Monday, July 31, 2006

Two Birthday Parties...


The Middle East

I would be remiss, Bush, if I failed to take note of the first item of importance in the world today: the broadening conflict in the Middle East. Many more civilian lives lost over the weekend. More demonstrations of the failures of diplomacy and the intransigeance of participants on all sides. More smiles and handshakes exchanged for the benefit of the media's cameras, and more inauthenticity, hatred and distrust behind them. I take your Rice's assurance of some kind of a truce within the week with a heavy pinch of salt. The Israeli offer of a 48-hour cessation in its bombing assault is already compromised, I hear on this morning's news, by further attacks on both sides. There is no good news.

Bravo, Loretta Sanchez!

But I set out to write about two birthday parties. The first, on Saturday afternoon, was a second birthday celebration for Progressive Democrats of America put on by the local Orange County chapter. As you might imagine, given the political atmosphere of this particular corner of California, it was a relatively small affair! But it was nonetheless a lively one, with good liberal people spurred on to real grassroots action by the outrages and incompetence of your administration, Bush, both at home and abroad.

There are those, I know, who have been complaining that the Democratic Party has been weak and ineffectual these past few years. I wish they had been on hand to hear Congressmember Loretta Sanchez speak. I thought she was terrific. Given the important office that she holds, she struck me as a remarkably unpretentious woman, energetic, well-spoken, charismatic and direct. She had been on the floor of the House in Washington DC until two o'clock in the morning, and managed to find the energy to show up in California only a few hours later and speak with powerful conviction--and with a lot of anger, Bush, I have to say--at this small gathering, before heading back to Anaheim to be with her own constituents. Hard-working is a barely adequate term to describe this kind of dedication.

The story she had to tell was enough to anger anyone. She was anxious to dispel the myth of the weak and ineffectual Democratic Party by describing something of the obstacles they face in working for the country. It has been much on my mind--as you must surely know, Bush, from following these pages--that your Republicans have managed skillfully to promulgate and exploit that myth for some years now, and it has annoyed me particularly that even many Democrats have bought into that particular Republican message. Almost every day I hear at least one otherwise liberal-leaning person say that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans, that the Democrats lack leadership, conviction, backbone, ideas... And quite frankly, Bush, that kind of talk just pisses me off.

They should have heard Loretta Sanchez speak about Republican control of both the rules and the agenda in Congress. Wanting to illustrate her point that your Republicans hold all the power and use it to make their Democratic colleagues look weak and indecisive, she told us the story of the previous night's debate, still fresh in her anger for its cynicism: how Democrats have been trying for months to bring the minimum wage to the agenda, and how Republicans had been resisting any change that might benefit the poorest of the working poor; and how they finally attached it to the bill (the one that came up, last night, for a vote) that included not only the repeal of the estate tax, but also the package of tax cuts you have been pushing to benefit the very rich; how they protected discussion of their bill with rules that allowed no further amendments or argument, and forced it to a vote where Democrats had the option either to vote their conscience against more huge tax breaks for the wealthy or against a slow increase in the minimum wage.

She gritted her teeth and voted no--risking, of course, the exploitation of her action for political gain on the other side, along with the accusation from those on her own side that she had acted against their liberal principles. Watching the news on my return home, I was appalled to watch a Republican Congressmen, on the floor of the House, rising to crow shamelessly about the fact that Democrats had once more been "outfoxed."

Is this what it's about, Bush? "Outfoxing" Democrats, when it comes to the vital business of this country, affecting the very lives of the poorest of our citizens? Shame on your Republicans for their despicable display of "strength" in this affair. Shame on them for their cynical abuse of the power entrusted them by the American electorate. And shame on those of us Democrats who enable the success of these tactics with our easy dismissal of the extraordinary, dedicated efforts of people of good conscience like Loretta Sanchez.

Thank you, Loretta, for the passion with which you shared this story. Take heart from the support of people like those who join their voices in Progressive Democrats for America, and keep up the good work. Let's all take a leaf from Ronald Reagan's book and adapt his famous dictum to our own purposes: THOU SHALT NOT SPEAK ILL OF A FELLOW DEMOCRAT (although, of course, there's always the exception... With all good will in the world, I can think of few kind words for a certain politician who happens to sit in a Senate seat in the state of Connecticut...)

The other birthday party, Bush? It was mine. A couple of days before the actual event, it's true, but we had nearly twenty good friends gathered in our little cottage yesterday afternoon, and spirits were high. I felt so privileged to have such people around me, and so honored by their love and friendship. I won't tell you what I wished in blowing out the candles on my birthday cake, Bush, but here's a hint: it had to do with an upcoming event in November of this year...

Have a good week. And good luck in solving the problems of the Middle East...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Sentimental Journey

(I wrote a beautiful entry this morning, Bush, but my computer decided to go into hibernation with no warning, and the text was lost. What follows is my pale attempt to reconstruct the poetry of early morning!)

Aspley Guise

I woke up this morning thinking about Aspley Guise. You won't have heard of it, Bush. It's a very small village in the English countryside, in the county of Bedfordshire, just north of London. Our family moved there just before World War II, when I was one and a half years old--a time when my father had to move south from Newcastle-on-Tyne, where I was born, and where he had been vicar of a "slum" parish in that then dreary, poverty-stricken coal-mining city. He had been advised to move for health reasons: stomach problems, according to family lore, which I suspect had a lot to do with the surplus of compassion he felt for his parishoners, the poorest of the poor.

These memories occur because my daughter, Sarah, arrived last night to celebrate the weekend of my birthday (next Tuesday, Bush, just in case you didn't know. A big one, with a nasty zero at the end), and brought with her the most wonderful gift I could imagine. She had put together a collage of the village, based on a pilgrimage she made there a couple of years ago with her two half-brothers, my daughter-in-law, and my three grandchildren--a rare gathering of my now sadly dispersed family. They had the touching notion to visit the village where their dad had spent his formative childhood years.

The collage brought back all kinds of names and images: The Spinney, St. Botolph's church, the Rectory, the village square with the horse trough, Aspley House with its brick wall from which I fell--or was pushed by one Robert John, a schoolmate--and suffered a concussion; The Anchor--the local pub; the house up by the woods where Granny Murcott lived and where our border collie, Hank, would run from the Rectory to bring back the bags of sweets she tied to his collar for us children; the sand pit and the golf course; the lane that led down past the bluebell woods to the RAF airfield at Cranfield, where I remember once watching Spitfires land in flames from the Battle of Britain... Sarah had beautifully summoned the history and geography of the place with maps and texts (including some from my own long poem, Aspley Guise, which was the first book I ever published), and included pictures taken on that family visit. The whole thing, I have to tell you, Bush, brought tears to my eyes.

The war was raging only a short way to the south, in London, during our years there, and among my vivid memories are the bombs that fell just a quarter mile from the Rectory and the Messerschmidt fighter plane that crash-landed in a local farmer's field. More than anything, though, I remember the busloads of terrified refugees escaping the London Blitz. Aspley Guise was a convenient stop over on their way north to safety, and because we had a big old Victorian house with plenty of room in the coal cellars below, my parents welcomed them for overnight stays.

And recalling that terror, Bush--it was tangible to me, even as a child--I could not help but think of those terrorized children in Lebanon and Israel both, today, where the bombs are dropping and the missiles falling. I was fortunate to have a place of relative safety in the little village of Aspley Guise, but I sometimes think that those who enter rashly into wars these days might have second, more sober thoughts if they had only experienced the terror of war first-hand. It pains me to know that we have learned so little, and that the bombs continue to drop.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Loved your song, Bush, which I found on Inspired. I didn't know you had it in you. I hope everyone checks it out.

International Affairs

Playing Brahms

That was quite a picture coming out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, yesterday, Bush. Your Rice playing Brahms. I saw a video clip on one of last night's new programs and expected to see it re-run on Jon Stewart--but I didn't manage to stay up that late. There she sat at the grand piano, back ramrod straight, a picture of the kind of grim, joyless concentration a totally disciplined, self-martyring perfectionist brings to her task. No room for failuire. No room for a mistake. Anyway, I was curious enough to search for some further information about her perfomance online this morning, and this is what I came up with, quoted without attribution in Air America. I guess it's from the New York Times.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - In keeping with her mood and to reflect the world crises she tackles daily, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to play a somber piece of music to her Asian colleagues in Malaysia this week.

The Association of South East Asian Nations has a tradition of ministers performing usually silly skits at a gala dinner, but Rice, an accomplished pianist, said she was more at ease playing a serious, reflective piece, possibly by the composer Brahms.

“It is not a time that is frivolous. It is a serious time. I will play something that is in accordance with my serious mood,” said Rice, who had just attended a conference in Rome aimed at helping resolve the Lebanon crisis.

Rice said she would not be comfortable singing show tunes.

