Saturday, July 30, 2005

Your Frist

(Posted Saturday for Sunday, so that I can take the day off.)

I was actually all set to write a few nice words about your Frist, Bush, for having the guts to stand up to you on the stem cell issue with—albeit somewhat lukewarm—support for continuing research. But then I began to read about all the other late-term (forgive the phrase, Bush--don't mean to offend your sensibilities!) activities, chief among them the latest abject capitulation to the gun lobby, and I changed my mind.

More protection for the producers and marketers of weapons of civic destruction, then. They no longer need fear being held legally responsible for their products, when used in the commission of a crime. Just what the country needed—carte blanche for these people to make and sell the implements of death: even that other corporate death-purveyor, the tobacco industry, was never afforded this kind of immunity. The bill, claimed the leading gun-rights proponent, Sen. Larry Craig, Idaho Republican, is intended "to end the abuse that is now going on in the court system of America against law-abiding American businesses when they violate no law."

To which I say, frankly, Bullshit, Bush. I’m with Sen. Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island: "This is about politics," he said: "the power of the N.R.A. to dictate legislation." Another congressional disfavor to the people they’re supposed to represent.

Oh, and then there’s that pathetic, toothless energy bill, a similar capitulation to the oil and gas industry. As I understand, the long-postponed legislative action fails significantly to address the country’s need to end—or at least decrease—its dependence on fossil fuels, or to provide the kind of support that’s needed for research into alternative power sources. Good for you and your friends in that business, maybe, Bush, but bad for the rest of us.

And then there was the Senate vote to enshrine the provisions of the misnamed Patriot Act for posterity, assuring the continuing deprivation of civil rights in favor of the monarch's (excuse me, the President’s) whim. And the absurdly acclaimed transportation bill, which seems to be nothing more than a hodge-podge of succulent pork for every politician in the country.

So, all in all, not three, not two cheers, not even one, but half a cheer for your Frist, who’s the man in charge of all this malarkey. His half-assed, timid support for a limited extension of your restrictions on available stem cells cuts little ice with me when seen in the context of the rest of this nonsense, Bush. But at least it pokes a little finger in that smug glint in your eye. Give him that.

And as for you, Bush, please tell me that you’re not about to give a free pass to your Bolton this next week. Especially after the revelation that he lied in his teeth at the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That would be just one more fuck-you gesture to the good people of this country. The ones who, as I now fully suspect, did not elect you last November.

Genocide, Famine, & Pandemic

We steeled ourselves last night, Bush, and watched Hotel Rwanda. The DVD has been sitting on the shelf by our TV set for several weeks now, and we have not been able to bring ourselves to actually watch it. Until last night. It was not easy or pleasant viewing. But I have to say that it was extraordinarily well done. The acting was terrific, as was the script, and they managed to convey the horror of the genocide without too much explicit detail. But quite enough. The power of unleashed human hatred was all too evident--its barbarity, as well as the full extent of its senselessness. With no visual evidence of differences between Hutu and Tutsi, the slaughter lacked even the semblance of rationality. Nearly one million human beings killed--most of them hand-hacked to death with machetes imported from China at the cost of ten cents apiece.

It's hard to get the mind around, Bush. Harder still to comprehend that the rest of the world, including wealthy nations such as ours, stood by and watched in the full knowledge that it was happening. It would not have been hard to intervene. Unlike Iraq, the perpetrators could have offered little opposition, and the job could have been done with little loss of life--and hundreds of thousands spared. But the West did nothing, except wring its hands. As the UN officer played by Nick Nolte in the movie told the African protagonist--a man who saved 1,200 lives, through bribery, persuasion, threat, and sheer, bull-headed persistence: "You're not even a nigger, Paul. You're African. Nobody cares." And I must fault your predecessor, Bush, for this lapse in moral judgment. It seems like a potent irony that your team nailed him for a private little blow job, when the neglect of Rwanda's call for help was the exponentially greater sin. And yet... well, it was not just this single man in the White House, but our entire political system that let them down so badly.

And the beat, as they say, goes on. I'm happy to read that some international help has begun to reach the starving people of Niger--too late for many, but at least a token acknowledgement of global responsibility. I understand that the neighboring countries stand in as great a need, and I trust that the aid to Niger will be made available also to that country's neighbors. I hear less about Darfur these days, but I'm unsure whether that's because the genocide there has now been stemmed, or whether the media have simply moved on to more spectacular events, like the London bombings. As for the bigger picture, the spread of AIDS and other preventable diseases, not only in Africa but throughout the world; and the threat of a pandemic spread of avian flu... Well, we're not in great shape, Bush, to say the least of it. And we still choose to bury our collective heads in the sand. Unbelievable!

So have a good weekend, Bush. Do you still sleep well?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Voting Integrity

Does it never occur to you, Bush, that you are presiding, with apparent complacency, over the end of the democracy you so piously preach to the rest of the world? That lies, secrecy, cover-ups, and spin are the enemies of democracy--because how can we, the people, evaluate your ideas and your actions with discernment when you do all you can to hide the truth from us? That aggression, oppression, and the deprivation of liberties are the enemies of free choice, and freedom of opinion?

And what about the vaunted system of democratic elections in this country? A reader sent me this link to Black Box Voting ,a site dedicated to the investigation and exposure of electronic voting fraud. It's alarming, Bush, to what extent the machinery of elections can be manipulated and controlled. And then, by one of those no-coincidence coincidences, I came across an article in the current Harper's Magazine about the John Conyers report on voting irregularities in the 2004 Ohio presidential election--the state that assured your reelection, Bush, last year; and about the media's complete failure to bring this startling report to the attention of the public.

It was a powerful and persuasive piece of reporting. I have always been a skeptic, Bush, when it comes to conspiracy theories. It's one of those things that was drilled into me so well in childhood that I've always had trouble challenging it as an adult: trust authority, I was told. If your teacher/parent/policeman/journalist/politician/president... tells you something, it must be the truth. (I fear there are many like me in this country, at least in this respect.) So I confess that I paid scant attention to the protests coming out of Ohio after the election. I was all too willing to believe what I was told by the mainstream media, by the election "authorities."

However, I do believe now that I was wrong--or at least that I was misled by an inattentive press. To say that you beat the probabilities there, Bush, is a vast understatement: in view of the projections and the overwhelming evidence of the exit polls, it's nothing short of a miracle that you won the election in that state. A miracle, or a scam. And personally, in retrospect, I'm inclined to suspect the latter. Count me among those who'll be clamoring for the truth--and for the assurance of fair elections in the future. Even if that means scrapping the electronic devices supplied by your Diebold and supervised by your Republican operatives.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Faith-Based Philanthropy

I find it discouraging to read that seventeen black religious leaders come scurrying to the White House at the bidding of your Rove, Bush, to grab the bait he tempts them with: nothing more than your promise, really, to put pressure on corporate philanthropy to channel funds in their direction. Not content with redirecting federal dollars into the hands of religious organizations for charitable distribution, you now want to use your influence to assure that corporate money heads the same way.

Some interesting statistics, in the August Harper's Magazine, Bush, about Christian America and its response to Jesus' injunction to feed the hungry, slake the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. "In 2004," writes Bill McKibben, "as a share of our economy, we ranked second to last, after Italy, in government foreign aid. Per capita, we each provide fifteen cents a day in official development assistance to poor countries. And it's not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily giving by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents."

Okay, so the fifteen cents a day in government aid is now available for channeling through "faith-based" organizations; and you're plotting for the same to happen with the remaining six cents. To what end, Bush? I mean, it's fairly clear that there are expenses involved in the distribution of aid, and the money involved ends up in the hands of the faithful--presumably to provide salaries for their people, along with their costs. Am I wrong about this? Am I being obtuse? It looks to me like another way of the federal government stepping in to make a pitch for greater financial resources for religion.

