Friday, March 31, 2006


We had lunch yesterday, Bush--in glamorous Beverly Hills!--with a friend who also helps us keep our financial house in order. Actually, he's as much of a therapist as anything, because it's the old hangups and patterns that stand between us and a sense of comfort with what money is all about, and how to use it. As I've mentioned before, I myself was brought up in England during World War II, and the mantra in those days was "waste not, want not." There were severe shortages of everything, including food, and waste was the greatest sin imaginable. My father, too, was earning less than a pittance as a country priest, and my mother's favorite expression still resonates for me: "But... that costs the earth!"

Old thought patterns die hard, as you probably know, so those attitudes continue to pervade my own relationship with money and possessions. You don't deserve to get what you don't absolutely need. And once you have it, well, you don't just chuck it away when it wears out a bit and needs fixing. I can't begin to guess the amount of hours my mother spent darning socks for the family. Consequently, I have a lot of trouble adjusting to a society in which obsolesence is built in to everything we buy, and where much of it is simply designed to be disposable.

But that's not what I set out to write about this morning. I was planning to talk a bit about our lunch-time conversation. Our friend is, let's say, a tad more to the right in his political leanings than myself, and it's always good to have that conversation with someone who fairly radically disagrees with you. He calls himself "a numbers man" because he understands the numbers in a way I myself could never hope to. But I think he's probably undervaluing himself if he believes he's just about the numbers, because our conversation had to do not only with politics and his view of the economic outlook of this country and the world, but also--and primarily, really--to do with basic philosophy and ethics.

I have to tell you, Bush, that this friend of ours nurses a healthy, even angry disregard for politicians of all stripes--including, I regret to have to tell you, your good self. The main topic of the day was immigration, which is not surprising, given that it seems to be what's on the national table at the moment. I hope I don't misrepresent him when I say that he rejects the argument that illegal immigrants are bringing economic value with them when they cross the border, or that they're performing work that Americans won't do. He suggests that Americans would be glad to take those jobs if the wages were boosted in proportion to the public and corporate money that is spent on servicing the social needs of those same immigrants. He is not happy that the money he pays in taxes is used for such things as food stamps and medical services for those who break the law--a deed for which they should not be rewarded by allowing them to jump the line which many thousands of others patiently join in their desire to enter the country legally. He presents, in other words, a deeply-felt moral was well as a realistic financial argument.

The fact of the matter, Bush, is that I can't dispute much of what our friend has to say. It is undeniably a complex problem, which resists easy answers. My own points were two-fold. First, as I have mentioned elsewhere in these journals, illegal immigration is happening not only here in the United States but throughout the world, in good part as a result of unchecked population growth. People are simply desperate to make ends meet, to provide for their families, to better the circumstances of their lives. Whole populations are on the move because we humans have created a world in which the distinction between the haves and the have-nots is increasingly painful and consequential for the latter. They can hardly be blamed for seeking so desperately some share in the well-being that the rest of us enjoy. Immigration laws, in the light of this world-wide movement, are pitifully inadequate to address the need for rational controls.

My second point addressed a different cultural issue--the fact that immigrants are not the only scofflaws, nor indeed the most significant or the most threatening to the values of our society. Those same politicians whom our friend disdains are, as he readily agrees, "a bunch of crooks" whose only concern is re-election and the money to finance it. Our president--yes, Bush, excuse me--even our president feels free to ignore those laws which he deems inconvenient to follow. Our corporate leaders are no better than our politicians, lying, extorting, spinning the facts to maximize their profits. And, let's face, even our littler selves can hardly boast of our obedience to the laws we readily blame others for contravening. How many of us routinely break the traffic laws, at the cost of others' convenience, and sometimes even life or limb? How many of us fudge, just a little bit, around the edges of the tax laws?

We live in a world where all of us seem to be skirting in different ways around the laws we have created for our common safety, a world where the problems are enormous and the solutions few. From this bigger perspective, illegal immigration seems to me just one more problem for which our traditional legal systems no longer provide realistic or manageable answers. We have work to do, and it's not restricted to giving the old heave-ho to those pesky immigrants. A good part of it, I personally insist, has to do with learning to control our populations. Are you ready for that?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Great News

Great news this morning about Jill Carroll, Bush! I'm just delighted to hear that she has been freed. What an ordeal she's been through. Otherwise, no big thoughts from me this morning. How about you? I hear you're headed down below the border to talk immigration. Hope to hear some good results from that. Be well.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Big Shake-Up

Ah, Bush, finally, the great shake-up in your adminstration that we've all been asking for so long! Andrew Card is out, with appropriate accolades from the boss for his great service to the country, and your former budget director, Joshua B. Bolten, is elevated to be your Chief of Staff. Well, for a Californian not unused to tremors, I'd rate this possibly a generous 1.5 on the Richter scale--with of course the possibility of greater aftershocks. We can always hope. (Hint: what about your Rumsfeld? Your Cheney?)

Okay, so the man rides a motorbike. A risk-taker, then. A man who likes adventure. And keeps a copy of "Walter the Farting Dog" on the coffee table in his office to shock visitors. Phew! The man is really working close to the edge with that one, Bush! Fart! Not a word we hear too much on the lips of the Christian right. Your evangelicals must be truly horrified.

He is, however, we are reassured to hear, another of those close old chums you like to keep around you; we can be sure that nothing too consequential of dramatic will result from this appointment. Congratulations. This, obviously, is what we all wanted to hear--those of us who have been clamoring for change at the top. A new Bush groupie. Exactly what was needed. Personally, Bush, I'm not stocking up on survival supplies while I wait for those aftershocks.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Another Martyr?

Given his "testimony" in court yesterday, it seems clear that Zacarias Moussaoui is intent on spectacular martyrdom--and on making a public mockery of this country's legal system in order to achieve it. My own thoughts probably won't respond to popular sentiment, Bush, but I say mercy is the only practical strategy that would foil his intention.