“I trust my piano playing more than I trust Karen’s singing,” joked Rice, referring to her public diplomacy chief, Karen Hughes, who is also in Kuala Lumpur. Hughes quickly shot back: “She’s right, I can’t even hum.”

A commendable blend of humor and lightheartedness from two of your favorite womenfolk, in this time of crisis, Bush. I just wish your Rice could seem a little more human once in a while, a little less like some scowling, robotic school ma'am bent on lecturing a bunch of unruly and mindless brats in the school yard. I guess this was an attempt to do just that, and it was, as the song says, about as far as she could go. But even Brahms seems incapable of melting steel.

Did you catch that picture of your Rice they used on the front page of the New York Times yesterday, with the President of Lebanon, after the stale-mated Rome talks? Couldn't get perfection, rejected anything less. Refused to consider even speaking to anyone who does not approach her own high moral standards. There she stood, with an infinitely weary hand to the aching brow, head slightly bent, averted from the camera, but the back still straight... It spoke, as they like to say, volumes. A picture of dejection and despair.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Zawahri on the Wars

"All the World is a Battlefield..."

...crows Osama bin Laden's first lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri of the current situation in the Middle East. "The war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires ... It is a Jihad for the sake of God and will last until [our] religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq [...] until American troops are chased from Afghanistan and Iraq, paralyzed and impotent... having paid the price for aggression against Muslims and support for Israel."

One piece of wisdom on which followers of the Buddha and physicians throughout the world agreee is this basic principle: first do no harm. It makes for a heavy heart, Bush, to look around the world today, nearly six years into your presidency, with that principle in mind. Can we, the most powerful nation among nations, make the claim that we have done no harm? With people like Zawahri empowered to speak such poison to millions of their followers--and to be heard, believed, even honored--I think not.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were indeed grave provocations to an America distanced from the rest of the world by its wealth and power. From the point of view of the jihadists (which is certainly deluded from our own perspective, Bush, but is nonetheless a view devoutly held by millions of those who consider themselves dispossessed and disrespected by the privileged West)it was unhappily the cause for genuine celebration, a sense of empowerment, and hope. These same people are now literally up in arms in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, Israel, and have powerful supporters and purveyors of deadly weapons. The harm to human beings everywhere is incalculable, and it would be equally delusional to deny that we have our share to account for.

What could we/should we have done? If I were as wise and holy as the Dalai Lama, who has consistently rejected armed resistance to the Chinese in the home country they have looted and terrorized, I would certainly have advocated against the violent response to violence. There's a deep part of me that acknowledges there is no end to the cycle of violence once it is started. There's a deep part of me that recognizes, too, that the blame game gets us nowhere, and that the exchange of "you started it" accusations is futile. Who could ever get back to the root cause of that dreaful event? We'd have to go back centuries.

I'm not as holy as the Dalai Lama, though. I was unholy enough to support your action against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the terrorists supported by that tyrannical medieval rule. I was unholy enough to believe that we had to use force against the terrorists, and to believe that we could lessen, if not eliminate, the threat they posed to us and to the rest of the world. I confess I was even taken in for a while--along with a good number of our government leaders and officials who should have been much better informed than I--by your administration's dire warnings about Saddam's weaponry. I was myself initially deluded into believing that some military in Iraq action was appropriate and necessary.

But look at the harm that has resulted from our country's actions in the region, Bush--as well as from our inaction on the diplomatic front in your first term. In all the time that has elapsed since the September 11 attack, we have achieved nothing but further death, destruction, emnity and intolerance. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and the pudding that is currently being dished out in the Middle East is stuffed with human tragedy: children being blown apart by bombs and missiles, families torn apart, bereaved, and dispossessed. Whole countries in ruins, their infrastructures requiring years, if not decades, to restore to normal operation.

Above all, we have empowered the Zawahris and the Bin Ladens of this world to recruit millions of followers to their implacable cause. Was it one of your generals who uttered these wise, world-weary, tragically perceptive words: "We are creating insurgents faster than we can kill them"? Rather than protecting our ally Israel with our policies, we have exposed that small nation to greater vulnerability than ever in the past. Israel's actions, today, may be justified by centuries-old standards of statehood in the West; to its neighbors, they are gasoline on the fire.

Your warrior policies, Bush, may provide some short-term satisfaction those who seek revenge for the harm that was done to us--and was done, more recently, to Israel. They may feel good in the gut of those who believe that America must remain strong and that this is the way to manifest and use our strength. But viewed from that simple principle--first do no harm--they fail utterly. They fail to provide the intended results. They fail to address the causes of the current crisis. They fail to make things better. They serve only to perpetuate the violence they purport to oppose.

If we are to live together on this planet, Bush, we have to learn a way that leads to better results. And the first step might be to learn not to shun and shut out the opinion of those on the other side, but to listen to it. Not to refuse to talk to hostile nations, but to include them, no matter how much to our distaste, in the discussion. If nothing else, the current warfare in the Middle East provides convicing evidence that there is no other way.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WTO: the Doha Talks

"Somewhere between intensive care and the crematorium"

So says India's Trade and Industry Minister Kamal Nath of the failed negotiations on a new multilateral trade agreement that might have lifted millions of people (over 150 million, I read somewhere) out of bleak poverty. This, while wars continue to rage in the Middle East and Africa, and hunger and disease run rampant in the world.

It's a sadly familiar story of human intransigeance when confronted by the threat of the smallest sacrifice of their own narrow interests. These World Trade Organization talks have been going on for five years, and still there's no prospect of agreement. I mis-googled this morning in the attempt to inform myself a little better, and was startled to find that reports from 2004 could have been written today, two full years later. Said Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO, then: "We are all losers." And today: "We are in dire straits."

Who's fault is this? Depends who you talk to. "Peter Mandelson, Europe's trade commissioner, said that Washington was asking 'too much from others in exchange for doing too little themselves. This is not my definition of leadership,'" says the report in The Guardian The report continues: "Not so, said the US. Its mission in Geneva issued a statement calling the EU's accusations 'false and misleading'. Brussels, the US said, was trying to use 'loopholes' to wriggle out of opening up its agricultural market to competition from the more efficient producers on the other side of the Atlantic." Elsewhere, in a Washington Post report I found more of the Mandelson quote: "Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standard of living in the world, can afford to give as well as take." The failure of the talks, he said, "was neither desirable nor inevitable." Strong words.

So the EU blames the United States for its inflexibility on agricultural subsidies, while the US returns the compliment with the same complaint against the Eurpoean countries and throws in a gripe against India and Brazil for their failure to agree on cuts on tariffs for industrial imports. Such bickering, over an issue that is nothing less than life or death for millions. I can't pretend to have a grasp of the whole complex problem, but it's evident that the spoke in the wheels is the lack of flexibility on the part of all the participants, and that those who will suffer most as a result are the poorest nations, particularly in Africa.

There's another part to this sadly familiar story, Bush, and that's your part in it. There's a distinct pattern to the way in which you make grandiose promises to make yourself look good in the eyes of the nation or the world, then quietly step back from those promises when it's time to make good on them, or to step up to the plate with adequate funds to make them possible.

What, sacrifice? Who, me?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Another Lesson from the Earth

Do you ever get the feeling, Bush, that after all these years of our mistreatment of her, our Earth has retreated into a mood so terminally sullen and resentful that we'll never be able to drag her out of it again? That she'll go on punishing us until our whole species simply disappears?

I had that feeling yesterday, Bush. It was a hot and muggy day even at the beach, and Ellie and I decided to postpone our return to Los Angeles for the business week until after the evening news, in the hope of arriving there after the worst of the heat. It's an hour's drive, door to door. We started out at seven, and the temperature in the canyon, on the way inland to the freeway, was ninety degrees. By the time we turned north on I-5, it was ninety-three. Passing through Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, ninety-five. It was still in the nineties when we pulled off the freeway in the gathering dusk, at eight o'clock.

We arrived back home to find a DWP truck parked in the narrow street outside our house and a small bunch of neighbors gathered to watch the hard-hat at work at the top of the power pole. The transformer had burned out in the heat. Our immediate area had been without power for twenty-four hours already, and the neighbors were hoping that finally the power company would be able to fix the problem.

No such luck. The transformer, the hard-hat supervisor old us, was a relic from the sixties, when the demand for power was susbtantially less. That explains the power outages we've been having. It was a 15 (megawatt?) unit and they would need to replace with a 37. That was the good news. The bad news was that we'd be shunted to the back of the line, with outages all over the city and the DWP already working 16-hour shifts. The supervisor had no idea when we could expect our new 37 (megawatt?) transformer. Besides, there could be problems installing it, because of its greater size.

Having been closed up all weekend, the house was a furnace. The garage door opener, of course, did not work. (Alas, we learned a lot about the luxuries we take for granted!) No lights. No fan, no air-conditioning. No television, Bush, if you can imagine! The food in the refrigerator was beginning to spoil. The plants in the garden were alternately burned or wilting.

