Saturday for Cairo. So we're off into the wild blue. As I think I mentioned, I bought a mini computer with all the bells and whistles, so I hope to be able to continue our conversation along the way. On the other hand, I have never been to the Middle East before, and have no idea what to expect by way of the amenities we have come to expect here in the United States. I'm thinking particularly of Internet access. Even assuming I can get the access, I'm not sure what kind or quality of information will be available. Will all the newspapers be printed up in Arabic? Will we get only Al Jazeera on our hotel television sets? That would be a whole trip in itself! Will we even find television sets in our hotel rooms? What I'm thinking, Bush, is that even with access, this diary might well be morphing into something more like a travelogue from the land of the Pharaohs. Hope you won't mind.

Anyway, I imagine you'll be wondering how I'm feeling about flying off into the unknown, Bush. As is so often the case, the first impulse is to minimize the feelings: I hear myself say that I'm nervous, there's a wee bit of anxiety. But as you well know, nervousness and anxiety boil down in reality to one basic feeling: fear. And this particular fear is a three-part thing for me. The first part is the fear of not coming back--the fear that something terrible will happen along the way. Absurd, of course, but there it is. I wonder if you worry about this, Bush? I mean, I understand you're surrounded by security, and I'm sure that Air Force One is pretty much well maintained. But you'd have to be inhuman not to have these thoughts once in a while.

The second part has to do with being a stranger in a strange land. Not knowing the language, not knowing the people, not knowing the culture. The one thing I do know for sure is that there are people there who'll hate me for no better reason than my being an American. They wouldn't like me much better if I told them I was British. That's a sad thought, isn't Bush? I mean, really. And it does induce a certain reasonable paranoia--if that's not an oxymoron. The last part of the fear has simply to do with not being here at home. To watch over my belongings. To do my blog. To answer the telephone. To look after the dog. To look after my daughter. I know that neither of them really need me to look after them, so it has more to do with my need to be in control of everything, which is pretty sad in itself. Especially when I've been preaching for the past few days about the need to let it all go!

Still, it feels better to just put it out there. I find that once I get conscious of what's going on inside, it has less power over me. That's the key to everything, as I see it. Consciousness.

So listen, Bush, I'll hope to be in touch along the way. If you don't hear from me, it likely means that I just don't have the Internet access that I need. Or that I'm not getting time off for long enough from my tour to get signed on. Or that I'm getting lazy. Or distracted. Or that I got jet lag and overslept. Or that my computer went lost (God forbid!) or stolen. If any of that happens, forgive me. I'll be in touch again as soon as I get back. Meantime, wish me luck...

The American Dream

I continue to be haunted by this Schiavo thing, Bush. As you well know, I've never spent so many days devoting my weblog to any other single topic, so there's certainly something deep and disturbing about it that simply won't let go. I'm wondering now, after the US Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned them down, what it is about the parents that they refuse to accept the cold dose of reality they have been offered at every turn along the way. Now, I read, they have taken the matter up to the US Supreme Court. Oh, and your brother Jeb is busy trying to activate his legislature.

In a way, there's something undeniably admirable about the Schindlers' tenacity. Their love for their daughter is so powerful, runs so deep, that they persist against all odds in this losing battle with their son-in-law, the medical profession, and the justice system. And yet--I almost hate to say this, Bush, about people who are in such evident pain--there's something perverse about it, too. It's an inability to come to terms with reality.

I've begun to wonder whether this is a peculiarly American malady. I have noticed it in you, too, the country's chosen leader, and have not hesitated to point it out to you on every possible occasion--most recently in our last entry in this diary, with respect to your apparent disregard for science. And again, in some ways this obstinate belief in infinite possibility is wholly admirable. One of its manifestations is the American Dream. We are encouraged to believe that even the impossible is possible if we fight long and hard enough, and with enough belief in ourselves. At the center of this dream, of course, is the Rugged Individual, who conquers all odds and achieves his goal, whatever that might be. It usually has to do with fame, or fortune, or both combined.

But there's a dark side to this dream: the risk is that it can get mistaken for reality, and in this way become the expectation rather than the dream. The desires it awakens in us translates into "rights", and then turn sour when those rights are not fulfilled. This where I see the Schindlers falling into painful error: neither the medical nor the legal system can manage to fulfill what it is they so desperately desire, and their response is indignation that their rights are being violated. The reality they refuse to see is their daughter's medical condition. No parent could ever fail to feel sorry for their dreadful predicament, but comes a time when their attachment to their suffering transcends the bounds of reason.

There's also an extension, in our society, of this dark side of the American Dream, and it has to do with the stark reality that there are many among us so impoverished, so undereducated, so deprived of opportunity that they lack even the capacity to formulate a dream, let alone the energy and the persistence to reach for it. Or, if they do, are forced into essentially antisocial paths. The prevalence of street gangs and the drugs they deal in, the shootings, the territorial wars, for example--are these not the symptoms of the disempowered striving to achieve their dream? I suspect they might be. There's little opportunity for urban kids to set foot on the corporate ladder to power and wealth. It's hardly surprising that they choose this ready alternative to go about the fulfillment of their American Dream. Our society purveys the concept primarily through TV--from commercials, to sitcoms, to "reality" shows and drama. It does not, however, make a point of marketing the means.

Here's my worry about you, Bush: in a sense, you could be seen as having achieved your American Dream. By your own admission, you've gone from being a drunken layabout to President of the United States. But I believe you might be blinded by your own good fortune to the realities that an awful lot of ordinary people face in their daily lives. Like your Dad at the market check-out line, not too many years ago, you might be surprised at the real cost of things down here. Things like war, and poverty, and disease--both physical and mental--and desperation. I believe you have your head in the clouds of privilege and religious fervor, and that both of these combine to isolate you from the uncomfortable world of difficult reality.

There are dreams, as the Schindlers are discovering to their infinite pain, that are simply impossible to achieve in this real world. There are times when our challenge is not to resist, but to accept.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Ah, yes. Science...

Well, Bush, I wish you'd take a look at this terrific analysis of your science-related programs by Tristram Hunt in the Guardian Unlimited. Most recently, you blithely trashed years' worth of medical science in your eagerness to exploit the Terri Schiavo case for your political gain. But your favoring of the blathering of those who promote such religious extremist junk science as "creationism" over the work and study of serious, conscientious scientists has been going on ever since you took office.

What is it about us Americans (well, this particular one is only naturalized) that tolerates your blatant scrapping of inconvenient facts when they don't fit your agenda, your riding roughshod over our deteriorating environment, your obstruction of scientifc and medical investigation that could lead to the saving of countless of those lives you claim to hold so precious? I wonder if you actually believe the nonsense that your supporters propagate? Or whether you simply feel obliged to sacrifice your better judgment to political necessity?