Martyrdom, as I see it, would work with as deadly efficiency as a suicide bomb. Think of the international publicity, Bush, if this man is condemned to death by an American jury. Think of the outcry, even among otherwise moderately friendly nations who oppose capital punishment. If we actally execute him, imagine the surge of fury in the Muslim world, the accusations of hypocrisy and double standards. Sure, as you so delicately put it the other day, nobody likes beheadings. But nobody out there in the rest of the civilized world much likes lethal injections either. And what about the probable rush amongst younger Islamic men--perhaps not yet radicalized but ripe for the plucking--to join the ranks of Al Quaeda or some similar band of fanatics?

So why not instead send the man to prison for the remainder of his days? To spare his life, it would seem to me, would offer a different view of America. It would disempower those who stand ready to judge us out of their hatred. It would present the image of a country sober and mature enough to sacrifice primitive blood vengeance in favor of a more humane form of punishment. It would show that we are above being manipulated by the ravings of a madman, and that our legal system is truly about justice, not revenge.

I'm hoping, Bush, that the jury will not take advantage of Moussaoui's own crazed words to justify his execution, and will substitute their own calm wisdom for his intemperate hatred. I'm hoping they will deny him what he's so obviously asking for--their pitiless condemnation--and offer him instead the more severe punishment of their mercy.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Half a Million

Half a million, Bush! That's an impressive number. That number turned out in Los Angeles alone in solidarity with the twelve million undocumented workers living in this country. It surely has to tell you something. I think it's a number that you, Bush, personally understand--at least from the political point of view. I'd like to think there's a little of that old "compassion" in there, too. But there are those in your party who apparently understand neither the numbers nor the humanitarian implications. This week, it seems, you're in for another showdown with those Republican leaders who, like your Frist, are out to get stricter rules and more severe penalties.

The other thing they seem not to understand is that oppression never works. Not in the long run. In the short term, it might seem to be effective. In this case, that would look like tightening the borders, increasing the border patrol, catching the "illegals" and sending them back home. And building a wall to keep them out in the future. No way, though, that a wall will succeed in keeping people out. All it will do is create another negative image of this country in the eyes of the world. It was fine, of course, to "tear down that [Berlin] wall." We fought a Cold War for years over that Iron Curtain. And now we want to erect one of our own? What kind of hypocritcal nonsense is that?

I want to believe that you have your heart in the right place on this one, Bush. A guest worker program is a promising beginning to a humane approach to the issue--and it would help you out with your business friends, who understand that they need warm bodies to do the work Americans no longer want to do. Amnesty, I believe, is a good second step. This would be a start along the right track. We're not dealing with criminals here, Bush, no matter how much your conservative friends would like to criminalize them. Witness the extraordinary responsibility with which they took to the streets at the weekend. No riots. No violence. No a hint of criminality. Just peaceful protest. Half a million of them. In Los Angeles alone. These people do more than just take care of our least desirable work. They bring us the spirit of their humanity, and we could sure use a little more of that.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


This was definitely spooky, Bush. We had woken early and were watching CBS Sunday Morning, which starts at six o'clock in the morning hereabouts--too early, usually, for our taste, but George the dog had decided this was the day to get us out of bed for a timely walk and breakfast. Anyway, it's always a nice show so we decided to switch on and watch it over a quiet cup of tea. A good piece on the Hassidic reggae singer from Brooklyn, and another on the Dada exhibition that just opened at the National Gallery in Washington. (You should take the time to see that one, Bush: in case you might not remember, that feisty, sometimes scurrilous art movement came out of the horrors of the first World War and the virulently anti-war sentiment in nourished among artists.)

Then came an editorial piece about humor and religion (sorry, I was not quick enough to catch the name of the editorialist, but she was calm, balanced, effective.) She had an interesting topic, too, in the light of those world-wide riots following the publication of cartoons, in Denmark, caricaturing the prophet Mohammed. All went well until she got to a discussion of the "South Park" gulling of Scientology and its chief celebrity proponent, the actor Tom Cruise. Just as she got to the meat of the matter--and presumably a couple of relevant clips from the cartoon itself--the screen went green, and the images substituted by a verbal "THIS IS A ONLY A TEST" message which lasted only long enough to block out the better part of her argument.

It's not that I'm a suspicious soul by nature, Bush, but the timing was just too convenient--and the production quality of the blocking message just a bit too unprofessional, too un-network-ilke--to believe that this was anything but an intrusion by a person or persons other than the broadcaster. Definitely spooky. Does this have something to tell us about the reach of Scientology, and about their determination to suppress any hint of criticism? Does it have something to tell us, too, about the technological vulnerability of even the network broadcast media to anyone with the skill and the will to manipulate thier product?

I'm wondering if there will be any follow-up on this. Was the intrusion only in our area? Was anyone else as spooked as me, or did everyone just accept this timely interruption as an inconsequential media glitch? I thought I might put in a call to the local CBS station to inquire. I'll let you know if I find out anything of interest. Meantime, Bush, have a good Sunday. I'm not about to make fun of YOUR religion. Not this morning. After all, someone might be watching me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Save the Penis

Have you heard the term Humpty Dumpty, Bush? Not the one in the nursery rhyme. Well, not quite. A Humpty Dumpty, in the lingo of the medical staff at field hospitals in Iraq, is an Improvised Explosive Device victim so badly blown apart that they have no hope of putting him back together again. It's a term not of disrespect, I think, but of despair.

They did warn me. I was sitting there in the parking lot of the local grocery market here in sunny Southern California, listening to NPR news on the car radio. I heard the caution: the next report was "graphic" and might disturb some listeners. How "graphic" could a radio report be, I wondered? Well, Bush, pretty damn graphic. The report on the military field hospital, its staff and the work they're called upon to do was about as horrific as anything I've ever heard. I was glad only that Ellie was doing the shopping in the market, because she would have asked me to switch it off, and I would have been hard put to refuse her. Yet it was something I needed to hear, because it brought the war home to me in a way that even televised reports have failed to do.

The wounds described were absolutely heart-wrenching. There was the case, for example, of an insurgent, brought in with a badly wounded leg and "shredded genitals." The staff, bless their dedicated medical souls, would do no less for this man than they would for an American soldier. They would do their best, as one surgeon put it, to "save the penis." The very thought makes you wince and shudder, doesn't it? And more gut-wrenching still were the sounds of men in extreme agony, the moans and cries for help, the screams of pain--sounds all the more dreadful for the fact that they were simply in the background.