We watered. We fed the fish in their pond, where the water had ceased circulating, we closed up the house again and fled back down to the beach. We arrived back down here in the dark at ten o'clock, and the temperature was still eighty degrees. This morning early I checked online: it had retreated overnight to seventy-eight.

Poor us, eh, Bush? I have to remind myself, on such occasions, how privileged we are to have all the amenities that make life, usually, very easy for us--and how much we take them for granted as our God-given right. I watch myself with dismay as I grow indignant over my small inconveniences, and try to get back to a somewhat worthier sense of gratitude for my extreme good fortune among those billions of human beings who are called upon to suffer horribly each day--from hunger, from disease, from the ravages of warfare...

We Americans, Bush, tend to forget these things, with all the energy-consuming luxuries we have come to expect--along with the cheap energy to run them. We are given these lessons, generously, by the planet that we share with those less fortunate than ourselves. We should learn to listen, and better still, to act on them, for the common good of our human race.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Tour, and More...

What a victory for our Mennonite lad from Temecula, California, right? Floyd Landis, that is. That come-back kid must be an inspiration to you, Bush, now that virtually the whole world has written you off as a loser. I hope you don't take his victory the wrong way, though, and see it as a validation of that favorite--and mindless--Bush adage: Stay the course. I guess in a bicycle race it's a bit different than in international relations, where you sometimes have to modify your game plan in the light of new realities. Even then, you could argue that Landis changed his game plan after that disastrous day. Still not a good example for you to follow, Bush: he went on the attack.

So I wonder now, do you have any new game plans up your sleeve? You could yet surprise us all. Not likely, though. You'd need to do some serious rethinking, and I understand that's not your strong point. I do have a few suggestions for you, if you'll bear with me. They could be helpful:

1) Fire your Rumsfeld. That act alone could send a signal that you're ready to revise your thinking on Iraq. Oh, and follow the firing up with some actual revised thinking, including a willingness to listen to those with other views about how to resolve this dreadful mess you have created. They might just have a usefully new perspective.

2) Close down Guantanamo. Bring those against whom there is significant evidence to public trial, with adequate provision for defense. Find ways to release the others with proper safeguards for their humanitarian treatment. Tell the world you're, um, embarrassed to have been overzealous in your pursuit of terrorists and may have possibly made some mistakes along the way, and reassure the international community of America's commitment to established rules of civilized behavior.

3) Announce a serious nationwide initiative to counter global warming, and the intention to lead the world in funding green research and developing new industries that will serve to protect the panet rather than exploit it,

4) Open channels of international communication you have previously blocked. (Your Rice's visit this morning to Lebanon BEFORE going to Israel and meeting with the parliamentary leader who has close ties with Hezbollah is a good start in this direction: an important signal--assuming it's more than an empty gesture--that the US is not uncritically on one side of this conflict.) Find ways to address the root causes of terrorism as well as its symptoms. Show some understanding that your way is not always the right or the exclusive one; that you're willing and ready to listen to someone other than your small circle of advisors.

5) Hire some qualified and gifted scientists to provide you with sane, trustworthy information on such topics as climate change, evolution, and stem cell research. Listen to the established, factual data they present you with.

6) Start insisting on integrity in politics, even amongst your Republicans. Make a public statement of your intention to tolerate no irregularities in election technology or management, and to maintain a healthy separation between government, campaign funding, and corporate lobbyists. Kiss your Rove goodbye, hand him his pink slip, and bring in a person who values honesty and civility of debate above election victory.

7) Make a point of rewarding competence and efficiency rather than loyalty. Exercise some discretion and skepticism when consulting your gut, which has proved notoriously unreliable on several occasions in the past. Get some objective help when evaluating performance.

Oh, well, Bush, just a few ideas on which to base a comeback. Call me a dreamer, but I think at least one or two of them are promising. They might help polish your image in America and the world at large.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Heat Wave II

Not Funny

Watching the evening news in still eighty degree heat last nght, Bush. And that was at the beach! Downtown Los Angeles temperatures at one hundred plus. Burbank--our near neighbor up in L.A.--one hundred and eleven degrees. Sherman Oaks, one hundred and seventeen. Record highs. Fires buring everywhere, including a raging blaze we could see far out to sea, on Catalina Island. It had probably been sparked by the brilliant electrical storm that we had stopped to watch on our way home last night, a spectacular natural fireworks display out over the ocean to the west. I had a none too charitable thought about the oil rigs, Bush, on our horizon...

And the heat wave has been going on now for thirty straight days, according to the news report that I was watching. Next thing I know, there's a commercial. A nerdy type guy buying tofu at the grocery store, looking longingly into the basket of the manly man in line behind him, filled with great racks of beefy red meat. Our hero watches this other guy drive off in a Hummer--and next thing you know, a car dealer is tossing him the keys to his own brand new Hummer. The tag line? RESTORE YOUR MANHOOD.

I suppose we men were meant to get a self-deprecating chuckle out of this dig at our macho self-image. Ha Ha. But personally I was too hot to find this funny, Bush. Personally I was offended by its blatant appeal to that side of us that frankly doesn't give a fuck (excuse the language, Bush, but I'm insensed by this) about any one or any thing but our self-important egos. I was especially irate when this one spot was followed shortly by a series of other commerical spots for giant SUVs, with temperatures soaring into the stratosphere, along with the greenhouse gases. A funny-cute ad to sell the most offensive vehicle on the road? At the risk of being accused of lacking a sense of humor, I'm not laughing that one off, Bush. No way.

It's going to be another hot one yet again today. And, metaphorically, a hot one in the Middle East. More violence and death on the Lebanese border. Another fifty people killed in car bombs in Iraq. Another. Fifty. And your Rice is off to Rome, to talk to the people who are not directly involved... Good luck, I say.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bush Diplomacy

I hear that your Rice takes off tomorrow for a round of diplomacy on the Middle East crisis, Bush. She bristled at suggestions that this US effort was too little, too late: “We do seek an end to the current violence," she said. "We seek it urgently. We also seek to address the root causes of that violence. “A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo.”

The big meeting, I hear, is set for Rome. Not sure what to make of this, Bush. Does it mean that your Rice prefers not to travel to the critical region? Or does it mean that she may not be welcome there--that the leaders of other Arab countries do not wish to appear to be overtly hospitable to the United States? Their initial irritation at Hezbollah has turned to anger at the Israelis for their "overreaction", and at the US, obviously, for supporting Israel so stoutly.

For me, the "too little, too late" accusation has a much broader significance. The whole hands-off policy toward the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians is now bearing very ugly fruit. Your benign neglect has bred a much worse situation than the one you inherited from Bill Clinton. I also wonder what the current plan for talks with neighboring Arab leaders might achieve. I understand the reluctance to talk to "terrorist organizations" like Hamas and Hezbollah--dismissed out of hand by your administration--but my own experience with conflict persuades me that we sometimes need to talk even to those we dislike and mistrust the most. It seems short-sighted policy to me, Bush, to cut off communications with countries like Syria and Iran, which are obviously players on this field, and to talk instead to Saudis and Egyptians, whose influence is far more tangential.

Your Rice does sound a bit haughty, I have to say. I suspect Bill Clinton would have mucked right in with the antagonists in this situation, and engaged in a bit of shuttle diplomacy. But this, it seems, is not to your Rice's taste. “I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante,” she says. “I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling around, and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.”

Meantime, it's reported in today's New York Times that you're rush-ordering a new shipment of precision-guided bombs to Israel. A ittle like pouring oil on the fire, I'd say.

I thought Paul Krugman's historical analysis of your administration's foreign policy and the influence of the neocons was quite brilliant, Bush. I doubt, though, that you read it. The idea that you have made the world "a safer place" is laughable, but I expect your people will continue in their efforts to promote it. I just hope they won't be able to sell this patent absurdity to the American electorate this time.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Le Tour

Amazing Race

I doubt you'll have had much time to have been watching the Tour de France, Bush, with your foreign policy reaping its disastrous results throughout the world. The Middle East is a cauldron now, with wars and civil wars and the threat of further wars, no end in sight. Not much use, today, in adding my voice to the cacophony of voices on the rights and wrongs of the whole mess. I'm as conflicted as most other people I know and don't see my way to moral or any other kind of clarity. So the Tour looks like a good bet for today.

Pehaps, Bush, your reputed passion for mountain biking, you do set aside time to watch the recaps. If so, I'm sure we can agree that yesterday and the day before stand out in the record books as being amongst the most amazing in the history of the Tour. In case you weren't watching, here's what happened: our own local lad from Temecula, California, Floyd Landis, has been amongst the favorites all along. He was doing very nicely since the start, pacing himself well but keeping up with the four or five front runners, even wearing the yellow jersey of the overall leader of the race on a couple of the stages. Then came stage 16, a gruelling series of climbs in the Alps, and Landis, in the parlance, "cracked." Or "bonked." He just plain ran out of steam, and unlike Lance Armstrong, lacked the team support to see him through a very bad day. He labored through the last miles of the stage at a snail's pace and ended up a full ten minutes behind the leaders.

