Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And Another Invidious Comparison...

We had friends over to dinner last night, Bush. A lovely evening. We strolled in the garden, drank a glass of wine in the early evening cool down under the flowering pear trees at the end of our property, and had dinner out on the balcony overlooking the city of Hollywood. A sliver of moon, our two tall eucalyptus swaying in the breeze, a deep blue, darkening sky... Beautiful.

And good conversation. Our friends had just returned from an extended trip down Mexico way, with plenty of time to read. Which brought us, after yesterday's Vietnam analogy, to this other invidious comparison: one of the couple had taken along a biography of Napoleon to read, and aside from admiring the extraordinary dedication of a good biographer and the kind of time needed for the detailed research necessary to do a book of this kind, he was struck by the similiarities between your invasion of Iraq and Bonaparte's march into Spain. Same underestimate of the number of troops required, same over-reaching and under-preparation... The comparisons, he said, were endless.

His final, exasperated question: "Doesn't Bush read history?" he asked.

I guess a lot of us have asked that same question, Bush. I confess I don't know much about Napoleon in Spain either, but I am sure that the current conflict in Iraq has deep roots in the region's history, and that we marched in without any real understanding of that history, still less of the culture, the religion, or of tribal loyalties. We thought--you seem to have thought, Bush, in your simplistic way--that American democracy is the right model for every other country in the world, and that (your) American values are universally shared.

Wrong. In doing so, and in assuming that the tyrant Saddam Hussein alone was the problem there, you discounted centuries of history and tradition which led us now to the current impasse, where the new "government" can't even get past their sectarian squabbling to agree on appointments to the most urgently needed ministries. And meanwhile, yesterday, ANOTHER fifty people died.

As to the question my friend posed yesterday, "Doesn't Bush read?", you may have noticed that a number of our daily readers have been raising that same issue. There have been teasing, painful reminders of that little goat and the level of your reading skills. One reader even offered to make you an illustrated version of "The Real Bush Diaries" so that you'd be able to read it!

Unkind, Bush, perhaps. But you have made not too fine a public point of your disinterest in reading. As with the apparent pride you take in mangling the language, your arrogant hostility to anything approaching intellectual effort may play well to your base. To those of us who believe that thought, and planning, and a sound sense of history are vital to the well-being of this country and the future of this vulnerable planet, it's a lot more troubling.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

An Indivious Comparison

I woke up this morning with this expression on my mind: "an invidious comparison." It sounded exactly right for what I had to say, but when I thought further I discovered that I wasn't absolutely sure of the meaning of the word "invidious." So I went to the OED, Bush, and now I understand why it's so right. The definition reads thus: "Tending to excite odium, ill will, or envy; likely to give offense; esp. unjustly and irritatingly discriminating." Not sure about "unjustly," Bush, but otherwise it fits to a tee.

The invidious comparison in question is, of course, the one between the debacle in Vietnam and your current tragic fiasco in Iraq. It came to mind again last night as I was watching a Memorial Day documentary on the PBS's American Experience entitled "Two Days in October." Based on the book "They Marched Into Sunlight" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss, it's the story of two very different days in October 1967, one in Vietnam and the other on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The former documents a fatally flawed "attack" by American troops on a Vietnamese position which turned out to be nothing but an ambush--and turned into a massacre. The second recreates the events of the first of many campus protests which ended up in American students being brutalized by armored, billy-club wielding cops.

I myself happen to have been one of those students who joined the protests, Bush. I was at the University of Iowa at the time, a graduate student in the writing program, and experienced some of that outrage at first hand. But the documentary struck more than that one personal chord. The senseless, ill-considered futility of the military attack, the pathetic male egos at stake in its implementation, the bloody outcome and the wanton distortion of the truth in subsequent reports were a sharp reminder of the tragic consequences of that unfortunate episode in our history. The continuation of the war for a further eight years before our eventual, long-predictable defeat was a momument to the stubborn refusal of our leaders to confront the simple truth that we had no business there and that human lives were being unconscionably wasted.

All of which brings us, of course, to that invidious comparison. We have tried to avoid it for too long. Oh no, it was said already, months ago, the situation in Iraq is quite different from Vietnam. No quagmire there. Oh, really? Again we are being fed lies and distortions to put a good face on the actions of our leaders--and you, Bush, are the leader of our leaders, the capo di tutti capi, as were your predecessors, LBJ and Nixon. Again we find ourselves caught in the middle of what is turning out to be a civil war. Again we find ourselves battling an enemy we do not know or recognize, who is indistinguishable from the civilian population at large. Again we find ourselves butchering the innocent along with the rebels. And again, bottom line, American blood is being lavished on a war that has no apparent end in sight. And this is not supposed to remind us of Vietnam?

With all genuine veneration for those who lost their lives in our wars, Bush, in acts of extraordinary bravery and selflessness, I have to say that I heard a lot of pious words on Memorial Day. I saw you laying the traditional wreath with all the usual solemn ceremony. I heard your patriotic talk about the sacrifices made and how they must now be justified by "completing the mission." To which disinegnuous rhetoric I must say, without ceremony, "Bullshit, Bush!" On the very same day, in the evening, I heard reports of more than fifty people killed by roadside bombs and car bombs in Iraq. I heard of a CBS news team killed, a reporter critically injured. The bottom line is undeniably the same as it was in Vietnam: it's senseless slaughter with no end in sight. It does, indeed, excite odium, and it frankly gives me immeasurable offense. And that's no rhetoric.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Blog Heaven?

Shows how connected I am, Bush! I feel so darn foolish for having heard only yesterday, on reading the Sunday edition of the New York Times, about the Daily Kos liberal blogging convention in Las Vegas a couple of weeks from now. Better late than never, though. You'll be plesed to hear that I went online and signed up right away. We're going to Las Vegas, Bush, you and I and our daily conversation.

Not to mention, of course, "The Real Bush Diaries." What a great opportunity to let my fellow-bloggers know about the publication even as it happens--because as I think I've told you, books should be available by that time. The point of the book, for me, is to broaden the base (there you go, Bush: a term that you're familiar with!) of our daily readership even more than the number of copies sold--though of course I'd be delighted to cover the costs associated with publication and promotion, and wouldn't mind making a little money to boot.

I've published enough books, though, to be sanguine about that eventuality. You have to get really lucky to break through the immense barriers to success on this front. It's a miracle even to get through the distribution system and see your book on the shelves of the boostores, let alone to sell significant quantities of books. The competition is mind-boggling.

Success for us, though, Bush, will not be measured primarily in the number of books sold but in making the voice of "The Bush Diaries" heard along with all those other voices of liberal protest and anger. So let's bear in mind that we'll be going to this convention as much to learn as to put out word about ourselves. And, more than anything, to get hooked up with the vast left-wing conspiracy to change the course of politics and policies in this country.

I see real hope in the exchange of information and ideas that has been expanding exponentially in the blogosphere, and want to be a part of the movement to ensure a better future for this country and the planet earth. Or simply, perhaps, a future. Like many others, I suspect, I have been feeling powerless and weak in the grip of the aggressive power machine of the ruthless right. I happen to believe--as you claim to, Bush--in the freedom and democracy you have worked hard to undermine since your non-election in 2000. (A propos of which, how about that Al Gore, Bush! What a resurrection! Watch out, Hillary!) I also believe that the place where bloggers work, in the realm of discussion and ideas, is precisely where we might find those values once again. The blogosphere is a place where--along with all the blather--some simple truths are spoken and heard.

