Thursday, June 30, 2005


You must have noticed, Bush, in recent days, how the word "blunder" has been appearing more and more frequently in association with your name. It occurred to me to google the two together, and I have to tell you that I came up with 299,000 hits in less than half a second. Which might be funny if you were a slapstick comedian, but no, you happen to be President of the United States; or, as we're all too often reminded, the most powerful man in the world.

A blunder is not simply an action with which I happen to disagree. My trusty old Oxford English Dictionary defines it as follows: "1) Confusion, clamour. 2) A gross mistake." The verb, to blunder, is "to move blindly or stupidly; to flounder, stumble… to utter thoughtlessly… to mismanage…" A "blunderbus(h)s," by the way, is "A short gun with a large bore, firing many slugs, and doing execution at a short range without exact aim. [No longer used in civilized countries]." No kidding! Also, "A blustering, noisy talker." Ah, well. Those Brits, they really know how to get down with their language, Bush! So, given that definition, a partial list of your own blunders, relating only and specifically to your "war on terror" and your war in Iraq might include:

failing to listen to pre-9/11 intelligence;
deflecting the war on terror from Afghanistan and the Pakistani border to Iraq, allowing Bin Laden and top henchmen to escape into the mountains and now, months later, allowing the Taliban to rebuild their strength and influence;
believing (or not) in a direct connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, and using it anyway as an excuse to go to war;
believing (or not) in your Chalabi and his fellow exiles, with their axes to grind, and acting on their advice and information;
believing (or not) in “weapons of mass destruction," and using them anyway as an excuse to go to war;
invading a sovereign state, no matter how “evil,” on the basis of intelligence which you knew to be flawed;
invading a country that in no way threatened the USA;
ignoring the good advice of at least one of your generals regarding troop strength;
trusting your Rumsfeld;
trusting your Cheney;
trusting your Rice and your Wolfowitz;
invading a sovereign state despite international dismay and condemnation;
invading Iraq with insufficient troop strength;
failing to recognize this inadequacy in the first days of the occupation, and thus failing to protect the country's infrastructure;
failing to protect vast arsenals of arms and ammunition from marauders and future insurgents;
failing to accept your Rumsfeld's resignation;
absurdly claiming victory in advance of months of escalating violence and death (“Mission Accomplished,” remember?);
failing to capitalize on the strength of a pre-existing Iraqi army in your eagerness to de-Baathify;
trusting your Chalabi to set up a government;
failing to understand the diversity of Iraqi culture and Iraqi people and their passions;
failing to provide your army with adequate armor to protect them;
changing your story every time you're asked about the reason for your war, making yourself look foolish and inconsistent, and giving support to those who charge that the war is being fought for reasons you have not yet acknowledged (like, perhaps, oil???):
insisting on absurdly disproportionate tax cuts for the wealthy during a time of war;
insisting on rosy versions of success when all anyone can see is disastrous failure;
grinning like an embarrassed jackal when speaking of the dead and injured;
underestimating (wildly) the strength and determination of the resistence to your occupation;
overestimating the appeal of "democracy" in a country that has never known it, and your ability to transplant it into unprepared soil;
inability to admit to, let alone learn from your mistakes…

Well, Blunderbush. Enough for now. And that’s not even beginning to consider blunders on other fronts, at home and abroad. Like Kyoto. Global warming. Social security. Not to mention your felicitous turns of phrase. Ah, well... again! But anyway, enough to give us pause…

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Flip Side

I would not wish to leave you thinking, Bush, that everything up there in Oregon, at our gathering, was doom and gloom. Far from it. The predominant feeling there was joy. What I was speaking about yesterday was only the head part, the intellectual content. It was more than balanced by the heart and soul parts, soaring like the eagle by day and the owl by night above the beautiful alpine valley where we met.

Above all else, I was awed by the quality of these fifty men, and their generous capacity to love and serve. Where else but in a gathering of men of the ManKind Project could I expect to be greeted, a stranger to all but a handful of them, with immediate, heartfelt acceptance and extraordinary warmth? To feel at home at the moment of my arrival? Where else could I feel so free to return that feeling without the least restraint or reservation? These fifty men, each one of them fifty years in age or more, going up to the mid-seventies, represented together more than three thousand years of lived experience. And each one had experienced at least the beautiful, intense, and archetypal drama of the Project’s initial training weekend.

Let me tell you, Bush, about the quality of just a few of these men—-though without the need to name their names. In some cases—-do you know this feeling, Bush?--I dare to know something of their solid hearts and souls without knowing the first thing about the detail of their lives. I think of the man who owned the property on which we met, who devotes his life to the stewardship of this spectacular spot on the Earth’s surface, to the conservation of its natural beauty and the wildlife with which it abounds, and to opening it up for the use of gatherings like ours where men and women explore their relationship to each other and the world.

I think of the man who served his country as a fighter pilot, who brought with him the experience of the true warrior, hardened by the experience of action, but armed within by the breadth of his own understanding and compassion. I think of the man who served his country as a sniper in the early days of the conflict in Vietnam, who brought his anger and his sense of shame for the lives he had taken on the orders of those who commanded him, along with his pride and his contrition.

I think of the man who has devoted his intellectual life to scientific inquiry, and who brought with him the results of his research into the effects of man’s activities on the planet. Of the healer. Of the two men who have brought their knowledge and skills to the service of philanthropy. Of the man who devotes his life to the study of eldership, and the need, in our society, for a healthy understanding of the values of wisdom, experience, ritual, and compassion that come with the accumulation of years. Of the man whose special insight saw the need, twenty years ago, for a new understanding of masculinity and the role of men in the world today, and who—-along with two other men of vision—-pioneered the work that led to the ManKind Project, now an international organization some thirty-five thousand strong.

And of so many others, each with his own gift. The gathering was enriched by the grief of a few who brought the pain of recent losses in their lives, and who were there in part as the reminders of the shared knowledge that, as elders, we are each preparing for our own deaths even as we participate to the full in the richness of life. This was the deep and lasting bass line of the weekend’s music, the source—-along with the majesty of the natural environment--of the sense of spiritual depth that pervaded it.

I believe that it is the work of men such as these, Bush, that can literally save the world. I wrote yesterday about the bleak prospects for a world in which acquisitivness and greed predominate, a world governed by men with neither consciousness nor conscience, men all too ready to exploit the earth’s limited resources for their personal gain. I write today about the flip side of that coin, about men of dignity and wisdom, nobility and compassion who are ready to devote their energies to restoration and renewal, to the benefit of all the living beings with whom they share this planet and its natural resources.

And let’s not forget the element of joy and laughter. It was pervasive, Bush. We were up there somewhere in the treetops with the sheer joy of being there, beyond the foolishness of youth but still able to participate in it, at times possessed of the gamboling spirits of the little kid still alive in each of us.

