Wednesday, August 31, 2005

No Joke

No joke from me this morning, Bush. Not a word about the two-day abbreviation of your vacation time in Crawford. Just looking at the images of destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana is a shocking reminder that not one of us is immune from disaster, and that it can strike at any moment--here in California, without a whisper of warning. Even ample notice of Katrina's imminent arrival, there on the Gulf Coast, was not enough to spare those many thousands of people the anguish of loss: loss of life, loss of homes, loss of property... and loss, of course, of a sense of well-being and safety in the world. Our sense of safety is just another one of those illusions that we use to prop us up.

A sad, but healthy reminder, too, to those of us fortunate enough to have been far from this particular one of nature's outrages, that uncertainties about real estate, remodeling, and money are minor sources of anxiety in the light of what others are given to suffer. Is this a trite insight? Maybe. It's always a useless exercise, comparing your suffering with mine, comparing the sufferings of some with those of others. There's no rational standard of comparison. Still, that said, we do well to "count our blessings" and be grateful.

The best and healthiest response is a simple one: compassion, and goodwill. Compassion and goodwill first, my Buddhist teacher insists, for oneself. "May I find true happiness," the practice starts. Because, my teacher says, true happiness comes from within: it takes nothing from anyone else's happniess. And my happiness is infectious, spreading out to other people. The next wish is for the happiness of others. Those close to me, at first, then spreading out in ever widening circles to those I know, and like, and those I don't know. Even to those I actively dislike... I include you, naturally, every morning, Bush, in my metta practice.

Perhaps that's especially appropriate today, with your poll numbers continuing to fall. Fifty-three percent now disapprove of your job as President. I wonder how that feels? Or perhaps, along with other politicians and public figures, a part of the training is how NOT to feel. Which could be a part of the problem. The problem, I mean, of the bigger picture. Where we stand today, as a nation. As a culture. I hear you'll be visiting the disaster site, once it's safe to do so. One suggestion: spend some time with people OTHER than those your guardians have arranged for you to meet.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mother Nature: The Call of the Wild, Pt. III

It's funny how things happen, isn't it, Bush? This week Mother Nature seems to have been calling out for my attention, so I listen and obey. First, I read online this morning that Katrina left at least 55 human beings dead in her wake yesterday. And, to judge from pictures on the news, incredibly widespread destruction, with uncountable billions of dollars in damages. The power of wind and water is unimaginable. And yet this is but one storm, on the face of a planet with many storms. One hurricane in a whole season of hurricanes in this one area--a season that has barely even started. This, in the wake of last year's tsunami, the recent monsoons in Southeast Asia, the floods and firestorms in Europe, the droughts in Africa. You can't help but wonder what's going on with our climates, can you, Bush? Talk about cries of distress. Mother Nature has been shrieking at us this past year.

And then, after Treadwell, two more wild animal documentaries last night on public television, one about the grizzlies in Yellowstone, the other about the mutual battle for survival among bears and wolves and salmon in Great Bear Rainforest up in Canada. Their stories take on an added significance in the light of several news stories in the past couple of days about your Paul Hoffman's efforts to redefine the mission of the National Parks Service to be more in line with the global Bush doctrine of the exploitation of nature for the benefit of man: the latest was the lead editorial in yesterday's New York Times: "Destroying the National Parks." It seems that Hoffman's idea is to abandon the fundamental idea of the "protection" of nature in these areas in favor of opening them up to such human activities as mining, drilling, and destructive sporting activities.

The two documentaries were convincing evidence of the need for protection. The parks are suffering from the constant intrusion of man. Man and his cameras. Man and his garbage. Man and his guns. Man and his RVs and snowmobiles. Man and his domestic animals. Man and his obsessive need for oil and lumber. Man and his "Lebensraum"--Hitler's term, if you remember, Bush, for the expansion of territory, for "living space." Frightening footage, in the Yellowstone film, of bears and people intermingling, apparently without fear on either side, on the park roads, with grizzlies and RVs jostling for space. Frightening shots of hillside habitats stripped bare of the trees that support both the flora and fauna of the natural environment...

And yet you, Bush, seem blithely oblivious to anything other than human economic growth and development. What of the future? Nature is hard enough on us as it is, as Katrina amply demonstrates, without our help. The art of the careful husbandry of this planet must be, in part at least, to learn to respect her enough to listen to her needs, to do what we can to protect her, and to step back, when necessary, and refrain from intervention. Most pressing of all, as I see it, is the need, insofar as possible, to remove the human ego, human demands, and human needs from the equation. The interest of our species is best served, in the long run, by serving nature's.

It's another of those days, Bush. We're headed up to town to check up on the real estate situation. More tomorrow...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina: The Call of the Wild, Pt. II

I'm watching Hurricane Katrina casually rip pieces off the roof of the Superdome in New Orleans, Bush. What a storm! And what a great time the media are having, following it. How they do love a disaster. Well, correction, there: how we do love a disaster. Don't we? All of us. It's hard-wired, as they say. There's some nasty part of me, Bush, that finds me rooting against mankind and for Mother Nature in these circumstances. I want to see her sock it to us. I want to be shocked and awed. I want us to be humbled, in our overweening pride. I want us to be reminded of how puny we all are, and how we can be knocked sideways by a casual swipe of Mother Nature's paw.

It's a strange part of our species, that we have this compulsion to see the very worst that can happen. It's maybe related to our voyeur instinct--that we love to see things happen to others that we'd hate to happen to ourselves. An event like this gives us a proxy taste of the extreme--the dark abyss that attracts us horribly, but for most of us not enough to actually jump in. The call of the wild. I guess there are some brave, or perhaps simply foolhardy souls (I think again of Timothy Treadwell--see yesterday'e entry if your missed it, Bush) who actually follow through and take the trip into those places. There are the surfers who go out to ride the waves at the height of the hurricane. Some of them even return to tell the tale. For most of us, though, we get our kicks by watching it on TV.

That's it for today, Bush. Need to get back to Katrina. Hope you're faring better, weather-wise, down there in Texas.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Grizzlies: The Call of the Wild

We were talking just the other day, Bush, if you remember, about "The March of the Penguins"--a movie that I greatly enjoyed, apparently along with a lot of other summer movie-goers. I couldn't help but think of it again a couple of nights ago, when Ellie and I went to seen that other summer call-of-the-wild documentary, "Grizzly Man." The latter did not come off well in the contrast.

Now, I do realize that the Werner Herzog movie was more about the man in the title than the grizzlies. Maybe it was conceived as a kind of tragedy, with Timothy Treadwell cast in the role of human sacrifice to the wild and powerful gods of the natural world. Trouble was, for me, he came off as a rather pitiful, willful, and essentially self-destructive victim. And--not unlike your good self, Bush--a "dry drunk": an admitted alcoholic who has "cured" himself without going through a proven recovery process. You found Jesus. Treadwell found bears. Same difference. And both of you ended up with massive, not to say manic messianic delusions.

I have to say that there's something boyishly appealing about you Peter Pans. With his tangled blond hair, his over-the-top enthusiasms, his inability to recognize--or accept--reality, and his rosily optimistic view of a world that was filled with imminent dangers, Tim Treadwell wanted nothing more than to dance with the bears. He sang to them. He wanted to be one of them. He chose to live with them.

But he did not belong with them. He was killed by them, and eaten. His girlfriend, Amie, who was foolhardy enough to go along with him, was killed and eaten too. (I think irresistibly, Bush, of how you too have taken your infatuated friend, America, into a dangerous and unwelcoming world. But that's another story.) The point is, for me, that the bear was within his rights: this alien creature had invaded his territory and presumed upon his natural sovereigncy. It was Treadwell who was out of bounds. His hubris (if you want to see this as a tragedy) had led him to anoint himself King of the Grizzlies, and he had the supremely misguided arrogance to believe that he was doing them a service in protecting them. No. The bear that had the natural animal temerity to kill the intruder was rewarded by himself being shot and killed. And many other bears, with their instinctive fear of humans lessened by their supposed benefactor's sentimental need to cosset them, stand now endangered by the barrier he broke. Far from protecting them, Treadwell placed the species in still greater danger from manunkind.

The footage of the bears that Treadwell shot, with all his self-congratulatory good intentions, is hopelessly compromised by his silly need to mug for the camera, to insert himself into the narrative, to become the hero of the grizzlies' story. How much more valuable, to our human species, is the "Penguin" footage, where man is content to stand back, humbly, and observe the centuries-old wisdom of the natural world!