Even the military, it seems, is not to be spared the ravages of your disregard for objective scientific evidence: your blinkered support for the Star Wars program continues unabated, regardless its continuing disastrous failures. And you opt for a mission to the Moon and Mars while Hubble, that great treasure that has brought us endless streams of glorious information, is to be left to languish up there in the stratosphere.

Is willful ignorance, then, to be celebrated? Elevated? The scandalous, escalating neglect of our education system, perhaps especially in the sciences--no, not true: I take that back. I used to teach in the humanities at university level, and the mindlessness and illiteracy of students arriving from the high schools was already reaching crisis levels forty years ago--this penny-pinching, misbogtten neglect will eventually yield its inevitable results. Already countries like India and China are far surpassing us in the education of scientific and technological minds.

So tell me, how can you stand by, Bush, presiding over this disaster? The bottom line of everything you say and do, it seems to me, is personal and corporate profit. Are these the American values that you tout so freely?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pity Poor Tom

Can you believe your Tom Delay, Bush? Feeling sorry for himself about his own disgraceful misuse of power in the Schiavo business. He's quoted in the New York Times this morning: "This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and many others." According to Delay, "the whole syndicate" of the media is out to get him: "there's a huge nationwide effort to destroy everything we believe in."

Talk about a vast left-wing conspiracy, Bush! Count me in!


I know you're fond of asking the WWJS question, Bush: What would Jesus say? I myself am more inclined to ask, What would the Buddha say? In actual fact, I think that both of them would speak out of compassion.

I'm thinking still, of course, about the unfortunate Terri Schiavo. And I believe that both Jesus (at least the one that I was brought up to believe in) and the Buddha would say, Well done, Judge James D. Whittemore of the U.S. District Court. A fair, and just, and humane, and sensible decision. They would say, Everything that should have been tried has been tried, it's time for the state, and the federal government, and the justice system to let this woman go. She has suffered long enough in their wrangling hands.

To her parents, surely, they would offer deep compassion. It is no small thing to lose a child to tragedy. And they would add, both of them, let your daughter go. The Buddha, I know, in his infinite compassion, would add that their attachment is only adding to her suffering, and to theirs. Their inability to accept the simple truth about their daughter's condition has become an obsession, even an addiction. And the addiction--as addictions tend to do--is turning love into emnity, compassion into rage and hatred, acceptance into denial, and reason into absurdity. As of now, it is likely to drive them into further appeals and further pointless pain.

Time to let go, I say, and I believe that both Jesus and the Buddha would back me up. And, as the AA folks would add, time to let God.

Monday, March 21, 2005

And One Other Thing...

It hasn't escaped my notice, Bush, that you have created a no-lose political scenario around the Terri Schiavo business. If she lives, you're a hero to your right-to-life folks. If the federal judge today upholds what several judges have previously decided--that she should be allowed to die--you get to pound on all those judges for "judicial activism", and delight that same audience for a different reason. I can't believe this wasn't all planned for maximum advantage. I wonder, though, when all this political cleverness will finally cross the boundary of inertia on the other side, to the point where those who choose not to support you on every issue see through your tactics and get really mad. I like to think that there will be a comeuppance one of these days, Bush. And I'm just about malicious enough to hope that it will be before your term expires. I'll confess it would give me pleasure to watch you eat some crow.

A Different Ownership Society

I did not catch the news last night, Bush. Nor did I give a more than cursory glance at the newspapers. There were more important family things to be thought about and taken care of, as Ellie and I prepare for a big trip to Egypt at the end of this week. (I'm hoping to be able to keep up with our conversation, though, as we travel--and even went so far as to invest in a tiny, three-pound laptop to take with me, to make that possible. More of this later, as the week progresses.)

Anyway, I have little to say about topical matters, but I did wake this morning with thoughts about ownership. We've had our differences, Bush, about your concept of an "ownership society." It's a concept with which, as you know, I profoundly disagree, because it is based very largely on a material understanding of ownership. But there is also a diffferent kind of ownership, which has more to do with the emotions that undergird our lives and our perceptions, and what might result from a more widespread understanding of these inner workings is an ownership society of which I would heartily approve. It would mean that each of us would take personal responsibility for the way we live out our lives and our relationships with others.

Let me explain. When my deep inner feelings are triggered by some exterior event, unless I am fully conscious of the nature of that feeling, I'm likely to project it on some other person. If anger arises in me, for example, I might well allow myself to project it on my wife. It gets to be her fault, and I'm angry AT her. When I manage to remain fully conscious, however, I'm able to OWN the anger--that is, to recognize that it's mine, that it comes from some source within me and that, though my wife may indeed have triggered it by some action on her part, the feeling comes up from a well of anger that has been stored inside me, perhaps for years, perhaps since early childhood. If I'm able to catch this in time, before the anger explodes, I manage to behave in a very different way than I would if I reflexively allowed the anger to take over and control me.

I'm inspired to these thoughts, once again, in part by the sad drama around the Terri Schiavo case. I could rant on about yesterday's congressional bill and your melodramatic rush to sign it. Also about the cowardly Democratic refusal to take a responsive stand. (My judgments, Bush, I acknowledge it!) But I've already had my say on that. The piece I want to add today is about projection: I heard the young woman's father speak on the TV news this morning about what he deemed to be her response to news that she might be allowed to live a little longer. It's clear from all the medical information available that Terry is incapable of such a response. She just doesn't have the physical capacity. So we're left again with projection. Terry's parents, in their wholly understandable love for their daughter and their reluctance to let her go, are simply projecting their own emotional reactions onto her. It's wholly understandable, yes. No person of compassion could fail to aympathize with their passion. But that doesn't make it right to turn this whole affair into political red meat.

My point is that if we can learn to suspend negative judgment about others and refrain from blame, it's possible for us to create a more tolerant and compassionate society. Imagine an ownership society in which we are all fully conscious of our own reflexive reactions, and all ready to take responsibility for our own inner lives, instead of projecting them out on others. Imagine a society without blame, and without judgment--because judgment, too, arises from unconscious projection. When I find myself making a judgment about another person--oh, he's so cruel, she's so thoughtless--I've discovered that all too often the cruelty or thoughtlessness is in fact my own. It's still, in a significant way, "I, me, mine", but this kind of internal, non-material ownership might result in generosity, mutual caring, and tolerance rather than greed and possessiveness.