What a blessing such men are to this country, Bush! I only wish I could see you surround yourself with them as your advisors. Their hearts and minds, both, would serve you well. To me, these elders represent the best hope for our future. I can embrace that lovely irony, Bush. Can you?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Only Serious Question Left

It was Albert Camus, wasn't it, Bush, who suggested in his signature novel, The Stranger, that the only philosophical question worth considering was whether or not to commit suicide? Oh, I loved that question--and that novel--as a dark young man in the heyday of French Existentialism! It suited my dark, poetic (so I thought!) self. In those days, back in the mid-1950s, I wore black clothes, smoked Gauloises, and thought I was James Dean.

The reason I mention this, Bush, is that I left that wonderful gathering of ManKind Project elders up in Oregon with this thought in mind: that the most all-embracing, deep and serious question facing us today is whether or not we want to commit suicide as a species, on a global scale. And what we can do, if anything, to save ourselves. I'm honestly not sure about you, Bush: whether you're in some kind of deep denial--a hangover from your days as an alcoholic, perhaps--or whether you're a willing part of a powerful cabal whose greed and recklessness is driving us rapidly toward extinction. And I'm not sure which version of you is more frightening.

Let me explain: up there in Oregon we had the opportunity to hear from thoughtful men who have done some serious research and thinking. We heard, for example, from a scientist about global warming--a field in which he has developed a certain expertise. It was clear, from what he said, that there is no longer any possible reasonable doubt, from a scientific point of view, that the activities of human beings in burning fossil fuels (not to mention living forests!) are the cause of a significant and increasing rise in global temperatures. No qualified respected scientist questions the proven data. And yet you, Bush, despite the evidence supplied by your own government agencies--and posted for all to read on government and other websites--continue to assert that this is as yet only a unproven theory, and that more study is needed. Your lead is followed, it seems, by an indulgent media which remains reluctant or unable to convey the truth to the American people. A friend--from another context--who happens to teach this material at an important university hereabouts, told me yesterday that his students' eyes "glaze over" with disinterest or perhaps disbelief, when he imparts his knowledge of the subject.

Are we all asleep, Bush? Are you asleep? Or are you incompetent? Or dishonest?

The other part of the story, or course, is the rapid depletion of the earth's supply of oil, on which all our "progress" depends. The facts are known here, too: I learned a lot about "peak oil"--enough to know that I should know much more, and to form the intention to follow up on the leads that I was given. Not only is the supply headed at exponentially increasing speed toward depletion, with technologically developing countries like India and China racing to assure their share; its reserves are principally in parts of the world where we have assiduously courted hatred. Jimmy Carter, as I understand it, was the last president to take the problem seriously, declaring back in the 1970s that we must end our dependency on foreign oil. (Your much-touted Arctic Wildlife Refuge, according to scientific charts, will provide no more than could be saved by a simple redesign of the tires we use on our vehicles; and considerably less than by a turn to hybrid automotive technology.)

Anyway, Bush, needless to add, no one heeded Carter's call. The reckless consumption continued. There have been virtually no steps taken on a national basis toward conservation. And, along with our President, we remain in blissful denial, continuing to believe in "progress" and "growth" despite all evidence that we will almost certainly destroy our planet and ourselves in the process. What's the most likely scenario? Will everything come to a dead halt? Will we find ourselves without food to eat, because we have depleted the soil, and can no longer produce the fertilizers to replenish it? Will our oil wars continue, and expand to a global scale?

What's known is that we have backed ouselves into a corner where we are dependent on fossil fuels for our food, our energy, our transportation, our communications, the heat or cooling in our homes, even our medicines. I, for one, am committed from this moment to becoming more aware. I want to check out those websites, get the information. I'll even pass it on to you, Bush, in these pages, as I find it. It's scary stuff. Just in case you really don’t know what's going on, at least demand that the information arriving on your desk be unedited by oil industry shills like your Philip Cooney. That's the least you can do.

As for my part in the gathering up in Oregon--remember, it was causing me considerable anxiety?--I have to say that it went quite well. As I prepared, and as I spoke, I came to the recognition that these pages and the practice of writing them are one way to remind myself, and I hope a few others to be vigilant, not to allow ourselves to go to sleep and perhaps--if you and your people have your way--never wake up. As I say, I'm convinced now that this is the only serious question left: do we all want to commit global suicide?

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Kiss and a Promise

Okay, Bush, I'm back. It's Monday morning, and I didn't want to let the moment pass without checking in with you, if only briefly. I want to tell you about my weekend with fifty elders of the International Mankind Project, but that's going to have to wait until I've had the time to breathe, unpack, take care of accumulated business, signed the escrow papers (this afternoon!) and caught up with the real estate agents who are selling our old house. Still, there's a lot to tell. A very powerful weekend. I learned a lot--about myself, about other men, about the world we're all given to live in. Wish you had been there with us... Until later, then, all good things.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Teddy for President

Sorry, Bush. Couldn't resist adding this note. I saw Teddy Kennedy twice on CNN this morning, once berating your Rumsfeld for getting us into this "quagmire" in Iraq, and compounding it with his incompetence; and once again playing attack dog on your Bolton nomination. He looked, well... so dignified, so statesman-like, so confident without a shred of cockiness. He spoke so eloquently, with such clear conviction, with such understanding. Encompassing such broad humanity, he made the rest of you politicians look like midgets. I thought to myself, well, there's the kind of man we need as President of these United States. There's a man who could command the respect of the world. Forget Chappaquiddick (was that the name? Did I spell it right? Who cares?) So I say, Run, Teddy, Run!

A Breather

I'm taking a break, Bush. A breather. Tomorrow morning I leave early on a flight to Portland, Oregon, ending up--as I mentioned to you a few days ago--in Sisters, for a gathering of elder men in The Mankind Project. I've been invited to be the keynote speaker for the occasion, and I confess that a whole lot of my energy is being pulled in that direction. This morning, I need to be thinking about real estate and attendant issues--meeting with a contractor at the new house and preparing this one for the possibility of visits in our absence during the coming weekend. When I leave tomorrow, I plan to leave even my mini laptop behind--the one I took with me to Egypt--so that I'm not tempted by that particular distraction. If I have thoughts for you, Bush, it will have to be plain old pen and paper until my return on Monday.

So that's it for now. We'll be talking again Monday, or maybe not until Tuesday. But we'll be talking. In the meantime, wish me luck. I'm nervous as all get-out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Few Words

Today, Bush, I have few words for you. The previous owner of our new house moved out yesterday, so this afternoon we get to see it empty for the first time. We're in suspense. Meantime, our old house remains unsold. From Utah, cheering news: a little boy is found alive and well after four days in the wilderness. From Mississippi, news that Edgar Ray Killen was convicted (of manslaughter!) in the deaths of those three brave young civil rights workers, so long ago. Manslaughter! They couldn't come up with murder? Still, I suppose we need to be grateful for what we can get. In Washington, you greet the prime minister of Vietnam in the White House. Amazing! And in Iraq, many more people die.