The moral of the story, Bush, might be that it serves us better to stand back, watch, listen, and learn: don't go charging in to impose your presence where it doesn't belong. Ah, well. Anyway, have a good Sunday. And watch out for those grizzlies, okay?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Two Monkeys

(Oh, before we get started on the monkeys, Bush: I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that we finally sold our house. Well, to be more precise, we received an offer and accepted it. I’m leery about saying that we sold it until escrow closes and the check’s in the bank. We did okay. We didn’t get quite what we wanted, or what we felt the house was worth: the fact that this truly beautiful home sat on the market for so long is an indication, to us at least, that the housing market is not so strong as it was a few months ago. Perhaps that’s not such a terrible thing, from the broader perspective. And we did okay. We have reason to be grateful—and certainly very much relieved. Now we can look forward to actually paying for the reconstruction costs on our new home! But enough of that. Let’s get back to our monkeys.)

You remember those three monkeys, Bush: the one with his hands over his ears, the one with his hands over his eyes, the one with his hands over his mouth? Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. I’m not sure I have the order right, but that’s the gist of it. I was thinking about those three monkeys as I read the essay by retired US Marine colonel Thomas X. Hammes on the op-ed page of yesterday’s New York Times: "Lost in Translation." The good colonel was lamenting the lack of English-Arabic translators available to those fighting your war out there in Iraq, and the dire consequences that can result.

It struck me, of course, that to fight a war deaf is to be at as much of a disadvantage as to fight a war blind. The soldiers on the street bear the brunt of it: as Col. Hammes astutely points out, without a translator they’re unable to distinguish between a fracas over the price of tomatoes and an imminent and dangerous threat. Their officers suffer from a serious shortage of the kind of intelligence that should be immediately available from local sources—the trained Iraqi forces and the police; as well as from the ample documentary intelligence that, as Hammes claims, piles up back home in the US for want of competent translators.

We are a nation that generally expects others to learn our language, if they wish to communicate with us in any way—whether as tourists or as business people. It seems that we expect those we invaded, and those whose country we occupy, to do the same. According to Hammes, our distrust is such that we fail even to exploit the resource of willing recent immigrants, native Arabic speakers who could work either as interpreters or translators.

If we choose to remain deaf as a country, Bush, it seems that you choose to remain deaf, in many respects, as our leader. Deaf, that is, to opinions other than those you want to hear. It was that choice on your part to remain deaf to informed advisors that led us into this war, and that choice that keeps us trapped in it. What you hear, I suspect, is only the encouragement of your closest advisors—your Cheney, your Rumsfeld, your Rice—and the cheers of the ecstatic and admiring crowds they arrange for you to meet on your speaking tours. To dissenting voices, like the obstinate Cindy Sheehan or the wise and prescient General Shinseki, you are the monkey with his hands over his ears.

I think, too, by the same token, that you see only what you wish to see. At best, you wear rose-tinted glasses. Some would say blinders. I find it hard to believe that you would say the things you keep repeating if your eyes were truly open. Aside from the dreadful, mounting death toll of Americans, I see Iraqis killing Iraqis every day. I see Sunnis killing Shiites, and vice versa. Today, in the news, I see Shiites killing Shiites, apparently over some sectarian differences. I see a country whose disparate and distrustful groups can reach a brittle agreement only under extreme pressure from the United States—an agreement that almost everyone agrees won’t last beyond the immediate, artificially-created necessity. At the same time, I see the Taliban gathering renewed strength in Afghanistan, and casualties mounting in that country once again. You speak bravely in public of finishing the job in Iraq. But the job you started—and rightly, surely—in Afghanistan remains unfinished too.

So that would be the second monkey, Bush. The one with his hands over his eyes. See no evil. I have to ask you, do you really see the progress you keep talking about? Do you really see a nascent democracy taking root? Do you really see the insurgents on the run? Do you really see this country—our own, that is—as being more secure as a result of your Iraqi war? Do you really see us better protected against the terrorist threat?

Because—excuse me, I know I’m much less well informed than you are—I see none of this, Bush. I see, in every case, the opposite.

As for the third monkey, I can’t let you off that hook, I’m afraid. Your hand is covering everything but your mouth. I hear you speak intemperately, with arrogance. I hear you say things like "Bring ‘em on!" and "Mission Accomplished!" I hear you readily defame others with a smile on your face. I hear you speak with purposeful deception. I have heard you all too often, to put it more bluntly, telling lies.

But anyway, that’s two monkeys, by my count. Hands over ears. Hands over eyes. Hands definitely not over mouth. Think about it. I guess that just about does it for today.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Hot Air from Idaho

What beats me, Bush, reading extracts from your latest speeches in Salt Lake City and Idaho to rally support for your war, is where you find the balls to keep repeating the same old platitudes we’ve heard a hundred times before. And how do you manage get away with it? Oh, I know you have nothing but hand-picked audiences, prepped to roar approval at your every word. But how can you believe this tired old pablum yourself? How can you repeat it with apparent sincerity and conviction?

You say, for example, with a straight face—well, not exactly straight: you can never quite conceal that smug little smirk—that the constitution in Iraq is a "landmark event" in the Middle East. "Producing a constitution is a difficult process," you say, with your customary knack at wild oversimplification: "We know this from our own history. Our Constitutional Convention was home to political rivalries and disagreements."

Oh? Like the differences between Sunnis and Shiite Muslims? And the Kurds? The disagreements between those who want, passionately, to backtrack a millennium, and those who are committed, with equal passion, to join the twentieth century? Between those who want to keep women under wraps, and those who want to set them free from the tradition of restraint? Between those sitting on a wealth of oil and those sitting on empty stretches of desert sand? And the centuries of hatred and mutual mistrust? How can you eke a comparison out of this?

And this Iraqi constitution, I have to say it, Bush, if it does get written and signed to meet an arebitrary deadline, is nothing more than a shotgun wedding demanded by the United States. The absurd haste with which it’s being pushed through bears not the slightest resemblance to the drafting of the Constitution in this country, and it’s disingenuous in the extreme for you to pretend it does.

And that’s not even to mention your continuing misrepresentation of the progress and prospects of your war. The media yesterday reported newly daring raids by the insurgents, a whole new tactic, a "rain of bullets in broad daylight." Your rosy assessments of progress and of the potential for a peaceful, working democracy sound increasingly hollow, Bush; and increasingly far removed from the realities we read about in the press and witness nightly on our television screens. Next time you make a speech, I for one ask that your words be honest and credible in the light of the realities as we know them Is this too much to ask?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Let's Take Him Out

Ah, Bush. We might have known. Pat Robertson reveals himself in his true Christian colors. Let's take him out. Hugo Chavez, that is. The elected leader of another sovereign country. It would be so simple. So much cheaper than another war. And a nice solution to the problem of another socialist in this hemisphere--the last thing we would want. A man who acts on his concern for social injustice, for the poor and hungry. How unchristian of him. Let's take him out. And while we're at it, why not take old Fidel, too? The man could last another twenty years.

Nice. And as yet no condemnation from your lips. Well, actually I can hear you say it now, Bush: "That's the great thing about America, everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Everyone is entitled to speak his mind." Just what you said about Cindy Sheehan. Isn't Pat Robertson entitled to the same treatment as the mother of a dead soldier? Well, no. I don't happen to see it that way. Pat Robertson is not just any person. He ran for President. He speaks to--and for--millions of Americans. It's not too big a stretch to imagine some of them might see his words as a call to action. The man's words should be condemned, Bush. By you. Immediately. Forthrightly. Without reservation. And without waiting for the polls.

Enough for today, Bush. It's Wednesday. Ellie and I are back in town. It's real estate day. Have a good one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Note to Dennis

Dennis, I do appreciate your responses, and have tried to get back to you personally a couple of time, without success. Next time, could you include your email address? Even though I know who you are, an "anonymous" comment on the Blogger will not allow me to respond to entries there; and I'm never sure whether correspondants actually go back to their comment to see if there's a reply...

A Note to Alice

Thanks for finding me. I was very much moved by your response to my 8/19 entry, and send good thoughts to you and your grandson, for his protection. I'm so grateful that you took the time and the trouble to write, and promise that, yes, I'll keep the faith!


Don’t get me wrong, Bush. As you've probably guessed, I’m with Cindy Sheehan all the way. I’m less sure, honestly, whether or not I’m with Carol Ernst, or Jim Terbush: I’m not sufficiently familiar with the facts of their cases. They certainly have my sympathy, because all three of these people have lost loved ones. What bothers me a bit is that each of them is driven to find someone or something to accept responsibility for their loss.

You know about Cindy Sheehan, Bush. I don’t need to tell you about her. And you’ll have heard of Carol Ernst, even if the name doesn’t ring a bell immediately. She’s the woman who won her case against Merck last week, in the death of her husband in connection with the drug Vioxx. The jury awarded her a handsome $253.5 million, as you probably read--with some rising dander! No wonder you’re spending so much of that "political capital" you claim to have earned on protecting your pals in the medical and pharmaceutical industries and their related insurance companies! At this rate, who knows, they could soon go broke!