And that's an ownership society I wouldn't mind living in, Bush. In fact, I think I'd rather like it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Life and Death, Again

It's no good, Bush. I try to maintain my equanimity, but you've got me boiling mad again. You and your people, turning this family's personal tragedy into political theater. It's simply unconscionable. It's disgraceful. Preparing, with great fanfare, to fly back to Washington from Texas to sign a bill, when you could perfectly well sign the bill down there. What's that about, Bush, if not about making frantic signals to your people to shore up your political base?

And the bill itself? Political grandstanding by a handful of wicked, self-important men to preserve the life of a poor woman who has been effectively dead for fifteen years. I was furious to read your Delay's self-righteous words in the newspaper this morning: "We should investigate every avenue before we take the life of a living human being," he said. Did you and your people "investigate every avenue" before sending thousands to their death in Iraq, Bush? The soliders and civilians? Tens of thousands of them. You did not. Not to mention (as my wife, Ellie, reminds me,) all those people you sent to their deaths in Texas after only the most cursory review by your Gonzales, now Attorney General of the United States. And now to save one life, already dead, you move heaven and earth to pass a bill in congress to have this one poor woman's feeding tube reinstalled. Is there not the smallest incongruity there, Bush?

So I ask, not for the first time, is there no end to the arrogance and virulent self-righteousness of what you and your friends presume to call Christian values, Bush? The most Christian understanding of this situation would surely be that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, called this woman to him fifteen years ago, and that human beings, in their desperate need to hold on to her, refuse to accept His will. I'm not a Christian, Bush, as I'm sure you know by now. But I swear I sometimes think I have more Christianity in me than you have in your little finger.

I'm leaving in a few moments now for my Sunday morning sangha--that's a little Buddhist community, Bush--to sit in silent meditation for an hour. No prayers, no pleading with God, no worship. Just deep inner silence, which sometimes leads to flashes of sudden insight into what's true and right. I'll dedicate my sit this morning to Terri Schiavo. May she find peace.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Life and Death

Just because we CAN do some things, Bush, doesn't mean we SHOULD do them. I'm talking, today, about the unfortunate Terri Schiavo, down in her Florida hospice, where she has lain incapacitated since 1990. That's fifteen years, Bush. Fifteen. In a completely unchanged, vegetative state. Thank God they have now removed the tube that was the only thing keeping her alive. I hope fervently that she will now finally be allowed the dignity to die.

Yesterday, for a while, it seemed not. After all the legal battles and the personal recriminations, Congress got its nasty hands on the case, and was requesting her appearance later this month so that congressmen, presumably, in their wisdom, could "hear" her plea and decide for themselves whether or not the poor woman had the right to die. What arrogance! Their decision, it seemed, was to protect her, as Senate Majority leader Dr. Bill Frist pompously announced, "from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness' attendance or testimony"--and therefore from the intention of her husband and her doctors, supported by countless judicial opinions, to allow her to finally die in peace.

As if your brother Jeb had not already meddled enough, Bush, you felt obliged to step in with a statement of your own, suggesting that "where there are serious questions and substantial doubts"--after fifteen years? Substantial doubts?--"our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life."

My judgment: this was pure pandering on your part, Bush. Only the most fervent religious ideologue could want to protract the life of a woman who only a few years ago could not have been saved by all the medical skills in the world. I know they're out there, these ideologues. There's a bunch of them still standing and praying in front of Schiavo's hospice. There's obviously a bunch of them in the congress, too. You might ask what business it is of mine, and I concede that it really is none of my business. But is it then the business of those pious prayer-offerers who presume to speak for God? Or of those upstanding, righteous men in Congress? Men like your Delay, whose ethics are hardly a model for the rest of us.

We need to be able to live with tragedy, Bush. We need to learn to accept it as a part of our human experience. Even by the standards of your Christian rightists, is not death a part of God's plan? There comes a point, surely, after fifteen years, where it's clear that it's man, in this case, who is thwarting that infinite wisdom with his arrogant pride--and not the other way around. If it were me lying there in Terri Schiavo's bed, and if I were able utter the slightest sound, I'd be screaming with rage at those people standing between me and the death that I deserved, and so earnestly desired.

So call off your self-righteous dogs, Bush. For God's sake, since you believe in him and, presumably, his wisdom and his mercy, quit pandering to those merciless meddlers, puffed up with their own religiosity. Say something wise and merciful yourself. Show us all what it means to exercise true compassion.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Of Birds, and George, and Song

I very much fear this ailing planet will die, Bush, from a surfeit of human beings who admit of no limits to their greed and no conscience to control it. The outrageous backdoor action of your Republicans to open up the ANWAR to their oil company friends for drilling and development is but one further step toward this earth's demise as a habitable space for humans and our fellow species. Shame on them for pitting short-term human needs against the common good of all the living creatures, including ourselves, whose future is at stake.

Sixteen billion barrels of oil. As I understand it, that's the high estimate of what that one of the last remaining, infinitely delicate wildernesses can produce. A half year of this country's current need. A half year, Bush! For a half year, we risk sacrificing the future of a living planet? And our Congress sits around talking about baseball!

Last night I lay in bed and listened to a birdsong of extraordinary beauty right outside the window of our house in the middle of the city. I don't know what kind of bird it was, just that its song was reminder of the fragility of life, so strange and varied in its notes: a trill and warble, a cadenced tune, filled at once, as I heard it, with extraordinary sadness and extraordinary joy.

Here's the special reason for the poignant quality of that song: Ellie and I had spent the evening watching--and listening to--a rerun of the "Concert for George", a memorial for the former Beatle George Harrison, staged by his friends at the Royal Albert Hall in London. What a great heritage of songs he left, all reminding us of the ephemeral nature of the world we live in and the lives we lead! Such a sweet, sad sensibility! Such natural, quiet wisdom in a man who died too young! How much we need the humanity of men like this!

And it seemed to me--forgive my fantasy, Bush--as I listened to that bird, that it was George's spirit that had returned to sing especially for us, outside our window. It was a song of indefinable sadness and infinite beuaty. "All Things Must Pass," George sang. And yes, they must. But let's not forget our responsbility, as our lives pass, to leave this planet as we found it, for the joys and sadnesses of our successors.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Appointments, Appointments

Well, I have to hand it to you, Bush: you sure know how to get the whole world mad at you. I sometimes wonder if you don't wake up every morning asking yourself how best to stick your finger in everyone's eye that day. Amazing! I go through the list of your appointments, and I have to wonder if there's not some imp of perverseness at work in that brain of yours.

I mean, consider the history. First you appoint your Cheney, back when you were first "elected", to find you a Vice President, and he searches dilligently for weeks and comes up with... himself! Then I think of your Rumsfeld, your Rice, your education secretary, whatever the hell his name was--I've mercifully forgotten it--and the list goes on.