Anyway, Bush, all these developments are exciting, no? Las Vegas! A not inappropriate place, I say, because all this is a gamble. But the odds are getting better for us liberals all the time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

My Lai Redux?

I remember the shock and horror during the Vietnam War when news leaked out about the massacre at My Lai--that village where American soldiers ran amok, slaughtering the innocent, women and children, the aged and unarmed villagers, mercilessly with their automatic weapons. We were appalled, remember, Bush, by the realization that Americans in uniform could do such things? It was a crisis of the national conscience. We were forced to look at the dehumanization that is a consequence of war: the dehumanization of the victims, who are perceived by the perpetrators to be less than human, or why otherwise would they deserve to die this way? And the dehumanization of the perpetrators themselves, who otherwise would surely be incapable of such atrocities.

Did we think once again that we had learned about war and about our human nature from this terrible event? Did we think we had learned from the Holocaust--a massacre on a much larger scale, but not that much different in the lesson it offered about humanity, and about the dehumanization needed to permit such horrors to take place? Did we think we had learned from Rwadna? From Bosnia? Then how can we sit back, collectively, as a species, and watch the events in Dafur?

Did we think we had learned, in Iraq, from Abu Ghraib? Now word comes out about the wanton massacre of innocents at Haditha, with Americans in uniform once again at the delivering end. We hear of the investigation into the close-range, execution-style killing of women and babies in positions of supplication for their lives, or as they slept, by US Marines, and we hear the words of some unnamed US government official expressing shock that these men had "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results."

We should not be surprised, though, that they had been dehumanized by war, by the brutality of the enemy and by the brutalities they themselves were called upon by training and by circumstances to commit.

What value human life? I'm not the first one, Bush, to point out the irony: your ideologues fight tooth and nail to defend the life of a fetus from the very moment of conception--indeed, in their antipathy to birth control, even before conception takes place--but tolerate, even glorify the savage taking of life when it serves their idelogical goals.

How can we train our young men to do our killing for us, and then be surprised when they indulge in acts of inhumanity and barbarism? Please don't go repeating that absurd and patent falsehood, Bush, that these are just a few bad apples whose actions belie the good intentions of the rest. This shameful act is one in which we all share, from the Commander-in-Chief on down. Clearly, we do not train our men to kill the innocent. But we should not react with shock and horror when those we have intentionally dehumanized to kill our "enemy" deploy the skills we have provided them on innocents as well.

I'm reminded to ask, in this sad context, if we're through sorting out those "few bad apples" in the Abu Ghraib affair? As I recall, we've laid the blame on the very lowest in the chain of command, and have conveniently forgotten the higher-ups who authorized their actions--particularly, at the highest level, your Gonzales who provided the justification for torture and your Rumsfeld whose not entirely explicit approval (in the interests surely of deniability) opened the door to its implementation.

In scape-goating the bad apples (with apologies for the horrible mixed metaphor, Bush!) we compound our share of the responsibility for such events. Your quick mea culpa reported yesterday did not go nearly far enough. I won't believe in its sincerity unless we begin to see some real self-examination and some real attempt to hold those responsible to account. I regret to say that I don't see that happening any time soon.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Humble Pie

George & Tony and Ken & Jeff! How have the mighty fallen? Some would say not yet far enough, but it's a start.

First, Bush, I didn't catch your appearance live last night, with your British co-conspirator, but I did see those short clips on the morning news. On the face of things, at first, it seemed quite genuine when you expressed regret for that cocky cowboy talk of the early days, when you were still politically riding high: things like "dead or alive" and "bring it on." (I think you actually said "Bring 'em on," but same difference.)

Okay. Thanks for the acknowledgment--even though you took it back immediately by insisting that your words had been "misinterpreted." Really? My impression is that they were interpreted quite correctly throughout the world. The message was clear and unambiguous, the tone deliberate. And the regret, finally, began to sound a lot more like political contingency. Again.

For me, it's also not enough to regret the talk--as if the words themselves were the only real mistake. No, what I would need to hear is the same regret for the actions that you took and the lies you used to justify those actions; for the lives that were lost and the lives that were destroyed as a result of those actions--as rash and arrogant as the words; and for the lives that are still being lost--another nine today, as a car bomb explodes in a busy market place in Baghdad. You seem to want us to believe that you've learned some humility through this experience, but the policy remains unchanged and its results continue to be no less dire.

As for Ken and Jeff, again I missed the news last night, so I haven't yet seen or read a full report. But from where I stand, their arrogance and their tyrannical rule at Enron is a reflection of the same culture that created you and elevated you to the position you now hold. It's the claw-your-way-to-the-top, win-at-any-cost, screw-the-competition ethic that has perverted and poisoned so much that is good in this country in recent years: the freedom to develop one's own skills and strengths in endlessly creative ways, the reward for vision, hard work and dedication... Such things have degenerated into ruthless competition and insatiable money-grubbing.

It must have been deeply humiliating for these proud men to hear the verdict of their jury yesterday: guilty. Lies were told, reckless actions taken. Lives were destroyed as a result. Sound familiar? Do this pair still genuinely believe--as you do, Bush? And as they continue to insist--that they have done nothing wrong? That it was just the image that was misrepresented, words that were misinterpreted? That everything would have been fine if they'd just managed to maintain the facade? That the whole Enron debacle was the result of no more than personal disloyalty and a hostile press?

I hope we might all learn something from yesterday's serving of humble pie in such high places. My fear is that, given positions of such influence and privilege, even this dessert, no matter how humble, will still be served with a topping of whipped cream and a bright red cherry for you special boys.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


This morning, Bush, at the end of my daily meditation sit, I had this clear vision of a cobra, head on, poised and swaying--though not, it seems, about to strike. I felt no sense of threat. You may think me fanciful but always, on the rare occasions when I get visitations of this kind, I believe they have something to tell me. I have not yet heard what this creature from the wild world has to say to me, but rest assured, I'm listening. And when I hear, Bush, I'll be sure to let you know.

Otherwise, today, the trees are to be trimmed in our back yard. There are many of them--two flowering pears, two tall eucalyptus, several citrus, a coral tree... not to mention the tall camelias of various colors on one side and the green hedgerows on the other. It's a huge job. They have been growing apace with the rains these past few months, and the crew arrives in half an hour. I must be off.

But... before I do, a quick confession. I did watch--out of one eye at least--the last two evenings of "American Idol." My wife made me do it, honest. I am not a big fan of pop music. But the eye-opener: the popular vote for the final two contestants was a staggering sixty-three million! This is way more than have ever voted for a U.S. president, including your good self. A sobering statistic, and one that should give us all pause to reconsider the meaning of the freedom to vote in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


A couple of things from yesterday, when every reader who posted a comment disagreed with some passion with my use of "fifty-fifty" in talking about responsiblity for the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. I realize that I may have been a bit too loose in my phrasing, so I wanted just to clarify what I meant to say and evidently didn't.

What I SAID was (to immodestly quote myself--AND split an infinitive to boot!) "In divorce, they say, no single party is ever solely to blame: it's always fifty-fifty." What I BELIEVE is that the responsibility for a relationship or its failure, not the blame, should be divided fifty-fifty.

The blame...? Well, who knows? Each side will assess it in their own way, to their own advantage or exculpation. But how can it possibly be measured? In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, do we start before the creation of the state of Israel, or after? Before the 1948 War of Independence (Israel) or "The Disaster" (as I believe the Palestinians call the same event) or after? Before the 1967 war, when the Israelis (as they see it) sought to defend their territory from the assault of Arab neighbors bent on its destruction? Or after?