I'll spare you further details, Bush. I doubt you heard it for yourself. When it was over, I found myself wishing you could be stationed there, in that field hospital, for just one week. Just a day. Just an hour. You and your Rumsfeld, and all those who promoted your war with their deceits and lies. So that you could experience at first hand what all of you managed to duck out of, years ago, and yet exposed so many others to--men and women, American, Iraqi, friend, foe, military, civilian and yes, even those insurgents--with such scant forethought. I hope it would break your heart, Bush, to witness this human tragedy, as it broke mine to simply hear it on the radio.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

95 Miles High

Did you catch the Bob Herbert column in today's New York Times, Bush? He cites a study claiming that your war will costs us more than a trillion dollars. Maybe two. I can't vouch for the study's arithmetic, of course, but I was intrigued by the image used to describe just how much money that is. Here, for your edification, are Bob Herbert's words:

Imagine a stack of bills worth $1 million that is roughly six inches high. (Think big denominations — a mix of $100 bills and $1,000 bills, mostly $1,000's.) If the six-inch stack were enlarged to the point where it was worth $1 billion, it would be as tall as the Washington Monument, about 500 feet. If it were worth $1 trillion, the stack would be 95 miles high.

Ninety-five miles high! We're talking denominations of hundreds and thousands here! Do you think the American people you've been talking to have any idea that it's likely to be costing them $10,000 per household to pay for your extravaganza? Do you think those who are still gung-ho about the whole thing would be so likely to support it if they did? I saw a couple of clips from your speech yesterday, Bush. The crowd was enthusiastic, as your crowds usually are. A woman--she could have been an administration shill--asked what to do about the media, who report only the bad news. Played right into your hands, eh, Bush? Among other useful hints, you suggested writing, uh... a blog! Did I hear you right? Isn't that what we've been doing this past year and a half?

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear how it's going, Bush. I mean, not just among those adoring throngs assembled by your people to give the impression of whole-hearted support. I mean polls. The approval ratings. Are they going up as a result of your intense media campaign this week? Are you managing to rally te support base? I'd really like to know.

While we're speaking of the base, I'd also like to know what your evangelicals think about the news from Afghanistan, about Abdul Rahman who converted--sixteen years ago!--from the Muslim faith to Christianity. He was apparently reported to the police by his parents and is now threatened with the death penalty for his transgression, and by no lesser personage than an Afghan Supreme Court Justice. I do believe you had no choice but to go after the terrorists based in Afghanistan after 9/11, and their Taliban protectors, this story does not bode well for the results of our intrusion in that part of the world. Is this what we're spending billions of dollars to protect in the name of freedom and democracy? Death to the infidel?

So there you have it, Bush. I know I'm sounding like a broken record these days, but when I hear you mouth the same god-awful platitudes and refuse stubbornly to consider a change of course or a change of personnel, it frankly drives me crazy. It's not only ruining our reputation in the world, it's ruining our economy. You say, glibly, that it will be up to future presidents to make decisions about this war that you have started. It will also be up to future generations to pay for it. Some of your critics have pointed out that this is another pattern for you: to create a mess of things and leave it to others to clean up. There's going to be a whole lot of cleaning up to do after this one, Bush. It's the work not of years, but decades to come. Our children and our grandchildren will not be thanking you for the task you will have left them.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Okay, Bush, enough with the politics. Let's get serious for a change. Let's talk about a movie, as I had planned to do yesterday before you started in on your press conference. I'm talking about "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"--a film directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. I thought it was outstanding, and wanted to suggest you spend a couple of hours with it in your White House screening room. I promise you, your time will be well spent.

It's a movie about crime, punishment and forgiveness--or about sin, ordeal and redemption, whichever way you want to look at it. It's about a Texan cowboy who hires an illegal from across the border and about the bond the two men develop, simply as men: forget the differences of race, language and national identity, this is about a deep friendship that transcends those superficalities and goes, instead, to the heart. It's about love, respect, and trust between two simple men who don't need much in their lives beyond a job of work to do and a sense of honor in the doing of it.

Then a man is killed by a young border patrol officer who's goofing of in the scrub brush, about to jerk off over a Hustler magazine when he hears shots. Turns out it's Melquiades, our Mexican friend, shooting at a coyote that's after his goats, not threatening anyone--but this border patrol guy shoots him with a high-powered rifle anyway, out of boredom, out of callous indifference, out of dominance, out of racism, out of fear... you name it.

Well Pete, our Mexican cowboy's friend, discovers who is responsible and understands that no one will hold the shooter accountable unless he does it himself. Thus starts the interminable and hazardous journey to the place where Melquiades said he wanted to be buried (the first two burials of the title, Bush, were hasty affairs without respect or ritual). Through thick and thin--but mostly thick and nasty--Pete leads his prisoner toward an unwanted but necessary redemption in the Mexican desert. On the way, the young man learns uncomfortable truths about himself, particularly his cold, even brutal indifference not only toward the illegals he's supposed to keep out of this country, but to all those around him, including his pretty wife. He learns, slowly and with extreme pain, that he too has a heart, and that he has neutralized it at his cost.

The grizzled Pete remains pitiless until the very end. His intention is to bury his friend in the place Melquiades yearned for in his heart, and nothing will distract him from that purpose. The man is honor personified. He wears his soul as well as his heart on his sleeve. What he performs, through that enforced journey, is the initiation the younger man never had--the initiation into manhood that every society before our own Western civilization deemed essential, and which our own contemporary world neglects with disastrous results: we raise not men, but boy-men, destructive, aggressive, out of touch with that one part of themselves that can make them truly men--the heart. The pattern of descent, ordeal and return is common to initiation rituals throughout the world, and it is re-enacted here with powerful intention. At the end, the younger man has earned the gift that Pete bestows on him in calling him, for the first time, in a truly moving moment,"son".