A full moon, square
over the city. Impatient,
I wait.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Bush Too Far?

So brother Jeb goes after Teri Schiavo's husband, apparently unconcerned about the possibility of a political backfire? I wonder when one of the two of you will go too far? Will it be you, Bush, if you reward your Bolton with a recess appointment?

I'll say this for you: you are risk-takers. I like that quality. Trouble is, in your case, Bush, the risks you like to take put the lives and the well-being of millions of others at risk: it may not be too much to extend that to the whole world. The risks you choose to take with military action? The risks you choose to take with the environment? It looks to me like you're enjoying yourself hugely in your own foolhardiness. You should be out there sky-diving, like your dad (I was going to add: without a parachute, but that would be unkind.) Or maybe BASE-jumping off mountainsides or skyscrapers. You could get your jollies that way. Meantime, though, what about the rest of us, Bush? Do we all need to take these risks at your say-so?

As a diversion from these weighty matters, I append a Christian poem. You'll approve of that. It's called...

St. Joseph

Our friend Mary, who is
of the Catholic faith, said,
ask St. Joseph. St. Joseph, she told us,
is the patron saint of real estate; well,
actually, I suppose, of homes,
since it was he, with Mary,
who gave a home to Jesus. We had decided
to put our home of more than thirty years
on the market and, guess what? In the hottest
of hot markets, no bids.

Well, not being myself
of the Christian faith, I deemed it
presumptuous of me to be asking favors
of a Christian saint. But I did recall
how my mother, when she was alive,
had this special relationship with the saints:
she would read me their stories at bedtime
from this book, "All Saints at Six O'Clock,"
(six o'clock was bedtime for little children
in those days); and when anything was lost
at our house, she would say,
ask St. Anthony: "St. Anthony, St. Anthony,
come to my aid." And soon enough
the lost thing would be found.

And for myself, I would say,
while I have problems with the Christian God,
I do recognize in Jesus, as in the Buddha,
a man of the spirit, a great teacher;
and for this reason, perhaps, as well as
my mother's abiding faith in them,
I do have a special affection
for those men and women who followed him
and practiced his teachings in their lives,
each in his or her own way. And I believe also
in the special powers granted
to such men and women of the spirit,
greater than any of the temporal powers
we know, to perform wonders.

So we took the little four-inch statue
of St. Joseph our friend Mary gave us
and, as per her instructions, buried him,
head down, face-in toward the house,
a few feet from our home.
And, judging myself unqualified to do so,
I asked my long-departed mother
to intercede for us with Joseph, the saint
with whom she now perhaps consorts
on the best of terms: "St. Joseph,
St. Joseph, come to our aid."

So far, no bids.
But I have to tell you that it does feel good
to have reconnected once more,
for at least a little while with my mother,
and her unquestioning faith.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A Belated Happy Birthday...

... to a real hero!

How could I have forgotten this? I meant to ask you yesterday, Bush, to join me in wishing a Happy 60th Birthday to Aung San Suu Kyi, that incredibly gutsy woman over there in Myanmar who for years has led a lonely, stubborn battle against the ruling junta of generals in that country. “Happy” might not be quite the word for the occasion, though as a practising Buddhist and meditator (as I understand it,) she will surely subscribe to a different idea of “happiness” than most of the rest of us. Under house arrest for most of the past dozen years, all she has going for her is the power and determination of her mind. With not the slightest access to the people who regard her as their unquestioned leader, she still manages to be a commanding presence amongst them--and in the rest of the world. With no access to weapons and not the slightest interest in using them, she maintains a steadfast, silent, and implacable opposition to those who keep her imprisoned in her own home, and who attempted to have her assassinated when she was last allowed to leave it. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she was forced to allow her British husband to die of cancer without her comfort and support, since she was not permitted out of her country, nor he permitted in. She must have had to accept enormous pain and sadness in her life.

What a model for us, Bush! I’d rate her up there with the Dalai Lama as the true moral leader of her people, who manages to retain her dignity and her equanimity in the face of continuing violence, injustice, and abuse. If this spiritual and political heritage of Mahatma Ghandi is still alive in the world today, there’s hope for our species. I’m afraid that, with all your weapons, all your posturing of power and your hot-air talk of democracy, you can’t begin to hold a candle to this woman. So, even if we are a day late, at least help me light the candles on her metaphorical cake.

I can’t leave you today without a mention of that little, two-inch piece at the bottom of page 17 of the Sunday New York Times. It seems the Pentagon has announced the award of a $30 million contract to a Halliburton subsidiary “to build a 220-bed prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The job, says the Times, “is part of a larger contract that could be worth up to $500 million through 2010.” So far, only a single voice of protest—-that of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, who dared to impugn Halliburton as the “scandal-plagued former employer” of your Cheney. I'm with him.

Will more voices be heard on this matter, Bush? Or will the story remain buried in the back of a few newspapers, while we all get on with the important business of Michael Jackson and the Runaway Bride? What’s your guess?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Art of the Edit, Part II

I’d been planning on giving myself the day off today, Bush, but a piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times caught my eye, and it seemed so relevant to what we have been talking about this past week that I felt I couldn’t just let it pass.

The article concerns two retired Bureau of Land Management scientists, a biologist and a hydrologist, who are outraged that a report to which their research had contributed was distorted beyond recognition to support policy changes they had vehemently opposed. The original draft on proposed new grazing regulations warned that the changes would have a “significant adverse impact” on wildlife, but that phrase was edited out in favor of one concluding that the new grazing regulations would be “beneficial to animals.” Also cut, amongst a host of other significant conclusions, was the one that “The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse on wildlife and biolological diversity in general.”

The Times report cites Eric Campbell, the biologist in question, as follows: “This a whitewash. They took all of our science and reversed it 180 degrees… They rewrote everything. It’s a crime.” Another crime. The beneficiaries of the proposed BLM changes are, as usual, the business interests-—in this case, the meat industry. The losers in the long run are the American people, who get to sacrifice another piece of their common heritage to the short-term, bottom-line financial beneft of the few.

It sounds like the usual approach of your administration to the results of scientific study, Bush. We saw what happened just the other day in the case of the scientific reports on global warming. You ignore the data in favor of political or ideological ends; or you minimize it; and, if all else fails, you edit it out of existence. What a scam you’re running there, Bush, in the name of government.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

From the World of Books...

...comes news of two new book deals this past week. Congratulations to the publishing industry for jumping on these new acquisitions: Mark Felt, better known as the Deep Throat of Watergate fame; and the Runaway Bride. I’m sure Mark Felt will have some interesting recollections about his double role as Deep Throat and second-in-command at the FBI during the Nixon presidency. I hope he’ll tell us a bit more about those secret meetings in the underground garage, as well as about the ethical dilemma he surely had to face: which came first, in his loyalties, his President or his country? Knowing of your high expectations in the field of personal loyalty, Bush, I imagine you’ll find this one of special interest when it comes out. As for me, I could wish for another Deep Throat today, to share some of those secrets withheld from us common mortals—about our country’s energy policy, for example. Wouldn’t that be something, if we could all find out not only how it was arrived at, but what it is!