Disaster. You'd think the man was out of the running for the last three stages, right? Well yesterday, stage 17, he made the most amazing come-back that I've ever seen in the Tour. Another day of tough riding in the Alps--and he left the whole pack of them in the dust. Well, the dust had pretty much settled before they hit his trail. He led the race almost from start to finish, thundering up steep mountainsides and making the precipitous descents at hair-raising speeds, ending up with a stage win and an overall standing in third place, a mere thirty seconds behind the current yellow jersey wearer, the Spaniard Oscar Pereiro and his fellow countryman Carlos Sastre. A truly amazing feat

Paul Sherwen, a former professional cyclist who is now the race commentator for OLN, the station airing the Tour in the United States, was astounded: “I’ve been on the Tour for 28 years," he said, "and I’m racking my brain trying to think of something I can compare it to."

Stay tuned, Bush. The stage today, just completed, changed nothing in the overal standings. Tomorrow, a long time trial, will decide the winner. It's going to be an exciting finish to a wholly unpredicatable race.

More About Hybrids

I'm glad to read that Toyota is finally doing with their hybrids what a few enterprising owners have been doing for a while--adding a plug-in component which will charge the battery, allowing some 50 miles of driving before the gas motor even kicks in. For people like me, who rarely drive more than fifty miles at a stretch, it will mean incredible gas mileage. Check out the New York Times article this morning, Bush. You're way behind the times on this one, too.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stem Cell Veto

To mark the occasion of the first veto of your presidency, I've written a kind of poem, Bush. Here it is:

I'm Pro-Life

I’m pro life, Bush.

I’m pro the life of millions of people throughout the world whose lives could have been saved in the not-too-distant future by precisely the research you have just vetoed; whose hopes you have dashed;

I’m pro the life of those men and women you have sent to Iraq in your pointless continuing exercise in futility, where too many of them die;

I’m pro the life of those tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens who have already died; I'm pro the life of those innocent civilians who continue to die because you saw fit to invade their country without adequate provision for their safety once the ugly dictator was removed;

I’m pro the life of millions of human beings in sub-Saharan African nations who are dying from AIDS for lack of education and the deprivation of condoms because you, Bush, are willing to kow-tow to the moralistic views of your supposedly pro-life supporters;

I’m pro the life of those whose death sentences you signed, some with only cursory review by your Gonzales, when you were Governor of Texas; I’m pro the life of those who continue to die with your apparent approval—some of them assuredly innocent—in the death chambers of this country.

So I need to ask you, Bush: if you’re pro-life, how does it happen that the only life you seem to be pro is the life of those frozen embryos that are about to be destroyed; that have no earthly chance of life?

How does it happen that you squander so many other lives without a qualm of conscience?

I must say this: I am appalled, Bush, by the ignorance and small-mindedness with which you dismiss what your God, if He’s the least bit merciful, most surely would approve. If He’s up there in His heaven, intelligently designing things, did He not give us brains to reason with, and wonderful imaginations with which to envision better ways to heal and live our lives? Or did He give us this potential only to mock us with prohibitive laws and feeble, literal-minded leaders?

I say again, count me pro-life.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Heat Wave

It's Getting Personal

The heat is getting to me, Bush. I am becoming bad-tempered and mean-spirited. More than usual, I mean. It is early as I scribble this down to transcribe later, and I went to bed too late. I left my glasses in the bedroom and I don't have the heart to risk waking Ellie, who also went to bed late and who needs more sleep than I do. Without my glasses, I cannot even see to use the computer. I have no pen. I left them all in the office upstairs and again the dog and I between us would wake Ellie if I ventured forth into the house. I have a pencil.. I rarely use a pencil. And a scrap of paper. I will scribble these thoughts down and catch up with our diary a little later.

The heat. It has been unsparing now for days--it feels like weeks and months. We are more than fortunate to have air conditioning in our new house, but every time I hear the blower roar I feel guilty about the energy it uses. Besides, I do not like the shut-in feeling that results from having all the doors and windows closed.

I understand that I must sound unusually churlish this morning, and also that I am not alone. The heat wave is searing the entire country, east to west and north to south. There are people suffering far more than you or I, Bush, in our comfortable abodes--you in your White House, I in my more modest dwelling, perched at the east end of the Hollywood Hills. From here, I look out over the baking city and am thankful to be relatively cool.

Global warming? I was reminded by the news last night of the European heat wave a couple of years ago that took 31,000 lives in France, Germany, Spain, Italy... Thirty-one thousand! I was amzed to realize that I had forgotten such a disaster. But that's the way we are, Bush, isn't it? If it doesn't affect us personally, we immediately let disaster slide past unheeding. Katrina recedes in the memory of most of us who have not been directly affected by its ravages, only to pop us once in a while when the city's tradegy hits the news again for a few moments. The war in the Middle East is too distant to affect us. Oh, yes, we listen to the news, or watch it, and we are horrified by the slaughter (6,000 Iraqi civilians dead since May of this year alone, Bush! Six thousand!) We may even register a protest in whatever way we can. But essentially we feel powerless and tend to let it pass.

Which is why I choose to sit and write these entries with you every day. To stay conscious--or perhaps to stay as conscious as I can. To not let things slip past without taking the trouble at least to note them down. Perhaps even to do this one small thing to encourage others, also, to stay awake with me.

Because you win, Bush, when I go to sleep. You and your political people, who want nothing better than unconscious minds that let you go about your business unquestioned. You and your corporate friends, who want nothing better than unconscious minds to do their bidding, to go out and buy, to consume--so that they, the corporate warlords, can lay their hands on the collective wealth and make it their own.

And it's tempting, Bush. It's so tempting just to go to sleep and let it pass. Especially in this mind-numbing heat. Especially when it gets hard to rouse oneself in the morning and there's no pen to hand. No glasses. No computer. Just a pencil and a scrap of paper.

And then I remember the pleasure of sitting out on the balcony last night in the warmth of the evening, with a group of friends, a glass of wine, a potluck dinner, watching one of the most glorious sunsets we have seen from this new home--a sunset glorified, I'm sure, by the heat coming off the surface of the planet and the clouds that accompany the humidity. And I remember the perfect, gleaming, intricately-woven spider's web down in the garden--I took our group of friends down there to marvel at it--with the spider herself sitting watchfully, dead center, waiting for the result of her hard work to perform its necessary task... I remember these things and I realize that, after all, it is worth the effort of staying awake.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Hodgepodge

The Middle East

What a depressing spectacle. The sight of human beings indiscriminately killing each other for no better reason than mutual hatred and territorial imperative. And we call animals beasts! A propos of which, we were awakened last night by the furious barking of our dog, George: an unwelcome nocturnal predator, making his rounds, had stopped by the little pond outside our bedroom door to do some fishing. A raccoon. This morning it looks like we lost two of our six little fish, and the pond is a mess. At least our visitor had the excuse that he lacks those qualities we humans are supposed to have: a mind that's capable of reasoning, and a conscience to put the reins on the worst of our instinctive responses. This rapacious killer was just looking for food.


Another depressing spectacle, Bush. The sight of the powerful leaders of the world enjoying their good dinner while the Middle East burned reminded me of the scene from that French play--Gil Blas? Correct me, someone, if I'm wrong--where our hero bursts in on the power brokers as they plot together to divide the territorial spoils and cries, in that memorable but regrettably untranslatable line: "Bon appetit, messieurs!" Roughly speaking, "Enjoy your dinner, Sirs!"--but that's a pale echo of the original. Anyway, Bush, the sight of your presidential self lounging back and chewing on your dinner roll while you tossed off a casual remark about the "shit" that Hezbollah is doing was a less than noble example of leadership at work. I guess it was good for another despairing laugh.

DemocracyFest Revisited

Once, a while ago, I offered one of my "One Hour/One Painting" events at the invitation of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Bush. It's a pretty simple idea, and one that combines the fine arts of meditation and contemplation: I invite small groups of people to sit with me in front of a single painting in virtual silence for one full hour. Sound like slow torture to you, Bush? Well, actually, people have generally responded with enthusiasm to the experience. They are so used to walking past paintings in galleries and museums with barely a glance, and so used to rushing through their lives that it's an eye- and mind-opening experience for them to have to slow down in this way.

I mention this because the painting I chose at the Getty was the Belgian artist, James Ensor's "Christ's Entry into Brussels, 1889" (1888), a huge, seething, satirical canvas attacking the social and political evils of his time. Los Angeles-based artist Joel Pelletier was so impressed when he saw it, and so struck by its possibilities for reinterpretation in our own time, that he embarked on his own huge canvas, "American Fundamentalists (Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)", which depicts the historical rise of American fundamentalism and its increasing influence in the halls of power in this country. It's a rowdy, triumphalist parade of business, judicial, and governmental fat cats. Pelletier brought the painting to DemocracyFest as a visual aid (albeit a massive one!) to his eloquent participation in a panel discussion on the religious right. Take a look at it, Bush, and read a bit about it. I think you'll be astounded and impressed.