The reason I bring this up, Bush, is not only that I myself was moved by the film, but also because I think it has something important to say about the way men all too often act in the world today. Out of insecurity about our manhood and some deep, often unconscious need to prove it, we fight, we drink, we womanize, we work ourselves literally to death... some of us even go into politics and lead others into war. Take your nemesis, Bin Laden: how much is his behavior conditioned by the traditions of a society in which men so fear the power of the feminine that they see fit to keep their women in subservience, and whose laws permit the killing or maiming of those who threaten their male hegemony?

And let's not congratulate ourselves too heartily, Bush, on our enlightenment in the West. We have only to look at our cities' gangs, our prisons filled with immature and violent criminals, our corporate and law offices with their ethos of cutthroat competition, our seats of government occupied by hard-hearted, ruthless men addicted to power and money. We too have something to learn from this film, because there is too much of ourselves in that young man's insecurities, his indifference to others and to the care of his own soul. We all could use a Pete to bring us face to face with our own deeper nature and, after looking in that mirror, to become better men for the experience.

Take a look at this film, Bush. You won't regret it. It's about you. And me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Footnote: Operation Swarmer

Thanks to PK, this footnote to my recent entry about Operation Swarmer, the great US-Iraqi counter-insurgency attack last week.


Okay, I was stupid. I was lazy. I chose to spend an extra hour in bed listening to your press conference rather than get up and get to work. Because it was more hot air, Bush. In an hour, you managed to avoid virtually every question in favor of endlessly repeating mantras that are demonstrably untrue. Progress in Iraq. A government in formation. Freedom on the march. A plan for victory. A national agenda. All in that familiar tone of indignant defensiveness, suggeting that those who ask intelligent and thoughtful questions are ignorant and careless of this country's future. As though you only held the key to peace and prosperity, both here and abroad.

Yawn, Bush. It was a big yawn, the whole performance. All words, no meaning. No substance. Nothing new or the least bit significant. The only moment of drama came when Helen Thomas asked her question: WHY? What was the real reason you marched into Iraq? Now that all the given reasons have proven false or illusory, why in God's name did you do it? And you prevaricated yet again. You have learned the technique of saying, Excuse me, let me finish--as though any attempt to repeat the question that you're studiously avoiding were an interruption of a serious effort to answer it. You then come up with your unfunny little jokes and personal asides, and the assembled media laugh politely, and whatever went unanswered is swept under the rug.

Glad to hear that you still think your Rumsfeld is doing "a fine job". Glad to hear that you believe you are surrounded by a conscientious and reliable staff. Glad to hear that loyalty continues to work both ways, in your White House.

The sad thing is, your strategies seem to work with the media. These reporters are either cowed or tricked into settling for your bullshit. I can only imagine their frustration. Here's the bottom line question, though. Even given the media's capitulation, will your performance wash with the American people? This "press conference" was so clearly a desperate attempt to persuade us all that you know what you're doing and where you're going, that victory is assured, that you have an agenda here at home, that the economy is strong and the deficit meaningless, that we are making progress in the war on terror... a transparent atttempt to reverse declining faith, even among the faithful, in your presidency.

Question is, will it wash? I have to tell you, Bush, it didn't with me. But I sat there (well, acutally, I lay there) and watched anyway, mesmerised by the appalling mendacity of the whole performance, the paucity of intellectual content in what you had to say, the clash of empty cliche after empty cliche. I had intended to write to you this morning about a film I saw over the weekend. I probably should have roused myself early and followed my intention. It would have been a lot more inspiring than hearing myself bellyache for the thousandth time about your obvious inadequacies. Be well.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Number Three

It seems like everyone in the media is talking about the third anniversary of your Iraq adventure, Bush. Another milestone, and the media love milestones. Not much to celebrate though. You and your people have been busy talking up the marvelous strides you have made--the strength of the Iraqi military and police, the elections, the constitution, the progress toward democracy... But no one really believes you, Bush. All we expect from you now is more hot air and more desperate attempts to salvage some political advantage from what we all know to be a national disaster. You lied in your teeth to lead us into a war that was necessary only in the eyes of those who nursed an arrogant and misguided view of America's role in the world, and you botched the job with inexcusable incompetence and lack of foresight. What worries me is the thought that next year we'll be marking the fourth anniversary, then the fifth, ad infinitum.

If you really wanted to fight a war on terror after 9/11, you should perhaps have followed the model of the New York Police Department--at least if you believe the report on last night's Sixty Minutes. They have the right idea: the counter-terrorist effort should be a continuing intelligence and police operation, not a war. I've said this before: a war requires an enemy in the form of a country, or an alliance with specific geographical borders and territory. It requires the common acceptance of certain rules and procedures. It allows of a clear outcome, whether victory or loss.

Your war on terror is no such animal, Bush. It's amorphous, extra-territorial, and unwinnable because there is no army to defeat. At best, it's an unending series of actions and counter-actions, a shifting ground with a constantly shifting cast of characters. Except in image and inspiration, there are no chiefs, just Indians. Even if successful, the hunt for Bin Laden will achieve very little in this "war" except to produce another martyr, another hero, this one still larger than life and all the more inspiring for his capture or his death. You keep insisting that the war in Iraq is a part of the war on terror, but all you're doing there is creating the best of all possible training grounds for more and more of those terrorists you seek to eradicate. In short, you're doing even worse than defeating your own stated purposes: you're creating the very thing you vow to oppose.

The NYPD, according to the report, is learning counter-terrorist tactics for a real world context. They're learning to listen attentively to the chatter on the internet, and to develop an ability to respond on an ad hoc basis to whatever might happen on the ground. Effective policing is surely a much more appropriate and eventually effective way to respond to the terrorist threat than a war, with all its cumbersome military hierarchy, its heavy armor, its slow-moving fronts. Three years in Iraq have certainly produced no increased security in this country, despite what you like to tell us, Bush. It's clear now that you need to show some progress, for political purposes. Most pundits seems to be betting that you'll reduce troop numbers this year, whether approriate or not. I don't see how that's going to help with the war, but I suppose it might still help out with your party's election prospects in the fall.