You may not have heard of Jim Terbush, though. He was featured in yesterday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times as the father of a young man, Peter (I always empathize with someone who shares my name,) who died in a rock-climbing accident in Yosemite. The father, himself a climber, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against your National Park Service, claiming that human intervention in the form of a "bathroom system prone to overflow" at the top of the cliff caused the rockslide that killed his son.

Now I’m not a big anti-lawsuit man, Bush. I’m not one of those fanatics who believe that lawyers and lawsuits are the cause of all of this country’s problems, as some of your cronies seem to do. I do believe that a person should have recourse to the protection of the law to right a wrong, and that lawsuits are a healthy and much-needed deterrent to corporate and business malfeasance. And, as I say, I don’t know enough about the details of the suits brought by Carol Ernst and Jim Terbush to have even a lay person’s opinion as to the rights and wrongs. But I do most genuinely sympathize with them on their loss.

What interests me, though—and, as I say, bothers me some—is the difficulty we Americans seem to have in accepting loss. In good part, I believe this is a perfectly normal human reaction: it’s hard for us to say goodbye to loved ones. We mourn them, and miss having them in our lives. And, not least perhaps, their loss reminds us uncomfortably of our own mortality: not long before it gets to be our turn to leave for parts unknown. Or no place. Or to come back, of course, in some other form, depending on your belief system. Well, not really even that, because who really knows whose belief system happens to be the correct one, from this point of view? You might fervently believe in the Christian idea of Heaven, and still come back as a hairy ape. To my own way of thinking, it’s anybody’s guess.

At the same time, I do think that we tend to take these things a little too far, particularly in America today. It’s almost as though life itself, along with all our other privileges, were an entitlement; should those we love lose it, someone must be held accountable. No matter that death extends no privilege to anyone, and acts with random impunity. Not matter that it seizes young and old, fair and dark, the able-bodied along with the sick and ailing, the smart along with the dolts among us. No matter that, reasonably, in our heads, we know that it’s as inevitable as it is unpredictable. Death is not fair. It’s not even-handed. It doesn’t come when we want it or are ready for it. It’s not judicious. It just is.

At the same time, these facts don’t excuse murder. They don’t excuse playing with the life of any other human. They don’t excuse negligence or carelessness.

So, Bush, I don’t want to spare anyone responsibility for his actions. I certainly don’t want to spare you responsibility for yours, since they affect the lives of everyone on this planet. At the same time, these good people, in their pain and anger come along to remind me, acutely, that the reluctance to accept our loss can sometimes serve no better purpose than to increase our suffering. Please, this is not about them, or the justice of their cause. No. I’m in no position to judge any one of them on this score. It’s more in the way of a simple philosophical speculation on the experience of loss, and how we, as a society, handle it.

I wonder how you think about this problem, Bush? You, who do happen to hold the lives of many in your hands. Who can bring about loss of life with a stroke of the pen. I can’t begin to imagine the responsibility of sending people to their deaths. Yet you managed it fine in Texas, even before becoming President. Perhaps, like those Moslems who preach suicide to young men, your religious faith in an afterlife makes things easier for you, or more reasonable. Me, I’d need a better reason than the ones you’ve offered us thus far.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Did you catch the essay by Elie Wiesel, Bush, in yesterday's New York Times, about the genuine anguish of those Gaza settlers as they were evicted from their homes of nearly forty years? No matter what the rights and wrongs, no matter the international legalities, no matter how badly some of them might have behaved, or even their religious fanaticism, the human situation is fraught with suffering, and for this reason alone these people are deserving of a modicum of compassion.

In this light, the unseemly public demonstrations of glee on the part of Palestinians evoke little sympathy from me. As Wiesel reminds us, it recalls the dancing in the streets when Saddam's SCUD missiles were raining down on non-combattant Israel during the first Gulf war. It's a sad spectacle to observe people gloating over the suffering of fellow human beings, and one which makes it that much harder to remain even-handed in one's response.

The crowing in the streets was echoed, on the political scene, by the trumpeting of outrageous prononouncements by Hamas, claiming that it was their violent actions in the intifada that drove the Israelis to abandon Gaza. Declaring specious victory in this way, they make public avowal of their intention to return to their bloody tactics once the withdrawal is complete--imagining that the slaughter of more innocent civilians will gain them, next, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

To which I say, Bush, watch out. This lion may be taking a voluntary nap, but dancing on what these folks prematurely take to be the corpse will serve only to awaken it with redoubled wrath. And when it comes to returning violence for violence, history has surely made it clear enough that this particular lion is no slouch.

Mahmoud Abbas, to my mind, does no service to the cause of the majority of the Palestinian people by pandering to this fanatical minority, taking the podium to promise loudly that Gaza is only the beginning. This appeal to the passions of a people who--rightly or wrongly, Bush--feel disempowered and cheated of their national heritage, can easily lead to a conflagration that will rage out of control, bringing only further grief to all concerned. This distinctly unclever tactic is generally called shooting oneself in the foot.

I had occasion once to experience the power of collective Palestinian rage at first hand. It was in Berlin, several years ago. Ellie and I had just visited the Holocaust Museum (nice timing!) and were returning to our hotel, when we found the streets blocked by a demonstration--I forget the details of the occasion--against the occupation. Hundreds of Palestinian men led the way, in serried ranks, charging in a phalanx of hot fury through the streets, followed by the women, grouped separately, in a ululating frenzy. The sheer, raw energy of concentrated rage was something that I'll never forget.

I do believe there's right and wrong on both sides of this intractible issue, Bush. I believe that Israel has made terrible mistakes, has behaved, too, with nationalistic arrogance and insensitivity. Even the history of the holocaust does not give them that right. But here, at last, is a door that has opened to allow of mutual respect and conversation. It's simply a shame, in this tit-for-tat provocation, for the Palestinians to turn it into an opportunity for gloating over a non-existent victory. It's their turn to reciprocate--not by capitulating or relinquishing all their future goals--but at least by demonstrating the capacity for a little common humanity and generosity. They'd get a lot further, a lot faster that way.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


As a postscript to yesterday's thoughts about one reader's rant, what a kick to get a different responsive word from Canada (see "Comments," below, to my entry 8/19 entry, "A Stretch".) Thanks for that, xyukoner--and see my responding comment. It's always a treat to hear from readers, especially those in distant places. In the meantime, Bush, I see you decided against accepting my offer of that stretch. You took Lance on a private bike ride, far from the press and the public eye. I'd love to have been, well, not a fly on the wall... No walls to sit on. But maybe a flying bug of some kind, to keep up with the conversation. I gather that Lance wants more money for cancer research, less for the Iraq war. I'm with him, Bush. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bitter Anger

Hmmmm... I wonder, Bush, do these pages express the "bitter anger" I stand accused of by a reader (see "Comments", below)? I know that anger sometimes surfaces, when my judgment is provoked into believing you've done something really stupid or intemperate. That happens, yes. Even then, I try to recognize that the anger's mine. I try to put it out cleanly and not let it come sideways. And I always remember that I'm talking to myself as much as to you. But bitterness? I don't get that. There's a lot of sadness, about the state of things in the world, and a sense of shame, that we all allow ourselves to be led around as easily as we do, by politicians and the media. Bitterness? I honestly don't recognize that in myself. I'd say banter rather than bitterness. Serious banter, perhaps--but good-natured, for the most part. And divisiveness? I'd like to see more honest communication between "left", such as it is, and "right." Less in the way of gratuitous insult, accusation... Anyway, I always intended that the tone of this, our daily dialogue, should be friendly and courteous in its banter, but certainly not bitter. I'm sad to think that readers might interpret it that way. What do you think, Bush? And did you think any more about that stretch? I guess that Lance is visiting there today. Here's wishing you a great ride.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Stretch

In the men's groups that I work with, Bush, we sometimes talk about "offering a stretch." What this means, essentially, is inviting a man to undertake a challenge of some kind, to do something, or say something that he has avoided doing or saying, perhaps out of fear for himself or of hurting another person. A man might, for example, have postponed asking his boss for a raise he believes he deserves. His stretch would be to go to his boss and ask for what he wants. Another man might never have ridden a motorcycle... His stretch would be to learn the ropes, get hold of a bike, and test out his skills. Another might need to tell a friend or a relative to his face that what he's done is wrong, misguided, hurtful.

These are simple examples, of course. Stretches get a lot harder and go a lot deeper than that. I'm explaining it, Bush, because I have a stretch to offer you. (One thing about stretches is that you can choose whether to accept them or not, so the choice is yours.) I have heard that your fellow Texan, Lance Armstrong, is coming to visit you in Crawford tomorrow: perhaps you'll be hopping on your mountain bike to take a ride with this champion of champions. That would be a treat that many of your fellow citizens would give a right arm for. But here's my stretch: you hop on your bike and, with Lance at your side to make things easier for you, you ride on down the road to where Cindy Sheehan is camped out--with as little ceremony and security as possible--and surprise her with a visit.