And then your judges! I mean, really, Bush. The word extremist barely does them justice (excuse the pun!) And once the worst of them were turned down by the Democrats in your last term, you serve up their names again in your second term, presumably in the secure hope and knowledge that you'll piss everyone off.

And now your Rice gets promoted, as does your Gonzales. Bolton, a superlative hater of the United Nations, gets picked for ambassador. And... I must be forgetting a few here. But not your Wolfowitz. Who could forget your Wolfowitz, the man who brought us the war in Iraq, the boastful aggressiveness of our foreign policy. Mr. Hawk in person. A perfect pick for the World Bank, Bush! Some one--I think in a Los Angeles Times editorial--suggested Bono. No kidding! Because of his dedication to the cause of poor countries, especially of course in Africa, and his negotiating skills. But no. For you it's Wolfowitz. The best man you could find to bring hope to the poor and hungry of this world.

Well congratulations, Bush. You've got everyone mad at you again. Trouble is, when they're mad at you, they're mad at all of us. And in my ignorance I somehow believe that this is a moment for greater mutual understanding in the world, and greater cooperation. We should be leading the way, not throwing out provocation. But then, I'm not the President.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Finally, we agree

Well, Bush, I'm excited. I've finally found something we can agree on. I absolutely approve your very public decision not to meet with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the White House tomorrow, on St. Patrick's Day. I'm glad that you'[ve chosen instead to honor those sisters of an innocent victim of the IRA.

I've actually been appalled for years by the sentimental American attachment to all things they consider Irish, including a bunch of thugs who find nothing better to do in pursuit of supposedly political goals than to murder their fellow countrymen. It pleases me no end to see the IRA humbled, in the past couple of weeks, by a group of women with guts enough to stand up to them following the despicable, cynically public murder of their brother and its subsequent cover-up by their usual tactic of brutal intimidation. Gerry Adams's belated statement of condemntation was fatally undermined by his need to add, in the end, a sop to the IRA in the form of his absurd insistence on the IRA's right to resort to terrorist violence in pursuit of "legitimate" political goals.

What political goals are legitimate enough, Bush, to warrant the slaughter of innocent people? You're right to take a firm public stance.

It has angered me for years, too, that much of the financial support for this outrageous behavior comes from the United States, which has supplied arms and money to this terrorist organization for, I have to suppose again, purely sentimental reasons. I must say that I have never fully understood that attachment of Americans of Irish heritage to their country of origin. Well, to the country, perhaps, and its cultural heritage. That I understand, being something of an exile myself. But not their adherence to a political ideology which has long since overstepped all bounds of reason into terrorist fanaticism. It's no longer honest to claim that this is about defending the country from oppressive British rule.

And, while we're at it, the excessive celebration of St. Patrick's Day itself seems to me a curious anomoly. Green beer? Parades? It seems to me--excuse the Puritan attitude, Bush--nothing more than the pretext for wild parties whose participants include for the most part people who don't have an ounce of Irish blood in their veins, let alone a belief in the Catholic saint whose day in the ecclesiastical calendar they purport to celebrate. The whole thing seems to me absurd.

I'm sure I'll stand accused of English prejudice on this score. So be it. But my cause for celebration, Bush, is that you can I can actually agree, one this one day at least. Chalk that one up as a major achievement for the IRA.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tax Day

Tax day today, Bush. Or at least the day of reckoning. I have my annual tax appointment this morning. Wish me luck, okay? I'd like to think that all your generous tax cuts are going to help, but I don't think we're rich enough for that. Ah, well.

Actually, Bush, I have to confess that I'm not a good American in this regard. I may have told you this before, but I really don't object to paying taxes. I'd even be willing to pay more, as they do in most of the rest of the civilized world, because I happen to think that there are certain things that we do better collectively than individually. Like building roads, to take an obvious example And maintaining them. Or education. Medicine--or let's say, health insurance. Social security. The whole infrastructure of services that we all need and use. And so on. Call me a commie, if you will. It's just the way I think. It must be the "old European" heritage your Rumsfeld likes to mock.

Taxes, Bush? You say, keep on cutting them and cutting them until government as we know it goes broke and dies. That's one of the differences between us. I say, bring 'em on.

Monday, March 14, 2005


I found myself reaching into the depths of my anger yesterday, Bush, as I read about the continuing existence and practice of Islamic law in some parts of the world, and of the apparent desire on the part of some fundamentalist Iraqis to return to it, as their new constitution is debated. Punishments, as I'm sure you know, include lashings, amputations, stoning to death... I read of one instance where a man was sentenced (for runnng a brothel) to 80 lashes, followed by ten years in prison, followed by execution. For adultery, in Iran, a woman can be stoned to death by rocks that "should not be too large so that the person dies by being hit by one or two of them; they should not be so small either that they could not be defined as stones."

Well, I obviously know nothing about Islamic law, but to me a lot of what I read sounds fishily like male ego at work. Threaten my power or authority (as in the case of two teachers who joined a demonstration in Saudi Arabia), and you'll get 1,500 lashes, to be administered in front of your family, students, and colleagues. Steal my wallet, I'll cut off your hand. Steal my wife... And I'll see her sentenced to death to avenge my honor. "Honor killings", in Pakistan and elsewhere, have been in the news in recent weeks: apparently, even if a woman is raped, she's required to produce four male witnesses, or is otherwise presumed to be the guilty party. It all harks back to the medieval (and probably pre-medieval) notion that "our" womenfolk are chattel, belongings, along with the sheep and the goats and the household furniture, and therefore have no standing as human beings in their own right.

I think that most of us non-fundamentalist Islamic folk would condemn these practices as barbaric, Bush. And yet, what leaves me particularly uncomfortable is the notion that it all comes back to the idea of ownership--and the power we ascribe to it. About protecting what's mine, and being sure that no other man lays his hands on it. Which seems to me is basically what you're preaching in your promotion of this "ownership society" you keep talking about with such pride. What I'm talking about in this instance is perhaps the dark side of that notion, but no matter which side you look at, one coin is still one coin. Ownership, to my mind, appeals to the baser side of the human consciousness, not to its higher values.

And it's not that we, in our supposedly civilized Western society, have evolved away from all of that old darkness. Speaking from my own experience, I remember very distinctly, as a young man, suffering from insane jealousy when it came to the women I loved--a jealousy that surely emanated from that same sense of ownership, of seigneurial rights that, when transgressed, aroused fits of anger I was barely able to contain. There were times I myself could surely have killed, had I not been restrained by fear of the consequences, and by then current social mores. And, when betrayed, I would be more likely to have killed the woman than the man: that's where my anger was directed. I confess to this unpalatable reality without pride, Bush, but rather in the interests of truth.