As for the Runaway Bride, well, I wish her luck. Her escapade is proving profitable as well as newsworthy. Did she recieve a financial penalty as well as a suspended sentence? I forget. But this should cover her costs and then some, after her national television coverage. I’m happy for her. And of course we're all burning with curiosity to hear "her side of the story." But I’ll admit to being just a little sad for the publishing business, Bush. As a writer, I have been watching for these past twenty years in dismay as hard-working writers get displaced by celebrity worship and scandal-mongering, all in the name of “what the public wants”—or what the industry can sell them. But that’s maybe just envy on my part, Bush. I wouldn't mind a million-dollar book contract. Not one bit.

By the way, I suppose you've heard we've been shaking a bit here in California in the past few days? Wish us luck over the weekend. Ellie and I have not yet sold our house, and we'd prefer it to remain standing for a little while, before we do!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Another Dis-Appointment

A Jonathan Chait column in today's Los Angeles Times reminds me of yet another of your recent dis-appointments, Bush. I thought I should just add it to the list before it gets forgotten. Christopher Cox, Chait writes, "is (in Bush's words) 'a champion of the free-enterprise system.'" "This description," Chait continues, "reflects a common confusion between support for free enterprise and a slavish espousal of anything businesses desire, which may or may not have anything to do with free markets." In Cox's case, particularly, this takes the form of an enthusiastic support for the liberal (sorry, Bush: but this one has a small "l"!) use of stock options, which companies can declare as a deductible cost in tax statements but omit in their financial statements, making themselves look deceptively good to stockholders. Appointment-wise, this sounds like the same old, same old... Just thought I'd mention it.

Bad Apples

Well, here we go again, Bush. Here’s another of your appointments who evidently prefers to cater to the corporate gang rather than do the people’s business. We were talking about this just the other day, if you recall. Back then, only last Thursday, it was your Philip A. Cooney who was rigging reports on global warning to satisfy your need to plesase the oil interests. This week it’s Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, your old Skull & Bones pal from Yale, who’s out to rescue the tobacco industry from the results of five years of his own department’s investigative work and legal action.

After all those years of dedicated efforts by the legal experts in the Justice Department, the trial team which has worked on the case was all ready to settle racketeering charges against the industry for $130 billion when your Mcallum stepped in with his superior authority and ordered the settlement amount to be reduced to $10 billion. He did this over the strong objections of his own department’s team, and apparently without even bothering to review the evidence. Even the trial judge in the case was taken aback by the announcement, and muttered darkly about improper influences. Turns out, Bush, your McCallum was a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Alston & Bird, which has acted as legal representative for the J. R. Reynolds Tobacco Company. No coincidences, huh?

So what does your Gonzales have to say about this interference by his No. 3 man on behalf of the company against which his own department brought suit? I haven’t heard peep. And I guess I have to take silence and inaction to be tacit approval. Perhaps the Justice Department has adopted a new philosophy, Bush, more in line with your own: do everything to support business and the corporate world, if necessary at the expense of the general public—in this case, those who would have benefited from the stop-smoking programs to be funded by this judgment.

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed the smell that seems to be pervading Washington these days, Bush, but there’s scandal brewing everywhere—from your Tom Delay's office to the lobbyists hired by your Corporation for Public Broadcasting chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, in his effort to do the dirty on the organization that you appointed him to chair. We’re going to hear more about this, Bush, as your pals in congress try to kill the funding for this last remaining fair and reliable source of news.

And by the way, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but your ratings are slipping pretty badly in the polls. Seems like even some of those who voted for you are beginning to question the wisdom of their judgment. Watch out, Bush. There’s a shitload of bad apples out there, and some of them are the ones that you plucked with your own fair hands from the tree.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

King Tut, PBS, & NPR

It's a sad day for our culture, Bush, when public support is gradually withdrawn from all those institutions that can provide us with non-commerical information and non-commercial entertainment. I'm thinking particularly today about the current threat to withdraw federal funds from National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting System, and public broadcasting stations around the country; and of the much-touted return visit of King Tut to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, opening today.

The public radio and television services stand accused by your right-wing zealots of left-wing leanings. My guess is that anything that disagrees with their fanatical ideology smacks of the hated "liberal bias" to your cohorts on the right. Fairness in reporting must include their opposing propaganda to be acceptable to them--in the same way they insist on including creationism as a viable alternative to evolution in the schools. It doesn't matter if it's true or accurate, only that the opposing position gets equal--or preferably more--time. Now, particularly with your new appointments to executive and board positions, the public media must apparently get in line behind their views or face slow death by strangulation of their funding source. It seems that nothing short of total control of the media, as of everything else, will satisfy those who now have the power to enforce their will; and the for-profit media, guided only by their financial interests, will continue to feed us the regimen of pap, half-truths, and outright deceptions that furthers their corporate agenda.

As for King Tut, I suspect that in the hyped atmosphere of popular euphoria that surrounds his return to the Unoted tates, few people realize--or want to know--that this whole thing is a commercial venture before it is a cultural one. The lion's share of the profits from the outlandish $30 ticket cost goes to the sponsoring consortium led by AEG LIVE and Arts & Exhibitions International. Ellie and I met Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Egyptian Surpeme Council of Antiquities when we were in Egypt a few weeks ago: he's the charmingly loquacious man you meet on your television screen whenever Egyptian antiquities get to be TV news. He's netting some needed cash, of course, to support museum work in Egypt, and rightly so. And LACMA cashes in with a small share of the ticket sales and, they hope, a significant boost in memberships.

What's wrong with all this hoopla? The objects in the exhibit are quite obviously treasures beyond any commercial value. Their beauty and their spiritual significance is beyond question. It's a privilege to have them here for our viewing pleasure and our education. What's sad is that they reach us slightly tainted by the commercialism that surrounds them, and by the compromises a museum must make, these days, to make ends meet. Corporate sponsorship is one of them, since corporations will sponsor only what is good for the bottom line. Culture--whether in the museum or on your television screen--is rapidly becoming what you can afford, or what you get someone else to pay for.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Sleight of Hand

So now we get down to the business of retrying pop star Michael Jackson in the media. Serious business, of course, Bush, since it involves a lot of money. The general attitude seems to be, not: this man has been judged innocent by a jury of his peers, who listened to months' worth of testimony and carefully weighed their verdict; but rather, the man is obviously guilty, so what went wrong? Why did the prosecutors fail to prove their case? How could they have done it better? Was it the mother's fault?

Those of us who subscribe to the notion of what Hillary Clinton famously called a "vast right wing conspiracy" see a pattern here. It has to do with the tactic used by skilled magicians to deceive their audiences into looking elsewhere while they get their trickery done: if you manage to distract them with a sideshow of some kind, they'll never see what's actually happening in front of their eyes. It has been happening in the media for years. Give the American public a good murder case, a celebrity trial, a disappearance, a convenient scandal, and you can get your business done without their even knowing it.