In other words, it seems to me impossible to know when the blaming should start or stop. Sure, there is blame enough to go around, and the Israelis have their share. No one is innocent in this seemingly endless tragedy. Nor is either side exclusively the victim. But blame, as I see it, is unknowable and immeasurable and therefore not a useful tool in preserving or healing a relationship.

Responsibility, though, does not date back into unknowables. It's here and now. And no relationship can be healed, in my view, unless each party shoulders an equal share. It's fifty-fifty for both sides. Fifty-fifty good will and good faith in what comes to the table. Fifty-fifty effort and sacrifice. No matter what the past and who's at fault for what, reparation is a fifty-fifty job.

It's sad to see the Palestinian territories "degenerating," as today's lead editorial in the Los Angeles Times puts in, "into anarchy," with Palestinians now pitted violently against each other. Who's "to blame" for this developing new crisis? America and Israel, for withholding funds from an elected government dedicated loudly and unrepentently to the destruction of the state of Israel? Or the Palestinians, for their hostile intransigeance and for not being able to get their act together? Who's to judge? Not me, for sure. As said before, there's blame enough to go around.

The healing, though, if it's to come... that will be fifty-fifty.

Thanks to all who contributed to this discussion. Only one thing I'd ask: to be as brief and to the point as possible. I just don't have the stamina for lengthy screeds, no matter how worthy! But let me not deter anyone from joining in--at length, if need be!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Dubious Compliment...

... and a mixed bag this morning, Bush. First, the compliment. I caught a glimpse of your latest pep rally event with those restaurant folks in Chicago yesterday. (Was it Chicago? I think so, but I'm not a hundred percent sure.) Anyway, I liked particularly your invocation of "the armies of compassion all across America"--with you, I take it, as their general. Or rather their Commander of Compassion in Chief. In view of which, after the familiar oration about how well things were going in Iraq, you took "questions" from the hand-picked audience of cheerleaders and fans, I was frankly tickled when this chef stood up in full kitchen regalia--you know, with the white apron and the toque--and said: "You run the country the way a chef would run the country"--I think he meant his kitchen. "I'm proud of you," he added.

Well, Bush, in case you didn't know it, the way most great chefs run their kitchens could put the cruelest of absolute tyrants to shame. They demand total obedience and loyalty from their staff. Their egos are notoriously huge and their tempers--thanks, perhaps, to the heat of the kitchen and the persnickety demands of their customers--notoriously short. My own somewhat brief experience confirms this reputation. Many years ago, as a Cambridge undergraduate, I worked as a waiter at the most prestigious hotel in town. You entered the chef's kitchen there in fear and trembling. Heaven help you if you made a mistake or, worse, laid a hand on any of the surfaces he claimed as his domain: his butcher's knife would nearly take your fingers off.

So... what a compliment, eh? And not far off the mark. Such praise, from petty tyrant to petty tyrant! Think about it.

On another front, I'm truly happy to see so much participation in our daily conversations. Have you been clicking on the comments button once in a while? Great to have passionate views, and the exchange of passionate words. We need more of that in this country--so long as we're also actually listening to the other side. Too much of our passion, it seems to me, is exclusive and intolerant.

One thing disturbs me about the passion of our new "anonymous" correspondant: in his defense of the rights of the unfortunate Palestinians, he seems to dismiss a great deal of effort that has been devoted over the past decade to come to some kind of reconciliation of conflicting "rights." I trust that anonymous (who is welcome to identify himself, by the way, in private, via my email account) is not amongst those who, with Hamas and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmendinejad, want to see the state of Israel wiped off the face of the earth.

In any event, in my judgment the Palestinians are not blameless victims. They have missed or spurned important opportunities for peace, and have too often chosen in word or deed the path of senseless violence to achieve their goals. In divorce, they say, no single party is ever solely to blame: it's always fifty-fifty. By the same token, no matter how much I might understand or sympathize with their frustrations, I myself must hold the Palestinians accountable for their fifty percent. And that's not to neglect the fifty percent on the other side.

Well, there you go, Bush. That's it for today. Watch out for the book, "The Real Bush Diaries." It's going to press this week, and will soon be coming your way.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Okay, Bush, since we're in movie mode it's time for us to weigh in on "The Da Vinci Code." I haven't seen the film, of course, but that fact has not prevented most of those other people who feel qualified to put in their two bits. So why not me?

First off, I confess to having read the book. Curiosity, really. As you may know, Bush--or may not know: why should you?--I have written a couple of art mysteries myself, and I wanted to know why Dan Brown should be raking in the all those zillions whilst I... No matter. Call it envy.

In all objectivity, then, I can report that the book was dreadful. The plot, to begin with, was absurd beyond belief. The research, the sense of history, the theological underpinnings--all outrageously wrong or oversimplified beyond all recognition. Jesus, married! Christianity based on a lie! What a notion! And to Mary Magdelene! And a child! And now, today, after all these centuries, but a single survivor of the line! I realize this is a work of fiction, Bush, but so much for verisimilitude. And the dialogue, the bland, stilted descriptive passages... The "characters"!

Ah, Bush, a truly dreadful book.

Did I forget to mention it was also a page-turner? I blush to say it, but I actually did read the whole damn thing, cover to cover. I can't speak, then, from a position of elevated aesthetic superiority.

What galls me nonetheless is yet another demonstration of the success of marketing regardless of quality. It seems that millions of people flocked to the theaters this past weekend to see a movie that was royally trashed by every review I read or heard. An estimate take of $220 million world-wide! Not quite a domestic box office record, I hear, but close--and the best weekend opening of the current year. A smash.

And you know who's to thank for the success? The folks in the PR department who managed to sell religious outrage as a marketing tool. Their strategy was immediately embraced and eagerly promulgated by all those people who pronounced themselves offended by the very idea of the movie. The outrage of the churches, high and low, from Rome to Alabama, was precisely what was needed to hype this piece of trash (oh, sorry, a totally unfounded prejudgment: this as yet unwitnessed media event) into the cultural (and financial) stratosphere. This fictional extravaganza became, believe it or not, a "teaching opportunity"! Shades, Bush, of "The Passion of the Christ"!

All of which goes to show that you can sell anything to the gullible public these days. As Groucho Marx is reported to have said on the occasion of the well-attended funeral of a widely-feared and hated Hollywood producer: "Give the people what they want and they'll flock to see it." Which is fine with me when it comes to movies. I'm just a bit envious of all that cash flowing in to the author's pockets.

Oh, but Bush, it's different, isn't it, when it comes to Presidents and the same principle applies? It's different when pollsters, spin doctors and cynical hacks like your Rove succeed in selling the American electorate a President of the United States who is hopelesly unprepared for the job. Then it gets serious. I know, I know, it's still about the money. It all comes back down to who gets to rake in the most dollars and keep them in his pocket.

Still, you buy a lemon at the car lot and you're stuck with it, even when it begins to fall apart.

But at least "The Da Vinci Code" does no worse than offend the sensibilities and indulge in essentially harmless--because fictional--untruths. A United States President sold to the public no less by hype and outright falsehood... well, Bush, such a man would be capable of infinite damage in a vulnerable and shrinking world. Not true?

Have a good week, Bush. Bear in mind that infinitely wise first rule of doctors and Buddhists throughout the known universe: first do no harm.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Paradise Now

A sad movie last night, Bush. "Paradise Now." It's the story of two young Palestinian men who aspire to be suicide bombers. I say "aspire to" because that, at the beginning of the movie, seems to be their ardent desire. There's a double edge to the operative word in the title. On the one hand, it's an ironic reference to the hell in which they live now, here on earth, in "occupied" territory--I presumed in the Gaza Strip. On the other, it's the paradise they have been promised by their faith and by the cynical, calculating bunch of politically motivated terrorists who are their handlers.