If the genes that govern the male ego (can genes govern egos, Bush? I'm not entirely sure; but I know what I mean, and I suspect that you will, too), if those genes are still so powerfully active in my mild-mannered, formerly British self, I suspect they're active in most other men as well. Our less noble nature will easily assert its possessiveness, when it comes to those things we think we own, whether property, women--or the truth.

So I say let's look beyond ownership, Bush, if we're looking for those core values that define what we stand for as a society. Let's define ourselves, as men, by something other than what we own. With all those good things we are blessed with, why not let's model something other than greed and possessiveness in this world?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Ms. Doctor Spin

I don't know whether you really choose to believe this, Bush, or whether you're so deeply cynical that you accept it anyway, but every time there's a real issue, your solution seems to be to offer us more spin. As though it were more a matter of our woeful misperception of the rightness of your words or actions than some possible flaw in the actions or the words themselves. The latter, of course, would require your making the effort to undertstand what the flaw might be, and how to make wise course corrections as you go.

I'm thinking particularly today about the forthcoming appointment of your Karen P. Hughes to be (according to the New York Times), your "undersectretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs." What a title! She will have, says the NYT, "the extremely difficult job of selling the United States and its policies to the world after the anger over the American-led invasion of Iraq." "Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels," the Times quotes from a 2003 special report. "What is required is not merely tactical adaptation but strategic and radical transformation."

And you come up with your Hughes. I'm sure she's a very much nicer person, Bush, than the one that emerges in the media in her name. But she hardly personifies that "swift and sustained presidential direction" recommended last September (again quoted in the same NYTarticle) by a Defense Science Task Forced reporting to your Rumsfeld.

So is it pure image that needs fixing when the Iraqis see their country still in structural and political chaos--how many months, now, since you marched in to liberate them from their misery? Or might it not have to do with sewer lines and power sources, with the continuing disruption of the oil-based economy and murderous attacks by the insurgents? With what kind of day-to-day reality is the average citizen confronted over there? I read today (this time in the Los Angeles Times) that many of them are beginning to question why they risked their lives to vote. Something, Bush--many, many things--need fixing, and image is the last of them, the one that will follow naturally as we address the real, pressing, immediate problems that plague their daily lives. No amount of public relations will reconcile me when my family is blown up in a bomb attack.

I know, I know. Your Hughes is just an addition to your arsenal. I can hear you protest, right back at me: "We're working hard to correct these situations. It's hard work. It's important." In that tone of yours. But, listen, Bush, this is not just about Iraq. It's about Social Security. It's about the deficit. It's about those tax cuts that benefit largely the very wealthy. It's about Medicare, and the environment. What you offer is not honest debate, as I mentioned yesterday. What you offer us is unending public relations geared to demonstrate just how right you are, and how wrong-headed those who argue against your policies.

So what I say is this: it's time to get down to the substance of those arguments. It's time to listen. It's time to understand the position with which you've been entrusted as something other than a sales job for your ideological convictions. Out here, we're waiting for a more inclusive vision, a more inclusive understanding of the world. It's not just about America's "image," Bush. It's about the reality of what we do, and some of it is unhelpful. Some of it is harmful. We need to keep a careful eye on how we use our strength, because it's eventually about the way we want to live with others on this Earth. And the way we'll want to be treated, eventually, by others who might have the power to do us harm.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Spare the Drill

What you can't do by honest debate, Bush--and there seems to be little you CAN do that way--you do by subterfuge or deceit. In this instance, I'm referring to your Republicans' backdoor maneuver to authorize your long-hatched plot to allow your oil pals to start drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. It seems the strategy this time has been to attach it to the budget bill, then ram through a rule to prevent any fillibuster. Will this assure the bill's passage? It sure makes it more likely. Regardless of the many disagreements I'm sure I have on other spending items, this alone makes the of bill a mockery of the democracy on which you persist in loudly lecturing other countries. Shame on you for this slick operation, Bush. Shame on your Republicans.

Picking up Pieces

Yesterday, Bush, in some haste, I suggested that one way for me to fully comprehend the effects of the previous day's slaughter of 47 Iraqis in Thursday's mosque bomb attack would be to close my eyes and imagine myself being blown to pieces 47 times, one per second. The idea came to me from a discipline I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist-trained teacher, who invited me to meditate each day for three weeks on the myriad ways in which I might die that day, and to visualize in detail the physical aspects of that death.

It was, as you can imagine, no easy task. But the experience returned to me as I read about that bombing, along with the acknowledgment of how little such news impacts us these days. A bombing here, a shooting there, a mortar or an air attack, the downing of an aircraft. We read about them every day. We even see them, quite graphically, on the television screen. But we still manage to distance ourselves from these events. They're happening to someone else, far away from the safe breakfast room where we sit reading the paper or watching the morning news. We're protected from the actual reality by our own feelings of safety and comfort.

That's why I came up with the suggestion for you, Bush. You sit in your White House far from the events that continue to result, daily, from your choices. In your public life, in your speeches, you celebrate what you believe to be the beneficial results--such notions as freedom and democracy. So my invitation to you--and to myself--was to get real. For the space of forty-seven seconds, to get real.

I tried taking a bit of my own medicine during my meditation this morning, Bush. I tried visualizing my own body being blown to pieces forty-seven times. I couldn't actually do it. The best I could do was get to nine before my mind balked and turned away. Then I came back and tried again. The moment of the blast, the last, slow nanoseconds of heightened consciousness. The head being severed, blown off in the blast. Limbs flying apart, arms, legs, torn away from the body, mingling with the torn-off limbs of forty-six other of my fellow human beings. Abdomen splitting open, bowels tumbling out. Ribs tearing, lungs, heart spilling out into the street. Bits of brain blasted from the shattered skull. Cocks and balls torn from the pelvis, flyhing off...

And the blood. Blood spilling, gushing, spurting, spattering. Blood pooling everywhere, the pool of my blood spilling over into the pool of the next man's blood. Clouds of blood bursting, spraying. Life blood. And the agony of realizing in those last nanoseconds of life that this is death, and the rage of refusal, the slow, terrible, inevitable acceptance. The relinquishing of everything I have known, and loved, and valued in this life, and the final acknowledgement that my belief that it would last forever was nothing but delusion.

Forty-seven times. Forty-seven seconds. That was the challenge, at least, Bush. As I say, I made it to around nine before my mind found ways to divert itself from this nasty task I'd set it. But I did achieve at least part of my goal, I did catch a glimpse or two of the results of your war. And it seemed a whole lot more real, I tell you, Bush, than your high-sounding words. Try it out for yourself some time. You'll see.