What to do when you get there? Offer her your hand, call her "Ms. Sheehan," this time, with respect, not "Mom" as you did when you met her before. That was a put-down, Bush. It didn't go down well. Look her in the eye--without that smirk--and tell her that you've been thinking a lot about her, and her son, and that you truly respect and value what she's doing there. Then invite her to sit down with you, at the side of the road if necessary, to talk. Well, actually, not talk: to listen. Invite her to tell you about her son, Casey, and listen silently, with attention to her words. At most, ask a quiet question here and there, and show your respect for both of them. Lance will be there to support you in this. He's a hero himself, unquestioned, and it's well known that he is not in favor of your war, so Ms. Sheehan will feel, perhaps, that she has an important ally at her side, too.

Okay, so you have listened, with quiet respect. Don't forget, Bush: she has said time and again that she's not looking for sympathy. It would be a mistake to try to offer it. I'm guessing that would also feel like a put-down to her. She needs your respectful ear. Then she gets to ask her bottom-line question--the one that no-one seems to understand: nearly every time you read a pundit piece in the paper, they seem to think she wants an apology. No. She wants you to tell her what the "noble cause" is, for which her son had to die. This is the tricky one, Bush, because I know your don't have the answer--least of all, the answer that will satisfy her. Which is why you have risked tarnishing your image to avoid this meeting.

So here's maybe the hardest part of the stretch: you have to ADMIT IT. You have to say something along these lines: "I don't have the answer, Ms. Sheehan. I know that we will disagree on what constitutes a 'noble cause.' I realize that my own justifications, over the months, have shifted. I know that I was badly mistaken, in the first place, in my statements about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's involvement in the 9/11 attacks. I was blinded by what I saw to be the overwhelming evil of a dictator who was known to be killing his own people by the thousands, and I thought to see a 'noble cause' in bringing him down and liberating those whom he oppressed. The biggest mistake I made was in thinking that it was going to be easy. I was naive. I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, that things were a lot more complex than I first imagined, and that my actions have caused disastrous unintended results. As I see it, the 'noble cause' at this point--and I realize that you might disagree, and I do sincerely honor your disagreement--is to make it possible for the Iraqi people to survive this trauma with the least violence and bloodshed possible, and help them create the stability they need to reimagine a way to live together in security and peace. I've sat here listening carefully to what you have to say, and I hope very much that you feel that you've been heard."

Of course, Bush, if your objective from the first was American control of Middle East oil, you can't say any of this with authenticity, and the lack of authenticity will shine through anything you say. If that's the case, I'm sorry, I can't help you. Unfortunately, it might explain your reluctance to sit down with Cindy Sheehan. But if we're to take what you've said all along at its face value--if you have been telling us what you saw to be the truth, and are as bewildered and distressed as the rest of us about the results of your misadventure--then you could do this stretch and come out way ahead. There's no way you can handle things much worse than you're doing now. You're looking like a heartless villain, driven only by political contingencies. If you accept my stretch, you could at least appear more honest, more sympathetic, more human--even more presidential--than you do right now.

When we offer a stretch, in our men's work, we also offer support in the form of some person to check in with, to report on progress and results. So here I am, Bush. Accept the stretch. Get on that bike. And feel free to call on me any time, to let me know how it's working for you. I'll be here.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Did you happen to catch the CBS Evening News last night, Bush? I expect not. You're on vacation down there in Crawford, Texas, and probably don't have time for such things anyway. Even in the regular course of events, I have to say, it sometimes seems as though you don't keep up with the news very much--though I guess CBS is not the best way to do it, right? Case in point, last night: with all the trouble and strife and turmoil affecting countless millions of people throughout the world, guess what they lead with on CBS? The BTK killer in Kansas! Major headline news, his sentencing trial. New sensational details of what he did to whom, and how he did it. Horrible, I grant you. But headline news?

We're back to priorities, Bush. It seems to me often that, as a country, ours are terribly skewed as of this moment in history. When you shell out billions each month for your war and your military research and development while children go hungry in the streets of America, people suffer and die from lack of affordable medical attention, and our education system keeps slipping closer and closer to the bottom of the heap among the wealthy countries of the world. Not to mention the slow but steady erosion of our cultural interests and values. My God, look at the list of summer movies, Bush! Take a look at how our kids' aesthetic values are being formed, with wideo games and television fare! And meanwhile we develop our arsenal of those weapons of mass destruction you're so busy castigating others for.

Priorities. They say a lot about us, and not much of it good. I watch you pandering to the "moral values" of brainless fanatics who believe the world was created in six days, and I have to wonder: is this man really so willfully ignorant as to believe this nonsense? And this is the man this country chose to lead us forward into the twenty-first century?

As for my own priorities, Bush, it must be obvious that our daily conversations are suffering somewhat at the moment from the contingencies of life. I was brief with you yesterday because I was preoccupied with real estate and construction matters up in town. I'll be brief again today because there's so much else I have to catch up with, and my mind is filled with other things. I woke this morning unable to think of anything but the possibility that our old house might have rats in the attic... and what to do about them. So, as Walter Cronkite used to say on the old CBS, before it fell victim to the entertainment business: "That's the way it is."

Take care, Bush. I might have more consequential thoughts for you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Egg on My Face

Well, I'm going to admit to having a fair bit of egg on my face this morning, Bush. I'm talking about that cell phone store. First off, having been so smug about having proved the techie's disgnosis wrong, and walking out of the store with our cellphone seemingly in working order... it ceased to function again almost immediately. Oh, we did manage to coax a couple of calls out of it, but then it started to go haywire again, and by this morning it was pretty much dead to the world. On our way into town to indulge in our weekly nightmare of real estate and contractor business, Ellie's phone rang. It worked well enough to hear that the call came from the real estate office, but not well enough to communicate in intelligible words. Thinking it could be important, we left the freeway to look for a pay phone. A pay phone, Bush, if you can imagine! So 1980s! And hard to find these days. Anyway, it wasn't the important.

Later, though, we did stop by another Verizon shop and the young people couldn't have been nicer or more attentive to our needs. We had three of them helping us make decisions about which new phone to choose, and walking us through a lot of the technical stuff that had mystified us before. So I was wrong to have implied, as I did yesterday, that all Verizon stores are incompetent and uncaring. I offer my apologies to Verizon for my false assumptions, along with this correction.

All of which leads me to reflect, Bush, that we can all make mistakes sometimes. I know how hard it is to admit it, especially when they're big ones which involve an awful lot of people. I won't bug you today by reminding you which of yours I'm hinting at, but you might just want to reflect a little on the subject of making mistakes, and recognizing it, and making up for them in some concrete way. The fact is, you feel much better when you've had he guts and the wisdom to do your make-up. Not that my trivial little experience means much at all. It's just that... well, I want the best for you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Cell Phone Store

Boy, you sure got pasted by Frank Rich last Sunday, Bush! Whew! I only got to read his piece last night because my Sunday Times was not delivered this week, as a result of some dastardly mix-up, and I finally had to go online to read at least this one article on the Op-Ed page. I don't suppose you read it, Bush, did you? A pity, because it asked you in no uncertain terms to recognize what everyone else already knows: your war in Iraq is over. No matter how you try to dress it up or sugar-coat it, things aren't getting better in that conflicted country, Bush. Democracy? Freedom? You've got to be kidding.

Anyway, that's not what I started out to tell you about this morning. Have you ever tried to have a cell phone fixed? Probably not. I imagine you have plenty of people to do that kind of thing for you. But we did, yesterday. I was sitting quietly in the jacuzzi, relaxing the old body after a particularly cruel session at our local gym, when Ellie came over to tend to some plant nearby, leaned over... and, plop, the damn thing fell out of her pocket to the bottom of the pool.

Well, it was dead. We tried to revive it first by taking the battery out and drying the whole thing off with a towel, then with the hair dryer, to see it we could dry out the moisture in between the cracks. No luck. Well, it did finaly switch on, but the keys went all haywire when your pressed them, producing odd results on the read-out screen. A couple of hours later, it did seem to be reviving, at least in the top right corner of the keypad. No sound, but the display lights lit. And gradually, a few keys began to function...

So we decided to take it to the cell phone shop. What a nightmare! We found the shop in an abandoned corner of a huge Orange County shopping mall, and from the outside, the place looked deserted. When we opened the door, though... a mob scene. Unbelievable. It was as though half of Orange County had congregated there to add to their collection of mobile telephones. We were greeted by a nice young woman who seemed anxious to help and listened to our tale of woe with sympathy. Turned out, though, she was the "manager," who told us we needed to talk to the technichal support people in the rear.