The film could have gone in either of two wrong directions. It could have gone overboard in the direction of the terrorists, devolving into an anti-Israel screed. Or it could have gone the other way, portraying the two young men as monsters. But no, it did neither of these things, and therein lies the secret of its success. It took an observant middle path, allowing us a glimpse into the tortured mind of the suicide bombers, particularly Said--a young man from a destitute family, whose father had been killed by his own people as a collaborator when he was ten years old, and who had suffered mightly from the perceived humiliation and hopelessness of life in a land considered stolen by the Israelis.

A poignant story, Bush, and one which had a lot to say about the terrible impasse in that region, where good people on both sides seems trapped between victimhood and violent aggression. It neither approves the violence nor condemns those who see no other way than to practice it--although it gives forceful voice to both views in the conflict between its characters and the inner conflict of its protagonist. The movie stands back just enough to allow us, as viewers, our own judments. Its own wisdom is to exercise remarkable compassion.

Busy day today, Bush. I'm still waiting for those final, final, final proofs of "The Real Bush Diaries," and Ellie and I are leading a group tour of current exhibits at the museum. See you later.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Must-Read

Just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's "A Man Without a Country" last night. I know, Bush, I know. I started days ago and it's a very short book, a very easy read. I guess I'm a slow reader. Actually, I'm a fitful rather than a slow reader. But the book has been on my mind all this time. I've read extracts to friends. I've recommended it. It has to be one of the sharpest indictments of our culture you can read anywhere. An elegy for the human species and the planet earth in what he sees to be their final throes.

But it's also kind. Avuncular. Full of quiet wisdom. Honest. Plain-spoken. Clear-sighted. It's the kind of talk you'd want to hear from your grandfather, out of the depth of his experience of the world. Funny. Witty. Angry. Full of grief and sadness that things have reached this pitch. Unadorned, unsparing of himself as well as others. And full of love for the world and, particularly, its people. He just loves people. All kinds, particularly those as plain and honest as himself. He reserves his wrath for those who are dishonest, stupid, short-sighted, self-serving, self-righteous, exploitative...

I regret to have to report, Bush, that you belong in the latter category in Vonnegut's book. It comes from an unapologetically socialist world-view, and delights in heaping scorn on right-wing politics and its dire effects. But I wish you'd read the book, Bush, just the same. If you listened to Vonnegut--really listened--I don't think you'd need to be impeached at all. I think you'd go right ahead and impeach yourself.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to things, Bush. That documentary about the Enron collapse, for example--"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." It came out quite a while ago but it wasn't until yesterday that I played the DVD I'd ordered a few weeks back from Netflix. I'd postponed watching it, fearing just another depressing couple of hours. I wasn't far wrong, but it was an impressive job, I thought. A carefully researched, carefully written, carefully edited piece that documents the whole sleazy history of that debacle. Your friend Kenny Boy does not come off too well, I regret to say. I'll be interested to hear what his jury comes back with in the next few days. While I didn't of course, hear all the evidence, I say thumbs down for the pair of them, both Lay and Skillings.

Listen, I confess to being a bit of a dunce when it comes to the intricacies of big money and corporate law. Some of the business dealings explained in the movie went way over my head. What I did respond to was the culture that Enron represented, the get-ahead, win-at-any-cost ethic that was promoted by the Enron executives and accounted for the corporation's spectacular rise--as well as for its eventual rape of the California energy system. The revolting self-congratulation of the Enron traders as they gleefully ripped off the victims of their scam represented, for me, the nadir of the culture that I'm talking about. These people, like their masters in the board room and executive offices, had no ethical restraint, no conscience that might serve to question the ethical basis of their triumph. For them, it was success and financial gain alone that counted, along with the joy at having screwed the innocent. The "losers."

But the values that Enron came to represent in the business world are more deeply and broadly ingrained in our culture at large, Bush, and that's the real scandal. The same dog-eat-dog ethos pervades your Republican Party and the lobbyists from whose labors you all benefit--while the rest of us lose. Consider your Delay, Bush. His sole preoccupation was to win, and it appears he didn't mind much how he did it. If it involved redrawing the congressional map of Texas to discount the votes of those of other persuasions, so be it. The hell with democracy, The hell with the voice of the people. Screw them.

By the same token, consider your Rove, whose sleazy political tactics are now legend, and who would slime anyone--including wounded veterans--to secure your victory. The aggressiveness and ruthlessness that characterize his operations are the same values, I believe, in cultural terms, as those that elevated Enron to the top of the corporate ladder on the basis of nothing but strategy, illusion and lies. There was no there there. Just the image that was conjured out of posturing, diversion, and the gullibility of people too greedy and too delighted with their own success to notice anything was wrong.

Is this culture, I wonder now, beginning to implode? The Enron trials are a signal that perhaps, finally, there's a reluctant recognition that actions without conscience do have baleful consequences. The polls are suggesting, finally, that the voters who brought you to power on the basis of the deception and the lies that they were fed have begun to see the pitiable, impotent Oz behind the curtain. Bad karma, Bush, coming back at you.

The sad thing, though, for me, is to see a whole younger generation coming to maturity, who have learned that to be successful means necessarily to be ruthless and aggressive. There's a distinct split in this generation between those who have learned this lesson and exploit their skills to empower and enrich themslves, and those more sensitive, more creative, whom they trample mercilessly on their way to the top. The problem with this, Bush, is that while the ruthless may be winners in the present, the future depends very much on our culture's creative resources. We sacrifice them at our peril, in favor of immediate success and wealth. I trust that the Enron fiasco will be a wake-up call to alert us to the misguided values that made it possible, and show the way to something more lasting, more substantial than that corporation proved to be.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Nice blue suit, Bush. Nice blue tie. Nice family pictures. Nice flags. Nice speech. A "rational middle ground," eh? Sounds like a dream come true, after these past five and a half years. Only trouble is, as we've discovered each time you talk about bipartisanship and listening to the other side, the "rational middle ground" too often turns out to be your way and no other.

Still, I understand you're walking a fine line here. Most everyone is already mad at you for one reason or another. The fiscal conservatives, for your handling of the budget and your irresponsible deficit. (I note, by the way, from Harper's Magazine's Harper's Index that the signboard erected in 1989 near Times Square in New York to tally the national debt is estimated to run out of digits by 2007!) I don't know how these folk expect you to do better without raising taxes, but they're mad at you anyway.

Then there's your famous "base", the righteous ones, who are mad at you for any number of reasons: for not taking a harder stand on gay marriage, for instance, or on abortion; and, now, for not sending all those illegals packing and sealing the borders to protect us from any more who might be headed our way.

So you've got two separate groups attacking on your own right flank. And then there's the rest of us, who never did worship you, Bush. We never did have quite that much wool pulled over our eyes that we couldn't see the posturing, the aggression, the exploitation of the 9/11 attacks to justify your grab for quasi-totalitarian power for the presidency and your trampling of the US constitution. Not to mention the small matter of transparent cronyism and the consequent incompetence of so much of your disastrous administration.

So, yes, I can see that you're walking a very fine line right at this moment. I took note of the nice blue suit, the tie, the family pictures, the flags... but what struck me most was the body language. First, the face--carefully controlled this time. I didn't notice a single smirk along the way. Not even, really, the semblance of a smile. This was serious stuff. Important, as you like to say.