Friday, March 11, 2005

More Dead

Just a quick note this morning, Bush, since I have to leave early for a day of teaching. I see the headline in the Los Angeles Times, "Bomber Kills 47 Outside Mosque", and I ask myself, how many more human beings have to give up their lives in the name of religion, or of ideology? How much longer before we stop destroying ourselves and destroying each other, out of unconsciousness, out of ignorance, out of willful blindness? I leave you today with a lot of sadness and a lot of pain. Take a moment during the day, Bush, to take a breath and give thought to these 47 more deaths. One way I've found to make it real is to close my eyes and see myself being blown to pieces forty-seven times, counting them, one per second. Give it a try, okay? And don't spare yourself the details of each time you die.

Thursday, March 10, 2005


I made a pit stop at the gas station yesterday, Bush. Two dollars and fifty-one cents—not to forget the extra nine-tenths of a cent, making it effectively two dollars and fifty-two cents a gallon. I can’t help but think that this must be in good part the result of your Cheney’s energy policy. Remember that secret meeting, Bush? We don’t know who was there and we don’t know what plot was hatched in the guise of a national energy policy, but we do begin to see the results. And you have the incredible gall to give us all a little lecture about conservaion! I think yesterday was very nearly the first time I heard the word on your lips, when you came out with one of your wonderful platitudes. I wish I’d had a pen and paper to record it, but I happened to be driving at the time. Something like: “If we conserve, we’ll use less.”

So here’s the right-wing conspiracy view of the energy situation: you strangle the supply with wars and things until the prices go up nicely to please your energy friends; then you announce a crisis and an emergency need to drill for oil in Alaska (only two thousand acres, you promised us, again on the radio yesterday, the size of the airport in Columbus. I swear I heard you say this) and please your oil production friends. Nice work. And meantime we obedient consumers stop at the gas station in the gas guzzlers we’ve been sold to keep up with the Joneses, and fill our tanks at two dollars and fifty-two cents a gallon.

Mind you, Bush, I must be one of the few Americans who really don’t mind paying my share for gas (in the global context, we still get it cheap). Besides, I drive a Prius. I drove sixty miles yesterday at an average of fifty-one point two miles per gallon. How’s that for conservation? The question of course is, why did we wait so long, and why are we so slow making thoughtful decisions about what we drive? My theory is, we’ve been sold a bill of goods by our government and our corporate exploiters. But that’s just me on my right-wing conspiracy hobby-horse.

By the way, my travels yesterday took me to a couple of notable art exhibits, Bush. I actually went to see the one I mentioned the other day—the new old masterpiece show? Thumbs down. What a yawn. What you should see, Bush, if you could take the time to travel so far, is the two great globes by the artist Russell Crotty. I guess about four or five feet in diameter, they’re suspended from the ceiling of this huge, otherwise empty gallery space at about waist height, so they look enormous. Their surface is covered with millions of tiny scratch-marks (graphite, I think)—the one, to create a vast image of the night sky, with stars; the other, an image of both night sky and Earth, with a jagged horizon line of tree outlines around its girth. The pair of them a powerful homage, I thought, to the energy, the intricacy, the interdependence and, yes, Bush, the incredible beauty of this planet and its celestial environs. It’s worth conserving.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


I’d like to talk a bit about integrity this morning, Bush. For me, that means that my actions should be fully congruent with my words, so that what I do accords with what I say. You liked to put it a different way during last year’s election, in that distinctly annoying tone you adopt when you’re patronizing us as though we were a bunch of idiot children who are incapable of seeing the obvious: “I say what I mean,” you kept saying, “and I mean what I say.” I wondered at the time if you’d borrowed the words from Horton the Elephant in Dr. Seuss—the one who hatches the eggs, remember? You must have read that one to your daughters, Bush, when they were little. I read it to my kids a hundred times, and they could never get enough.

I mention this because I believe that you yourself are out of integrity with the American people. You’re certainly out of integrity with me. Because you keep saying one thing and doing something completely different. That whole “compassionate conservative” bit you did in your first election campaign, Bush. What a crock, really. Admit it. You spoke it so often and so nicely that people actually believed you. But since you’ve been in office, it’s been nothing but screw the poor, the defenseless, the sick. For a recent example, take another look at the Bankruptcy and Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which according to everything I’ve read does nothing but deprive the poor and ignorant of a last-ditch defense against the super-rich, while offering the latter new protections for themselves. Compassionate, indeed!

And now comes the nomination of your John Bolton to be US Ambassador to the United Nations. I say your Bolton, Bush, though there was a show of it being your Rice’s nomination, in her little red suit in front of the television cameras. But I won’t allow you to hide behind that skirt. It’s too small and too tight to hide behind anyway. I think we all know whose bidding she does, and who needs to be held accountable.

But didn’t you just get back from your European jaunt, Bush, where you spent the better part of your time selling this new image of yourself as the great conciliator? Mending bridges, was among the fine-sounding terms I often heard. The so-called “charm offensive”—though I myself preferred the wit who dubbed it “offensive charm”. Anyway, those were the words. And now here comes the action. It’s basically a finger in the eye. Your Bolton is on record as having nothing but very public, very outspoken derision for the organization in which he is now to represent the United States of America. I'll let the New York Times editorial speak for me, since it says everything much better than I could, and in Bolton’s own words. The man brings a familiar attitude, Bush. It's, Oh yes, we’ll make the pretense of listening. Then we’ll do it our way. The US way. We’ve heard all this before.

All of which, I’m sure, plays well in that paranoid section of our society that believes the United Nations is out to destroy the United States and take over the world—quite a significant section, as I understand it. These are the people who elected you, the Republican right wing base that you’re working so hard to secure for years into the future. A terrifying thought. For me personally, though, it all comes back down to a simple matter of integrity. And I don’t find it, Bush. I keep looking for it, but I don’t find it there. It might be a good moment to re-read your Horton. He could prove a useful reminder of what it was you sold us in the first place. And you might yet have the time to hatch those compassionate conservative eggs.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Another Note…

…to the Reader. Today marks the beginning of the fourth month since the first entry in "The Bush Diaries", so it seems a propitious moment to take stock. First, it has been a wonderful experience for me personally. It not only satisfies my writing jones, it also gives me the opportunity to communicate with readers--even if, some days, only a handful of them--on a daily basis. And it helps me, importantly, to remain conscious of what's happening in our country and the world at large at a difficult moment in our history. It's exciting and rewarding to get your responses, and I'm actively looking for more. More readers. More responses.