So now it's Michael Jackson. And the young woman who has mysteriously disappeared on the island of Aruba--a poignant story, certainly, when friends and relatives appear on the television screen, their emotions raw, ripe for exploitation by interviewers who'll ask anything to squeeze out a tear. Before that, there was the "Runaway Bride" (who still pops up from time to time: it seems there's a little life left in that one.) And Scott Peterson. And Robert Blake. Not to mention the Brad Pitts and the Angelina Jolies, Tom Cruise and his latest enamorata--Nancy someone?--and so on. The stories we can be distracted with are endless. And it's not that they are not gripping, basically human stories. It's the promience they receive, to the exclusion of the greater issues of the day, which need some thought, some critical analysis, some serious consideration.

What chance, for example, does the release of six new British memos on the build-up to the Iraq war stand against the re-trial of Michael Jackson? The contest is not even close. The first of these eye-opening documents was released weeks ago, and caused scarcely a ripple in the American media. It has taken the undaunted CPR work of countless bloggers and a few hardy journalists and columnists to keep it alive. And now, with the release of six more, roughly contemporaneous memos, we know for a fact that you, Bush, with the enthusiastic encouragement of your Rice, your Wolfowitz, and with the connivance of the British government, were busy planning for your war and cooking up your brazen concoction of justifications long before the American public was presented with your supposedly reluctant, supposedly last-resort decision to go to war.

We shouldn't be surprised. If we had been paying attention all along, we would have known what you were up to. But no. We were distracted. I forget what it was that was distracting us at the time. Perhaps it was the great search for Scott Peterson's wife, thought to be pregnant at the time of her disappearance. Perhaps by the discovery of her body, and that of her recently-born baby. No matter. We were distracted. We were looking the other way, whilst you and your people were getting on with the real business of the nation.

So now we have Michael Jackson to keep us happy and preoccupied. And Natalee Holloway. And Tom Cruise. And meanwhile, 23 more Iraqis die in a car bomb attack. And global warming threatens. And Africans starve, while you, Bush, are busy thinking up ways to disguise the stark fact that this great nation is prepared to do next to nothing in the fight against global warming, and to hand out no more than a pittance to the suffering people of this world, so that you can continue to reward your corporate backers and extend your tax cuts for the super-wealthy.

Sorry, Bush. Today I am disgusted.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


I realize that I'm skimping on our blog a bit these days, Bush. It's the real estate stuff. It's having bought our new little house in the hills and NOT yet having sold our old big house in the hills. It's having to go away next weekend, AND give a keynote speech, with escrow closing a couple of days later. That's my excuse. What's yours?

I was going to give you the benefit of my wisdom on the Michael Jackson verdict today, but I changed my mind when I read the Nicholas D. Kristof piece in today's New York Times. I know I've mentioned Mukhtaran Bibi to you before--the woman condemned to gang rape by a tribal court in Pakistan for a crime committed by her brother. She was supposed to commit suicide after her humiliation, but instead went on to confront her accusers, get a conviction, and become a leader in the education of girls and women in her home territory. Now invited to the US to tell her story, according to Kristof's report, she has been subjected to further ordeals by the Pakistani government, and is currently being held incommunicado by the Musharraf regime. The Kristof essay concluded--I hope you took the time to read it, Bush--with a direct challenge to you, to stand by your oft-invoked ideals and by the claims of this country to be the beacon of freedom in the world, to put pressure on our "ally" in the war on terror and to publicly invite this courageous woman to the White House.

A great idea, Bush! I hope you'll take notice.

Monday, June 13, 2005

More Thoughts about those "Christians"

As I chewed further in my mind, Bush, over those comments from leading neo-Christian apologists and polemicists to which I offered a link yesterday, in my Sunday blog, this thought occurred: I have read rather frequently where thoughtful observers have wondered why moderate Islamic voices are not heard condemning the excesses of their fanatical bretheren. If, these observers ask, the tenets of the fundamentalist fanatics are offensive to the great majority of peace-loving Muslims, where is the Muslim leadership that might counter their influence with the true voice of Islam?

Good question, Bush. And one we should ask about the Christian leadership, too. Where is the outrage over this dreadful distortion of the teachings of Christ to promote violence, racism, intolerance, anger, and hatred, when we all know that, when he walked the earth, this teacher/prophet (some say son of God) preached nothing but love, and acceptance of others, and forgiveness, and peace? So where are the loud voices of Christian leadership, raised to condemn the intolerant and rabble-rousing rants of these abusers of the Christian faith? The voice of the Pope, the cardinals, the bishops and archbishops of the Catholic and Episcopalian churches? The voice of a Billy Graham—surely, by now, more temperate in the wisdom of his eighty-something years than that of too many of his born-again disciples. Where are the voices of those assuredly reasonable and presumably moderate, peace-loving Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists who lead their flocks?

Is it just that the voices of the fanatics are louder, more dramatic, more appealing to those of us with blunted sensibilities in an age when we must shout above the incessant noise of communication to be heard? It may be so. It may be that those leaders are speaking out in outrage at the cynical abuse of their religious ideology, and that their voices simply are not broadcast by the bullhorns of those media hounds who gladly latch on to anything sensational enough to increase their ratings, but ignore the quieter voice of reason and goodwill.

But that does not excuse us. That does not excuse you, Bush, who occupy the pulpit of the nation and the world. From that exalted post you are pleased to condemn the outrages of the Islamic fanatics and mouth praises of the peaceful nature of the true faith of Islam. But I hear not a word of condemnation of the excesses of these fanatical Christian bretheren. To the contrary, we’re led to believe that these voices are those that reflect the opinions of your “base”, and that you share their dreadful beliefs, offensive to all who try to practice love and tolerance in their lives.

So when will we hear you speak out forthrightly against Christian hatred, Bush? Against intolerance, and stubborn ignorance, and violence, and racism practised in the name of the religion you embrace? Or are you, as you once suggested, a crusader, dedicated to the imposition of “Christian” beliefs and values on those of other faiths? Do believe, with Jerry Falwell, that "We're fighting against humanism, we're fighting against liberalism...we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today...our battle is with Satan himself"? Do you believe, with Ann Coulter, that "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war"?

I’m very much afraid that you not only don't condemn such thinking. You condone it.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Some Christian Thoughts

Instead of my usual Sunday sermon, Bush, I'm offering this collection of Sunday thoughts by prominent Christians. Thanks to Bob for forwarding them to me and adding to my daily share of rage and shame. What I'd like is to hear you repudiate such thinking, Bush. What I fear is that you share it. Have a good week.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Bolivia on My Mind

Well, Bush, the LA Times did publish my letter on the pursuit of happiness, which I posted in this diary the other day. Still, I thought you might like to take another look at it, as published, so here it is.