And then the hands. Did anyone talk to you before the speech about the hands, Bush, when you were rehearsing? Did they tell you it was best to keep them flat on the desk? I noticed that they kept trying to get back to base. But they wandered, too, nervously, wanting at moments to be expansive but not quite managing it; and at other moments fluttering like nervous butterflies, not quite sure whether to take off or to land. So here, in the hands, was the Bush that I intuit--the one behind the presidential screen. The scared little boy who's way out of his depth and putting on a brave face so no one else will know the inner self that he himself so resolutely rejects. The flutterer, who works so hard at being the decider.

Monday, May 15, 2006


About those abusers of children, Bush: I have mentioned before in these pages, I know, that I belong to an international organization of men whose purpose is to do what we can to raise consciousness, among men, about themselves and their role in the world today--a world in which we have done, and continue to do much harm, as men, and in which we are able instead to do much good. A controversy arose last week among our number regarding those abusers, and I wanted to post a word or two about it.

The controversy arose from the views of one man who had watched a television show based on a sting operation set up by the producers. Those caught in the sting had been lured online by false promises from underage girls--and, I believe, boys--into a trap where they were greeted with TV cameras and cops instead of their intended victims. I happen to think the ethics of the network in this television event were in themselves debatable--no matter how despicable the targets--but leave that question aside: the man who initiated our controversy was enraged by the abusers--so much so that he emailed out a proposal that we use available information in police records about sex offenders to exclude them from participating in our common work.

Having observed the exchange of a good number of heated emails, I decided that I needed to step in. My own response follows, lightly edited to protect identities:

I have been abstaining from the conversation about child abusers initiated this past week for a variety of reasons--not least because I'm averse to getting into no-win arguments! I have been disturbed by the exchange, however, and
want to add a piece or two that I have not heard voiced.

What concerns me is the tenor of certain comments, not primarily their content--though I will say that I too was amongst the victims of sexual abuse as a child and speak with the authority of that first-hand (sorry: no pun intended!) experience. Some of us have a powerful and passionate voices, which risk creating in this case the impression of a lack of compassion. I trust that is not true. The spiritual path I have chosen in my own life teaches compassion for all living beings as a bottom-line value, and I aspire to practice it even for those I loathe, fear, or distrust; compassion even for those I judge to be evil.

That said, insofar as our training weekends are concerned, or for the organization at large, I feel deeply uncomfortable about taking it upon ourselves to troll through police or other records to identify undesirables of any kind. Should we start this practice, where would we stop? At those who have killed, no
matter their motivations? Wife-beaters? Those who have stolen? Those who have spent time in jail? There might be men amongst us who would be delighted to exclude gays, judging their sexual proclivities to be sinful.

Lastly, what if we don't--or can't, as one man says--"cure" them? What is lost in our having included the worst of the worst of men, the child abusers? We have no children on our weekends. There is no danger of molestation. No pederast will infect me, or convert me to his ways. Are they any more likely, for having taken part in our training weekend, to go out and molest again? Or, just possibly, less? I hope the latter. At the very least, by including them, we will have done no harm. We will instead have exercised that quality that is too much missing in the world outside our weekends: compassion.

Our Buddhist teacher made his monthly visit to our meditation group yesterday, Bush, and I referred the matter to him. I was interested particularly in his thoughts about forgiveness--an issue one of us involved in the controversy had raised: were men capable of such evil worthy of forgiveness? And then, of course, the next step: are we to forgive monsters like Hitler, Stalin, and their ilk? In response, our teacher pointed to the distinction between "forgiveness," which goes one way and does not require the participation of the offender; and "reconciliation," which requires some admission of guilt and a desire to make amends. As for the question of exclusion, he asked simply: "Where else are they to go?"

So much for Monday morning, Bush. Just thought the debate might be of interest to you. Good luck with that speech tonight. It looks like a lose-lose proposition for you with your Republicans, but who knows?

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Who can blame them, Bush? The dreadful loss of life in the gasoline pipeline explosion yesterday in Nigeria reminds us once again--as if such a tragic reminder were needed--of the seemingly unending agonies suffered by our fellow-humans on the African continent. With pipelines running through their homelands carrying liquid wealth to the already wealthy, who can blame these impoverished and desperate villagers for risking their very lives in the attempt to divert some of it into their jerry-cans in order to supplement an income insufficient to support their families? Their desperation was such, they chose to ignore the history of previous disasters--including one in 1998 that took over 1,000 lives--and tap into the pipeline with dangerously primitive tools to steal a pathetic dribble from the flow.

The result of their reckless assault on the property of the oil companies? A vast explosion, powerful enough to incinerate everyone in the assembled mob of vandals within 20 yards. The picture on page A3 of today's New York Times is ample testimony to its violence and its dire consequence: a seared skull, a heap of ribs and bones and a charred mass of flesh and organs is all that remains in the sand of what was once a human being. Above this pathetic remnant runs a section pipeline undamaged in the blast and, beyond, a posse of civilian officials and military men, whose leader is busy communicating elsewhere on his cellular phone.

Such tragedies are the direct result of poverty, hunger, disease and desperation, Bush. When I think of the billions mis-spent on your Iraq adventure, with the world crying out for so much subsistence aid, I'm not sure whether to rage or weep. What's your choice, Bush? Perhaps both. But is it not time we re-evaluated our priorities? Is it not time we found less damaging and more practical ways to exorcise this demon, oil, with all the human suffering it has already caused, along with the promise to cause infinitely more in the years to come as we recklessly continue to derive our wealth from it and squabble over the diminishing supply?

We understand you're going to talk to us on Monday night about immigration. The promised theme, to placate your conservative supporters, is supposedly the use of National Guard troops to protect the borders. I'd much prefer to hear you talk about the deeper issues involved: world poverty, overpopulation and the pressing need for birth control, climate change, the disparity of wealth, the need for work among the world's many millions of poor and destitute... A few thousand troops to stem the flow is not going to do it, Bush. There are systemic problems here, that demand system- rather than symptom-driven solutions. I hope that those who instruct your speechwriters will bear these things in mind. It's not just about reversing your popularity and saving Republicans from disaster at the polls. As I keep saying until you're sick of hearing it: it's about the human race.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The "Freedom of the Seas"

Could it be nothing but coincidence, I wonder, Bush, that the new spectacular disaster movie "Poseidon" is released to oceans of publicity on the same day as the big media hoohah around the naming of the newest and biggest and grandest and most luxurious of all ocean liners, the "Freedom of the Seas"? The ship weighs as much as 32,000 elephants we learned on the "Today Show," along with other essential statistics. Three times as long as the "Titanic!" Her full complement is 4,375 passengers (we call them "guests" these days) and 1,360 crew. She does look horribly top-heavy to my inexpert eye, I have to say, and a frighteningly juicy target for one of those gigantic rogue waves that wander inexplicably around the oceans of the Earth.

Then I begin to wonder about "Poseidon" as a metaphor for the bubble of luxury we have been living in--those of us, at least, with the excellent good fortune to have been born with the right parents, in the right place, at the right time. I wonder about the fictional disaster as a metaphor for the future of our planet...

Anyway, listen, Bush, enough of that! Talk about glitz and glamor, though. It's all there, as we saw on the "Today Show." Katie and Matt and Al and Melanie all got to play. In the surf-riding machine, the swimming pool, on the bridge with the captain... Katie steered the boat and blew the fog horn. All aboard the "Freedom of the Seas." Freedom, anyone? Luxury--for those who can afford it?