No wonder the good ministers jump to the bait. Power, the promise of money, influence. A visit to the White House. Something of a personal ego boost, too, a cynic might suspect. A personal audience with you, your Rove--and even your Condi Rice, who was trotted out for the occasion! After which, by your Rove's calculations, they'll return to their flock and preach the values of evangelical conservatism! As they did in the last election--improving your share of the black vote, I hear, from nine to eleven percent. There's an ugly word for this kind of activity, Bush: it's called racism. And note, please: I'm not accusing you of being a racist. I'm simply saying that your Rove is using transparently racist tactics.

And, bottom line, it's all about politics, isn't it? It's not about religion. It's not about good Christian values. It's certainly not about feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the poor, or clothing the naked. Or only incidentally. What's at stake here is the black vote. What's at stake is expanding the power of the already powerful right wing. The most frightening thing about this, Bush, is the energy that's already going into the next election. Beyond Bush, what lies ahead? With a man like your Rove orchestrating everything behind the scenes, I dread to think. It's frightening, too, that nuggets like this get buried way beyond the headlines, in the unread pages of the newspapers; not a mention on the television news, so far as I know. It's not eye-grabbing news, is it? Seventeen black ministers gather at the White House? Big deal. But in such ways, the electorate allows itself to be manipulated without knowing, without caring, in the name of faith.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Science & Religion

I've been meaning to send this to you for some time, Bush. I've mentioned it a few times in the past, but I never could remember the exact wording. To me, it puts all the arguments about evolution, stem cell research, and the medical science around human reproduction into such a sane and beautiful perspective that I thought you ought to read it.

I'd like to tell you, though, where I first found it, because it seems like such an unlikely place: it was in the rest room of one of our major local galleries, L A Louver--which happens to have been the brainchild, almost thirty years ago, of a good friend of mine. While he started out representing mostly younger, lesser known local artists, his stable has expanded over the years to include a number of international superstars, including the British artist David Hockney. (I doubt that you'll have come across it, Bush, but I wrote the Abbeville Modern Masters book on Hockney's work.) At any rate, the Carl Sagan quotation that I'm sending you appears in a print by Hockney (above,) a tribute to Sagan, which hangs on the bathroom wall at L A Louver Gallery. The text reads as follows:

"In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better that we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more sublte, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge."

Beautiful, no, Bush? What possibilities such thinking opens up, for both science and religion! Does it not offer you the framework to say, of stem cell research for example, Yes, the great spirit of the Universe (call him/her God, if such be your inclination) has come along to offer us this unprecendented opportunity to perform healings that once would have been considered miraculous. We have been granted the gift of a medical tool of as yet such unimaginable power, it would be a sin against our divine origins to spurn its infinite possibilities. Let's seize upon this unanticipated gift to improve the lot of those suffering from incurable disease or injury...

Instead, you say, along with your fundamentalist friends, No, no, no! My god is a little god who only teases us with the gift of medical science, and then denies us the right to turn it to good use. Instead, you say, No, no, no! My god is a little god who is incapable of imagining eons of evolutionary development, and can embrace only the concept of a few thousand years. Or, No, no, no, My god is a little, vengeful god whose plan, after creating this marvelous human species, is only to destroy the vast majority in favor of a privileged few.

I honestly don't get this kind of thinking, Bush. I'm with Carl Sagan. If god there is, he/she is a whole lot bigger than those who claim so piously to represent and worship him/her in the form of their own pusillanimous projections.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


There's something shamefully wrong with our priorities, Bush, when we manage to rush armies to invade a country suffering under a dictator but somehow fail to do the same with food when a people is suffering famine from the effects of drought. I'm talking particularly, today, about Niger, having seen the all-too-familiar parade of misery on the BBC World News last night: the children with bellies distended horribly with malnutrition, with fleshless arms and legs, and eyes big in their shrunken faces; parents and grandparents too weak with hunger to take care of their young, reduced to scooping out the rotting meat from their dead animals' carcasses with their bare hands, and weeping with the shame of not being able to provide for their families.

It could have been a dozen places in the world. Last night, on the news, it happened to be Niger.

It was a sickening specatacle, Bush. I know it would have sickened you just as much as it sickened me. And I recognize that this is one issue on which many of your Christian evangelicals are doing commendable work. But it's not enough. The hunger in the world not something that can begin to be addressed by the efforts of good-minded charities. We need a change of mind--a radical change in the way we husband this precious and vulnerable planet we all live on. I'm saddened to see you squander your truly unprecedented opportunity for world leadership, as you buttter up the overladen tables of the wealthiest Americans while millions starve, breed the very terrorism that you claim to fight with your ill-advised policies of aggression, and stubbornly ignore the scientific evidence that shows that we in the developed world--and especially we in America--are rapidly destroying it with our misguided devotion to economic growth.

This is leadership, Bush? Shame on you. Shame on all of us, for having chosen you to lead us, out of our national insecurity and boundless arrogance. Shame on us, for allowing you to impose your disastrous lack of vision on a world that deserves better stewardship from its inhabitants. Shame on us, for allowing humanitarian disasters like Niger's to keep on happening, time after time after time. In spite of all we know. In spite of all the advancements of technology. In spite of all our wealth. It's a disgrace.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Whole Lotta Scratchin' Goin' On

George woke me at 3:20 this morning. That's our dog, Bush. No reflection on you, nor on your Dad. Nor on Georgie, either. As I think I mentioned much earlier in these diaries, he happened to come along around the same time George Harrison died. That's the Beatle, Bush. Well, the former Beatle. Which is how our George got his name. Anyway, as I was saying, he woke me at 3:20 this morning. He has developed this nasty little habit of yelping in his crate in the middle of the night. He sleeps in his crate. Has done since he was a puppy. He seems to like it there--in fact, he demands to sleep there: around bedtime, he'll jump down from our bed and announce it's time for him to retire for the night. I guess the little snack we give him is an encouragement. He goes off to bed just fine, and we close the door on him.

Just recently, though, he's taken to this yelping in the middle of the night. Imperiously. He's a little dog, but he suffers from this Napoleon complex. Thinks the whole universe revolves around him, and the whole world is there to do his bidding. (Sound familiar, Bush?) Sometimes we let him yelp and he goes back to sleep after a while. Sometimes, as I did this morning, I get up and let him out, so that he doesn't disturb Ellie too much. Then I take him off to the guest room, and we'll both go off back to sleep after he's had a scratch. This morning, though, the scratching went on and on. He just couldn't stop. Scratching and licking and chewing at his fur. It drives me up the wall, Bush. Eventually, this morning, he did go off to sleep, but not before he had made me crazy with his restlessness.

It seems to be allergy season at the moment. Someone told us that the eucalyptus trees put out a kind of oil at a certain time of the year, and that some dogs are allergic to it. That may be true of Georgie. He's an Australian import, like the eucaplytus. We had planned to give him a bath yesterday, with some kind of anallergenic shampoo, but then we got to working in the yard and exhausted ourselves, so George missed his bath. Bad parents, huh? He woke again at five-thirty or so, and scratched his way through my meditation, too. And now he just arrived back in my study, as I write these words, and started up again.

So that's what's going on this Monday morning at our house, Bush. Thought you might be interested. I wonder how it is at yours? You're three hours ahead of us, of course, so I expect you've been hard at work these past couple of hours, in your Oval Office. I hope you're giving some serious thought to dumping your Rove. That would be good work for this week. Oh, and making a plan for Iraq. That would be a good one, too. And reinstating some of those taxes you have so disastrously cut. For starters. Plenty to do, then, Bush. Get to it. And have a good week.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Le Tour, Encore

Well, by George, he did it, Bush! A seventh straight win of the Tour de France by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. An incredible feat, given that the Tour has to be one of the world's longest and most gruelling sports events--I personally know of none longer than this one, or more demanding. To climb a single one of those mountains, even the smallest, on a skinny two-wheeler, would be more taxing than even the fittest of most of us human beings could tolerate. To conquer them, day by day, at incredible speeds, is almost unimaginable.