We made our way back there. Amazing! Lines of people waiting to have their cell phones checked. A half dozen techies behind the counters, busy with their computer monitors and keyboards, tapping away merrily, checking into their diagnostic systems. Once we got to talk to one of them, he listened briefly to our story and told us that we might as well forget it. A wet cell phone, he informed us, is a dead cell phone. He punched in a few keys, to confirm his diagnosis. Might as well get a new one. We weren't insured, his computer told him: we were, however, "eligible for an update"--at the cost of only a hundred dollars.

But, we told him, some of the keys had seemed to be working. In fact, the problem had now narrowed down to the few keys clustered around the star key, the 7 and the 8. The thing seemed to be drying out. Was it not worth another try? He punched in a few more keys and expressed surprise. The cursed thing was, in fact, back in working order. "But," he assured us, "it will never be the same. Once a cell phone has been immersed, you'll never get the same quality of service from it."

Well, frankly, Bush, we didn't like his attitude. There's enough throwaway goes on in this disposable society. Things are made to last for a couple of years and then fizzle out, and no one seems to object. We're all too happy buying new things, the latest product, the update. This young man had not the slightest hesitation about throwing this device away and buying a new, more expensive, more elaborate one, which would take us another three weeks of intensive work to figure out.

So, no. We turned down his advice and decided to wait to see if the thing dried out. It seemed to be well on its way to recovery. We did stop in the front part of the shop to peruse some of the new devices. Cell phones that take photographs and transmit them. Cell phones that do video. Cell phones that do videoconferencing. Cell phones that fax and email... Cell phones, for all I know, that talk to the moon and Mars. Why not?

But I'm personally not convinced that we need all this stuff, Bush. Cell phones cause enough trouble as it is, with their constant presence and their constant ringing everywhere. But there was the whole of Orange County, busy buying new ones and updating their old. It's enough to drive you bonkers.

Monday, August 15, 2005


I've been meaning to say something about Gaza for some days now. I imagine that you, too, are giving much thought to that conflicted region these days, Bush, as the Israelis enforce the withdrawal from their people's settlements in nthe area. So many conflicting claims and interests there! So much human ego, so much human sense of entitlement and possession, so much human suffering! It's a dire situation, and one that will never be resolved without real sacrifice--both personal and political. And sacrifice is what we humans are least willing to do: we have so much of our sense of self tied up in what we imagine that we own.

Whom to support? With whom sympathize? Even this I find to be a vexing question. I guess my own solution--easy, you'll tell me, at this distance--is not to take sides. To exercise as much compassion as possible for all. For the settlers, who have vested themselves, their lives, their work, their love in this little patch of land that they seem to believe was given them by God. I have little sympathy for the notion that "God" gives us anything--especially at the expense of others: does He not love them equally?--and yet I can see how deep an attachment this belief can create. And it is compounded by the further attachments: to land, to home, to source of livelihood, and so on.

On the other side, who can fail to sympathize with people who have already experienced, years ago, the kind of ejection that the settlers are now called upon to experience for themselves? With people who have experienced real oppression, real deprivation, poverty, and limitations on their freedom. Who have been both the victims and the perpetrators of violence? Who have suffered both from the controlling hand of others, and from the corruption of those who govern them? Their expressions of joy, their triumphalism might appear unseemly, given the suffering of others, but then so might the stubborn defiance of the settlers.

Created by so much historical bad faith and misguided nationalism, it's a situation now where winning involves enormous losses on both sides. Let's hope, Bush, that it can bne resolved this time without bloodshed, and the the withdrawal opens the door for further movement toward peace in this much troubled region. The anger and frustration generated by this conflict are now, as we well know, causing deep disturbances throughout the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More Obfuscation on Iraq

I caught a piece of your radio address yesterday, Bush--the bit where you confessed, piously, to grieving for every (American, I presume) life lost in Iraq, and mourning with those who have lost their loved ones there. A quick nod, I suppose, for PR purposes, in the direction of Cindy Sheehan. I heard also that you sped past her little demonstration in your tinted-glass SUV limo, on your way to a Republican fundraiser. Meanwhile, the crowd of war protesters gathers to support her--along with a growing crowd of your supporters, Bush. This promises to be a media event that you'll live to regret. How hard would it have been to find some way to defuse it? A little private tea party with Cindy? Even that, though, may not have done the trick. This gutsy woman is mad as hell, and she has you by the proverbial short and curlies on this one, Bush. And during your vacation, too! Annoying, huh?

At the same time, the obfuscating tactics re: Iraq continue. "Iraqis are taking control of their country," you announce with glowing rhetoric in your Saturday address: "building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed." What bullshit! On MSNBC online, a "senior official involved in policy since 2003" seemed less rosy in his expectations: "What we expected to achieve," he said, "was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground. We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning." Seems to me, Bush, that you're still lost in the unreality part.

Oh, and I should note, to be fair: CBS news did run, a day late and in the space of about ten seconds, a reference to that interview with Israeli television. And the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about it on page 12 of today's edition--also noting that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hastened to disagree with you. My New York Times has not yet been delivered this morning. But I can't help wondering how the BBC got this a day before the American media. Maybe it's the time difference. Do you think so, Bush?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sabre-Rattling, Again

Here's a puzzle, Bush. The BBC World News led off last night with two items: first, your interview in Crawford, Texas, with an Israeli television reporter; then news of the long-range sniper assassination of the Sri Lankan foreign minister in his own home. Yet somehow, in our home-grown television news, the first rated nary a mention(I happened to have watched CBS; maybe other stations ran it;) and the second ran way down the list of news items, along with other brief mention of events on foreign soil.

I guess it's a question of priorities, another example--albeit perhaps a small one--of this country's obsessive self-involvement. The BBC, in my judgment, took the larger and more comprehensive view, in which events in Sri Lanka ranked in importance with those in other countries, even this one. As you well know, Bush, I have personally been pleading with you for these past several months now to step into that larger view, since the world has now become so small. It's a globe, and what happens in one small part of it will necessarily create waves that affect the rest. This assassination was, if anything, a terrorist act. So why do we, in your much bally-hoo'ed war on terrorism, relegate it (as did today's New York Times) to the second page?

As for the Israeli television interview, it rated no mention at all, that I could see, in the Los Angeles Times, and--just possibly, without attribution--a quick aside in the New York Times in an unrelated article. And yet there you were, rattling the old sabre once again, refusing to rule out the use of force in Iran if the Iranians "refuse to comply with the demands of the free world" to abandon their nuclear plans. You claimed to be "working feverishly" on the diplomatic front--as feverishly as you did in Iraq, Bush, before you invaded?--and added that it was "difficult for the Commander-in-Chief to put kids in harm's way." Difficult? You managed the feat with remarkable ease in Iraq. Force, you added--ingenuously, in my view--"is the last option of any President," but you're willing to use it "as a last resort for people to be able to live in free societies." A last resort? How you have the balls to come up with a statement like this defies the imagination. Anyway, the BBC wondered aloud whether this was a message to the Israelis, since you chose to air these views on Israeli television, or simply a new way to further enrage Iran.

Perhaps, to be charitable to the American media, they decided to ignore what you said because it's simply the same old, tired rhetoric from the great leader and defender of your "free world." I choose not to dwell today, Bush, on what the word "free" has come to mean in this increasingly theocractic oligarchy you're busy creating, out of what was once a plausible democracy. But it does occur to me to wonder, not for the first time, how much of your misguided words and actions these media are prepared to ignore, presumably in the interest of those whose profits they exist to earn. They sure don't seem to exist to inform us any more.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Time for a little mundane reality, Bush. I'm sure you have weighty matters on your mind this morning. On mine, I have just the weight. I mean, literally: pounds. I recall reading a few weeks ago that you had managed to lose several since your last annual physical, and I have to say I envy you the willpower, particularly with all that stress you must be under. I don't approve of much you do--as I expect you will have guessed by now--but I certainly applaud this remarkable achievement. I guess you have help, with all those White House chefs at your disposal, and probably dietary consultants writing up your menus for you. Then there's those reputed two hours of exercise a day. The mountain bike. Jogging. And I imagine that you have a gym wherever you go--even on Air Force One. A couple of trainers... And I know you gave up drinking quite a while ago. That makes a big difference. Even so, with all those affairs of state--not to mention the political dinners!--I'm sure there's no shortage of temptations. You did well.

It's a stressful time for us, too, as you must have gathered by now. To cope with it all, I've been eating and drinking with abandon, just for the comfort that eating and drinking bring. The results are becoming painfully obvious: a distinct protrusion below the sternum, a marked loss of energy, and frequent, sometimes noisy internal reminders that the digestive system is overloaded. I understand that the aesthetic problem is largely one of vanity: I see how other men look with their big bellies--there's an awful lot of them around these days, Bush. Have you noticed?--and the truth is, I don't want to look like they do. I find it distinctly unattractive. And, as it used to be in the days when I was smoking cigarettes, I look around and notice that I have a greater admiration for those men who exercise the self-restraint I lack.