Ah, and in the background, the Lady Liberty draped in an impenetrable shroud of fog. Another metaphor, Bush? More coincidence, in the light of new revelations about your rude incursions into the freedoms of your fellow-countrymen? Or could it all be some mighty joke on the part of the Almighty?

Thursday, May 11, 2006


News this morning that you've been playing fast and loose with millions more of our telephone numbers than you originally copped to, Bush. It seems your National Security Agency has been extorting massive lists from the major phone companies--not, your people insist, to listen in on private conversations (who? us?) but merely to track patterns of calls that might suggest terrorist activity.

Quite frankly, Bush, it doesn't matter to me whether you're tracking my calling patterns or listening to my conversations. It's still a gross and unwarranted invasion of my privacy and, as such, a violation of my constitutionl rights as an American citizen. I'm not usually one of those who makes a big issue of my personal rights: in fact, I tend rather to believe that the creed of individual rights on which this country was founded--in part at least--has led directly to many of the problems we face as a society. I judge that we're short on a collective sense of social responsibility these days. Remember, I was raised a socialist, in the good old meaning of that word. It wasn't always a dirty one, at least in Europe.

Still, you have taken things to the opposite extreme. In line with your recently-revealed spying program, this is the stuff of Orwellian Big Brother conservatism. It borders--and I hate to use the word, Bush, but it does truly fit--on fascism. (Did you know the origin of that word was the Latin fasces, the axe bound up in a bundle of rods that was the militaristic Roman symbol of authority? It carries with it, too, an association of punishment. That's what I mean about your regime, Bush: it's based in an authoritarianism that tolerates no questions and no doubts.) I know you protest that such things as secret wiretapping are necessary to protect us from another terrorist attack: every inroad that you've made into the constitutional rights of citizens (and non-citizens!) since 9/11, it seems, uses that event to justify you.

Let's leave aside the question of effectiveness. I happen to believe that the success of those who wish us ill will not be impeded by such futile and personally invasive gestures. If you think they're incapable of working around such obstacles, you underestimate them, Bush. But let's leave that aside. The problem here has to do with legality, and the way in which you choose to define it. A friend referred me yesterday to an article by Charlie Savage in the April 30 Boston Globe about the practice of using "signing statements" to define any law passed by Congress to mean exactly what you want it to mean--no matter if that's the opposite of what Congress meant. Other Presidents have apparently resorted to this device, but have most frequently had the guts to use their veto power to register protest or disagreement, thus allowing Congress to rethink and, if suffiently powerful in their collective wisdom, to override the presidential veto. No previous President has used it habitually, as you have done--an incredible 750 times!--to effectively change the intention of any law that displeases you. The veto? You have used it... never.

It's this kind of sneakiness, Bush, that most bothers me about you. You gather those who have worked hard to assure passage of the bill around you in a signing ceremony, you congratulate them all with big fanfare as you append your signature, then turn around and write a signing statement that completely undermines their work. All this without their knowing it. In effect you give yourself permission, as President, to break the law you signed. It's truly disgraceful. As I say, it's also sneaky. Your trademark smirk is the facial expression of the sneaky man--the man who thinks, or knows he's getting away with something. And sneakiness is, frankly, the coward's way of dealing with reality. It's what you do when you don't have the guts or the persuasive powers to argue you own cause, or when you don't have the passion to believe in it yourself.

Enough for today, Bush. Too late, I think, to hope you'll mend your ways.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Must-Read

Well, Bush, I know there's an awful lot of important things to be talking about this morning--things like Iraq, Iran, the nerve of those Russians and Chinese to oppose your plan for sanctions at the UN, the letter from Ahmendinejad (did I spell him right?) the moves toward peace in Dafur, etcetera, etcetera. Some good, some... well, not so good. But I confess my head's just not into them. Instead...

I've been reading that old rogue Kurt Vonnegut's new book, Bush. It's very short. An easy read. Funny. Acerbic. Full of unpalatable truths, from the pen of an eighty-two year-old who has seen a lot--including, he reminds us, the fire-bombing and total destruction of the city of Dresden during World War II. Here's what he says about your team (your former team, I should say, before your Powell's defection): "The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon." I thought that was good for a laugh.

More seriously, though, he goes on: "Our government's got a war on drugs [...] But get this: the two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal. One, of course, is ethyl alcohol..." He rants on a bit here, Bush, about your own younger days, and his, before getting to "the most abused, addictive, and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels. When you [his audience] got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won't be any left. Cold turkey."

"Can I tell you the truth?" he adds. "I mean, this isn't the TV news, is it? Here's what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on."

Ouch, Bush. You want more? Okay. Here he goes: "Fossil fuels, so easily set alight! Yes, we are presently touching off nearly the very last whiffs and drops and chunks of them. All lights are about to go out. No more electricity. All forms of transportation are about to stop, and the planet Earth will soon have a crust of skulls and bones and dead machinery. And nobody can do a thing about it. It's too late in the game. Don't spoil the party, but here's the truth: We have squandered our planet's resources, including air and water, as though there were no tomorrow, so now there isn't going to be one."

And they called him a "science fiction" writer!

Okay, Bush, so Vonnegut is a bit of a poet and a bit of a cynic and his imaginative powers are as strong as any I know. In a word, he might be exaggerating just a bit for the sake of his argument. But not too much. What he has to say about ourselves and our world, seen in the light of the centuries, has a dreadful core of truth.

I realize that today's entry is more Vonnegut's than mine. Apologies. But what you should really do is go out and lay your hands on a copy of this marvelous book. It's called "A Man Without a Country" and you don't even have to go out: you can get it easily online. It will take you no more than an hour or so to read, and it's a whole lot more scary that "The Little Goat."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In One Ear...

Just a few words in response to the comment, yesterday--thanks, Dennis!--with a link to the Stephen Colbert performance at your White House Correspondents' roast the other night. In fact--did I mention this already, Bush?--I had read the transcript and had enjoyed it as a brilliant piece of satire. You, I gather, did not. Enjoy it, I mean. Granted, it was a tough piece. And the assembled media remained largely silent, perhaps embarrassed by its biting accuracy.

What's interesting to me, though, is that the media's silence persisted even after the event. Total silence. Contrast that with the adulation poured on the other comic of the evening, that Bush impersonator from Texas, and you'll see what I mean. That guy has been all over the TV news and talk shows for days! They've been rattling on about his childhood, his early years as an impersonator, his Clinton imitation, the hours it takes to put on his make-up... it's been endless.

So, okay, he does a really good job. It's mildly funny, too. The press ate it up. You collaborated--anxious, no doubt, to put a more human complexion on your image. But it was essentially friendly, Bush, no? Not real satire. The Colbert piece, on the other hand, cut close to the bone. And was rewarded with the silent treatment. I can understand that it would seem tasteless and disrespectful to you personally, Bush, but don't you think the discrepancy is interesting? Does it not say something about how cautious the media have been when it comes to anything critical of your good self? What's going on here? Why do you always manage to get a virtually free pass?

Well, not so free, perhaps. A thirty-one percent approval rating in the polls this morning. The uproar surrounding your latest appointment of Air Force General Michael Hayden to succeed Porter Goss as Director of the CIA suggests that you no longer inspire the timid silence that you did for far too long from the media and the U.S. Congress. I can't claim to know much about Hayden--though his impeccable uniform and his ramrod stance do bug me a bit, I have to say, as does his record of loud defense for your habit of spying on unknown numbers of our fellow citizens without warrant.