Kudos to Lance then. For a man not expected to survive his bout with cancer only a few short years ago, it's an incredible feat. His eagerness to share his victory with every other cancer sufferer and survivor is also exemplary. His gifts to those who share this particular misfortune with him transcend simply his support for research and treatment through his now justly famous Lance Armstrong Foundation (I have been amongst those millions of yellow bracelet wearers, Bush: I wonder if you share that in common with me? It's not beyond the realm of possibility, I suppose.) Of equal importance is is gift of defiance and hope. It may be something of a cliche to say that he's an inspiration, but it's worth repeating. We need as many Armstrongs as we can get in our global struggle against disease--not to mention poverty and hunger. I'm thankful for the compelling example he offers to the world.

All this said--and not to detract in the slightest from Lance Armstrong's triumph--I do find in myself some small part that reacts with disfavor to the all-consuming professionalism of his approach. Maybe it's the "old European" in me that your Rumsfeld once famously deplored. In Armstrong's case, that has meant a single-minded dedication to winning this single race, the Tour de France. It has meant a steely concentration on the technical aspects of what is needed for victory--whether the full year of mental and physical preparation, or the technological refinements to the equipment that have preoccupied him. Having been brought up, I suppose, at a time when amateurism was the hallmark of all sports, from soccer to the Olympics, I have watched the increasing professionalization with dismay. Even cricket, for God's sake, Bush, has gone professional, if you can imagine...! The worst symptom of all this, from my spectator standpoint, is the outrageous salaries commanded by the top players, and the commercial exploitation of their gifts. It's as far out of whack as the indecent compensation your corporate pals enjoy.

Okay, so I'm an old fuddy-duddy. I deplore change--some aspects of it, anyway--and progress. I'm sure it sounds that way. And yet, thinking again of your Rumsfeld and his comments before the invasion of Iraq, I contemplate what the professionalization of war has wrought: great efficiency, perhaps. What your Rumsfeld referred to as "Shock and Awe." We have learned to kill and maim in ever greater numbers, with ever greater efficacy. But alas, to no great advance for our human species. "Professionalism" seems to me to belong in the same boat as commercialism and corporate globalization. We get better and better, faster and faster, more and more successful in our efforts--but to what lasting effect, and to whose benefit? It worries me that this extraordinary man, Lance Armstrong, has put all of his redoubtable efforts into becoming superhuman. When do all we learn to simply be more human?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Desperately Rattled

"I'm not afraid," said the sturdy Brit interviewed this morning on television, "but I am desperately rattled." Hmmm. I'm kind of wondering what he meant by this, Bush. Perhaps he just didn't feel comfortable with the word "fear" and was looking (desperately) for an alternative. "Rattled" sounds like what happens to our windows, here in California, when we're on the receiving end of an earthquake--which puts the fear of God into me, Bush, I promise you. I guess, then, that this particular interviewee was "all shook up" by the second London attack in the space of two weeks. Even by London standards, that's pretty shaky. I sympathize with my erstwhile countrymen and women.

It's a scary world, Bush, as you like to point out so often. In fact, it's my judgment that your political success has been based on fear. In that sense, 9/11 played right into your hands, and those of your political operatives, because it created the atmosphere of fear in which you seem to operate so well. A single example--but one of many: the way in which the color-coded alert system worked so conveniently in your favor during the last election cycle. Any slight downtick in your numbers was easily corrected by an adjustment in the terror alert system.

The problem, as I see it, is that the fear factor works two ways. Or maybe, rather, it's a vicious cycle: in claiming to be fighting fear, you simultaneously create more of it. My belief is that we each participate in the creation of our own reality, and that you, Bush, being "the leader of the free world"--well, really, these days, let's admit it, the leader of the world--contribute significantly to the reality of the world we live in. For better or worse, it reflects something of who you are, as a man, as an individual human being. And as I've said before, Bush, I see you as a fearful man. I'm talking at a deeply personal level here. I don't know you, obviously; but I do believe that even at a distance, with someone so much in the public eye, we can read a good deal about the inner man--through body language, turns of phrase, deflections of the eye, and so on. And that's what I read in you: fear. It's a kind of smell. You know what I mean? I have no way of knowing its source, but I suspect that it's related to your earlier alcoholism as much as it is to your evangelical rebirth and your moral inflexibility. Maybe it's all Barbara's fault. No, just kidding...

But whatever the source, I see it there, in your TV appearances: the little boy glimpsed behind the posture of the man who needs to prove his strength and fearlessness, the smirk that hides the insecurity, the shifty eyes... My judgment, Bush, I own it: this is fear. Fear that the little boy behind the Oval Office desk will be unmasked; fear that others will find your weakness; fear that you're way out of your depth, and way beyond your capabilities. Perhaps even a fear of the evil in your own heart, since you talk so much about the evil in others'. And at a deeper level, an existential fear: of chaos, of meaninglessness, of powerlessness.

That's what I see. That's what I read in what I see. I could be wrong. But I know we have a fearful America and a fearful world, and I have a persuasive inner sense that this is, in some part, what you need. It's no coincidence that terror has proliferated so alarmingly during your tenure in office. Understand, Bush, I'm not blaming you for this. I am suggesting, though, that it's a reflection of who you are. And sadly, by the same token, you, as President, are a reflection of who we are, collectively, as a nation, as a world. A terrible thought, Bush: that you are the President that we create.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


I applaud the NASA decision to go ahead with the shuttle launch in a couple of days, Bush. We're all so risk averse in this country, no? Here are a bunch of brave men and women who want to do nothing more than risk their lives to further the great space adventure, and so many of us sitting around wringing our hands about what might happen, in the worst scenario. I say, let them go, if that's what they want to do. They're grown-up. They know the risks--and I'd hazard a guess there are many of them, known and unknown, shooting off into the wild blue like that. It's not something I'd choose to do myself, but I'd sure want to support their choice. Which is one for all of us, really, since we stand to benefit from their work.

On a different scale entirely, we're sitting here on a pile of risk ourselves, Ellie and I--having staked a bundle on the new house I've been telling you about, Bush, and still not having sold our old one. It's partly about the money, of course. The thinner we get stretched, the greater the risk seems--and the harder to maintain that steadiness of purpose. So it takes an emotional toll, too. Still, the one thing I've learned about risk is the simplest of its lessons: the greater the risk, the greater the potential return. The other thing: I've never taken a risk that has not paid off for me in the long run. Not necessarily in ways I would have wanted or expected, but I think I can truly say that I have never taken a risk and not come out ahead.

Wish I had something useful to say about the big things of the day, but I just don't. Your Roberts? He seems like a decent enough man, and honest--which is more than I can say for some of your other friends, Bush. Speaking of which, he seems to have managed to nudge your Rove off the headlines, for the moment at least. Do you think you're going to get away with this one? My head continues to spin at the thought of everything you've managed to get away with thus far. And the list is long...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Your Roberts

I haven't the first idea about your Roberts, Bush. Not the foggiest. Please tell me he isn't some right wing nutter... I'll look forward to hearing more. Crazy day, no time for more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Support Our Troops

I saw two documentaries on the Sundance Channel last night, Bush. Well, one and three-quarters, to be absolutely truthful: the second proved too long for my tired head. But they provided a searing study in contrasts, and I thought you should hear about them. I don't recall the titles, but that's not important. I'll just call them "the first" and "the second," because they came on in that order.