I could, however, disregard the part that has to do with vanity. What I'm finding harder and harder to tolerate is the sheer discomfort of the extra weight, and the loss of energy I associate with it. I have no shortage of excuses: aside from the relief of stress, I take great pleasure in my gourmandise. I love good food, I love good wine. I love to eat heartily, and love to see others indulging in these pleasures. (By the same token, I can't stand sitting with folks who peck at their plates and fuss over every calorie. They drive me potty.) But I can't do it as I used to, with impunity. Until I was forty-five or so, I could eat and drink what I wanted without any visible effect: I was just naturally thin. Or so I thought. But now my metabolism has apparently changed. I drink a single glass of wine and swell up like a balloon.

Anyway, I thought that in making a public declaration of intention, I could maybe shame myself into taking some action on this front. So, Bush, I plan to follow your good example and shed a few pounds. First, the baby steps: smaller portions, no coming back for seconds. I should be able to manage that, and will report back to you in a week or so. You can help to keep me honest. Otherwise, of course, I'd be grateful for any tips you might be willing to share with me. And wish me luck, okay?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Adulation Bubble

Sorry about yesterday, Bush. My head was otherwise occupied, with real estate problems and business with contractors. I woke up with a couple of ideas to pass on to you, but within a few minutes they were gone... I guess you're on vacation, anyway, down in Crawford, so you probably won't have missed our conversation.

A working vacation, as I understand it. A quick trip north to sign your transportation bill at Caterpillar, surrounded by your usual carefully screened audience of fans and fanatics. No matter that the bill itself is stuffed with congressional pork, and that you had threatened earlier to veto it: that would have been a first! It seems you've never met a lavish spending plan you didn't like! It's the other side of the balance sheet that offends you: you know, the income side. Taxes. The wherewithal to pay for everything you lavish money on. Anyway, you managed to spin this one into a great triumph for the American people: jobs, economic growth, even transportation safety. And all those politicians on both sides of the aisle whose districts pulled in a share of the profits sat by and rubbed their hands.

But I wonder what it does to your head, to be surrounded all the time with cheering crowds? I notice that you by-passed Cindy Sheehan, that dead soldier's mother who has been sitting patiently outside your ranch, just waiting for the chance to talk to you. She's going to be a thorn in your flesh, Bush, I promise you, unless you find some way to turn that, too, into your personal gain: invite her in for a cup of tea, perhaps, during a break in your brush-clearing work. A nice photo op, so long as you keep smiling and keep the conversation private. But I think this mother might be angry enough to make that difficult for you. You might be in a no-win situation here.

Which brings us back to Iraq. The news this morning was not good, Bush. Thirty-five Americans killed so far this month. And God knows how many Iraqis. And now you're expecting a brand new constitution by Monday? With continuing internal and sectarian strife? I heard one of your supporters in a radio interview yesterday, praising you for having brought religious liberty to the country. Does this guy listen to the news? Does he read a newspaper? Religious freedom? With the Shiite majority, supported by their neighboring theocracy, Iran, pushing for their own theocratic state? With Sunnis killing Shiites, and some of those Shiites (in Basra, remember last week's entry, Bush?) fanatical enough to feel justified in killing those who fail to share their religious views?

And yet you continue to assert that things are getting better, and to suggest that we'll soon be able to leave Iraq to the Iraqis. And there are apparently people who believe you! Yet it was only yesterday that one of your military people over there was quoted saying that it would be "several years" before the Iraqi military and police would be able to take care of security in their country. And how could we expect any different, when our own highly trained military obviously can't do the job themselves?

The real question is whether you really believe this nonsense you keep spouting to the American people, Bush? Are you so completely enclosed in the adulation bubble your people have created for you that you actually don't know what's going on? Or--the only other possibility--are you so cynical that political contingency is more important to you than integrity and truth? In which case, I predict that it will all come back to haunt you one day. By that time you may perhaps have left office. It may take years, or even decades. There's no question in my mind, however, but that so much untruth, so much deception, so much bad faith will eventually build up into a mountain of bad karma for this country, and that we will all be called upon to suffer dearly for having allowed you to live with impunity in your adulation bubble, at the expense not only of your country, but the rest of the world.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Another Fine Mess

I caught myself this morning wondering--with a heavy dose of guilt, Bush--whether it might not have been better for your predecessor in office to carry through with his tentative attack plans, on North Korea, in 1994, rather than be deterred by former President Jimmy Carter's well-intentioned personal intervention at the time, which led to the compromise of accepting promises that everyone knew, presumably, would be broken. Then I realized of course that what I was entertaining was nothing short of a "preemptive" strike not dissimilar from the one that led you into Iraq: we were dealing with a vicious, and possibly insane dictator who was giddily slaughtering all those who dared to disagree with him, and even those who didn't; with supposed weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, biological, and chemical (how sure were we at the time, twelve years ago, that Kim Jong Il already possessed these in his arsenal? I don't know); and with the fear that he would pass these weapons along to terrorists.

I'm wondering, too, to what extent your misadventure in Iraq has encouraged countries like North Korea and Iran in their weapons programs? It may be, on the one hand--having been identified by you, Bush, along with Iraq, as a part of the "axis of evil"--that they are genuinely concerned for their security against invasion, and justify their acquisition of weapons in that light. It may be, too, that they have watched the U.S. military expend a good deal of its potential in Iraq, to little avail, and are encouraged to believe that they, too, can face down even this powerful enemy with a little defiance and deterrent. Whatever the reason, both these countries seem well down the path toward the nuclear nightmare.

So far as North Korea is concerned, it seems clear that we're trying to play the conventional diplomatic games with a man who is totally contemptuous of them. The six-nation option, as I understand it, is now exhausted; and, having demanded bi-lateral talks with the U.S., and now on the verge, perhaps, of getting them, the North Koreans could well end up rewarding us by spitting in our eye. If the only danger were aggression on their part, we could perhaps leave the region and let all the parties stew in their own juice. But my understanding is that aggression is not the only, nor the most immediate danger. The greater threat, by far, is that this Beloved Leader will, in desperation, in the face of economic disaster, turn to selling his weaponry to the highest bidder--a far greater and certainly more immediate threat than the one you attributed to Saddam.

So how do you talk to someone bent on thumbing his nose at you? It might have been easier, Bush, had you not verbally humiliated him some time ago. This man is not one to readily swallow an insult or bury a grudge. And with the example of your failed aggression in Iraq, you've handed this monster almost all the cards. You can't even credibly use play that pre-emptive strike card again, since all the world, including doubtless Kim Jong Il, knows to what extent American military might has been depleted. And besides, this particular dictator is far better armed, and far better prepared to defend and retaliate than Saddam ever was. Aside from the certainty of his possessing weapons of mass destruction of all kinds, this guy has a huge army and special forces which, by all accounts, put Saddam's Republican Guards to shame.

All of which leads me back to a point I've made countless times in the past: we need a new paradigm, Bush. The old paradigm of saber-rattling and the threat of war doesn't cut it any more. It's simply irrelevant to our predicament these days. Just like your energy plan, which notably avoids addressing the central problem facing the world today, and instead perpetuates the old, irrelevant thinking that got us into this trouble in the first place, your "foreign policy" is beside the point. Who was it I was quoting a few weeks ago? Damn it, Bush, I forget. My memory is not serving me as it used to. But I remember clearly enough what it was he said: there is no "foreign policy" any more. The world is already too small. It's not about nations. It's all about the globe.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Time, Time...

... said old King Tut, is something I ain't got anything but (a quick nod here to Don Marquis and Mehitabel: if you don't know about them, Bush, let me know, and I'll catch you up one day.) Anyway, listen, I always find it interesting to watch how the mind gets around to what it needs to pay attention to on any given day. This morning, for example, mine was busy stewing over its long list of current woes for a full hour before it came to rest on what I had been watching the night before on the Discovery Channel: two programs, back to back, the first on asteroids and the second on the journey (sorry, Bush!) from ape to man.

The first of the two had to do with geological time, the billions of years of cosmic history, the formation of rocks and planetary features, the relationship of this planet we call home to the rest of the evolving universe, and the potential threat of wandering asteriods to the survival of our species. I was much moved by the story of Eugene Shoemaker and his wife, Carolyn, who had devoted their lives to this study: apparently, not long after a moment of culminating triumph, with the landing of a space probe on the surface of an asteroid in the late 1990s, Shoemaker was killed in a car accident in Australia while studying impact craters here on earth. Interviewed later, it seems in connection with the current television program, Carolyn reflected somberly that, in the context of geological time, we humans have been on this planet for only a very short time, and added poignantly that we have no certainty of being here very mugh longer, either.