Your choice reminds me, too, of something I have long believed: that you have a tin ear for political realities. As the lead editorial in today's New York Times noted: "the choice of Gen. Hayden sends a politically tone-deaf signal" to CIA agents and employees whose morale "is at an all-time low." How could you possibly not have anticipated what kind of response this choice might receive amongst your political allies in Congress, as well as with your critics? Did no one of your advisors mention this to you? Did you just not care about others' judgment, even when well-informed and insightful? Or did it simply, like so much information you receive that fails to justify or confirm your stubbornly-held preconceptions, go in one ear and out the other?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Happy Talk

We saw "South Pacific" at the beach yesterday, Bush. A beautiful, temperate, sunny afternoon, with crowds of locals gathered at an improvised amphitheater for the occasion, some stretched out on blankets, some perched on the folding chairs they'd had the foresight to bring with them--a true community celebration. The actors/singers did a wonderful job, especially when you consider that they had to compete with traffic noise from the adjacent highway, including the odd ambulance and police siren, as well as with an amplification system that was jerry-rigged outdoors for the day, and susceptible to the vagaries of the ocean breeze. But all in all it was a terrific performance, greeted, at the end, by a rousing standing ovation.

I guess I'm getting to be a sentimental old cuss in my dotage, Bush: I found myself choking up to "Some Enchanted Evening," if you can imagine--and at the spectacle of the show's ill-fated and happy-ending love affairs. With its themes of American patriotism, racial prejudice and war, it got me thinking again about our current situation. That was a war, though, Bush. World War II. We had been attacked--yes, as on 9/11, but with a difference: it was an identifiable national military power that hit us at Pearl Harbor, and the "enemy" presented a traditional target for our retaliation. There was no question who they were or where they could be found. There was no question about their military strength or their intention. On the other front, it was Germany, remember, that declared war on the United States?

Was this, as some have said, the "last just war?" It's a philosophical question that remains open for debate. But I did have pause to wonder how you and your Rumsfeld would have handled it for us, had you been in the shoes of Roosevelt and Churchill--two leaders of indisputable stature. And I did recall your preppy flight-suit landing on that aircraft carrier, and the "happy talk" you continue to feed us, seemingly in the the belief that if you repeat the cliches often enough they will morph into great speeches and creditable truth. And on a purely personal note, I did have pause to wonder at the fact--and to be grateful--that I myself had the good fortune to born too late for that earlier war, and too soon for subsequent ones. I have never been in a position to be called upon to put my life on the line, as did those thousands of brave souls who died in the South Pacific--not to mention those tens of thousands more who died in North Africa and Europe.

If "South Pacific" looks a little quaint under the microscope of today's cynical world, that fact does not detract from the emotional power of great songs like "Happy Talk," "Dites-Moi," "You Have to be Taught" and, yes, "Some Enchanted Evening." We shudder a bit when we hear then common epithets like "the Japs" and recall the paternalism of "civilized" America toward supposedly naive, if not primitive islanders. But in the tradition of the American musical "South Pacific" still stands tall, and it was a joy to sit there among friends and neighbors in the sunshine and listen to those memorable songs. A big Thank You to those who brought them to us.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


It all seems so unplanned, somehow, Bush. This latest dis-appointment--the Goss resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency--comes not out of any sense of strategic forethought on the part of some intelligent master-mind behind all actions, but rather out of a kind of seat-of-the-pants contingency flight plan that constantly re-acts to events that have not turned out as expected or desired.

I'd like to believe in a confident hand that makes the moves on this huge, complex chess-board of a planet that we live on, with some coherent sense of the big picture and of the short- and long-term consequences of each move.

But I don't Bush. It occurs to me that you believe that a rigorous, inflexible ideology is in itself enough to guarantee successful outcomes, and that the means will be miraculously taken care of if the ends are clear. You have been provided on any number of fronts with very ample proof that this is not the case; that foresight and forethought are called for in national and world affairs. And yet it seems that you have chosen to ignore the lessons you are constantly being offered by ever more negative results, and to revert each time, instead, to a blind faith that your complacent core beliefs will see you through.

No matter what you choose to call it, this is not leadership, Bush. The impression created by this latest episode in your embattled and uncertain tenure is that you are floundering in waters too deep and dark for you to even comprehend, let alone navigate with the kind of strength and vision that we need.

It's a bleak moment in our history, and it's getting bleaker by the day. I fear for our country. I fear for our world. I fear for our children and their future. If you're not capable of standing up to the task, Bush, I very much fear you should stand down.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Hot Seat

I see your Rumsfeld ended up in the hot seat yesterday, Bush--and it wasn't just the ex-CIA man asking hostile questions. It was audience members heckling and being escorted out in protest. As I think you know, there's many of us find it hard to understand what he's still doing in that office you entrusted him with, while things continue to go badly wrong. Last month, I also heard on this morning's news, was the bloodiest for us since your war began. There was an attempt at retaliation with the broadcast of an outtake from last week's Zarqawi video, which showed the arch-terrorist needing help with his machine gun. I guess the idea was to make him look foolish and incompetent.

Okay, fair game. But we're still not coming off too well ourselves, nor are the Iraqi troops that are being trained to take over the defense of their own country. A strong editorial piece on the op-page of yesterdays Los Angeles Times, Bush, in which Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.) made a persuasive case for getting out of Iraq now. He makes a good point about those Iraqi trainees: "The problem in Iraq," he writes, "is not military competence. The problem is loyalty. To whom can Iraqi officers and troops afford to give their loyalty?" The sight of graduating Sunni troops sloughing off their uniforms last week, and basically deserting at the very moment of their commissioning is a case in point: apparently no one had told them that they might be assigned to patrol Shiite areas.

It's a powerful piece, Bush. I trust you'll read it. Check out the full version in the current Foreign Policy magazine. Enough for today, though. Still working on those final proofs...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

We Win, You Lose

I heard on the news what Zacarias Moussaoui shouted as he left the courtroom yesterday after the jury returned its sentencing verdict: "America, you lost... I won!" He got that exactly wrong in my opinion, Bush. I heard it said that this was a great embarrassment for you and your federal prosecution team, who have been working so hard to have the man executed. That may be so. But it's a win for us.

It's a win because despite those hell-bent on revenge, any kind of revenge for the attack on the World Trade Center and the dreadful loss of life, America comes out ahead for not killing anyone in retribution. It's not that I don't commiserate with the feelings of those who lost loved ones in that tragic event; it's not that I don't understand from where those feelings come. I might be feeling that same need for revenge myself, were I in their place. It's simply that the official, state enactment of that revenge accomplishes nothing except to reveal the last vestiges of barbarism in our society to the world.

On the merits of the case, so far as I understand them, the man was found guilty of having lied, and caused deaths through his lies, not of having participated in the killing. Moussaoui, it seems to me, came off as more of a clown with fantasies of mass murder than a mass murderer himself. A truly pathetic figure, who acted out the fantasy of being powerful and menacing, but proved not to have it in him to fulfill the fantasy. I think it extremely unlikely that the plotters even shared with him the details of their plans, and probable that he knew considerably less than the FBI, had they chosen to believe all their sources, put together their information and draw the right conclusion.

To sentence a man to death, not because he killed but because he might have been in possession of some knowledge that he failed to reveal--this evidently seemed as excessive to the jury as it seems to me. I see it not was a failure of justice, but rather as a triumph for America. But I'm sure, Bush, that you'll disagree. Having failed to track down Bin Laden as you promised, you had a lot riding on the image of this execution.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

No Ashes, No Snow. No Cigar.