Also, with the country on the verge of civil war, according to news reports, I've been wondering what you think about the situation in Bolivia? I mean, do you side with your natural allies--the multinationals who control the nation's gas and oil reserves, and their wealthy establishment supporters? Or with the people of Indian descent, a significant majority, who want to take these resources back by nationalizing them? This has to be a tough one for you, I imagine, Bush. It's a choice betweeen the reigning plutocracy and what you like to talk about so much--at least in those areas of the world where it fits in with your agenda: "democracy." Government by the demos, the people. In this case, perhaps, the nationalizing Indians who, after five hundred yeard of colonial repression, want a fair share of the pie. I hope we'll soon be hearing where you stand. But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Where Are the Men?

Little sleep last night, Bush. I’m in the grip of anxieties about a number of things, including the sale of our old house and the responsibilities of the new one; and, not least, the prospect of having to travel up north in a couple of weeks to give the keynote address to a gathering of elder men in the ManKind Project. The theme for the weekend is “Where Are the Men?” and I’m stuck on the bit about men being responsible for all the damage in the world today.

Take your good self, Bush, and the men you’ve surrounded yourself with. Your Cheney. Your Rumsfeld. Your Gonzales… Even your women seem powered by the male gene: your Rice, your Karen Hughes… My judgment is that you’re all drunk and blinded with power, that the version of masculine energy you represent and project is destructive rather than creative, that it emanates from a false and misguided sense of strength which is in truth no more than a terror of seeming weak. It’s a posturing, a strutting, an imposition of the will, a mistrust of the uncertainty that is at the very heart of life, an assertion of principle at the expense of tolerance and doubt.

Take the men of the church. Take the new Pope, or the imams of the Middle East, or those evangelical preachers who wield so much influence in America today. Men who seem inspired by the desperate need to protect their power base at all costs, to protect the institutions that give them their justification. Men who are at infinite pains to exclude women from their ministry, whose institutions are riddled with the hatred and mistrust of the feminine energy. Men who will readily abuse their power in order to protect it.

Or look at the tyrants of the world. How many of them, Bush, have been women? Take a look at the Idi Amins, the Saddam Husseins, the Hitlers, the Stalins… the list is endless. In their insatiable addiction to power and dominance, they kill hundreds of thousands, they kill millions of their fellow human beings. Or take the most notorious of criminals, the Al Capones, the Charles Mansons… The murderers, the rapists. The sad truth is that the vast majority of these people are men.

Or look at the warriors, Bush. The generals and the soldiers. Look at today’s corporate chiefs, with their gargantuan salaries and their obscene perks. Look at the political leaders—the Bill Frists, the Delays... How ready they are to cheat and prevaricate. Look even at the sports world, with its money, its commercialism, its drugs. So much of our tired old world is dominated by driving competition and greed, by the need to defeat and acquire, the need to prove power and dominance. It’s a disheartening spectacle of male energy gone awry, Bush, and it derives in good part, I believe, from the ancient days of humanity, when these qualities were developed in the male psyche for then the most compelling of reasons: survival. But these same qualities in today’s world keep leading us blindly in the opposite direction: toward the destruction of our species.

So what are we to do with that good, powerful male energy today, and where are the men who are willing to explore the alternatives? Where are the peaceful, spiritual warriors who can turn the assests of their physical strength, their competitiveness, their daring, their need for adventure, their protectiveness into creative and positive paths. I think of the scientists and researchers hunting down the causes and exploring the prevention of disease, the “doctors without borders” who risk their very lives to save those of others, of those working to redeem the poverty-stricken, the addicted, the criminal. I think of those who dedicate their lives to envisioning a better world, new paradigms for our institutions and practices, and of those who retreat into silence and contemplation, whose work is to create the spiritual space for the changes we must make if we wish to survive. I think of men of compassion, who understand that to deny the feminine principle, and the feminine part of themselves is to disempower one half of the human resources of the planet.

So what’s it to be, Bush? I can’t predict the future, but I see only two ways to go with our masculine power: destruction or regeneration. Although maybe—a dreadful prospect—we will be called on to experience the one before we can hope to reach the other. Tell me, what do you think?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Your Cooney

So now we have the strange and disturbing tale of Philip A. Cooney, former oil industry lobbyist and crusader, now a “White House official,” who took it upon himself to doctor government reports on fossil fuel emissions and global warming to make them more palatable to the presidential ear, and more in conformity with the presidential agenda.

Here’s what puzzles me, Bush: are you the perpetrator or the victim in all this? The manipulator or the dupe? I mean, there’s only two ways to look at this. It could be that you’re the puppet of some dark, corporate cartel, which saw to your election and your re-election with their money and their influence and power, and now sets the agenda to suit their nefarious purposes. In which case, this Philip A. Cooney would be a kind of mole, planted strategically in your administration, with orders to skew the information you receive to the advantage of the oil business.

The second alternative is scarcely preferable. It would mean that you, Bush, in your wisdom, set the agenda, and make the kind of appointments that are sure to serve your interests and needs. They know what you want to hear, and happily provide it.

It is getting to be something of a pattern, isn’t it? Perhaps the most egregious example is the lead-up to the war in Iraq, when you received—and passed on, duplicitously, to the American people—precisely the information spectacularly skewed to support your barely concealed lust to take us all to war.

And what about this Bolton? And those judges? Your agenda shines unambiguously through every one of your appointments. And what about your pronouncements on stem cell research? Are you getting good information there, or are you getting the information you planned for in advance?

Or is it all someone else’s agenda, Bush? And you just happen to be the convenient conduit? A frightening thought. Too paranoic, maybe. I'm not one to buy into conspiracy theories.

Either way, though, I personally would prefer to have a man in charge who demands nothing but the unadulterated truth from those whom he chooses to inform him, and who fires their ass without ceremony when they come up with anything less; not a man who hides behind the errors and misjudgments of others—whether purposeful or no—and fails even to chastise them when they serve him ill.

So which are you, Bush? The tyrant, who demands complete obedience to his whims? Or the dupe, who does the bidding of his handlers? I fail to see another reasonable possibility.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Drop in the Bucket

It boggles the mind, Bush, that you have the gall to stand there solemnly in front of the world and announce, with apparent satisfaction, that America is prepared to commit $674 million to fight hunger in Africa—a sum, as I understand it, that is only a fraction of the grandiose $15 billion Millennium Challenge Account that you announced to great fanfare back in 2002, but which has never been funded. Not one dime.

And now you come up with your $674 million for emergency relief. Your pal Blair was looking for relief and development money, to address the immediate issues of starvation, disease, and the effects of military conflict. You say, emergency relief only, and only to countries that can demonstrate a commitment to democracy. Your pal Blair was looking for a pledge of the 0.7% of gross domestic product proposed by the United Nations—an amount the United Kingdom and other developed countries have already pledged to meet by 2112. You say no. You say—I think I caught your words pretty much as you spoke them, Bush—that this amount “does not fit in with America’s budgetary plans.”