The first, then, was a hard, unsparing examination of the build-up toward your invasion of Iraq. Working chronologically, it took every one of the arguments you made for war and demolished them one by one, juxtaposing statements emanating from senior members of your administration with those of informed diplomats, CIA insiders, military brass, former high-placed government bureaucrats, men--almost exclusively!--of substance, authority, and standing, whose integrity seemed beyond question.

Arrayed against these voices were your own, Bush; your Cheney's; your Rumsfeld's; your Wolfowitz's; your Rice's; and--regrettably--your Powell's. He always seemed like a man of high probity, before he allowed himself to be shamelessly used before the Security Council of the United Nations. Propagandists all, you were, Bush, bent on selling your benighted adventure to the American people and the world at large. (You managed the feat at home, failed miserably abroad.) You spoke, all of you, with such absolute confidence and certainty; about Saddam's threat to our security (wrong!), his chemical and biological arsenal (wrong!), his association with terrorists and his involvement in the World Trade Center attack (wrong!), his acquisition of materials needed in the manufacture of nuclear weapons (wrong!) With the clarity of hindsight, we now know every one of these rationalizations to have been false: what you offered to the American people, as their elected President, was a continuous stream of half-truths, distortions, misrepresentations, and outright lies, in a deliberate, months-long assault on the truth to justify a war that we now see clearly to have been totally unnecessary.

And then, Bush, in deeply poignant contrast, there was the second documentary, this one a series of studies of young veterans returning wounded from your battlefield. I tell you, after watching those bald-faced lies, those prevarications, those cynical manipulations... the sheer, unpretentious, unembittered honesty of these men was overwhelming. Blinded, their bodies mutilated, they were simply occupied with adjusting to the inconvenience and getting on with the business of their lives. They recounted their experiences, describing the horrific causes of their wounds in plain-spoken, matter-of-fact language, speaking their truth with absolute honesty and complete absence of rancor or recrimination. Their courage in the face of unimaginable pain, their selflessness, their dedication to a cause they evidently believed in without question, their loyalty, even their patriotism--and you know my personal feelings about that word, Bush--were at once deeply moving and, well… uplifting.

So here's the question I have for you this morning, Bush: do you deserve the loyalty of these men? Is your war worthy of their courage and their dedication? I return with such anger to the dance of lies, the glib, complacent assertions of quick and easy victory and minimal cost, the deliberate misinformation and self-serving distortion of intelligence. I return to the rehearsed official statements, the reiteration of claims already proven to have been untrue, the political machinations… and I have to give you a resounding NO! You and your war are not worthy of the men and women who fight it for you. And I still honor and marvel at their strength, their courage, their loyalty...

Monday, July 18, 2005

It's a Practice

Is it worth it?

I struggle daily with the temptation to give it all up. I mean, this diary, Bush. It's not just laziness on my part--though I'll admit that laziness is a factor: one of my worst judgments about myself is that I'm a lazy good-for-nothing who never achieved anything worth a damn. Just a judgment, Bush, but there it is. And it's an effort to get the brain working every morning.

It's also not just a matter of time--though life has come along, as it usually does, and slapped me with a thousand other things to worry about: the old house, and whether it will ever sell; the new house, the construction work, and the cost involved; and the downsize--packing up and scaling down on thirty-five years of stuff.

All of which leaves me little time to read the newspapers and keep up with the news on radio and television; and little time to wander through the blogosphere, picking up on the ideas and opinions that stimulate my own. Oh, and being hooked on the Tour de France takes up a lot of the time I might otherwise have devoted to you, Bush, and your doings. But that will be over in a few more days. (I'm still rooting for your fellow Texan, Lance Armstrong. He's doing great in his last Tour, Bush. Have you been following?)

But no, it's also a deeper and more philosophical question that I struggle with, having to do with the matter of engagement. At this stage of my life, I wonder, is the greater wisdom not to be found in standing back from the political fray, in recognizing the truth of my own infinite smallness, in choosing the simplicity of breath and being, the open heart over constant criticism and carping, equanimity over partisanship? Should I, in other words, allow you to go on your merry way, and concern myself instead with what I can affect, with those places in the immediate sphere of my own life where I really matter?

And then I realize the vanity of this thinking--as though these diaries were in fact what they pretend to be: a dialog with you, rather than a dialog with myself. When you get right down to it, it's just the thing that I need to be doing, in order to be the writer that I've always known myself to be. It's a practice. A way of sharpening and maintaining consciousness. No more, no less.


Just one more note about your Rove, Bush. For me, it's not a matter of the right and wrong, legal or moral, of the Joe Wilson business. What's truly sad for me is the knowledge that your whole career, these past thirty years, has been orchestrated by a man whose pattern is to smear all those who stand in his/your way. I'm thinking of Anne Richards. John McCain. John Kerry. What's truly sad for me is the glimpse this episode offers once again into your cowardly heart, and your willingness to hide, with a smirk, behind the sleaze that others use to clear your path. What's truly sad for me is the understanding that all this is done in the name of Christianity, and moral rectitude, and truthfulness. What's truly sad is to see good men and women destroyed by these cynical hypocrisies.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Penguin Family Values

If you haven't already seen it, Bush, I think you'd get a big kick out of "The March of the Penguins." We saw it last night with friends, and I couldn't help thinking of you in your tuxedo. No, seriously, though, you'll love the penguin family values. One male, one female, one egg. And they're monogamous! Well, for on year at a time, at least. I guess you'd have to call that serial monogamy. Still, with penguins, we'll settle for what we can get, no?

Anyway, Bush, these guys (and gals) march seventy plus miles inland from their cold and watery abode to their breeding ground, alternately plodding along on foot or belly-gliding on the ice, then set about the business of mating (with somewhat ponderous seriousness) and laying their single egg. Then the moms pass on the eggs to the dads for the long, cold brood, whilst they (the moms) head back those same seventy plus miles to fatten up with food for the family.

Those eggs, by the way: if they so much as touch the ice, they freeze, so the dads have to stand there with the thing balanced on their toes and covered with a flap of belly while the blizzards rage around them. Talk about unswerving loyalty! Talk about sense of family duty! And the egg--you'll be relieved to hear this, Bush--if some duffer dad should allow it to escape his care for just one moment, it will freeze instantaneously so deep it cracks apart. No use at all, I'd bet, for embryonic research or stem cell cloning. God sure does have his way, here, even if he does move in mysterious ways!

So then the moms waddle back those same seventy plus miles over ice and snow and take over for the feeding chores, while the dads, this time, God bless 'em, toddle off in long lines on that tough trek back to the beach... Well, not really the beach, that gives the wrong impression: it's more the edge of the ice pack. And so on. If I have any words of criticism for this delightful film, Bush, it would be that it tends to anthropomorphize just a little too much. But then, who am I to cast the first stone? Here I am, doing the same thing myself. All in all, though, I'd say, this is conservatively very correct. Maybe you could get a copy for the White House screening room? Or show it to the generals on one of those big screens down in your Situation Room? It would be a hit.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Staying the Course

Stay the course. I’m getting tired of hearing this somewhat idiotic adage, Bush—and I hear you use it all the time. When I began to think about it, I assumed it had its origin in yachting. I was first aware of hearing it when your Dad was in office: as I recall, it was a favorite of his, too. And it made sense, with all that sailing going on at Kennebunkport and so on. But then I began to dig a little deeper and I discovered that it’s most likely origin is in horse racing, as in "that horse will never be able to stay the course." Or maybe other forms of racing.