I thought you might like to hear about the bumper sticker that a friend told me about yesterday. It belongs to a (female) friend of hers and it reads: THE ONLY BUSH I TRUST IS MY OWN. But you've probably heard that one already. Have a good week.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Operation Save Your Ass

So tell me, Bush, 'fess up. Is this just another of your PR stunts to boost the poll numbers? This whole Operation Smash'em Up, or whatever the hell your military folk are calling it? A multi-day assault on the city of Samarra, with dozens of American aircraft and hundreds of troops--mostly, we're told, those newly trained Iraqis--supposedly clearing out an insurgent stronghold. The point, I'm assuming, is to offer the American people a dramatic spectacle to prove that we really are winning the war in Iraq--and of course the war on terror--and that the Iraqis are becoming increasingly self-reliant.

Lots of weaponry, then. All the TV footage was graciously provided by the US military, it seems: helicopters swooping in to disgorge their (mostly Iraqi!) forces. Tanks rumbling through the desert. Rockets and mortars flashing like fireworks through the night sky and exploding magnificently in the city. I wouldn't have wanted to be at the receiving end of this arsenal, as I assume a good number of Samarran citizens to have been.

A mini Shock and Awe, then. Only problem, Bush--no insurgents. Well, maybe a few. Prove me wrong, but what I'm hearing this morning is that the resistance has been minimal at best, that most of those taken prisoner in the assault have turned out to be innocent civilians, and that even the weapons caches have been disappointing. Had it been otherwise, the success of your operation would have been trumpeted at much higher volume.

So my skeptical gut tells me that this hyped drama is nothing more than an elaborate and expensive sham to lend weight to your recent speeches, at the risk of countless lives, and staged in the interest of drumming up the rapidly fading support for your war and providing your loyal Republicans with ammunition to wage their 2006 election campaigns.

I saw Cindy Sheehan interviewed on the ABC news this morning, Bush. Remember her? She was not kind to you or your war. Ms. Sheehan ("Mom", as you like to call her), was as skeptical as I am about your current initiative. To me, her simple, heartfelt words were more persuasive than all your speeches, more powerful than all your military shows of force. More and more people are listening to her. I wish you would, too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Green Tie

I wrote you a nice long blog today, Bush. It was about my visit to the doctor at my HMO a couple of days ago. I waxed nostalgic about memories of growing up in a world where the doctor would come to your house, on his rounds, with his black bag and his stethoscope. I mourned the change in medicine from art and practice to business and industry. I worried about access to medical attention for those who could not afford medical insurance. I wrote poetically about all those bodies at the hospital--the sick and the wounded, the fat and the thin, the young and old, and the indisputable fact that, as humans, we are all basically no more than a piece of rotting meat. And I tried to put it all in the perspective of that great lack, in our society, of a comprehensive national medical plan that would address the needs of all, including the poorest and most vulnerable.

And it all got lost. My Blogger service did the dirty on me, and swallowed the thing whole. I know better than to try to rewrite the piece: it's never as good the second time around. Besides, I don't have the time. So you'll have to settle for short shrift again today, Bush. Apologies. One thing, though: I caught a glimpse of you on the television news today in your green tie. Of course. St. Patrick's Day. And I was aware, not for the first time, of how much I'm irked by American politicians (not to mention others) who pander to a religious and cultural heritage which has nothing whatever to do with their own for the sake of... what? Votes? Popularity? Improving their numbers in the polls? Nice tie, anyway, Bush. And good luck with politics. I know you need it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Parlor Game

Well, Bush, the new numbers are out today and you have to admit they're pretty much a disaster on every front. As I see it, there's only one option left if you're to save what's left of your presidency: a huge shake-up at the top, a la Ronald Reagan after the Iran-Contra scandal only more so. I know others have told you this and you haven't listened. You pride yourself on being a "stay-the-course" man. An absolute loyalist to those from whom you expect absolute loyalty. Well at this point, Bush, you either put out the trash (a timely metaphor: the garbage collector happens to be passing by my office at this very moment!) or your presidency drowns in the growing stench of its own unbelievable incompetence.

Start with your Rumsfeld. A good first step. I can't believe he's still there, in that office. Even if you're among those few who still believe in your war, this man has made a total hash of it from the start. Remember his unseemly, gleeful boasts about "Shock and Awe"? How the war would be over in a matter of weeks, if not days? Remember "stuff happens"--his callous response to immediate post-invasion signs that Saddam's iron grip was being replaced by chaos and sectarian violence? He hasn't been right about a single thing since then. Every time the man opens his mouth, it seems that something happens to prove him wrong. Get rid of him, Bush. Do yourself and the nation a favor. Is it so hard to see that Uncle Rummy has been from the start the leading architect of a misguided, misplanned, mismanaged war that has brought you nothing but shame and disapproval?

After that, an open field. There's your Deadeye Dick Cheney, rumbling in the basement somewhere. He has offered you nothing but terrible advice. Go to war, my son. It's a breeze. The insurgency is in its last throes. And so on. And on. There's your legal eagle, Gonzales, who led you into at least tacit approval of torture (torture! Isn't this America?) and argued justification for imprisonment without recourse to justice. That's medieval, Bush! He also called the internationally honored Geneva Convention "quaint," as I recall. There's your Chertoff. What a dangerous shambles that man has created under the banner of "homeland security"! Do we feel safer now, since 9/11? Are we persuaded by the well thought-out plans and priorities of your administration, and the clear, decisive actions taken to protect our ports, our major cities, our chemical plants, our infrastructure of highways, airports, bridges? Our monuments? I think not. Ask the American people, as the polls have done.

Plenty of room at the top then, Bush, to make some significant and beneficial changes. Still, I suspect your Scott McClellan knows you better than I do. He made light of any such suggestion at one of his increasingly defensive fencing sessions with the press. That's just the Washington parlor game, he said. Perhaps he was referring to Musical Chairs.