Is this the same America, that has spent $175 billion and counting bringing “democracy” to Iraq? That’s b… b… b… billion. And we can afford only $674 million for that whole starving, desperate, diseased, war-ridden continent? Is this the same America that can afford, at the same time, to lavish the super rich with billions of dollars’ worth of tax cuts? And we have the face to tell the other wealthy nations of the world that the sacrifice they’re prepared to make does not fit in with our budgetary plans?

And in the same breath, you profess that Africa "is a central commitment of my presidency?" How can you stand there, Bush, and utter such mockeries with a straight face? My suggestion: make some changes in our budgetary plans—and start by bringing back some reason, fairness, and plain common sense to the current wildly unaffordable tax provisions that favor only the very wealthiest of citizens in this wealthiest of countries.

As one development expert put it, in a massive understatement: "The US is not pulling its weight right now." When you do things like this, Bush, you end up looking like the man who orders a $200 dinner and leaves a 75 cent tip.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mary Jane, Again

What are we so scared of, Bush? A weed, whose medicinal properties have been known to man for thousands of years? It’s beyond belief, to me, that six out of nine Supreme Court justices of the United States should deny, in their wisdom, even the right of states to institute and honor their own laws regarding the medical use of cannabis. The federal laws prevail. No matter that states have passed legislation recognizing the right of their citizens to grow and use marijuana in order to ease the pain of cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, AIDS… federal agents are now empowered to march into the homes of the sick and suffering and cart them off to jail. Prosecutors may indict and try them for their transgressions, and judges may impose strict sentences.

So what are we afraid of? Who are we protecting, with our senseless and draconian federal laws? Our young? As I understand it, they already have absurdly easy access to drugs that are far more harmful in their effects than good old Mary Jane. Are we protecting those who claim to experience significant relief from pain? Are we to understand that the negative effects of cannabis are worse for them than the pain they are called upon to bear without it? I heard one pompous “expert” pontificating about the possibly harmful effects of smoke! As though a terminal cancer patient was to be protected at all costs from the evils of inhalation!

Here’s my intuition, Bush: we’re all scared to death of being out of control. That is, of being out of control ourselves, and of anyone else being out of control around us. We’re scared of states of consciousness other than the one we already know and approve—the one we like to call “reality”. So we tighten our controls—or at least our attempt to keep things under control—and by doing so deprive ourselves of the opportunity to acquire knowledge and wisdom beyond the familiar, beyond the already known.

It’s sad, in my view, that we can’t even trust the experience of those who have found relief from pain. We dismiss their first-hand reports as “anecdotal,” and because we lack “scientific evidence” either way—the necessary research would be illegal!—we substitute our ignorance for the knowledge of these victims of disease, and deprive them of the one thing that they know will bring relief. Shame on those Supreme Court justices; and shame on those who were so convinced of their own moral rectitude and so eager to prosecute the sick and dying that they felt obliged to pursue this case to its bitter conclusion.

I'm afraid it's another case, Bush, of a bunch of ancient, uptight, upright, short-sighted, unimaginative white guys (of all ages and sexes) deciding what's best for the rest of us and imposing their self-righteous will.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Pursuit of Happiness

I was interested in an op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, Bush, and thought I'd let you have a copy. It's about the pursuit of happiness. Just click on the link, and you'll be there in an instant. Anyway, while not disagreeing with what Lisa Grunwald had to say, I felt the need to append a slightly different view--which I did in the form of a letter to the Times. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day on the letters page; rather than simply wait and hope, I thought I'd let you have a copy in advance.

To the Editor:
Lisa Grunwald is right to question the pursuit of happiness, if happiness is no more than getting what we want. That does seem to be the currently-held view. I confess that I do, however, "just want my daughter to be happy"--along with all those with whom she shares this planet. I happen to like the Buddhist teachings on this subject, which suggest that happiness lies not in "getting what we want," but in understanding that desire (along with its opposite, revulsion) is in itself the source of our unhappiness. Happiness then becomes an actually attainable goal, if we can only learn to detach ourselves from our knee-jerk responses to what we have learned to view as desirable, as well as to what we think we must avoid at all costs. That new car, in other words, is not the source of true happniess, in this view. Nor is the well-paid job, the beautiful spouse, the successful career. By the same token, happiness does not consist in desperately attempting to insulate ourselves from pain--hardly a realistic goal--or staving off the wrinkles of approaching age. The true, attainable happiness is the state of mind that allows us to embrace whatever comes our way with equanimity. But it does take an awful lot of hard work to get there, especially given the pressures and expectations of a consumer society that trains us what to desire--and what to recoil from--at the tenderest age!

Yours truly....

Sunday, June 05, 2005

How Others See Us

I don’t know how you expect our country to be taken seriously, Bush, as a beacon of human rights, when you keep providing the world with glaring examples of our hypocrisy. Here we are, on page 5 of the Saturday edition of the New York Times, with your Rice mouthing off—quite correctly, in my view—about the depravity of trafficking in human beings, which she denounces as “nothing less than a modern form of slavery.” Bravo! Coming in for her fully justified disapproval are Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—our greatest allies in the turmoiled Middle East, where God knows we can use all the friends we can get in the halls of government. Or should I say, the palaces? But still...

Your Rice was talking about “domestic workers being brought in from many countries into domestic servitude,” according to the US government report she was discussing, along with “child beggars, a lot of beatings and rape.” Women are trafficked, too, the report says, "for the purpose of sexual exploitation."

A high-minded rebuke, then. Very appropriate. Unhappily, though, on the very same page of the Times, we learn that you, Bush, have personally characterized as “absurd” the Amnesty International report which used the word “gulag” to describe your prisons in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere; that your Cheney was “offended” by the term; and your Rumsfeld denounced its use as “reprehensible.” “If our reports were so ‘absurd,’” fired back the Amnesty International executive director William F. Schultz, “why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war? Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China, and Korea?”

Added Amnesty International’s second-in-command, Kate Gilmore: “The issue of the gulag is about policies and practices. You put people beyond the reach of the law, you locate them in facilities where families can’t access them, you deny them access to legal representation, you attempt to prevent judicial review.” Ouch, Bush! This has the ring of truth.

No matter how ‘absurd’ you personally may believe the report to be, no matter how ‘offended’ you Cheney is, just a single step outside, into the world beyond the offices of your administration might help you understand how we give others a continuing, open invitation to see us in a very different light. Is there not some small disconnect, Bush, between these two separate pieces, on one page of the Times? Are we to be surprised when others accuse us of hypocrisy?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Slow Drizzle

Well it’s Saturday morning, Bush, and I don’t have very much to say. A gray day. A slow drizzle, barely perceptible. I took the dog out for his early walk, and we came home damp. The newspapers have not yet arrived. I checked online with the New York Times. Not much there either, that I could see. I checked inside the skull to see if perhaps I had a poem in there, waiting to come out. Nothing. So here I am, sitting here with not much to say, and wondering what devilment you might be up to. If anything crops up, I might check in with you later. If not… well, have a good weekend, Bush. And my best to Laura.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Meanwhile, in Africa...