The second program--your evolutionists and intelligent design freaks notwithstanding, Bush--traced the history of the development of the human species, working backwards from the discovery, in the mid 19th century, of Neanderthal remains dating back some four thousand years to more recent work identifying humanoid remains from as many as two million years ago! The scientific evidence allows of little doubt that humankind has been around a good while longer than the six thousand years allowed by the Bible story; and was somewhat more primitive in evolutionary terms than your Adam and Eve.

What came to me this morning was the fortuitous juxtaposition of these two different perspectives on time: for Carolyn Shoemaker, the cosmic scientist, those two million years of human history--such a vast span to those who studied human history and palentology--was no more than the blink of an eye. And there I was, this very morning, agonizing over the span of the past couple of months, and the next couple, in my own life. Suddenly my problems seemed to loom less large, my worries about money, real estate... Suddenly those feelings of frustration and depression that had been creeping up on me seemed a fraction less overwhelming, a fraction less vital to the well-being of the universe.

It may be a bit trite to suggest this, Bush, but would it not be worthwhile to take a look at your country and its business in this perspective, sometimes? To look at your war that way? Because the bigger news, surely, has to do with the planet, and its survival prospects, given the way we humans are abusing it. It's quite possible, certainly, given our propensities for self-destruction, that we may not be around for very much longer, as Carolyn Shoemaker suggests. Question is, will we leave a habitable planet behind us when we go? And, in the big context of the cosmos, with its supernovas, does it matter very much if we do? Food for thought, Bush, on this Monday morning. No?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

In Memoriam

August 6: A meditation

So listen: you wake
to the sound of a single aircraft
thrumming its way toward your city
through the morning skies. At your side
your wife is awakened also, by the sound,
and rouses, alarmed, her first instinct
the protection of your children.
But you calm her, bringing your hand
gently, to touch her shoulder, the long fall
of her hair, reassuring her, with love in your eyes.
A single aircraft. You recall the stories
of skies blackened with them, bombers,
thousands of them, coming
in wave after wave over Tokyo;
of the thick rainfall of bombs, high explosives,
incendiaries; the firestorm; the terror.
You have heard all this, and the sound, now,
of the approaching aircraft brings with it
a sense of dread, yes, in your heart, but in your head
you reassure yourself, thinking,
a single aircaraft, this cannot be too bad.
So you lie back down, the two of you,
on your tatami mats, gazing into each other's eyes,
not knowing, of course, unable to know
that this will be the last time.
Gazing into the beauty of her face,
you think, for one single, improbable moment
of making love. Then it happens:
what someone later described as a blinding white flash,
an infinitessimal second of unimaginable silence.
Then the din, unbearable. The shock waves, worse
than any earthquake, the heat
searing your flesh. Your wife, incomprehensibly
lies dead beside you. You hear,
from the children's room, the stark screams
of pain and terror.The walls of your house
are suddenly sheer flames,
and you find youself running, through them,
to find your children. You find them.
The flesh on their bodies, on their faces,
incomprehensibly, is seared.
And you realize now, to your horror,
that yours, too, is seared, that the skin
is peeling from your face, as it is from theirs.
You dare not touch them. You would want
to seize them in your arms, to comfort them,
but you dare not reach for them, for fear
their small bodies would disintegrate
at your touch. Instead, you lead them,
screaming still, out from the flames
that were your house, and into the flames
that were your street. Below,
where you once enjoyed, from this hillside
at the outskirts, a fine view of your city,
a glow illuminates a vast circle
... of nothing. The great path of the river
snakes through... nothing. Incomprehensibly,
the city is gone, the great buildings...
gone. There is nothing left, now,
but the afterglow that seems
in some ominous, unearthly way,
to palpitate, to reach out towards you,
grasping at you, and your children,
and your neighbors, those who survived,
as they begin to gather now, their eyes
uncomprehending, searching among the ruins
for their wounded and their dead.

So, Bush, I need to ask you: what would you have done, on this day, back in 1945? With your finger on the trigger? With American lives at stake? A vain question, perhaps. The real question, the hard one, is what would I have done, with that power at my disposal? The power of life or death over tens of thousands of civilians... or tens of thousands of military men? Imponderable... And yet we have still not learned. We still repeat that vapid "Never again," and go right back to doing it again. At least I hope that you, Bush, as a praying man, said a prayer today for all those who died, and are still dying to this day, from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Two Things...

…today, Bush. First off, I wonder if you caught a glimpse of this picture of your good self in yesterday’s New York Times? I have to say, it gave me a good chuckle. What a composition, Bush! I love the way the lights above create the halo for your head, like signs from heaven. I love the way you’re looking up and out, slightly to the right, as though inspired by some distant, unseen being. I love the way your mouth, with the two gleaming microphone heads, has become robotic, the way your hands reach out, as if in blessing, to either side of the podium, and the way the geometric podium replaces your torso, giving you… well, a frankly packaged look. And the way the Seal of the President of the United States takes pride of place, where your heart might have been, had it been open. I love the lettering behind you, partially obscured by your hands, that must read, on the one hand, "American," and on the other "Council"—although the latter might also have been "Courage," if not more clearly defined by the picture’s caption: "President Bush used the phrase ‘war on terror’ five times yesterday in a speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council."

It seems you wanted to correct the impression created by some folks in your administration, including your Rumsfeld and your general of the Air Force, Richard B. Myers, that your war had been downgraded to a "global struggle against violent extremism." Oh, no. "Make no mistake about it," you repeated. "We are at war." You clearly want it understood by one and all: as you reiterated frequently during your re-election campaign, you are a war president. Okay, Bush. We get it.

As for the second point, I realize after posting yesterday’s entry about Steven Vincent that there was something I had implied but not quite said: his death was the first, I think, in this war, that I took personally. I mentioned that we had in common the fact that we were both free-lancers, art writers; and that in reading his work I identified in it a quality that I myself aspire to, having to do with clarity and honesty. What I didn’t quite recognize—and it took Ellie to point it out to me—was that we had both responded in the same way to a crisis of conscience, he after watching the towers fall on 9/11, myself after your election. Like Vincent, I had the strong feeling that I needed to do something, and like him, albeit many months later, I started a weblog.

Which leads me to this simple but poignant insight: in these entries that I write daily in my blog, I am able to speak my truth with impunity. This brave man did no more than speak his truth, and it got him killed.

Two Things...

…today, Bush. First off, I wonder if you caught a glimpse of this picture of your good self in yesterday’s New York Times?

I have to say, it gave me a good chuckle. What a composition, Bush! I love the way the lights above create the halo for your head, like signs from heaven. I love the way you’re looking up and out, slightly to the right, as though inspired by some distant, unseen being. I love the way your mouth, with the two gleaming microphone heads, has become robotic, the way your hands reach out, as if in blessing, to either side of the podium, and the way the geometric podium replaces your torso, giving you… well, a frankly packaged look. And the way the Seal of the President of the United States takes pride of place, where your heart might have been, had it been open. I love the lettering behind you, partially obscured by your hands, that must read, on the one hand, "American," and on the other "Council"—although the latter might also have been "Courage," if not more clearly defined by the picture’s caption: "President Bush used the phrase ‘war on terror’ five times yesterday in a speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council."
It seems you wanted to correct the impression created by some folks in your administration, including your Rumsfeld and your general of the Air Force, Richard B. Myers, that your war had been downgraded to a "global struggle against violent extremism." Oh, no. "Make no mistake about it," you repeated. "We are at war." You clearly want it understood by one and all: as you reiterated frequently during your re-election campaign, you are a war president. Okay, Bush. We get it.

As for the second point, I realize after posting yesterday’s entry about Steven Vincent that there was something I had implied but not quite said: his death was the first, I think, in this war, that I took personally. I mentioned that we had in common the fact that we were both free-lancers, art writers; and that in reading his work I identified in it a quality that I myself aspire to, having to do with clarity and honesty. What I didn’t quite recognize—and it took Ellie to point it out to me—was that we had both responded in the same way to a crisis of conscience, he after watching the towers fall on 9/11, myself after your election. Like Vincent, I had the strong feeling that I needed to do something, and like him, albeit many months later, I started a weblog.

Which leads me to this simple but poignant insight: in these entries that I write daily in our blog, Bush, I am able to speak my truth with impunity. This brave man did no more than speak his truth, and it got him killed.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Steven Vincent

I can't tell you how saddened and appalled I am, Bush, to hear news of the murder in Basra of Steven Vincent. Coming along with reports of the death of 14 Marines, it brought me to the brink of despair at the dreadful, seemingly endless mess you have created in Iraq. If you remember our Monday conversation, Bush, I quoted--regrettably without mentioning his name--from a piece that Vincent wrote for the op-ed page of Sunday's New York Times about the growing power of the mullahs in Basra, the corruption of a police force dominated by religious fanatics, and the laissez-faire attitude of the British occupiers there. It was a bleak picture, based on Vincent's tireless investigation into the predicament of ordinary Iraqis trying to get on with the business of their lives.