A parlor game! This is the reputation of our country, Bush! It's the presidency you were entrusted with by those who voted for you. In a real, and imminent, and dangerous sense it's the fate of the world, the planet Earth. This goes beyond personal pride and loyalty. It goes beyond winks and nods and grins, and buddy-buddy pats on the back. You, Bush, have been sleepwalking through the worst period of willful ignorance, impulsive aggression, and malign neglect in American history. Wake up, for God's sake! Show us that as the leader you purport to be you're at least capable of changing, and of making change, when necessity dictates.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Good Man?

I have to confess I've been less than scintillating in these journals the past couple of weeks, Bush, and less regular and reliable than I've usually tried to be. The truth is, this bug I caught somewhere along the way, and which I took with me to Mexico City, has kept on lingering well past its welcome. This morning early I was prevailed upon by Ellie to call the hospital, and I'm headed off a little later for a medical appointment just to check things out. Feeling light-headed, heart going a bit too fast, congestion, general weakness, fatigue, along with a devastating lack of motivation.

All of which is to announce, with apologies, that I'm giving you short shrift again today. I'll just say this: I saw you with your arm around that lad afflicted with autism--the one who did the miracle basketball shots and touched the hearts of so many, including your good self. (You said you saw the story on television, and you wept. Good for you.) And I admit it, Bush, I wanted to believe that this was the true Bush I saw, a good-hearted man with compassion for the sick and the less fortunate among us. But at the same time, there was that part of me that scoffed and said this was nothing more than a cynical political act dreamed up by your White House hacks, a photo op to show yourself to be a good-hearted man with compassion for the sick and the less fortunate among us.

You might attribute this to a nasty, mistrustful, cynical nature, but I insist that I'm really a trusting soul, always ready to believe the best of anyone. As I see it, the reason these less than charitable thoughts arise is because in your case that trust has been betrayed. A shame. Because lurking somewhere far behind what the political hacks and the corporate users have created I really do see the good, plain-spoken, simple and compassionate man in you. As I've said many times before, I'm not a Bush-basher. I just have to wonder, where did that man go?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Won't Work

It won't work, Bush. I mean, you've tried this... how many times before? You find a friendly audience some place and go out there and make another fine speech whose logic flies in the face of reality as we know it, and everyone dutifully applauds. You did it again yesterday. You reiterated the fantasy that the Iraqi military and police will soon be ready to take on the task of keeping the peace in that benighted country. You mouthed the old cliches about freedom being on the march. You hinted heavily once again that the media are to blame for the mess, reporting only the bad news and ignoring the good. If not the media, then Iran, for supplying the insurgents with their weapons. It's always someone else to blame, Bush. It's never yourself, nor any of your select company of loyalists. You're all doing a wonderful job in bringing democracy to the Middle East. Well, congratulations. Just what the world needed, in its agony.

This is ridiculous, Bush. I have better things to do today than worry about you and your pathetic antics. And so, I hope, have those who take their precious time to read us. Have a good day. And try to keep the damage to a minimum.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Down Day

I understand there's a basic human psychological reaction going on here, Bush: the more the unintended consequences of your actions deteriorate into adversity, the harder it gets to be to admit the original mistake you made. With nearly fifty citizens being blown to pieces yesterday in Baghdad as they went about the ordinary business of doing their marketing, you, Bush, are headed out on the road today with more fine speeches, in the attempt to bolster waning support in this country for your war. I hear you're sending out your minions, too, with the same purpose in mind. Yesterday I watched one of your senators on a morning talk show, tying himself in foolish knots with the tired old defensive line that it's the media to blame, reporting only the bad news while neglecting the good. It would have been funny, were the truth not quite so dreadful. I suspect that you, along with the rest of the world, have not the first idea what to do about this hornet's nest you've stirred in the Middle East with your profound cultural ignorance and your impulsive, arrogant aggression.

So now it's all about stitching together the remaining tatters of your personal reputation--and of course rescuing the Republican Party from impending disaster at this year's elections. No small task. I noted the results of the straw poll at the weekend, with McCain doing his "support our president" act and your Frist coming out on top. What a nightmare! I caught a few seconds' clip of Frist on the television news this morning, and found myself literally shuddering with distaste for this man's patronizing rectitude and his pious complancency. Will the Democrats come up with a candidate strong and clear-minded enough to reverse the powerful tide of self-protective conservatism that seems to have permanently risen at this moment in this country's history. Is there someone out there who can appeal, not to the self-interest of the vast army of those committed to the tax revolt and the protection of their "rights", but to the larger interests of the nation and its people--even, and perhaps especially those less fortunate than themselves?

Sadly, Bush, I'm aware of my own deep and growing pessimism for the future of the human species on this planet. I'd like it to be otherwise. I have grandchildren. My natural inclination, I believe, is to have faith in the great spirit with which we are endowed. And on an individual basis, I look around and see so much evidence of the best in our human nature. The question that beggars the imagination is how that best will survive in the face of the pandemic insanity that seems currently to infect us as a species, amounting alomost to a collective death wish. How will we survive the great challenges of our time, when we seem fated to behave in every way that militates against our own best interests? Riddle me that one, Bush, with another fine speech.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fox Quits Henhouse Duty

Though the lady fox is a vixen, isn't she? I for one applaud the defection of your interior secretary Gale A. Norton, Bush, whose idea of protecting the environment seemed to be to hand it over wholesale to those most dedicated to exploiting or despoiling it. At the same time I worry that given your stellar record of choosing the wrong person for critical jobs, you'll find someone even worse to replace her. Do us a favor this time, Bush--and yourself, in your current weakened and unpopular position: appoint a person to whom you owe no favors, and who owes you none. A person whose passion is the conservation of our natural heritage, and its protection from the ravages of industry and other forms of human callousness and greed. Such an appointment would likely garner you a couple of points in the opinion polls. I have to admit, though, that I'm not holding my breath...

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Good Times

As I was logging on this morning, Bush, to pay you a brief visit (I'm off early to do a second day's teaching at a local university) there was an ad running on the TV in the background. The theme music was "Come on, baby, let the good times roll." I glanced up to catch a glimpse of scantily dressed women cavorting in the spacious halls of wealthy mansions, sipping wine, stepping barefoot out onto the golden each, all smiles and jollity. And I thought to myself how easily we're seduced, we Americans, how easily our attention is distracted with the promise of good times, "the dream" that always beckons us from just around the corner--or from the television screen.