Today my poor old liberal heart bleeds for Zimbabwe, Bush. It was not last night but the night before that I watched a BBC report on the eviction of thousands of impoverished people from the shacks and shambles where they have been squatting, perhaps illegally, for years, in the only place they can afford to call home. And now the despotic government of Robert Mugabe sends in its police to throw out the people, and wreck and burn their homes, along with all but the few pathetic possessions they manage to carry with them in their terrified flight. To nowhere, Bush. They have literally nowhere to go. Mugabe’s Minister of Whatever, in silk suit and tie, calm-faced and articulate, explained to his interviewer with the utmost patience how the action was taken to prevent the spread of disease and crime, and how new, appropriate housing would be provided when the slums were cleared. He did not mention where the people might be housed in the meantime, nor when the building of new homes might be commenced. The more likely theory, voiced by the reporter for the BBC, was that this was a vicious act of revenge, on the part of Mugabe, for the fact that these poor people supported his rival in the recent travesty of an election, conveniently rigged to assure his return to power.

Meanwhile, it seems, the world stands by and watches as the greater part of sub-Saharan Africa goes through its dreadfully familiar agonies, with tyranny, exploitation, violence and corruption the rule, and disease and poverty running rampant everywhere. I admire such people of conscience as Bob Geldof, who announced plans for a repeat of his rock extravanganza of a few years ago, not only to raise aid funds, but also to confront the G8, at their scheduled conference in Scotland, with the desperate need to help this continent in turmoil with such actions as the forgiving of debt and serious aid programs. The European countries have already done much better than ours, Bush, in making good on their pledges; and Tony Blair and other leaders are urging further commitments. The African crisis results, after all, in large part, from the colonial heritage they created. Your $15 billion was a hopeful gesture; but, when I last heard, it remained a gesture, nothing more: not a dime of actual money has resulted. While you await the arrival of democratic governments of which you can approve before you make good on your promises, thousands are dying daily of as a result of armed conflict, starvation and disease.

I do realize that there are no easy answers here. Pouring money into the coffers of corrupt regimes is risky and unprofitable business. But if we can spend countless billions ousting one corrupt dictator in Iraq, it’s a shameful puzzle to me that we can sit on our hands and gape while others use whole swaths of this great continent as their personal fiefs. And meanwhile, you spend your time on such pressing items as social security reform...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Language Problem, and an Evening at the Troubadour

I think we have a language problem, Bush. And I'm not talking, this morning, about yours. We know about that one: you do tend to trip up over words and mangle your syntax, in what I take to be a sometimes worthy effort to keep things clear and simple. But I'm talking today about Ellie and me, who are deep in real estate paperwork hell. The problem is that perfectly simple and agreeable understandings, when translated into what passes for language in the guise of real estate legalese, turns into something that sounds antagonistic and potentially litigious, if not outright hostile. It's enough to piss everyone off and cause creeping paranoia.

Here's what I think is at the root of the problem: over the years, in our obsessive need to protect ourselves from every eventuality, we have developed a language so convoluted, so hidebound in its exclusion of any possibility of misunderstanding and inclusion of every conceivable contingency that it has reached a point of virtual incomprehensibility. I understand how it is that your people have managed to make a political asset of your genial, senseless amblings and simple-minded repetitions. To some, it seems like a breath of fresh air. I wonder, too, how much the recent European rejection of the EU constitution has to do with language, and the way in which its legal manifestations create confusion rather than clarity, and promote fear and anger rather than agreement.

Anyway, listen, Bush, I need to take a moment this morning to qvell. Ellie and I went last night to hear our daughter playing in a band at the fabled Troubadour. The last tme we were there was in 1969 or 1970, I think, to hear Elton John--before he became "Elton John", let alone "Sir Elton"! I should explain that Sarah plays the drums for two bands, one of which is Azalia Snail. And here she was, performing at the Troubadour! Amazing! What a kick! Azalia and her band was on top form, and Sarah was just great. For someone who has been suffering from severe physical pain for three months now, or maybe four (I have mentioned this on several occasions, Bush, since before we left for Egypt,) she managed to look terrific, seemed easier in her physical movement and, as one of her band-mates put it, "really in charge of those drums." We had left home truly exhausted and somewhat dispirited from the day's continuing installments of our real estate saga, and ended up just so happy to have made the effort. Thanks, Sarah. Thanks Azalia and gang. That was exhilerating!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I'm the Guy…

… they called Deep Throat. So there he was, Bush, before our very eyes. Well, on our television screens. The fearsome Deep Throat in person, who brought about the downfall of a President and his administration. Mark Felt. He actually looked better as played by Hal Holbrook, in the movie. A little, bent old man with curly white hair, grinning and waving from his doorway for the rapidly assembling world media.

What a thrill! What a let-down! As always, the secret was a whole lot more fun than the reality. Amazing, really, given how readily the truth gets leaked in Washington, how long this particular secret had been kept. The guy finally outed himself. He had been sitting on this thing for thirty years, confused between the satisfaction of having done what he believed he had to do, and all the shame, and guilt, and sense of betrayal that went along with it. (I had to laugh, this morning, to watch Pat Buchanan in prime indignation mode, huffing and puffing away as he claimed that "all [Felt] did was betray an enormously popular President." No, Pat. All he did was stick to his principles, and those of the FBI.)

Remember Watergate, Bush? Or was that still in the days of your youthful exuberance, when by your own admission you saw everything through the haze of alcohol? I believe you do remember that national travesty, though, and that you learned from it. For us, out here, it was an exciting and excruciating spectator sport, with little dribs and drabs of tantalizing insight thrown our way from day to day--for years, it seemed, until the puzzle came to fit together. For those of us who were convinced of Nixon's infamy from the start--this was all about winning an election, remember, Bush? Ring a bell?--the Watergate hearings and the impeachment proceedings were grand American opera. So much grander, with so much more of contitutional significance at stake than that tawdry business, twenty years later, of the Clinton impeachment, when it was all about a blow-job! How petty, malicious, puritanical, and vengeful your Republican posse seemed, a bunch of yapping chihuahuas at the heels of a woolly, lumbering St. Bernard.

Anyway, what I believe you learned from Watergate was your obsession with secrecy, and fierce loyalty to yourself and your cause. I've heard it said frequently in the press--and I believe--that yours is the most secretive administration in history. Successfully so, it seems, for the most part. I hear you're still balking over providing U.S. Senators with those papers they have been requesting for months now, relevant to their hearings on the nomination of your Bolton. Hatches are battened everywhere. What might we not learn from some future Deep Throat, Bush? About our laughably absent energy policy? About 9/11? About the decision to go to war in Iraq? About torture and rendition? We shudder to think, Bush, what goes on behind the closed doors and shuttered windows of your White House. And it's supposed to be our White House, remember?