Anyway, listen, here’s the point: you trot out this adage all the time as though it were some great, eternal truth. Well, staying the course maybe an admirable quality for a racehorse or a marathon runner, Bush. When it comes to human affairs, however, things begin to look a bit more complex. Suppose your course happens to be leading you toward the reefs, for example? Or an errant iceberg? Or, God forbid, into the path of a hurricane? Would wisdom not dictate a change of course, to avoid disaster? Would not the captain on the bridge be constantly re-evaluating the situation and preparing to make course corrections, based on the changing conditions he’s confronting? I think so.

That’s why your constant reiteration of the phrase seems so absurd to me. It works well, perhaps, as a sound bite, rallying support, but it’s essentially a piece of nonsense done up in the wrapping of popular wisdom. Just take a look at the murderous atrocities committed in Iraq in the past couple of days. I don’t know whether you happened to catch the CNN interviews with a couple of men who claimed to be insurgent commanders. I have to tell you they did not sound like wild-eyed fanatics, Bush. They did not sound like they commanded a ragtag bunch of disorganized amateurs. Not at all. They sounded like men of deep and abiding commitment, men of rather calm and self-confident assurance. Men with a mission—however misguided it might seem to you. Their stated dedication was to fight what they see to be American occupation of their country.

Without necessarily agreeing with their position, Bush, I do understand that the "course" you seem determined to "stay" is not producing the results you say you’re aiming for. So far, it has produced nothing but the opposite: more, more organized, and more dedicated resistance. You and your people estimate no more than a few thousand insurgents left to fight. These people estimate two hundred thousand and counting upward. They say they are well-armed and well-financed, and I see no reason to disbelieve them—especially given the failure, after the first thrust of your attack, to protect those vast supplies of arms and ammunition scattered in bunkers throughout the country. Your Rumsfeld’s suggestion of a dozen years of more is far more convincing to me than your Cheney’s "last throes."

So how about a change of course, Bush? How about a careful reappraisal of the situtation, in the light of current realities, and at least a course correction? This does not necessarily involve the retreat you seem to dread—although that, too, is a strategic option that a good commander surely will consider. I hope you have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War—an essential text, I’d imagine, for a man in your position. My suggestion is, you go back and take a look at this wonderful text. In the light of Sun Tzu’s subtle and nimble thought, "staying the course" will surely begin to sound like the empty cliché that it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Your Rove

It's not only what your Rove did, Bush, in outing a CIA agent to the press--and let's not argue over the fine point as to whether he actually uttered her name or simpy identified her as "Joe Wilson's wife." That was outrageous enough in itself, and surely a criminal offense, no? What makes it worse is the petty, vengeful motivation, to get back at Wilson for having the guts (or the gall, depending on your point of view) to expose your lies, Bush, to the press and, through the press, to the public. A fat lot of good it did anyway: you still went to war, with still the same lies to back you up. But think of how it looks to the world: a man gets back at another man by attacking his wife? For God's sake, Bush. Even in a world where chivalry has admittedly been dead for a few centuries, this makes your guy look like a cad and a coward of the worst order.

And the next bad thing is the sheer, bald-faced, outrageous hypocrisy of the man--and, by only a short extension, of you and your administration. I'm talking about those good, Christian values that you preach. About restoring honor to the White House. You talk the talk, very loud, very clear, then you turn around, do the dirty, and lie in your teeth to deny it, cover it up, and fight tooth and nail to prevent anyone else from discovering it. And then you wriggle on the hook--with a smirk on your face--when the whole thing begins to stink too foul to keep the lid on it (sorry about this horrible mixture of metaphors, Bush: I guess I'm getting carried away!) with more prevarications and split hairs (there I go again!) You refuse, in great demonstrations of self-righteousness, to comment on "an ongoing criminal investigation."

So, tell me, Bush, just how long has this investigation been going on? And how much longer will it need to be pursued, now that there's evidence to document your Rove's cowardly act? How many i's to be dotted and t's to be crossed before you make good on your promise to fire anyone involved in the outing of a CIA agent? Or are you, Bush, as cowardly as your Rove? You suited up in your shining armor to lead this disastrous crusade you got us into. Is Rove now to be your maiden in distress? Do you know how to blush?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Accents--and the Dragon's Teeth

I used to get a chuckle, Bush, out of hearing people of West Indian origin speaking with pure Cockney accents. Obviously, they were London born and bred, so it ought not to have been surprising to hear their accents; but I left England in 1962, and from then on returned only occasionally to visit family, so I missed the major influx of immigrants that must have arrived there in the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, there was a growing Indian and Pakistani population before I left--we used to have fun with the Peter Sellers spoof of their accent on The Goon Show--and there was the beginning of new arrivals from the West Indies. But it was a surprise to me, on my visits "home," starting in the 1980s, to hear the voices of the native born children of early immigrants.

And now, on yesterday's BBC World News report in the latest findings in last week's London bombings, I recalled that pleasurable surprise on hearing what was obviously a second generation of Middle Easterners speaking in broad Yorkshire brogue--Muslims in full regalia, complete with beards and headbands. More troubling was the substance of the report, that it was young men such as those interviewed, British-born and educated, who had somehow connected with enough of the hatred that inspired the 9/11 perpetrators to inflict their terror tactics on their own people: British, and--especially in the Edgware Road area--even Muslims. Those brought up with them, their peers and neighbors, were shocked to find this venom brewing in their communities. But there it was. Islamic terror with a Yorkshire accent.

It's clear, Bush, that the populations of the world are on the move. National, even racial groups are mingling with greater or lesser degrees of comfort. People everywhere are looking for prosperity, happiness, financial security for their families, better living conditions. Those born in countries where such things are available only to those fortunate--or unscrupulous--enough to enjoy great wealth are naturally inclined to cast their eye further afield, to countries where they seem within reasonable reach. It has been happening for nearly two centuries now, and the drift has become a tide, and then a flood. Here in the U.S., they came first from Ireland and eastern Europe. Now they come from countries to the south, they cross the Pacific from southeast Asia, the Atlantic from Africa and the Middle East. The transformation of Europe, I suspect, along with its turmoil, has much to do with this global shift. And, because we have not yet learned, as a species, how to accommodate to these radical changes in our evolutionary (sorry, Bush!) growth, we are all vulnerable to the fears and angers they provoke.

It's in this context, Bush, that I see acts of terrorism: boils pustulating and bursting on the surface of the globe. Declaring war on terrorism is futile, as I see it. Sure, I grant you, it's an obvious obligation to do everything we can to protect ourselves from brutal, senseless attacks. But that, as I was saying yesterday, is more a matter of effective intelligence and policing than fielding armies, as you have done in Iraq--to the infinite regret of almost everyone except yourself. The dragon's teeth you sowed have sprouted into armies of implacable and ferocious enemy warriors: it was a tiny unit of this vast, unarticulated army that again attacked our common body last week. No, Bush, the boil problem is systemic. Its source is a venom that is continuing to spread through the world's body, and the boils will not go away until the body learns how to neutralize the venom in its system. Which is why I say the holistic approach is the only one that makes the slightest sense: let's stop fussing around with local issues, attempting to apply a bandage here, a patch there. Let's take a good look at the whole body politic, Bush--as I think your Blair, to his credit, was beginning to try to do in Scotland, though apparently against your all-American grain--and begin to identify solutions that can heal and nourish us all. Until we realize that this is our only choice, we'll go on being confronted with the lessons we refuse to learn from.

Time to get off your high Texas horse, Bush, and muck in with the rest of humankind.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Today, Bush, I'm sorry to report that I have absolutely nothing for you. I am bereft of ideas, and physically depleted. This business of downsizing is proving a challenge, to say the least. There's much to be done today, and none of it for you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

No More Foreign Policy

I'm betting that this article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times escaped your notice, Bush. It's by Britisher Timonthy Garton Ash (I nearly said "fellow Britisher," but then I remembered I'm not technically British any more: I just feel that way, and frankly a lot more frequently since you took office) in response to the London bombngs last week. He argues--and I agree with him--that the rhetoric of "war" is inappropriate in what's happening with the terrorists, and that they can't be fought by armies, as you are trying to do in Iraq, with disastrous results.