So I'm asking for your help. Readers--even occasional ones--would do me a big favor by simply taking the time to check in with me. I'd be immensely grateful if you could tell me (even if you think that I already know):

1)where you are in the world and, if you choose, who you are;
2)how you found "The Bush Diaries"; and
3)how frequently you check in;
4)what you like most about the entries, and
5)what you like least;
6)if you happen to be a blogger, if you'd be interested in exchanging listings; and
7)let me have your advice on how to expand readership.

It's easy. For the technologically disadvantaged, like myself, here are two easy ways to do it.

Either check on the "comments" button at the end of this posting, then on "Post a Comment". If you don't wish to register, click on the little "anonymous" circle below the space left blank for your message; type your message, and hit "Login & Publish". If you'd like a response, include your email address in the body of your text, because otherwise it won't show up automatically. This way, your message will be posted, and can be accessed by other readers if they check the comments.

Or, even easier, email me at This way, your comment will come direct to me, and will not be posted.

Either way you choose, thank you, thank you, thank you, for being out there, and for taking the time and the trouble. More tomorrow.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Easy Answer for the Simple Mind

Sorry about yesterday, Bush. Bad joke. Still, you can’t afford to lose your sense of humor in all this, can you? I thought I’d start off today with a few thoughts about art, because that has been my speciality as a writer, for some thirty years now. I’ve written a lot about it, thought a lot about it. And what I was thinking about yesterday does have a broader significance, I think. But we’ll come to that.

First off, a bit of controversy picked up in the review of a current exhibition in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Curated by the well-known critic and historian, Donald Kuspit, it purports to champion the rejection of the “emperor’s new clothes” quality of much contemporary art, and a return to the humanitarian values of “masterpiece” painting. Kuspit identifies Marcel Duchamp—he of the infamous urinal exhibited as art—as the original villain of the theory that art can be anything the artist says is art. Things have gone a little far, he argues, when a Yale graduate student has nothing to show in her studio for her graduate review, and instead, as “art”, tapes her review committee’s visit, and their reaction to the absence.

Well, Bush, we all have our examples of the absurd excesses of contemporary artists. I happen to agree with Kuspit that something has gone awry, but I disagree with him about the cause. It’s not that artists have forgotten “the basics”—how to draw and paint—though I agree that many of them have. And I do enjoy those skills when I see them praticed. But I don’t see these skills as the “without which not,” the sine qua non of art today. It’s not, for me, about the medium or the skill with which it’s handled. Anything CAN be art because the artist says so.

But for me it doesn’t follow, as some would claim, that it IS. My personal gripe about a great deal of art that’s produced today is that it’s pathetically THIN. It's the sense that someone's banal "idea" is enough in itself to warrant my attention and appreciation. I do look for human values, but they can be explored in media other than the traditional “masterpiece” media. What I find unacceptable is the dreadful, almost self-congratulatory paucity of idea in much art that’s shown today—and that paucity can be found in the traditional media as much as in the new ones. What I personally need from art is some insight into the complexity and depth of the human experience—insight that does not, sometimes contemptuously, exclude any of the richness of the emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual complex that forms the wholeness of our experience of life.

Why is this imnportant for us to talk about, Bush? Because that paucity seems to permeate not only the work of some of our artists in today’s world, but almost every aspect of our experience. I believe it has become the stock-in-trade not only of artists, but of anyone who wants to lead us by the nose. Including those who want to sell us things and make us good consumers. And politicians, Bush. The easy, one-line sales pitch—“no new taxes”, “weapons of mass destruction”, “social security crisis”, you name it—has been substituted for the depth and complexity of honest thought required to address the difficult questions facing us as we seek to secure a tolerable and sustainable future for our world.

It’s destructive and dangerous, Bush, this simple-mindedness, this trading on the easily sold assumption that there are easy answers. We’re losing that indispensible ability to think critically about issues, and to hold paradoxical and contradictory thought simultaneously in our minds. We want the quick fix, and you, Bush, and your people are all too quick to offer it. And the trouble with the easy answers is that they usually prove not to be answers at all, but lead instead to further complications, further problems, and unintended consequences.

Look back at the last election, Bush. We were offered the clear choice between the breezy show of self-confident shallowness and thoughtful, sometimes dark, sometimes self-contradictory depth; between easy assurance and difficult, sometimes conflicted interior debate. In life, as in art, alas, we opt too frequently for quickest, easiest solution. It’s not about learning to draw again. It's not about retreating to the values of the past. It’s about learning to stretch the potential of the human mind, about expanding our humanity into greater understanding of each other, greater compassion, and greater fulfillment of our individual and collective destiny.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


Did you ever stop to think about our names, Bush? I mean, Peter and Bush? About what’s happened to them, over the course of the years? According to the Dictionary of Slang, I could be DickAtLarge and you could be George W. Pussy. Or, more formally, of course, Mr. PenisAtLarge and President George W. Vagina. A bit of an irony, perhaps, given that it’s you who’s the Mr. Macho Guy. Still, maybe we could put our heads together sometime. No disrespect, Bush. Just a little Sunday morning banter. Have a great day!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Parable, Continued

There’s a sequel to yesterday’s entry, Bush, and I have to tell you a little bit more about it. Not the details, of course, because my daughter deserves her privacy; but the part about the doctors. Because, unhappily, it has a lot to say about us men in our relationship with women.

To remind you: I mentioned yesterday that the doctor in the emergency room was all medical data, that he showed no interest or understanding of what Sarah was experiencing, which was pain. Because he could not find a scientific basis for it, either in her records or in the test results when they came back from the lab and the CT scan department, he simply dismissed it as not being real—as being, in fact, a figment of her imagination. He sent her away, after hours of the kind of fear and agony you experience in the emergency room, with a flea in her ear. She felt humiliated. Distraught would not be too strong a word. And distrusting the evidence of her own mind.

Well, Bush, yesterday, the day after our miserable day in the emergency room, she came over to our house and we spent the morning trying to assure her, basically—thanks to this doctor—that she wasn’t crazy. Then her cell phone rang. The doctor. No apology, of course, but further examination of the CT scan results had led to the discovery of “something”. She should come back to emergency right away for further tests.

So how would you feel, Bush, if you were in her shoes? On the one hand, I myself would feel vindicated, and on the other, pretty damn scared about what the tests might have revealed. I guess that must have been how Sarah felt. Angry, to have been so mistrusted and dismissed. Glad to have very possibly been proven right. And scared.

Well we all went back, the three of us, Ellie, myself, and Sarah, and spent the best part of another day in the emergency room. To our common relief, after a good deal more agony of uncertainty, the problem appears to be… well, manageable, put it that way. The nature of the problem is none of our business, Bush, so I won’t go into it.