The reality, on the news last night, is something different. The reality is the story your administration has created, the story of disaster after disaster, debacle after debacle. The story is of people struggling to stay afloat, to pay the mortgage, to get jobs that pay a living wage, to get the medical attention they sometimes need, the drugs to help them survive. The reality is a world in turmoil--a turmoil in part of our American making--where people kill each other over their religious heritage, where children starve daily because we wealthy nations are distracted by our dreams of wealth, our business, our wars...

Things, Bush, are falling apart. And the man with the primary responsibility in the whole wide world to hold them all together happens to be none other than your tunnel-visioned, desperate, mismanaging self, now under attack from all sides at once. See why some of us out here might be scared?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Another Delicious Irony

You have to admit, Bush, it's a delicious irony. Those rebel Republicans attaching their rejection of the US ports deal--the rejection you threatened very publicly to veto--to the bill authorizing funds for your wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Katrina relief efforts. Talk about a rock and a hard place. A mean squeeze they've left you in, your allies in the House. And now the good folks in the Senate are threatening to attach their own rejection to a measure that's intended to resolve some of those political corruption problems, proposing changes in the rules affecting travel benefits and gifts from lobbyists. In either case, your first and only veto threatens to blow up in your face,

And all this comes at a time when even your friends are questioning your leadership skills and your poll numbers continue to sink. The image of strength and integrity is beginning to crack. Well, not even beginning, really. The cracks are too obvious at this point to ignore. You insisted once again, yesterday, that America must show strong leadership in the world, only hours after your Cheney made us look absurd and powerless with his saber-rattling in the direction of Iran. To which Iran came back without a blink with its own threat: "The United States has the power to cause pain and harm," Iran's ambassador to the IAEA said yesterday, "but the United States is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if that is the path that the US wishes to choose, let the ball roll out." And the truth is, we have severely limited our options in this matter. Our implied military threats ring hollow in the complexity of this particular situation.

Here's what I think, Bush: I think your whole history of your presidency, from the beginning of the first campaign, has been based on the notion that image and perception sell better than substance. You were successful, for example, in having your people paint a picture that seemed to justify your preemptive war in Iraq, and you sold that picture to all but a handful of the American people. The problem is, a fake is still a fake and, at one time or another, some smart person is going to spot it and start telling the truth. And eventually the substance catches up with you, whether you want it to or not.

So the irony of the day is that you got hoist, as the say, on your own petard. As I see it, the fuss about the ports deal is more about image than substance: from the purely rational, business point of view, the security issue doesn't make much sense. It's an emotional issue, with image as the prime manipulant. Arabs equal Muslims equal terrorists running our ports! What a farce! It's an irrational, instinctive perception that speaks to the American gut. It has your Republicans running for their political lives, and voting--gasp!--against their strong and trusted leader. The mask of the Commander in Chief, the great War President, is stripped away, and it leaves you looking weaker every day.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pray to God

So, Bush, I see where you dodged a nasty bullet again yesterday, caving in just enough on the issue of your domestic spying program to get the minimal Republican support your needed. The agreement "hashed out between Vice President Dick Cheney and Republicans critical of the program" (NYT) appears to let you off the hook of a possible investigation. Damn! It galls me, honestly, when I think of how many hot investigations would now be in progress if a Democratic president were in your place, with so many lies, ineptitudes and bloody blunders on his record, and a Republican Congress at his heels. If he hadn't been impeached three times over by now, it would have been a miracle.

What have we done, we American voters, to surrender ourselves, our lives, our collective reputation in the world to such abuses? It does seem, to one following the polls, that we're beginning to recognize our unforgivable mistake. And yet, in speaking of forgiveness, there are still those who persist in their denial. The voices of a number of good Christian women interviewed on National Public Radio yesterday continue to echo uncomfortably in my mind. They voted for you, and continue to support you because you avow so often, with such a show of piety, that you pray to God before you make decisions. Is that all it takes? A show? Oh yes, they say, he's made mistakes. Do we approve of everything he does? No. Like our husbands, not everything he does is something we agree with. But we forgive him, just as we forgive our husbands. Because he prays to God before he makes decisions. People blame him for the terrible things that happen, they say, but he can't be held responsible for all the bad things that happen in the world. The wars, the terrorist attacks, the hurricanes...

Well, no. Let's be clear. Your critics are not blaming you for all those things. Rather, they're blaming you for the inappropriateness and the incompetence of your response. Those forgiving Christian voices frankly scare me, Bush. At what point might these people stop forgiving you for mistakes that cost--or risk--the lives of thousands of American soldiers? For your apparent callous disregard for warnings of disaster? For your ignorant, bull-headed contempt for science--both its potential benefits and its dire warnings? For the bully tactics that characterize your whole approach to the rest of the world? (As an aside, your Cheney's thinly veiled threats against Iran yesterday were met with immediate ridicule from those he chose to threaten. These tactics don't even work any more. They make America look weak.) Do we forgive you for your imperious contraventions of the US constitution and the law, at home and abroad--your scorn for international treaties? No amount of praying to God will compensate for these wrong-headed attitudes and misjudgments.

If I were to vote for a person on the strength of praying to God, I'd also be looking for someone upon whom God might seem to look more favorably. Your fervent prayer before the hurricane, made public in that now-infamous tape, was curiously ineffective. And the mess the world is in does not speak highly of your personal relationship with the Higher Power. No disrespect, Bush, but it seems to me that God has not been doing you any notable favors, these past few years. Nor the rest of us, of course. You claim to talk to Him, but is He listening?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


I'm still playing catch-up, Bush, after nearly a week with virtually no access to news, other than the occasional glimpses of CNN in our hotel room in Mexico City and the international edition of a regional English-language newspaper. It's refreshing, really, to have to do without that fix. The hiatus reminds me of the great, yawning temptation to chuck it all in, to get on with the intimacy of my life and forget about all those things over which I have no control--including the actions of your good self and your Keystone Kops administration. How nice it would be to go to sleep and wake up when it's over.