These terrorist acts, Garton Ash argues, are rightly described by the London authorities as "crimes," and are best addressed not by armies but by good policing--both before and after such attacks. This may explain why your war in Iraq remains obstinately ineffective, if its intention is (now, it seems) to combat terrorism: far from defeating the plague, it has served only to multiply the number of actual and potential terrorists exponentially, along with the sources of motivation for their dreadful acts.

But it's Garton Ash's conclusion that impressed me most: "These days," he writes, "events that happen far away, in Khartoum or Kandahar, affect us directly--sometimes fatally--as we commute to work, sitting in the underground train between Kings Cross and Russell Square." His conclusion? "There is no such thing as foreign policy anymore." By which I take him to mean precisely what I've been trying to persuade you of, these past few days particularly: the only sane and viable policy, in the face of current realities, is a global policy. "America first" won't hack it--not on any front--in what you yourself so frequently refer to as the post-9/11 world.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Smoke Screens

Well, Bush, my impression is that the terrorist attack in London offered you guys up in Scotland a great smoke screen. Not a smart move on their part, if what they want is improvement in the way the world addresses poverty and deprivation. But then again, I suspect that's not what they want. Their goals are far from clear, at least to me. Perhaps it's nothing more nor less than a great Islamic theocracy throughout the world. In that, it would hardly be much different than the goal of your Christian evangelicals. In any event, if they do have goals, blowing up innocent civilians as they go about their business hardly seems like a formula for success.

But they did succeed in blowing smoke in front of what was happening in Scotland--not only at your conference table, but outside. Whilst your power-mongering gang of the eight wealthiest nations sat around the table, hatching new ways to disguise your paradigm of economic growth and exploitation of the Earth's resources as a benefit to all mankind, those with different ideas about the end of poverty and disease, and the oil crisis, and global warming, remained outside, on the streets, under the supervision of two thousand police. The media made them look like a ragtag bunch of extremist idiots, of course, reduced to the pathetic tactic of waving placards and making soapbox speeches in the effort to get their voices heard. And even then, the terrorists come along to drown those voices out with their barbaric bombs.

Meantime, here in your enlightened and civilized United States of America, a journalist is spirited off to jail behind both these smoke screens, to serve a term for refusing to reveal the sources for a story that she never wrote, with barely a notice from the media, let alone the fanfare her brave action merits. Is it not another irony, Bush, in the long, sad history of the ironies of your administration, that Judith Miller, of the New York Times, gets a prison sentence in the cynical outing of an undercover CIA agent, whilst Robert Novak, the right-wing journalist who actually did the dirty deed goes scott free? I think we all know that the source of Novak's story is none other than your political operative Rove, and that he leaked the information as an act of political revenge against Joe Wilson, the dilpomat who dared to question your Iraq adventure on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. And perhaps, too, as a warning to others who might step out in public to expose the lies you used to lead us into your misguided war. Where's Rove's comeuppance?

So this is how it goes. Smoke sreens behind smoke screens behind smoke screens. I don't wish to undermine some of the good intentions behind the promises of G8, Bush. I do hope, earnestly, that they all pan out--though I have my doubts. We've heard similar pledges all too often in the past. But behind all the smoke screens, the power action takes place, the money exchanges hands, the world gets divvied up. Remember, Bush, the words that the great (French!) writer Victor Hugo gave to his popular hero, Gil Blas, in his eponymous play, when he walked in on meeting of the power brokers in 19th century Europe. "Bon apetit, messieurs!" he cried, with heavy sarcasm. We have no adequate equivalent in English, Bush, for this civilized, pre-mealtime greeting: "I wish you a good appetite, sirs!" kind of weakens the impact. But it gives some sense of my personal impression of what was going on up there in Scotland.

Here's my thought for a Saturday, Bush, for what it's worth: it's not enough to keep treating the nasty, festering symptoms, when the disease has already infected the whole body of the planet. It's time to address root causes, and come up with the systemic changes that we need to heal the disease that we humans have ourselves created in our greed for wealth and power. It's time, Bush, for a radical new approach. Perhaps for generosity of spirit. Perhaps even for sacrifice on the part of us, richer nations. Perhaps for a new understanding of human prosperity and human happiness. Perhaps for a long, hard look at the reality we have created, and the potential for a new, sustainable model for the future of the world.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Sitting Ducks

We're all sitting ducks, aren't we, really, when you come to think about it? Well, maybe not you, Bush. I imagine thay have you pretty well protected. But the rest of us, going about our daily lives? I mean, there are certain places where you can feel the presence of what we call "security." At the airport, for example, where you go through all those scans and searches before you board your plane. I understand there's security, too, in certain crowded areas, like baseball and football games.

How about theaters, though? I haven't noticed any additional security measures when I go to see a movie, even at one of those huge multiplexes. Maybe I just don't know where to look or what to look for. But I know that I don't have to walk through one of those metal detecting machines. Not yet. Nor have I seen any sign of bomb-sniffing dogs. Or how about shopping malls? Same thing. Restaurants? Big hotels?

There's no way in the world, in short, that we can protect ourselves against every scenario a terrorist could dream up. Walk around town in any small city in America, you're a sitting duck. Drive down a crowded freeway? Take the bus? For all your vaunted Homeland Security plans, there's little you can do to prevent the kind of thing that happened in London yesterday. You get a terrorist ruthless, and patient, and determined enough, and careless enough of his own life, and he'll find a way to damage you.

Which leaves us in a predicament not much different from life itself. There's no way we can anticipate all the dreadful things that might befall us at any moment. I sit here in a place where a deadly earthquake can strike at any moment. To get here, to where I'm sitting at this very moment, I spent an hour and a half on the freeways, jostling for position with trucks and trailers fifty times my size and weight, at seventy miles an hour. And people have been getting killed by bullets on the freeways hereabouts, for no apparent reason. If we're liable to be terror-struck, our daily lives are filled with source enough of terror to keep us home in bed, locked in a protective bubble and hooked up to an oxygen tube.

So whichever way you look at it, Bush, we're sitting ducks. In the vast scale of things, this current crop of terrorists do little to add to the threats that surround most of us for most of our lives. We simply don't pay attention to them in the same kind of way. And even if we do, we learn to live with them. Witness the Londoners of the Blitz. Witness those brave men and women who fight our wars for us: I've heard their psychological survival tactic is the firm belief that the next bullet is not meant for them, but for some other poor slob. The level of their sense of invulnerability has to rise to what is to me an unimaginable level. I guess we all adjust in our own way to the imminence of threat in any given situation.

I wonder, though, about you, Bush. Surrounded as you are by those nearly impenetrable layers of protection, are you in some way emotionally immunized from the reality of danger? Is it easier for you to talk the talk about your "war on terrorism"--or your war in Iraq--just because you yourself are guarded to the point of invulnerability from most of life's risks, including terrorism? Including the reality of combat? I just wonder what living in that kind of a bubble does to a person's head, Bush? Can he still relate to reality in the same way as those who do his fighting for him? Or even the same way as the rest of us, sitting ducks?