What’s important, though, is the doctor’s role in all this, and what we can learn from it about ourselves. Because we all too often listen to our own agenda, Bush, rather than the reality that stares us in the face. This doctor’s agenda was the medical facts. Fair enough, but they blinded him to the reality of my daughter’s pain. I don’t like to generalize or stereotype—though I guess I do it often enough, Bush, don’t I?—but I think we men are so little attuned to our own emotional lives that we tend to distrust or dismiss the emotional reality of others. For this doctor, Sarah’s pain was simply not a reality he was prepared to accept. It wasn’t a part of his agenda.

I’m sure this is not an exclusively male trait, but it does warrant some thought. Ask your Laura about boys, Bush, and whether she thinks, as I do, that we mis-educate them on this score. We teach them from a very early age to mistrust and disguise their feelings, particularly fear, pain, sadness. Our cultural trope is to teach them that the manly thing is to be in control of the emotions.

So, Bush, here we are. You’re the one in power. My sincere request to you, this Saturday morning, is to make a practice of looking beyond your own agenda, and of listening to the realities that others see and experience. And that practice can be applied to every situation: to Social Security, here at home (what are the people really saying to you on this issue? Are you listening carefully, and with respect to the reality in which some of the less fortunate of us are forced to live?); and there, across the seas. Wars, different cultures, different religions, different agendas... So what I'm saying is, forget your own agenda, Bush. Or even, no, don't forget it, just keep it in the perspective of knowing that there are others, equally real, equally compelling. Just don't forget to listen to the pain. And listen to the need.

Friday, March 04, 2005

It's Personal

I don't have the head--or the heart--to say very much to you this morning, Bush. Yesterday was a very intense, very pain-filled day in our family's life, and it left me feeling dispirited and disengaged. I watched the evening news without interest or passion. So Saudi Arabia joins the chorus of those telling Syria to get out of Lebanon. Big deal. Martha Stewart gets out of jail, a half-billion dollars richer. Yawn. I was only briefly angered by your own talking head, going on yet again about the so-called crisis in Social Security. You and your Frist, who did an abrupt about-face from his previous postion. A couple of days ago he announced that the matter would likely not reach the Senate floor this year--leaving debate and voting to an election year, when none of your Republicans would want to risk their political necks. You changed his mind pretty fast on that one, Bush.

But all that paled beside a day spent in the emergency room at our local HMO, where the medical staff were, for the most part, I regret to say, unhelpful, unfriendly, uncaring, unconcerned. I know how overworked they are, Bush, and how much pain and suffering they see each day. I sympathize. One nurse told me there were only three doctors on duty, and that they'd had sixty-nine cases to deal with. Which does not, to my mind, excuse one of the doctors, who sat in his office "doing paperwork"--the nurse's words--for a full hour after being paged (several times) to help my daughter suffering from an acute crisis of pain. Patients and their loved ones were standing at the doorways to their examination rooms, just waiting for attention, and the man was "doing paperwork." I saw him, Bush, through the little window set in his office door. For a whole hour.

When he finally deigned to put in an appearance, he was interested only in the medical facts, as he interpreted them, and not the least in the human suffering, the affect. I refuse to excuse him for having seen a surfeit of pain in the course of his busy week. Not a smile, not a caring word, not a comforting touch or gesture. Inexcusable.

So you see, it does get very personal, Bush. And when it gets this personal, the big picture loses interest, loses focus. You, Bush, have a whole medical system in deep crisis, and you choose to spend your time instead on Social Security--a looming crisis, decades ahead. I have a daughter in crisis now, today. And, as you like to say so often, Bush, it's hard work.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


I woke up today with the word "demagogy", Bush. It's one of those words that gets easily bandied about, but you're never sure if the user knows exactly what it means. So I looked it up in the OED, to be sure that I had it right. It's defined there as "the action or quality of a demagogue," defined, in turn, as the "leader of a popular faction, or of the mob; an unprincipled or factious mob orator or political agitator." And I said to myself, "Well, that's my Bush."

The word was brought to mind, in part, by the announcement that Arnold Schwazenegger, a fellow demagogue of yours and, improbably, our Governor here in California, has taken it upon himself to revert to a currently all too familiar tactic: when you can't get what you want, take it to "the people". So our Schwarzenegger is on the stump. He's upset about teachers' raises, in part--he believes they should all be merit raises--and by the state pension plan. He thinks he can save money by trimming them around the edges, and that it will be easier to persuade the California voters than their legislators.

He's right, of course. It's been proven time and again. I mean, his own election proves it, doesn't it, Bush? Mob mentality? The "popular faction"? It's a proven fact that no one wants to pay a penny more in taxes than they're paying right now, no matter how the cost of providing basic public services rises. So you tell the people you can give them everything they want without raising their taxes, just so long as… they vote on your side on this initiative, or that legislation.

Sound familiar? It's the same story that you're busy telling the people out there about your Social Security plan. It was the same story you used to sell your war: we can clobber Hussein AND cut your taxes, too. The sad part is, it's not too hard to sell a seductive story, even when it's a lie. Spend a little here (on simplistic and deceptive advertizing) and a little there (on "journalists" and pundits who'll pitch your line); stage a little diversion (the story of the planned attack on New York's Grand Central station was all over the news yesterday: coincidence?); target a carefully selected audience (coincidence, again, Bush, that Jackie Robinson gets his Congressional Medal at precisely the moment when your people are courting African American support on Social Security? I think not); then pinpoint those strategic locations around the country where a presidential speech (to the faithful only, Bush; never risk a genuine questioner) can stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood--whatever it is that Prince Hal said. And, as they say in England, Bob's your uncle.

You talk about democracy, Bush. I say that democracy won't work when what it means is a bunch of uniformed people voting in favor of what they've been led by the nose to believe is in their interest. Democracy, as I understand the principle, depends on education--a resource that is in pathetically short supply in this country at the moment, and getting shorter. It means voters who are educated enough to be able to think critically, weigh the issues, and transcend their own short-term interests in view of the long-term benefit of all the people. It means entrusting those for whom we voted with the work that each and every one of us has neither the time, nor the skills, nor the staff to do, in coming to a solid, informed understanding of the full social and economic implications on every serious issue, and then casting a vote as our representative.

What both you and Schwarzenegger are undertaking now, in making your (demagogic, Bush) appeal to "the people" is to subvert the very democracy you purport to be promoting to other countries around the world. What you're practicing is salesmanship rather than persuasion, imperialism rather than diplomacy. And I'm not buying, Bush.