Problem is, I can't be sure the world will be the same when your eight years are over. Okay, that's probably how you want it. But you persist in seeing a better world, where freedom and democracy spread magically across the globe, thanks to your enlightened policies; I see a worse one, where violence and chaos are let loose by your inability to see the consequences of your actions, and your blind belief in the rightness of America and its power. The line between self-righteousness and tyranny is a narrow one, and once you cross it there's the danger that you can't get back.

Did you catch the news about that teacher in Colorado, Bush? The one who tried to teach that very lesson to his class? A geography class, as I understand it. This teacher thought it important to convey to his students, in the context of comments about your State of the Union speech, that the attitudes and actions of this country and its president have consequences that affect the lives of people in other parts of the globe. In "comparing" you to Hitler--a phrase pumped up by the conservative media to whom this story was fed--he presumably wanted to suggest that your message that "I'm right, the rest of you are wrong" could be interpreted in the same way as Hitler's aggression. As you might expect, the man has been the target of a public lynching for his temerity in challenging your rectitude.

Today, too, I begin to hear a little more about your "spectacularly misconceived trip" (New York Times editorial this morning) to India and Pakistan. Your apparent blessing of India's nuclear program, and your refusal to extend this same approval to the Pakistani president could only be interpreted as a very public slap in the face for the man you have duplicitously courted as your ally in the war on terror. And that's not cricket, Bush. Whatever else you might say about him, Pervez Musharraf has stuck his neck out to support you at very real and very personal risk. Sometimes, even given the endless history of your gaffes, Bush, you still manage to amaze me with an ear that's totally deaf to anything but the sounds from inside your own head.

What's worrisome is that after all we've been through there's still no sense of perspective here, no sense that there's a broader, more comprehensive outlook on the world than the "war on terrorism", no understanding of the way in which your actions might be perceived by those who simply do not share your supporters' blind faith in you, and cause consequences that could, yes, no matter how unintentionally, be a dire as those of the hideous tyrant invoked by that Colorado high school teacher. All of which is why I can't just allow myself to go to sleep. Sad to say, that's exactly what too many complacent Germans did, those many years ago.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Well, Bush, I guess we're both back here in the U.S. after our travels. I have to say I'm a bit worse for the wear. I did mention that nasty episode in Mexico City, did I? I guess I must have taken the bug with me, but it didn't fully manifest until Friday. Better now, but still not up to much. One of my personal physicians who were traveling with me (just joking, Bush: I'm not that privileged! They just happened to be along on the trip, lucky for me) told me that the infection attacks the brain, which may be why I'm still feeling pretty much brainless. Spacy. Unable to get focused.

Still, I'm grateful to be back on the ground. I imagine you are, too--though I'm sure they keep you protected from bugs of all kinds along the way. Not only those terrorists, but the flu bugs, too. Anyway, not much for you today, except to say that I noted the paired pictures of you on the front page of yesterday's Los Angeles Times. You know, the cricket pictures. On the left, the expression of grim, relentless determination. On the right, the cringing duck as the speeding tennis ball approaches you at bat. Where were the bails, by the way? The bails, if I remember right from my childhood years, are the little wooden bits that lie across the top of the wicket (the three parallel uprights) and fly off when the wicket is hit and the batsman is "out."

Thanks for the memories, anyway. Not particularly pleasant ones for me personally. We were required to play games every afternoon at school, including cricket in the summer, and I was a hopeless player. I think it has something to do with my vision: I never have been able to see a small object flying toward me through the air, and my impulse is not to catch or hit it, but (like you) to duck, or run as fast as possible for safety in the opposite direction. A trait that did not endear me, as you can imagine, to my fellow players and resulted in some unpleasantness in the boarding school locker room. Ah, yes. The good old days!

Anyway, I trust your trip distracted you from poll ratings and other uncomfortable facts. Back the grind now, Bush. Have a good week.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Not Forgotten

A plaintive note from my hotel room in Mexico City, Bush, where I have been holed up, sick as a dog, for the past couple of days. Came down here to explore the world of art, artists, galleries and museums, and have been sick pretty much since arrival. I plan to venture forth at noon today to the Frida Kahlo museum at the Casa Azul, and to join our group for their afternoon activities. Missed the whole day yesterday--a trip out to Cuernavaca. Ah, well...

I wanted to let you know that you're not forgotten. From the delirium of my fever, I retain a few hallucinatory images fom CNN news of your visit to India and Pakistan. Cricket, eh? My former national sport. I was not impressed, I regret to say, with your bowling arm, Bush. And was that actually a cricket ball you were holding? It looked more like a tennis ball to me.

Anyway, all in all, it's good to be out of the country, don't you think? A different way of looking at the world. I just wish I were more here, here. The head whirls. I'm told that's the infection affecting the brain. More later, Bush. Though probably not much before Monday. Stay safe, out there amongst those wild fundamentalists. And have a good trip home.

A Footnote
: I was right about those balls, I discovered later, checking in to the CNN website. Tennis balls. Soft stuff. I also discovered, Bush, that while you were out there practicing your cricket skills, Pakistan's all-time cricket hero, Imram Khan, "spent Saturday confined to his home where authorities detained him to thwart his plan to lead a march to protest" your visit. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Well, this is a double surprise, Bush. First, from me--that I'm back briefly to drop you a line from Los Angeles International Airport. Just checking in. The second, from you--that you made a stopover in Kabul to visit your friend Karzai. Good for you. I did hear you, though, blathering on again about freedom and democracy, and castigating those "evil ones" for the umpteenth time. Does it not embarrass you just a bit to realize that the Bin Laden gang (and many of the mullahs, too) castigate you with exactly the same words? To them, of course, you're the "evil one"--along with the rest of us Westerners. Gives you pause, no? I mean, if both parties call each other "evil ones", you have to stop and wonder who's right? From a God's eye view, maybe both. Do you think? Anyway, have a great time in India. I hear you're skipping the Taj Mahal. Just tourist stuff, I guess. More important things to talk about, like trade, and nuclear armaments. Good luck. Watcvh out for those canny Indians. Remember, they're not the same ones that the cowboys fought.