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that the panel in question was far from a rant against religion, even evangelicals. Several of those present in the audience identified themselves as ministers of various denominations, and the speakers were all clear that the vast majority of Christians in this country do not share the radical views of the relative handful of fanatics who seem to be wielding undue influence in court (if you'll excuse the expression, Bush.) The latest evidence of the success of their curious, rear-guard action against science is your threat to veto this week's stem cell bill. Unbelievable to think you might even get away with it!

Anyway, thanks to Joel for his excellent work, and for creating opportunities like this to show it to the world.

Monday, July 17, 2006

DemocracyFest: A Participant's Report

A New Wave Coming...

Okay, Bush. Big breath. Time to sit back on the balcony of our Laguna Beach cottage (with a good cigar!) and reflect on what happened this weekend down in San Diego at the DemocracyFest.

First, the energy and the optimism. Reading back over my two brief entries fom the gathering, I find I unwittingly repeated myself about that sense of democracy at work. No surprise though, because that, indeed, was the overwhelming sense I came away with.

Yes, there's grievance. There's anger. There's frustration. There's a very real sense that we've seen the democracy we so much value snatched away from us by your grab for presidential power; by a ruthless political right wing that has been far more concerned with winning elections than with reasoned argument, civility, and respect for democratic processes; by an infinitely greedy corporate world that uses its wealth to work its will and further its financial interests in the political arena; by a minority of evangelical Christians bent on imposing a sham morality on the business of government; and by the manipulation and corruption of electoral technology.

And I concede, Bush, that you, particularly, in person, came in for some quite unfavorable reviews for your performance in office. It also won't surprise you to hear that in these progressive Democratic circles the chief object of their criticism was your war.

Okay. But the overwhelming and more positive theme was that we Democrats can do better. That America is better than its current reputation in the world, that we are a kinder, more rational, more compassionate people than might appear from the actions of those who have rudely--even illegally--grabbed the reins of power. The discussion was not primarily about negativity and judgment. It was about what we need to do to create a better future; what we need to do, as the oft-repeated mantra had it, to "take back our country."

The first priority--if my reading of the convention is correct--is to restore free and fair elections: COUNT THE VOTE, COUNT MY VOTE was the refrain. This, by common consent, is the basic requirement of the democracy that you, Bush, so freely tout abroad--and so freely flaunt at home. (Talk about autocratic Russia, Bush! How dare you lecture Putin?) As several speakers made clear--most notably, and most eloquently, Brad Friedman and State Senator/candidate for Secretary of State Debra Bowen--the electronic voting machines that are currently in use are easily hackable and vulnerable to all kinds of misuse. In the recent CA 50 Busby/Bilbray election fracas, notoriously, voting machines were routinely taken home (on "sleepovers") by election officials in the weeks preceding the election, in a mockery of electoral security. There was universal support for the demand for a reliable, nation-wide paper trail system for the purpose of monitoring and subsequent verification by recount. The equitable distribution of machines--another flagrant violation in recent elections both in Florida and Ohio--must also be assured.

For the rest, I can do no better than run down Governor Howard Dean's list from his Saturday night speech. (I wrote about him after the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, where I was hugely impressed, as you may recall, Bush, by his energy, the breadth of his vision, his dedication to the democratic process, his scrupulous avoidance of political compromise, his integrity...) I also wrote recently about the myth of the absence of Big Ideas amongst the Democrats--a tiresome received idea that I hear endlessly repeated. Here are Howard Dean's--no, the Democratic Party's--Big Ideas:

1. electoral reform: count the vote, make the vote count;
2. maintain a strong defense--and one that avoids the misuse of our military power in ill-conceived, internationally unsupported, and hopelessly mismanaged adventures like your invasion of Iraq, but rather acts as a stablizing force to promote world peace;
3. energy independence, and the growth of a new, creative, job-creating industry to lead the world in the development of alternative energy sources;
4. the creation of a national health insurance plan that would cover all Americans: if countless other civilized countries can manage this feat, why not the US;
5. a public education system that ensures equal opportunities for all (another requirement, in my view, for a healthy democracy);
6. retirement security: hands off our social security system; and take action to prevent big business (United Airlines, Enron...) from cheating employees out of their legitimate pensions.

Okay, there are a ton of other issues that need to be addressed. But this big six is a good start. Your Republicans have managed skillfully to implant the "no ideas" lie in the minds of millions of otherwise thinking Americans. It's not true.

And finally, not least, what came out of this weekend was, I sensed, a commitment to get out there and do the work. Howard Dean has July 29 earmarked as the date on which we must all get out and "knock on two million doors." It's not just a minority of progressive Democrats who are disenchanted with the direction in which you have misled this country, Bush. According to the latest poll figure I heard, you have just a 35 percent job approval rating. Those dissatisfied voters include an awful lot of conservative Republicans and indeed a whole lot of evangelical Christians, some of whom have begun to speak out in public about the many ways in which your administration short-changes precisely those whom your Jesus instructed us, repeatedly, to take care of.

We need to speak to those 65 percent of disaffected Americans about the values they hold dear. Do they see those values being honored in the words and actions that proceed from your administration? I doubt it. This is the refrain to which Governor Dean returns in all his speeches: "We [Democrats] can do better."

So there you have it, Bush. The DemocracyFest--at least through the eyes of this one participant. I trust that the readers of our diaries will take note, take courage from this growing movement, and add their voices to the demand for change. We need to stop buying into this skillfully-promulgated Republican myth that Democrats have no ideas, no vision, no leadership, no direction. Enough! Those doubters should go see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and honor his prescience and vision. Or read his book. He's had the right "Idea" for years. Go listen to Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Barbara Moxer, Mark Warner... Go read the blogs. And above all, go out and talk. Say things out loud.

More about DmocracyFest tomorrow, Bush. Stick with me...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Good news...

....from San Diego, California, today, Bush. You'll be happy to hear that democracy is alive and well in this part of the world, and that there are people willing to take the time our of their lives to put it into action. Amazed by the spirit here. As in Las Vegas (at the YearlyKos convention) so also here. Good people, smart, and ready to go to work. Perhaps not your kind of democracy, Bush. Or not the democracy you practice. But more along the lines, I think, of what those Founding Fathers meant. Listen, I have a "Bloggers' Breakfast" starting in two minutes, so I'll have to get back to you later Bush. Best to Vlad...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

From DemocracyFest, San Diego

Just taking a moment out from events here, Bush, to remind you that democracy is still alive here in the US. It's alive down here in San Diego, with several hundred progressive-minded people gathered to think about the future and, surely, to strategize about the November elections, as well as the 2008 presidential elections. Just popped out for a few minutes from a panel on electronic voting machines and their inherent dangers. Eye-opening. And good to know that there are watchful people out here, working their hearts out to make sure that in the coming elections, every person who so wishes will be assured of the right to vote; and that every vote will then be counted. An inspiring thought. And essential, as I think you will agree, to the proper functioning of democracy. No more Floridas. No more Ohios. Please. Hope you're doing fine with your pal Vlad. It seems you're not quite seeing eye to eye these days. Ah, well...

More later, Bush.

Friday, July 14, 2006


My fear? That World War III may have already started. That future historians (if any there are) will look back and see its origins in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and your responses to that event, Bush.

Waking up with this thought this morning, I googled WWIII and came up with all kinds of wonderfully wacky stuff on both sides of the political spectrum--for the most part far left and far right. Thus far WWIII thinking is still out on the fringes.

But the past two days' events in the Middle East are cause for considerable alarm. And it's not only what's happening Lebanon, but the broader context that is frightening: the escalation of sectarian slaughter in Iraq, the adamant refusal of Iran to listen to the rest of the world, the attack in Mumbai and the simmering nuclear rivalry between Pakistan and India, the stubborn and growing problem of world-wide terrorism and, out there on the furthest and brittlest of limbs, Kim Jong Il with his fistful of malfunctioning rockets and nuclear warheads.

All this, Bush, on your watch. Not that anyone can lay all the blame at your door, I suppose. There are some wicked, ruthless people out there, bent on causing trouble. They're up for anything that will satisfy their greed or further their fanatical cause. But I can't help wondering with some sorrow how much different the world would look today had the prescient Al Gore been elected President of the United States back in 2000 (as I and many others believe he was.) How differently the twenty-first century might have dawned. You are, after all, heaven help us, the most powerful person in the world--unless we assume that other, more powerful men behind you are indeed pulling the strings--and your personal belligerence and truculence can't help but be reflected in the state of things out there. As I have often said, I see you as an essentially weak man who has something to prove, a dangerous combination.