We had long postponed going to see the blockbuster art show, "Ashes amd Snow," Bush, featuring the film and photography of Gregory Colbert--any relation, I wondered, to the infamous Stephen? We had heard such mixed reports, Ellie and I, from various sources, that we questioned the value of devoting a precious afternoon to the venture. Reports ranged all the way from ecstasy to outrage. Fearing that we might miss something important if we listened only to the intellectual art elitist snobs, we girded ourselves and tanked up the car at vast expense for the trek down to the Santa Monica Pier.

And now I regret to have to report that you must count me, Bush, amongst the intellectual art elitist snobs. I thought it was dreadful. Oh, there was no shortage of beauty, to be sure. It was everywhere in evidence, from the pretentiously named "nomadic museum" that housed the show to the photographs and films installed within. The museum was a vast, magnificent construct of rusting shipping containers (as "walls") and oil barrels (as "columns")--its cavernous, dark interior a very beautiful, contemporized homage to the natural inspiration of those ancient Egyptian temples where the towering columns evoke great, underwater forests.

The grand inner spaces were permeated by the self-consciously "spiritual" tones of New Age music, wafting down from every direction in the upper reaches of the gloom. The viewer was invited to walk down the long aisles of this secular cathedral, surrounded on each side by enlarged photographs of, yes, extraordinary beauty--photographs of the exotic animals and birds of this planet in all their glorious natural elegance and grace; and often, blessed by their presence, the figures and faces of human beings of comparable beauty and grace, Africans and Asians in languid or contemplative, quasi-Buddhist costumes and poses, entranced in the aura of impeturbable serenity that embraces all living beings, both animal and human. In exquisite slow motion, the films portray them in dance- (or trance-)like sequences, underwater, or drifting in primitive canoes through the jungle.

Leopards, elephants, marmosets, baboons--all wonderful creatures in their own right--are shown here in a paradise "peaceable kingdom" where leopards nuzzle their human counterparts with sensual adoration, baboons nibble lovingly at their arms, and where birds spread their wings to lend angelic beatitude to their serenely innocent human partners. Everything is, in a word, beautiful. No question.

Listen, Bush, I won't even dwell on the sentimentality of this exhibit, or the cute, condescending anthropomorphism of its portrayal of wild life. What really gets to me is its fundamental dishonesty. I for one like my beauty weighted down with just a little bit of truth, and everything in this show is, in my judgment, profoundly untruthful. Take the title. "Ashes and Snow." It might seem trivial or persnickety to point out that there are no ashes in evidence, no snow in sight. It's just a nice, alluring phrase that evokes, perhaps, a sense of impermanence and purity. Is it silly of me to want to find some greater relevance in the show to the title that brings in the crowds?

But this trivial example is symptomatic of a far deeper and more disturbing untruth. The true relationship between humans and animals in the modern world is regrettably very far from what we see here. The reality is that humans, in their ever growing numbers, are destroying the habitat of most of our fellow creatures and threatening their very existence. Those who love this show--and there are many--may argue that this is a representation of an idealized relationship, how things could be, and should be, in a world where the spiritual unity of all things embraces the comradeship between human and animal creatures, and that what we experience is the sacredness of all things in their ideal state.

Fair enough. I would not wish to deprive anyone of their pleasure. For myself, however, the sacred is as deeply connected as beauty with the real and the true. A steady, unblinking, unhumanized gaze on nature is worth more to me than a staged or fantacized beauty. Watching the underwater ballet of two lovely humans, their bodies entwining in acts of etheral love, I found myself wishing uncharitably for the sharks to arrive. They never did, Bush. They never did.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More Bush Compassion

I was about to report that I had nothing useful to say this morning, Bush, and sign off before I wasted my time and yours. But then I happened to pick up a piece a friend brought over yesterday and changed my mind. It's an editorial from the May issue of Scientific American, and the title is Don't Rob the Cradle. Seems like you had the beginnings of a terrific program to investigate the origins of afflictions like diabetes, autism and asthma whose cumulative financial toll on the US budget is close to $200 billion a year. The National Children's Study would have cost a mere $100 million and showed promise of making significant inroads on the costs--let alone the physical and emotional devastation associated with those diseases. We had collectively, as a nation, put out $50 million a year since 2000 to design and organize the program, which was to begin this year.

Now, it seems, you have "slashed funding" for the current year, and "eliminated its funding entirely and directed that the study be shut down" in your proposed 2007 budget. According to you budget director Joshua Bolten, the idea is "to focus on national priorities and tighten our belt elsewere." To which I can only say, Nice going, Bush. Another brilliant, cost-effective and of course conservatively compassionate move to save money to allow for your tax cuts for the rich. As my friend notes on the tear sheet he so kindly gave me: "This must be meant by NO CHILD LFET BEHIND from the party of compassion." Have a good day.

Monday, May 01, 2006


I picked up Hillary Clinton's book, "Living History," at a garage sale on Saturday, Bush. I have to admit I probably wouldn't have done if they weren't in the process of closing up and wanted to give the unsold items away free. So I walked away with the Hillary book and another hardback about Roosevelt and Churchill. I do like hardbacks. So much more satisfying to hold and read. But I have to say I rarely buy them. I guess because I'm a bit on the cheap side, Bush.

But anyway, I walked away with these two hardbacks and cracked Hillary's book at the moment where Bill wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her he has been lying in his teeth about the Monica Lewinsky story. A huge betrayal. He's pacing like a panther and repeating over and over again how sorry he is and how he only lied to protect his wife and daughter. And Hillary is understandably flabbergasted and enraged and desperately hurt. I remember having read reviews of the book a couple of years ago, when it came out, suggesting that she hadn't squarely faced the issue of her husband's infidelity and his feckless protests and denials ("I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky...") I disagree. I was rather moved by her account, and by the subsequent slow process of healing and forgiveness--a process still left incomplete at the book's end and, I suspect, until today.

Having started this particular passage, I got hooked. The writing was good, the story compelling, and I read straight through to the end. Then I put the book down for a while but was interested enough, by then, to pick it up again yesterday afternoon and begin at the beginning. I was frankly not prepared to be as impressed with Hillary as I was, and am. I've passed the point where she met Bill at Yale and the start of their relationship, and I find that I really like her and admire her far more than I thought I would. I like her ability to explore her own childhood and her relationships with family and friends with emotional honesty but without being coy or sentimental. She respects the humanity of those around her--and her own--with a critical but caring eye.

I also have to admire what her enemies--and there are many of them, I know--see to be her ambition. Her strong Methodist background leaves her with a powerful moral and social conscience which she works tirelessly to serve. I had not realized, Bush, that she was such a staunch Republican in her young days, and that her early political dedications were to Goldwater and Rockefeller. I have been impressed to watch her transition, her sympathy for the conservative point of view, her sense that she had not so much left the Republican Party, but that it had left her, veering off to the right and losing the "compassionate" center that cared about the less privileged members of our society.

I like, too, the story of her early relationship with Bill, the picture of a young couple truly dedicated to their urgent sense of the need to do good things with their lives. All in all, I'm enjoying her book immensely, and finding her a full and sympathetic human being. I had been hoping that she wouldn't run for the presidency, Bush, thinking that she would be too divisive and that too many people are predisposed to hate her--for mostly irrational reasons beyond her control. I think now that I was mistaken. I hope she does run. There have been times I've been disappointed in what has seemed to me an overeagerness to compromise in her work as senator, for what I can only suppose to be political reasons. Even so, I hope she finds the opportunity to allow Americans to get to know her better, and to respect the humanity that she seems genuinely to embrace.