This was the first article I had read of Vincent's, to my knowledge, and I paid scant attention to the author's name. It was only after reading about his death that I checked him out, and discovered that we had one thing at least in common: like me, he was a free-lance writer, and he wrote about art--until the experience of watching the second airplane fly into the World Trade Center in New York persuaded him there were more important things for him to do. The fact that his Sunday article spoke to me so strongly was in part that old "I-wish-I-could-have-written-that" syndrome. I was filled with admiration for the courage of a man dedicated--and foolhardy--enough to write such a piece in the full knowledge that it could get him into very serious trouble.

But there was something about the quality of his writing, too. Call it the ring of truth. It had the kind of transparency and clarity to which I myself aspire. No "literature." No tricks. No adornment. Just straight language, perhaps even a little understated, but used to maximum effect. It was only after I heard about Vincent's murder, though, that I took the trouble to check him out, discovering his web log , In the Red Zone, and some of his online articles. Talk about "fair and balanced," Bush! This was no knee-jerk liberal opponent of your war. In fact, I discovered that he had been an "enthusiastic supporter" of the invasion of Iraq--as I understand it, in the interest of liberating people from tyranny and fanaticism. Unlike most other reporters, he chose to live in Basra for an extended period, at increasing risk to his own safety, in order to understand in greater depth what he had chosen to write about.

The picture of post-invasion Iraq that emerges from his writing--at least from those few articles I have been able to read--is a depressing one indeed. But it's also even-handed. This is no blame-America-first stuff, Bush, you'll be happy to hear. To the contrary, Vincent insistently holds the mirror up to the Iraqis themselves, exposing their blame-America recriminations for what they are: a pretext for refusing any responsibility for their own plight. He writes about the daily experience of ordinary people, based on his conversations with them. He writes about the shortage of electricity, the closing of a hospital emergency clinic because of endemic abuses, the mounting piles of garbage, the "self-defeating behaviors" of Iraqi citizens who find it easier to blame others than take care of themselves. What he paints is not a pretty picture, and its unvarnished truth is likely what led directly to his death.

I think if he and I got involved in a political discussion, Bush, we'd find a good number of points of disagreement, but I don't question the man's integrity or his courage. His writing addresses the realities of the situation over there with unsparing honesty. It's a healthy reminder of the complexity of post-war Iraq, and of the power of conflicting passions and interests there. It's also a much-needed corrective to both the sensationalism of the media and the rosy predictions we get from those who have an interest in protecting you and your policies from criticism.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Wawabo

I have a brilliant money-making concept for you Bush, and I'll pass it on to you as a freebie, no strings attached. Consider it a gift. It's called the Wawabo, short for the trendy-looking, infinitely re-usable, WAshable WAter BOttle. Get it, Bush? The Wa-wa-bo.

Don't laugh, okay. I'm serious. It could make you billions AND save the world. First you get your Wawabo designed by a Philippe Stark or a Frank Gehry--one of those guys: this part is worth a good investment on your part, because that's what gets the trend-setters hooked--then you work on your foks in Congress to introduce a bill to ban the manufacture, production, distribution, or importation of those disposable plastic water bottles that everyone uses. There's no way you can tell the difference in taste between any of those products: they've proved that. So then you activate your long-neglected drinking fountain manufacturers' lobbyists to demand the immediate renovation, reinstallation and reactivation of drinking fountains in all work-places and public spaces, interior and exterior, throughout the country. (You could also have your design people modify existing models to incorporate a quick-filling Wawabo device, for the convenience of those of us who are always in a hurry.) Then you're set to go.

It's a natural, Bush, no? I mean, it's a given that designer has to come up with one of those sure-fire, everyone-has-to-have-one images--in a variety of sizes, of course. But then think of the marketing possibilities! People really latch on to save-the-world stuff these days, and this is a really green idea. Right? I mean, number one, think of the fossil fuel savings, replacing all these disposable plastic bottles with a single keeper. That must be billions of barrels per year, right there.

Then there's the world-wide poluution problem you'd be helping to solve. Remember when I was in Egypt, Bush, and I wrote to you about all those tourist water bottles polluting the Nile, the Pyramids... even the Valley of the Kings, for God's sake? I mean, this is a problem of truly global proportions. All over the planet there are these heaps of ugly, non-degradable objects lying discarded in the city streets and country by-ways, in the rivers and the oceans, on the mountainsides. Did you watch the Tour de France, Bush? Did you see those guys just chucking their water bottles carelessly by the side of the road when they were done with them? Disgraceful! Those damn bottles are everywhere. What a benefit to mankind, to be rid of that pestilence.

And then, not least, there's a way to spend all that money saved. I read the other day that the world spends $42 billion a year--that's billion, Bush, with a 'b', like you--on the bottled water industry; and for a fraction of that annual expense, one time, we could actually provide clean drinking water for all those undeveloped countries where people are dying from the diseases carried in their water supply. I realize this might be a lesser consideration for some of your backers, Bush, but at the very least it would be a brilliant PR angle, wouldn't it?

Listen, what if you could get your Cheney interested in this, for Halliburton? I think he'd really go for the idea, if you talked it up a bit, in the right way. Let me know what he thinks, okay?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


That’s just plain sneaky, Bush, the recess appointment of your Bolton. I might have said I was disappointed in you, but that would have implied certain expectations that I really didn’t have. Knowing you as we do, after watching you operate for five years—and more, given the 2000 non-election—we can hardly be surprised. The lack of surprise, though, doesn’t mitigate the feeling of disgust, that you feel free to end-run not only the experience and wisdom of the U.S. Senate, but the opinion of the majority of your constituents, the American public. Thanks for spitting in our eye, once again. Great to have a President who listens to the will of those who granted him a second term. Enough for today. I have my own affairs to attend to, and I’m just too pissed to give you any more of my time.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Hornets' Nest

Well, Bush, it's my birthday. Without being too coy about it, let's just say I'm beginning a new decade--starting with the 9, of course, not with the zero: I had already lived a year when I was one year old, so I calculate that way. And while I can't help but notice certain changes in my body, it's amazing how young I continue to feel in heart and spirit. I think I've gained an ounce or two of wisdom, too, along with the inevitable body bulge--though I realize we might be in disagreement on this point. I do see things from a broader perspective than I used to, and I find myself more forgiving of myself and others, more tolerant of opinions and attitudes other than my own.

I guess you'd be the prime beneficiary of that, Bush. Some readers of these journals complain that I'm too kind to you. They want more Bush-bashing. As recently as yesterday--if you read the comments, Bush--a reader wrote to let me know that it was okay to be angry. And you should have heard Bill Maher last night, in a performance broadcast from Portland, Oregon! Talk about pitiless! It's not that I disagree with those who are angry at you, Bush. It's just that I know my own voice these days. I've learned a lot of things from ten years of meditation practice, and one of them is to have compassion for my enemies. The Christian religion teaches much the same, Bush, as I recall: wasn't it Jesus Himself who said we should love our enemies? If there's one thing I could wish for you on my birthday, it would be that you learn to heed this most basic of Christian lessons.

Anyway, listen, if you want to scare your own pants off, Bush, there are two pieces in the "Week in Review" section of Sunday's New York Times that will do it for you. The first, "Iraq Dances With Iran, While America Seethes," describes the increasingly cozy relationship between Shiite leaders in these two countries, and "the shadow of theocracy " that is threatening the constitutional process in Iraq. Your Rumsfeld's surprise visit there earlier in the week, it seems, was calculated to deliver "a blunt message" to Iraqi leaders, to be "more aggressive in opposing the 'harmful' meddling of Iran."

Good luck with that, I say. The second piece, "Switched Off in Basra," describes how "Basra politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr." It seems that a majority of the police in Basra are now aligned with religious parties, and their loyalties are more with the latter than with the secular government. Meanwhile, the British occupation forces there take a hands-off approach, leaving in serious doubt the security of the Sunni minority--and the possibility of anything approaching the kind of secular democracy you had so naively envisioned. Watch out for the erosion of womens' rights, minority rights, and the enshrinement of sharia law. And don't hold your breath, waiting to be thanked for your "liberation."

You have to be aware by now that the big stick you thought you could carry with impunity in the (oil-rich!) Middle East has done nothing but stir up an angry hornets' nest. And it looks to be too late--and you, Bush, look to be too stubborn--to get us out of there before we all get seriously stung.