The folks in the media like to say that you're taking a more conciliatory approach these days, that you're trying to practice some diplomacy. I hope that's true. I hope you prove capable of doing such a thing. In the meantime, with Beirut exploding in smoke and flames and Iraqis slaughtering each other on the streets of Baghdad, you're off to Moscow with a big grin on your face to offer Putin another lecture on democracy. And your Rice...? Offers a mild reproof to the Israelis and asks them to steer clear of civilians.

Perhaps our once powerful and respected country is busy behind the scenes making every effort to calm things down in the Middle East, but from where I stand it looks like we're simply standing by and throwing up our hands in impotence. After all, diplomatic intervention carries with it the risk of failure, and there's an election on the near horizon. You and your administration are looking bad enough as it is. Another example of disastrous mishandling (too little and too late: remember Katrina?) could seal your fate with the electorate. Better to keep the big stick out of this hornets' nest.

Oh, and by the way, the heat is beginning to get to me, Bush. The climate, I mean. From the weather maps I see, it looks pretty awful everywhere, and fires are raging everywhere. Before you know it, people are actually going to start taking Al Gore at his word and believe in global warming. I think, Bush, that Al might have the last laugh--though, be it said, a laugh not unmixed with bitterness.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Middle East Crisis

Ominous developments

Ominous developments in the Middle East, Bush, with a new attack on Israel from the north and a furious Israeli reaction. Once in a while, I like to take another look at the map of the Middle East to remind myself just how small and vulnerable that country is, and how crowded in by countries wishing nothing better than its extinction. Given the often grim history of the Jewish diaspora--and not only in the horrific, relatively recent past, but over many centuries--their steadfast determination to survive as a nation surely comes as no suprise. Now in defensive response to attack on two fronts, north and south,(the constant rain of rockets, let's not forget, as well as the capture of their soliders,) they risk over-reacting and causing more alienation and hostility than they address. For Israel, it's a Catch-22 situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

For all their justifed complaints--and, no question, there are some that must rightfully be negotiated--the Palestinians subvert their cause by surrendering responsibility for their situation into the hands of hate-filled radicals who reject any solution that does not involve the one thing the Israelis can't accept: the demise of the tiny piece of territory on which they stand. Now, with two fronts of open hostilities, the fear must be that equally hostile neighbors like Syria and Iran--or their radical surrogates--will take advantage of Israel's beleaguered situation to join in the fray. In the Israeli view, I imagine, looking at it from the broader geo-political angle, they cannot afford to underestimate the threat. Hence the risk they take in responding with what the world will see as over-reaction.

All in all, it's a tragic situation--and one that might have been avoided, Bush, had you acted differently from the beginning of your tenure in the White House. I've heard it said--is this too cynical?--that your advisors saw too little gain for you to involve yourself in the peace process; and, besides, that anything Bill Clinton had tried to achieve was anathema to your administration. So the Israel-Palestinian issues got ignored. Then came 9/11 and the reasonable response in Afghanistan, followed by the unmitigated folly of the invasion of Iraq, which upset the entire Middle Eastern applecart for perhaps decades to come. This country could have used its power so differently, so much more attentively to all those involved, and so much more to the benefit of the world at large.

The Dreadful Penny

On a lighter note... No, not the "penny dreadful," Bush: the dreadful penny. I read where it costs the US Treasury 1.4 cents to manufacture and distribute this little devil. Seems like a losing deal to me. They're pretty much of a pest to carry around with you, cluttering up the pocket or the purse with their useless jangle. It's not like you could even use one in a parking meter any more...

I say, ditch the little buggers. I know there are plenty of people like myself who just leave them in the penny box on the counter anyway. So what happens to them all? Does some one take a ton of them to the bank and run them through one of those change-counting machines? Maybe your Rumsfeld could use them to make additional or more effective armor for the troops?

So couldn't we all agree to count in fives instead of ones? Though I guess that would mean that the cost of everything would jump up, not down. There must be a kill-the-penny movement somewhere on the Internet...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mumbai; Baghdad; Gaza

Moscow, eh, Bush? With your old pal Putin, the one whose soul you saw in his beautiful steel blue eyes. Nice work. I hope it's a bit cooler for you there in Russia than it is for us here in California. The heat wave seems unending in this part of the world. Global warming, maybe. I hear you're ready to concede that there's a "debate" about the issue. As you told an interviewer in People magazine who asked if you thought Al Gore was right on global warming:
I think we have a problem on global warming. I think there is a debate about whether it's caused by mankind or whether it's caused naturally, but it's a worthy debate. It's a debate, actually, that I'm in the process of solving by advancing new technologies, burning coal cleanly in electric plants, or promoting hydrogen-powered automobiles, or advancing ethanol as an alternative to gasoline.

Whew! Glad to hear you're on top of the problem, Bush. You had me worried there for a while.

Anyway, listen, I started out to write something different today. A kind of sequel to yesterday's poem. Here it is:

Mumbai; Baghdad; Gaza

The moods shift. Yesterday
it was anger, Bush; today
it's sorrow. In Mumbai
one hundred and eighty-three
people dead, at last count,
victims of intolerance, hatred
the rage of humans against humans.
In Baghdad, another sixty,
yesterday, dead, victims
of intolerance, hatred, the rage
of humans against humans. Gaza:
seven more humans die this morning,
victims of mutual intolerance, implacable
mutual hatred, the insatiable rage
of humans against humans. We, Bush,
are a murderous species. We kill
the innocent--those who pay
for the intolerance, the hatred,
and the rage. We hate, we rage,
we kill those who hate and rage,
along with the innocent: people
on trains on the way to work,
people with groceries in bags,
reading their newspapers, reading
their paperback books. We kill them.
People dozing off with the rattle
of the train, other people making
bombs in their basement, to kill
other people. We kill them. We kill
our children, Bush. We kill small
babies in their mothers' arms, men
with machine guns, and men
without machine guns. We kill
men in business suits, women
in saris, people in t-shirts, shorts,
people in uniform and people
out of uniform. We kill doctors
and nurses and soldiers and seamen.
We kill laborers and lawyers and teachers
and schoolchidren. We kill office workers
and computer programers and janitors
and thieves. We kill killers.

So here it is this morning,
Bush: here it is, it's
sorrow. Grief. Despair.
Who will save us from each other,
Bush? Will Jesus? Will
Mohammed? Whose God will come
to save us from ourselves?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Big Ideas

(A Poem of Partisan Politics)

Here’s what's up this morning, Bush:
I’m good and pissed. I’m fed up.
As my father used to say, I’m fed up
to the back teeth. Or as we here
in the US say, I’m sick and tired.

I’m sick and tired of hearing
that tired old Republican mantra,
the one that Republicans are the party
of Big Ideas; that Democrats lose
elections because they lack Big Ideas.
It was in the paper again yesterday,
Bush, this dumb mantra, repeated
on the opinion page of the LA Times,
and I’m tired of hearing it.

So let’s take a look at the Big Ideas
on which you were most recently
elected, Bush. As I recall, these were:
support our troops (and your war in Iraq)
to assure our safety from terrorism
here at home. On the home front, it was:
cut taxes, grow business, put our natural
resources to work for us, reduce the size
of government, practice “compassionate
conservatism”, and restore the image
of American moral leadership
and strength in the eyes of the world.

Okay, we know what’s happening
in your war; we know how much
less safe the world is for the people
of this country, as the direct result
of your Big Ideas; what’s happening,
Bush, to American moral leadership
and strength in the eyes of the world,
when we see your famous bad guys
thumbing their noses at us with impunity.
We know that “compassionate conservatism”
is out the window, Bush, when your tax cuts
cut into services for those who need them
and instead enrich the already wealthy;
when essential government services
like public education, health care,
and maintenance of the infrastructure
are in the proverbial toilet. So much
for your Big Ideas, Bush. Spare us
the Big Ideas of the Republican Party.

And still we hear that the Democrats
have no Big Ideas? How’s this
for a Big Idea, Bush? That all Americans
deserve access to proper health care?
How’s this for a Big Idea? That all
Americans deserve access to a decent
education? That all Americans who are
willing to work deserve a living wage?
That all Americans carry their fair share
of the tax burden, the rich in proportion
to their relative wealth, for the benefit
and well-being of society at large?

How this for a Big Idea? That Justice
be equally available to all, that rights
and individual freedoms be respected?

How’s this for a Big Idea? That Science
and its potential benefits for humanity
be allowed to flourish unhindered
by superstition, prejudice and fear?

How’s this for a Big Idea? That America
lead the world in fighting these evils:
hunger, poverty, disease, and ignorance?

How’s this for a really Big Idea?
That American technology lead the world
in the discovery and use of energy sources
that neither pollute the planet, nor serve
as the cause of future resource wars, akin
to the war that you, Bush, have initiated,
to the infinite cost of wealth and human life?