Thursday, July 07, 2005


I'm struck by the awful irony of it, Bush: the image on the front page of today's New York Times, with a mass of Londoners cheering wildly in Trafalgar Square to celebrate their victory yesterday in the 2012 Olympic sweepstakes; and those I've seen today, on television and the Internet, with Londoners bloodied, burned, scared, terrorized. As I write, there seem to be no confirmed suspects, but it sure looks like Al Qaeda planning and coordination. I'm not about to Monday-morning-quarterback this dreadful event, whose brutality needs no elaboration on my part. From any human point of view, the attack on innocent and unsuspecting people is indefensible, an offense against any reasonable person's sense of decency. If it was done, again, in the name of Islam, the act is nothing more than a bloody insult to that religion and all those who practice it. I grieve not only for those who suffered from this arrogant abuse and contempt for human life, but also for our species, which seems to have arrived at a point in its evolutionary history where such aberrant behavior is shocking, yes, when it happens, but sadly no longer surprising. We need to think not only of our anger and our need for retaliation or revenge, Bush. We need also to think more globally about where we stand as a species on this planet, and what we plan to do about it for the good of all who share it. Or else we'll end up hating and distrusting each other ever more bitterly, and hastening our own extinction in the process. I hope you're thinking about this at your conference. By the way, I wrote the following before I heard about the London tragedy.


Momentous happenings.
The leaders of the world
meet in cofnerence.
They think to decide
the future of the world;
who gets to be hungry,
who gets to eat;
whether the ice caps
will melt; whether
the air and the water
will be clean, to drink
and breathe. They think
to decide the economy
of the world, on growth
and progress. This
is called "power."
Meanwhile, the rest of us
human beings must build
what my friend Bill calls
"sacred lifeboats,"
to save our souls.
Or, as the French say,
nicely, Sauve qui peut.
The ship is sinking, friends.
Lower the lifeboats.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Le Tour

It's getting tougher and tougher to find the time to keep up with you, Bush. Downsizing is not for the faint of heart, I'm beginning to discover. Here I am, up at five-ish every day, and getting down to the task or sorting and packing by seven-ish. We have accumulated unbelievable amounts of STUFF in the course of thirty-five years of married life, thirty-three of them in the same house. This morning, we got a start on the bedroom, carting out boxloads of treasures and junk, family pictures, trash... And then the question gets to be: where to put it all? Not enough room in the trash bins for the trash; not enough room in the basement for the garage sale stuff; not enough room anywhere for the stacks of pictures, framed and unframed, that emerge in bewildering quantities. Anyway, I consider myself lucky if I get to my computer by ten-thirty or eleven. And even then without much of an idea. No time to have read the newspapers, or to have watched the morning news. I'm vaguely aware that you have arrived in Scotland for your summit meeting. Hopefully with some plausible new ideas. We'll see.

One thing I don't miss, late evening, on the television: the Tour de France. I'm a big fan. Have been a big fan since before Lance Armstrong was born. Back in the 1950s, at boarding school, we used to have an auction at the beginning of each term for who got the right to have a first read of the various newspapers: I always put in my bid for France-Soir--the best for Tour de France coverage, in those days, and followed the daily coverage in French. Nowadays, of course, I'm a big Lance Armstrong fan. Who wouldn't be, given his incredible story? Except, of course, those Frenchies, who keep testing him for drugs. Sore losers, I say. Seriously, though, I do admire the man's strength, dedication, and focus. More still, his remarkable ability to inspire and work with the members of his team. Yesterday's team time trial, in case you didn't catch it, was a superb performance: the coordination, the concentration, the unwavering power of the Discovery Channel team was quite amazing. Even so, they might not have come out ahead--or at most by the merest whisker--if it hadn't been for the last-minute crash of the young race leader, Dave Zabriske, which set his CSC team back, miraculously, by only a few seconds, but deprived Zabriske himself of the opportunity to wear the leader's yellow jersey for another day, and set him way back in the overall standings.

A real drama, anyway, Bush, and surely a trauma for this young rider who had been doing so extraordinarily well in his first tour. To crash so ignominiously in front of millions of television viewers at the very height of his achievement. I wondered how Lance Armstrong would react, being thrust into the leadership by this rival's crash, but could not keep awake late enough for the post-race analysis and interviews. I did catch a brief snatch of an interview with him this morning, though: he was declining the right to wear the yellow jersey for the day, citing long-standing tour custom not to take advantage of another man's crash. That seemed a dignified response to me. But then, later, he was shown racing with the yellow jersey over his Discovery team jersey, so I'm guessing the tour organizers made him wear it, and he chose to demonstrate his disagreement by wearing both together.

Well, there you go, Bush. I know you don't go much for all this French stuff, but since it's an American who's top dog in this game, I thought you'd like to have the update. Good luck at Gleneagles. And give a little, okay, Bush. Give just a little. We'll all love you a lot more for the effort to be generous.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Call from England...

My sister called from England yesterday afternoon, Bush. A Britisher of… well, let's say respectable years, who cares deeply about the world and we who live in it. She was angry. So angry that she had to call her brother in the United States that minute, to let me know how furious she was. The source of her anger? I hate to have to tell you, Bush, that it was none other than your good self. She had been watching an interview on British television, and was appalled by your cavalier dismissal of friendly reciprocity toward your friend Blair, who stood beside you faithfully in your war; as well as of any responsibility on the part of the US to serve anything or anyone but its own narrow interests.

I saw a couple of sound bites from that interview, Bush, and it was reported in this morning's Los Angeles Times. Quite frankly I can understand my sister's anger. Even allowing for possiblly quite reasonable disagreement on the content of your remarks, it was the tone that must have seemed so deeply offensive. You came across glib, arrogant, and dismissive of views other than your own. Your body language, as well as your tone of voice, suggested lofty contempt for other nations and their leaders, as though you alone were possessed of divine wisdom as to this planet and its future. At the same time, your limited command of the English language and your inability to articulate all but the most simplistic of ideas left you appearing half-baked, shallow, devoid of intellectual substance.

It worries me that this is the face that America presents to the world--but it worries me even more that it might the true face of America. No matter that nearly half the country's electorate voted against you, the truth is that more than half apparently voted to reelect you, with no earthly excuse, after the four years of your previous administration, for not knowing who you are or what you stand for. The rest of the world is not unjustified in judging us by those we elect to represent us. I don't wish to get personal about this, Bush, but at the moment that happens to be you. I'm just hoping against hope that you'll come up with something better than we've seen for far in your discussions with the G8 leaders this week.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

I'll confess I've never been a patriotic person, Bush. I don't know why. I never felt that way about my native country, Britain; and I don't feel that way about my adoptive country, either. The experience of World War II may have colored my attitude in some way. The first poems that ever deeply moved me were those written by the likes of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, those haunting voices lost to us during the first World War, who wrote about the horrors of the battlefield and the absurd irony of fighting for one's country. Dulce et decorum est, went the Latin adage quoted, with deep sarcasm, by one of these poets--I forget which--pro patria mori. It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. Even then, barely more than a child, I found the notion of patriotism ridiculously overvalued.

I think, though, that I did understand the notion of dying for a cause. I did believe that the war my elder generation were obliged to wage against Nazi Germany, and fascist Italy and Japan, was warranted by the threat those enemies represented to humankind and the welfare of the planet. It was only incidentally about patriotism, as I saw it. More importantly, it was about the survival of a number of disparate countries in the face of expansionism and tyranny; in a real sense, it was a war against national pride and xenophobic aggression. At least, so I saw it after the fact, when I was old enough to think about it. And so I see it from today's perspective.

It was still possible, I think, to see your Dad's Iraq adventure in that light: Saddam, after all, had not only threatened but invaded a neighbor. Possible, then. But only partly. There were other, far less noble issues involved, having to do with resources, and strategic alliances, and global policy. And about this country's insatiable need to keep the oil flowing in our direction. As for your own Iraq war, Bush, I was in all honesty initially inclined to be persuaded of its necessity on the basis of the lies that we were fed--even while I remained suspicious of their veracity. Now that the lies have been unmasked for all to see, however, I am simply appalled by your invasion and your occupation, in the face of all international opinion, of a country whose admittedly tyrannical leader was already headed down the road toward disempowerment and disgrace. And of your continuing appeal to American patriotism to support your folly, and your continuing abuse of the patriotism of others to belabor anyone who opposes your policies.