How’s this for a Big Idea? That America
lead the world in controlling population
and the resultant migration of populations
through education and the sane, intelligent
promulgation of birth control technologies?

And how’s this for one more Big Idea?
That we in America finally recognize
and assume some real responsibility
for thoughtful planning, loving stewardship
and care for this endangered planet Earth
on which we must all of us survive?

No Big Ideas, Bush? Or a surrender
to the failure of your small ones, already
proven dangerous and wrong-headed?
I say the Big Ideas belong to our side.
I want to hear us shout about them. Loud.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday Morning

So, Bush, here we are, back home again. Always a good feeling. It's going to take me a day or two to catch up, and then I'm off down to San Diego for the Democracyfest. Ah, well... Not much chance to follow the news over the weekend, but I did catch a glance at the headlines this morning. More blatantly sectarian violence in Baghdad, with numerous execution-style killlings by Shiites and revenge bombings by Sunnis. No end in sight. Rumors of a planned terror attack in New York's subways: expect to hear more of those in the next few months. And a building explodes on the Upper East side... Terror? The White House, I hear, says no. More later. Perhaps not until tomorrow.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Nightmare World

More art today, Bush. Sorry. I trust I'm not boring you. But here's something that goes beyond the narrow boundaries of high art, so I though it might be of interest. We sae a performance art piece yesterday, and most of our group were so adamant in their negative opinion that I thought it would be worth writing about.

We don't much like to be confronted with the worst parts of ourselves. Those parts that we hide, repress, deny. We like to keep our world in order, nice and neat, and we tend to get pissed off or offended when anything happens to upset that order.

These thoughts occur this morning because everyone in our group of art enthusiasts chose to condemn the performance by Jonathan Meese, a German artist included in SITE SANTA FE. It was undoubtedly tasteless, vulgar, sophomoric, obscene, grotesque--perhaps even pointless and insulting to the intelligence. I happened to love it.

I loved it precisely because it spoke to the naughty little boy in me--the one that to this day resists the toilet training that the adult world conspires to subject me to. I loved it because it enacted my own worst nightmares about myself, in a world gone mad. I loved it because it probed, uncomfortably, into those areas of my consciousness, as a human being, that are the leasrt acceptable to me.

I like to think of myself as a reasonable person, and Meese's performance embodied Unreason. Earlier in the day, in our guided tour of the SITE exhibition, we had been introduced to his art by Klaus Ottmann, the curator. The huge, formless and distinctly unbeautiful painting and the two chunky sculptures of somewhat revolting "deities" that flanked it were a mockery of all gods, Ottmann pointed out, whether political, cultural, or religious.

It's disconcerting to have our sacred idols mercilessly attacked--those beliefs about ourselves, our world, our convictions, our sexuality that we have constructed for our comfort and well-being. When attacked, our first response is to put up our defenses and repel the invader. This, I believe, is what happened in our group response to the Meese performance. It provoked all those rational judgments we use to defend our dearly-held beliefs.

One of the recurring themes of the performance was that "art is a self-fulfilling prophecy." At its most provocative best, art is what holds the mirror up for us to see ourselves. If sometimes it shows usd parts of ourselves that we don't want to see--and certainly don't want anyone else to see--so much the better in my view. That's when we start to learn about ourselves. We need only to push through the revulsion and ask ourselves about its deeper source.

One more thing: a teacher I once had as a graduate student many years ago impressed me enormously with his argument that, in a world abandoned by the gods, the closest we can come to tradegy is farce. Farce takes us to the limits of our need for control, where fate--or whatever name you want to give that force beyond ourselves--takes over and slaps us mercilessly in the face with its oversized brickbat; where the clown cimbs into the car, and the car explodes. Where reasonable expectation ends and the uncomfortable, essentially uncontrollable realities of life begin. In classical tragedy, the hero has the hubris to assert himself against these powers, and gets his comeuppance at the end. The gods win out. They prove their superior power. In farce, no gods. The hero is the clown, his fate is the inexplicable revenge of the absurd. It's the way we choose to take the sting out of our nightmares: when it's too painful to cry, we laugh instead.

So, Bush, there you go. We probably don't see eye to eye on the matter of the gods, but I'm with Meese. I believe they're more trouble than they're worth.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Still Here... Santa Fe, Bush. A great day yesterday, doing nothing but art. A couple of interesting museum exhibits, a couple of wonderful collections, and a celebration for the opening of Site Santa Fe. More about this for those who might be interested at a later deate. Meanwhile, I have not abandoned you entirely. I watched snatches of your Chicazgo press conference as I showered and shaved--probably the best way to watch, Bush. That way, I couldn't get too mad at you. One quick thing: I heard you say with confidence that you (and your Republicans) are going to win in November. Never happen! Not if me and MY friends have anything to do with it, Bush. You're going to lose! Have a good Saturday.

Friday, July 07, 2006

From Santa Fe...

I realized only when I got to the airport and bought a newspaper yesterday that it was your sixtieth birthday. Sorry, Bush, to have neglected to add birthday wishes to my otherwise rather bleak message for the day (q.v.). Had I known sooner, of course, I might have tried to find something just a bit more cheery for you. Ah, well... This morning, we're watching your press conference from Chicago in our Santa Fe Hotel room. So far it's turning out to be more of a speech than a press conference... Hope the press get to ask a couple of questions at some point. As for us, we're leaving in a few minutes for the museum, so there's no time to watch more, let alone to write. More later, as and when...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Off Again

I'm counting my blessings this morning, Bush. I have the great good fortune to be taking off in an hour or so for a few days in Santa Fe, leaving you behind in a sea of troubles---some of which you have frankly brought upon yourself. They're almost everywhere you look these days. I mean, there's not only your evil threesome, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in stages of more or less acute crisis; there's also "old Europe", seething with generally uncooperative dislike for the US; there's the Russian bear, also not well-disposed; there's Somalia, the new haven for Muslim extremism and a likely spot for training and recruitment; and all those other African nations where citizens are dying of needless hunger and disease, or killing each other in their un-civil wars; there's uncertainty and unrest to the south of us, with Mexico's election result up in the air, and countries in Central and South America co-existing with us in this hemisphere in various stages of mistrust; there's giant China, emerging from the shadows and voraciously buying up our debt; India and Pakistan, with their nuclear weapons, their internicine hatreds, and their massive populations; and tiny Sri Lanka, still internally at war... And evil dictators everywhere.

Oh, and there's the Earth herself in full rebellion. Heat waves, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanos...

Well, it seems like I'm not counting your problems, not my blessings, Bush. Still, I guess it's a way of counting my blessings: I don't have to deal with any of them. You do. I get to go to Santa Fe for a few days of relaxation and interesting mind-work. I'll be checking in on Site Santa Fe, the art festival there, along with other aspects of the art scene. And going to the opera. I don't envy you, Bush. What a weight you have to bear.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Change of Pace

We should probably be talking about North Korean missiles today, Bush. Or the crisis in Gaza. Or the death of Ken Lay... but let's have a change of pace instead. Let's talk about art.

It has been on my mind to talk about this since last Friday, when Ellie and I did a round of the West side galleries with a group of the artists we work with. We stopped by a good number of galleries and saw a good deal of work--some interesting, some... not so much. But I want to talk to you about three of them. The only thing they have in common is that they're, well, not newcomers any more. They have reached a respectable ago, something like my own. And they share very special qualities of vision, commitment, dedication.

Let's start with the painter Ed Moses, who has long outlived, triumphantly, all predictions of the death of painting and the superannuation of abstraction. He's an unapologetic and exuberantly abstract painter, at this point such a master of his medium that he makes it look like a breeze. It's not. Reportedly, he throws a lot out. What we get to see is the success stories, the results of years of experience and maturation. His paintings are typically big and bold, and their energy is boundless. They are also beautiful--a quality that, along with the act of painting itself--was for a while considered too embarrassing even to discuss in high art circles. Beauty, absurdly, was dismissed as being "decorative", and therefore beyond the pale of acceptable mainstream art.

Well, look at Moses now, continuing to thumb his nose at art world snobbery. His current exhibition is a series of, um, tapestries--if you can imagine! Nothing more "decorative" than that! And these are tapestries of absolute and impudently stunning beauty. They replicate (enough of a sin in itself, in a world where "originality" is held at a premium) an earlier series of paintings with extraordinary faithfulness to the painterly genius and the spirit of the originals, right down to the energy of the "brushstrokes" and paint texture, and the use of glittery threads to suggest the glitter additive that Moses cheekily included in his medium. The message here is, eat your heart out, art snobs. You spend your time agonizing about theory, aesthetic propriety and relevance to current "issues". How's this for sheer, bloody-minded assertion of the painter's need to follow his own vision without compromise or concession?

Okay, then on to Elsa Rady. Masterful work, again--to use an expression that is maybe loaded with old-fashioned sexist baggage, but still does the trick. Rady's ceramic works have long glowed with a kind of classical beauty (that word, again!), seducing both the eye and the sense of touch--or at least the almost irresistible desire to touch (hands off, though!) and the very real sensual imagination of how it would be to touch, if only you could: you feel this work in the palms of your hands, in the fingertips. Rady's work has always played the line between that vulnerable quality of dangerous fragility and the inherent power of structural strength. It speaks to us of our own human condition, our strength and weakness, the troubling ephemerality of our own nature.

Rady's new work includes "platforms" for her sculptural ceramic objects, suspended elegantly from the gallery ceiling with taut, silvery cables. Her immaculately-crafted, vase-like objects--white, but with a touch of the color of that dark dirt from which the clay originated--rest at different angles on their stands and, below, a single cable weighted with a metal plumb drops to a point just a hair above the gallery floor. The suggestion, as I read it, is that this is all about balance and precision, about stasis and the bare suggetion of the possibility of movement, about safety and risk. The end result is so beautiful, it can take your breath away.

As can the work of the last of these three artists, James Turrell, long associated with the California Light/Space movement that started in the 1960s, and still at work creating wonderful, illusory works in which the only media are, well, light and space. The edges of his wall pieces are so sharp and flat, you're not sure whether the delicate, constantly shifting display of light you're witnessing is on the wall or in the wall. It's a mesmerizing effect.

Then there's the big, gallery-sized work, which you enter only after shedding your outdoor shoes and donning a pair of white booties to protect the purity of the installation. It's blue. You walk through blueness of increasing intensity until you reach, at the far end of the space, the brink of the void. Here, if you stand alone, everything in your peripheral disappears. The space in front of you is undefined by sides, ends, or corners, and your mind takes off, if you allow it, into blue nothingness. If you allow it, time recedes, along with the rest of the gritty detail of your life, and everything is unadulterated presence. For a meditator, it's a seductive invitation into mind-lessness, into the experience of pure being...

There you go, then, Bush. A bit on the esoteric side for today, perhaps, but I trust you'll have gone along with me for these few minutes. With many of your cronies in the US Congress demanding the demise of the National Endowment for the Arts and other such "unnecessary frills", I hope that once in a while you give some thought to the vitally important role the arts play in our lives, and for our need to support and nurture artists such as these--some of whom have few commercial prospects but contribute significantly to our culture in ways that cannot be accounted for financially. I hope your Laura takes the time to explain these things to you from time to time, since I believe she understands them better than you do. I hope you sometimes listen to her, Bush.

(For Southern California residents, you'll find these shows as follows: Ed Moses at Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Bergamot Station; Elsa Rady at Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station; and James Turrell at Griffin, 2902 Nebraska, a mere stone's throw from Bergamot.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

Let's not talk today, Bush. Tomorrow is soon enough. Okay? And meantime, a happy Fourth.

Monday, July 03, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

The Mummy's Return

Remember that 2000 presidential election, Bush? The one you managed to steal with a strong assist from the Supreme Court Justices? That was the year your people did a good job of lambasting Al Gore for his supposed lack of those things that appeal to the American electorate: the charm, the charisma, the style... Remember the brown suit? And what fun the media had at his lack of fashion sense, his sartorial ineptitude. How your champions managed to focus the attention of voters on the quality of his voice, his wooden, almost mummified facial expression?

Well, Bush, the mummy returns. With a vengeance.

Unless your mind is still completely closed on the subject of climate change--and I regret to say I consider this to be a strong possibility--you owe it to yourself to see Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." In fact I think you owe it to all of us.

It's a terrific movie. Some say it's a bit too polemical. Maybe. Some say that its motivations are purely political. It did not seem thay way to me, and frankly I wouldn't much care if it was. I'd personally welcome another run for the presidency by Al Gore. He's a man of principle, I believe, and is strong on what your Dad dismissed as "the vision thing." He has been making a case for better stewardship of the planet for more years than any other politician of note, and no matter how much he's been laughed at for claiming to have invented the Internet (did he ever make such a claim?) he did most certainly have the vision to see its importance a good long time before most of us. I include Howard Dean, whose particular genius was to realize its importance as a grass roots political tool and a way back to the practice of democracy in a country in danger of losing it.

Anyway, back to the movie. Supported by carefully researched and scientifically tested arguments, it makes a convincing case that a) the earth's climate is changing faster and more radically than at any time in the past--or at least in the past 650,000 years, covering several fluctuations between ice ages and periods of warming; and that b) that this change is being brought about by human activity.

We've had some divergent opinion on this topic in our comments section in the past couple of weeks, Bush. I realize there are those who believe that the arguments put forward by these scientists have been improperly exploited by polemicists bent on fear-mongering, and that the current climate phenomena are nothing more than the natural cycling of global temperature shifts. I realize too that I myself am no scientist, and that I am therefore forced to rely on what I as a layman can read and understand--in the same way, I hasten to add, that I have come to rely on those more expert than myself in computer technology to service my communications needs.

That said, it's my own belief that just as the debate about evolution has been closed to all but a few fanatical dissenters with no more than their own beliefs and desires to support them, the debate about the reality of global warming has been resolved by the scientists. To dismiss it as no more than a "theory" is analagous, in my mind, to persisting in the argument that the world is no more than six thousand years old and that dinosaurs roamed the earth along with Adam and Eve.

The Gore movie is careful to present as much data as interpretation of that data. It is not purposefully alarmist in tone, although the net conclusion should alarm us all. Its intention, if I read it right, is to alarm us all into action. While it does not suggest that any one action will bring about the salvation of our Earth, it does propose multiple ways--most of them eminently practicable--in which we can all become better stewards of this uniquely beautiful and precious planet we have inherited, and which we will hopefully leave for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Denial and resistance benefit no one at this late date. They simply provide us with the excuse to sit back and do nothing. It behooves us, surely, not to indulge in specious arguments about unhelpful distinctions between theories and facts, but to act with forethought, circumspection and respect, and a due sense of reponsiblity for the proper maintenance of our home.

I've heard it said that you plan NOT to see this movie, Bush. I hope that's not true. I urge you to see it, along with all those who happen upon this page in our journal and who have not yet taken the time--no matter what their political persuasion or their prconceotions about Al Gore. Whether or not its warnings prove justified in the course of time, his film does make a weighty case for addressing this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Tour de France

That Doping Thing, Again

You may not remember from this time last year, Bush, but I happen to be a big Tour de France fan. Have been since my teenage years, in the early 1950s, when the great Fausto Coppi was the Lance Armstrong of his day. So news of the doping scandal, released yesterday only hours before the start of the race, left me sad for this year's event, now bereft of most of its potential top performers: Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Alexandre Vinokurov, Joseba Beloki, Francesco Mancebo... I'll still follow the race, of course, but I'll miss the competition of those great riders.

In a way, it's no surprise. This gruelling sport--and particularly this most gruelling of all sports events, the Tour--has been plagued by rumors of doping and doping scandals for years. Lance Armstrong himself has had to fight off a campaign of not-so-quiet whispering since the days of his earliest triumph in the event. Even today, a year after his retirement, there are those who wish to unseat him from his throne: more rumors this year, and of course more denials from this cancer survivor whose performance has indeed seemed superhuman. I choose to believe him rather than his detractors, but I have to admit I have little more than choice as the basis for my belief.

Here's my take--and it may well not be a popular one: let's even out the playing field by allowing any athlete to dope up whatever he wants. Many of them will do it anyway. Those baseball heroes are turning out to have feet of... well, not even exactly good wholesome clay. If we want to make sports at least fair once again, we'll stop fussing about what these athletes put in their bodies. It may be, when they get wise to the ravages performance-enhancing drugs may cause, that they'll choose to avoid them. In any event, all will be above board and transparent. Better that, I say, than not knowing who takes what and resorting to condemnation by hearsay and rumor. Suspicion, in sports as in other fields of human activity, is far more damaging than knowledge.

You talk a good line about transparency in your own line of business, Bush. If only your actions matched your words, we would be spared the suspicion that surrounds so much of what you do. So I imagine you'll go along with me on this one: legalize all drugs in sports. Oh, and while we're at it, we might as well legalize those other drugs, too. The "war on drugs" was lost long ago. Had they been legal--and in appropriate cases available, perhaps, only on prescription--I believe many lives would have been spared, many unnecessary and costly imprisonments avoided, and many, many dollars saved.

Better, as they say, the devil you know... And, just for the record, my money is on the 26-year-old Spaniard Alejandro Valverde for the Tour. He came in fifth in today's time trial, behind Hushovd, the Norwegian; two Americans, George Hincapie and Dave Zabriskie: and Sebastian Lange, a German contender. Accuse me of unpatriotic fervor, Bush, but after seven years of American domination in the form of the indomitable Lance Armstrong, I'm hoping for a European win on the Champs-Elysees, at the end of this year's race.