In the larger context of our small planet and the challenges it faces, I have to say that patriotism, these days, seems not only absurd but positively dangerous. Those who profit from the policies of economic expansion concern themselves not with the interests of "country" but with "globalization." It seems to me that, if we intend to save this planet from oursleves, we should all be following their example. It no longer makes sense to do obeisance to this "home of the brave" and "land of the free" if to do so we choose to ignore the well-being of countless other countries terrorized by famine, war, oppression, and disease. "We Are the World," went that optimistic hymn, a few years back. We may be separated from Africa and its suffering multitudes by an ocean, but there's a real sense, today, in which we are Africa. It behooves us to think of "globalization" not only in terms of corporate profits, but as an uncomfortable political and social reality. A loyalty to one's own country, then, at the expense of the others seems an increasingly untenable option.

I hope that you'll bear this new reality in mind, Bush, as you discuss America's contribution to addressing global problems with the other influential countries of the G8. So far, all I've heard is your America-first, "we can't afford it" protestations, along with grandiose rhetorical gestures that soon become meaningless without the funding to support them. Can't afford it? When in the same breath you fight for massive tax breaks for the wealthiest of the wealthy? The rest of the world's population is not stupid, Bush. No wonder so many of them despise us. Let's plan to start playing by the rules we expect others to abide by. Let's renew the credentials of our global citizenship. It's all very well for us to celebrate our independence. But that independence is not worth a damn if it derives its strength from the dependency of others.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

If Saddam Could Do It...

... so could you! A novel, Bush! I mean, this guy wrote the whole damn thing while he was still a busy president, hiding his WMD from the UN inspection team and cosying up with the terrorists, even while taking care of the administration of his own special brand of justice, with a few thousand executions on the side. "Get Out of Here, Curse You!" What a title! Give him a bit of credit for the prophetic vision alone. It's creepy--almost like he forsaw your occupation years ago.

But anyway, how hard could it be? Saddam, it seems, just took the old potboiler template--heredity, power, clan loyalty, Allah, revenge, plus a little bit of the old sexual titillation thrown in--and tossed the thing off. Think of the press you'd get! Not to mention the advance! No problem with a publisher: you'd find one in a flash on the strength of your name alone. I know your language tends to come out a wee bit mangled, but... Even good writing's not seen as a qualification these days. Besides, what are editors for?

So pick your genre. Mystery? No problem. The genial, wildly popular Secretary of Defense shows up with a dagger through his heart in the Rose Garden. Whodunnit? Could it be the beautiful but treacherous Secretary of State? The mysterious, tight-lipped Vice President? The wife of the President, in a fit of vengeful fury?

Romance? I mean, no shortage of scenarios there, either. No shortage of real-life models. I think of your Rice... your Karen Hughes... your Christie Whitman... Good heroines all. But then again, maybe not Christie, unless we cast her as the faithless lover. I can almost write it for you, though, Bush: the steamy sex scene in the Lincoln bedroom! A spot of philandering in the passageway off the Oval Office. A cigar in there somewhere, maybe...? Or has that been done?

Anyway, truth to tell I see you more in the born-again Christian mode--what it is they call that series that's selling copies by the zillion? "Carried Away"? "The Bliss"? I forget. No, isn't it "The Rapture"? (I like the rapine quality of that one.) So how about this for a wild scenario: crusade in Saracen territory leads to all-out war between the Christian and the heathen worlds, and on to Armageddon! The heroes! The battle scenes! The flowing blood! The death and destruction! The redemption! I visualize a climactic scene involving the Voice from the Burning Bush, pronouncing dire judgment on the human species--save for those few pious souls who gave their hearts to Christ.

I mean, you could sell this one to Hollywood, Bush, sight unseen! Just a thought, though. You might have better ideas yourself. A Stephen King-style horror tale? You have a track record, dreaming up nightmare scenarios. And, boy, do those things sell!

Think about it, anyway. And if you should ever need a ghost writer... Well, enough said.


I had something ready to send you this morning, Bush, but Sandra Day O'Connor got in the way, with her surprise resignation--so that will have to wait until tomorrow. Re: the Supreme Court, however, I heard what you had to say about "a dignified process," involving "fair treatment, a fair hearing, and a fair vote." I respect that. I just want you to remember that a good part of dignity is balance, and fairness by definition works both ways. Too often, it seems to me, that for you it means getting your own way, no matter what. Fairness, to me, means taking me and millions of Americans who think like me into consideration. And for us, Bush, the word is "moderation." It means working the Middle Path, not simply pandering to those folks far out there on the religious right. I am filled with dread that you'll come up with another of those nominations we have discussed between us in the past, and yell and scream when Democrats (and democrats) oppose you. For once, I'm asking you to be wise, not rash. Thanks for listening.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Your Speech

Well, Bush, today the escrow closes on our new, much smaller house around the hill—and the old one still has not yet sold. A softening market, perhaps? We hope not. Our original asking price seemed in line with the house next door and up the hill, and the house directly across the street, both of which sold within the past year. Even so, we have agreed to come down significantly on the price this weekend, in hopes of making the sale before too long. The last thing we need is two houses here in the hills, along with a serious want of the wherewithal to support them! Wish us luck, okay, Bush? And join us, please, in celebrating the good fortune that allows us to be in this particular predicament. We do realize that there are far worse to be endured than this one.

I haven’t even mentioned your Tuesday night speech, Bush. Truth to tell, I missed the live broadcast. Real estate stuff. But I did catch the snippets that were rebroadcast on various news programs, and I read as much of it as was printed Wednesday in the New York Times—along with a number of editorial responses, most of them rather negative, I fear. A few odd letters in support, but even those were mainly negative, too.

I honestly don’t have much to add to what everyone else has already said: it seemed to me, on the one hand, a rehash of the old stump speech about staying the course and supporting the troops—as though anyone in their right mind didn’t. We just disagree on the appropriate way to do it. But anyway, the ground had shifted under our reasons for being there in the first place. So now our main purpose is to defend our own territory from the terrorists, who would come over here to attack us if we failed to provide them with a convenient target over there? Forgive me, Bush, but am I not right in thinking that those terrorists were not in Iraq—not most of them, anyway—until we attracted them to the battlefield there? I heard one of your spokespeople yesterday trot out the example of Zarqawi. Okay, so maybe there were a handful, but as I understand it, even Saddam was hardly encouraging their presence. Now they have descended in mass, like great, marauding packs of wolves. The same spokesperson mentioned the pensions Saddam was offering the Palestinian “martyrs,” but that seems to be stretching it a bit.

I know you planned this speech to get us all behind you once again. Perhaps that’s why you reminded us so frequently (five times, I think) of 9/11. To get the old patriotic juices flowing. The war—along with your good self, Bush—was slipping horribly in the polls. But you might have coordinated the effort better with your (“last throes”) Cheney and your “12 more years” Rumsfeld. We’re getting confused out here, Bush—and we suspect that you’re as confused as we are.

Oh, and one other thing. Speaking of violence, I had the sense that you—or your speechwriters—were trying to recast it as “the image of violence,” as though this were simply something that they like to play for us on the television screen, not really real. Nice try, I say. Unfortunately, there’s a bunch of us out here who do believe the killing and the maiming of our soldiers and thousands of Iraqi citizens happens to be real. And we don’t like it, Bush. We don’t like it one little bit.