Thursday, August 31, 2006

Liberty & Security in the Post-9/11 World

Sleepless in Laguna Beach

Not sleeping too well these days, Bush. I blame it in part on the fact that the summer is coming to an end, bringing with it the prospect of returning to our work-year cycle--commuting between the big city and the beach cottage we were fortunate (or smart) enough to buy before property in this area shot up through the clear blue skies of Southern California.

In part also, it's George (no, Bush, I don't want you getting excited: as I think I've mentioned somewhere in past entries, George the dog arrived about the same time that George Harrison was prematurely leaving us. No flattery intended, I assure you). Like most other dogs in the area, our George is suffering horribly from seasonal allergies. He just can't stop scratching, and since he sleeps on our bed with us, he has been waking us up, frequently, in the middle of the night--and then keeping us awake. We try kicking him and shouting at him groggily, but it doesn't seem to help.

But that's just the preamble, Bush. The real source of my sleeplessness, I think, is the anxiety I have about flying off for my speaking gig, a week from today, at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Not the flight itself, nor even the new security measures. I can deal with those. No, it's the business of getting up to speak in front of an as yet unknown number of people, none of whom I know. Actually, it doesn't matter much how many or how few. It doesn't even matter that I've done it a thousand times before--as a speaker, a reader, a lecturer, a teacher, a professor--and even though I usually manage it with apparent aplomb. It's inside that the turmoil roils...

So let's get to it, Bush. A dry run. What, I wonder, do I need to say about my topic: "Liberty and Security in the Post-9/11 World"? I may as well start out by confessing, not for the first time, that I'm a liberal. Since that word has been co-opted as an insult by those who call themselves conservatives, I should maybe call myself a progressive. Or, if I really want to make the conservatives mad, a socialist. Because that's really what I am. I was born before World War II in a coal-mining town in the north of England, and my father was the rector of the parish. His sympathies were always with the working man, the downtrodden, the exploited, the oppressed, and I inherited his political and social attitudes. A socialist as I see it--and let's agree for the moment to steal the word back from McCarthyite America--is simply one who believes that one of the important roles of government is to act as power for the powerless, and to defend the interests of those who lack the means to defend them for themselves.

So what I believe distinguishes you from me, Bush, is a belief in government. It seems to me, listening to you and your right wing allies, and watching your actions in the world, that you do not share that belief. Your purpose, in the words of one of your long-time associates, is to "strangle the beast" of government. Strange, then, that while you choose to toe that line when it comes to taxes and the civic and social programs they support, you stand so ready to wield the power of government when it comes to certain basic civil rights.

Let's take the case of Terri Schiavo, for a start. Remember that one? It seemed to me, in the case of this poor woman who had been brain dead for fifteen years and who--like myself and most other intelligent people that I know--had expressed her wish in advance that she not be kept alive by artificial means should anything like this ever happen to her, that you and your allies chose to charge in with the full weight of government in the attempt to dictate the personal morality of others. On an analogous "pro-life" front, you'll recall that the only veto you have ever used was to take a stand for the view of a small number of pro-life extremists and against the preponderance of scientific evidence on the promise of stem cell research for millions of those afflicted with debilitating injuries and disease.

If I mention these two incidents, Bush--which might otherwise seem irrelevant to our theme--it is because the dreadful events of September 11, 2001 empowered your office in a way that nothing else could--least of all the dubious election results of the previous year. After 9/11, backed by your team of powerful, mostly corporate-affiliated supporters, you took the opportunity and seized the power. 9/11, the word went out, was the day that changed the world. All bets were off, all historic precedents open to review and revision. You could hear the vast sucking sound as power rushed to the White House and the American people, understandably too shocked to do much else but stand around and gape, entrusted that power to you all too gladly. And with that rush of power, in my view, Bush, came hubris. The kind of arrogance that lay behind your actions in the Terri Schiavo case and on the stem cell research bill.

(As a European--well, a European by birth, at least: American now, though still definitely in recovery!--I confess to having a different view of 9/11. I don't see it as a day that changed the world: what happened in New York, though on a much more devastating scale, has been happening in Europe for centuries. The attack did not make everything different. We Americans had always been different. It made everything the same. You were offered the opportunity on that day, Bush, to join the rest of the world in fellowship. As I see it, you chose not to. At that moment, and in all your subsequent actions, you have asserted American difference, American supremacy, American entitlement.)

It was out of this mindset, as I see it, that emerged the dual strategy of fear-mongering and aggression that have dominated your administration's policies on both national and international issues. First, America and Americans are special, and must be protected at all costs. I believe that sense of entitlement to be safe from evey conceivable danger is a part of our national psyche anyway, but you, Bush, have made political capital out of that assumption of the right to invulnerability. The Buddhist teachings I have studied have led me personally to the understanding that insecurity is an inevitable part of the human condition. We are none of us safe, at any time of the day or night. Earthquakes (in California at least) wait to strike; what is it here in Springfield? Tornados? Blizzzards? The drunk driver on the Interstate? Cancer? Some other dread, incurable disease? We are all vulnerable, and we had better learn to live with insecurity if we we wish to live in freedom.

Do we need to live in deathly fear of terrorism? I say no. We need, of course, to take the obvious precautions. Only recently, in the light of the arrests in London, England, new security measures have been introduced. (We might ask why, given that the nature of this particular threat was known long ago, those measures were not introduced earlier. I suspect that's because our counter-terrorism precautions are measured not by their necessity, but by the state of public awareness of the threat. A shoe-bomber? We all take off our shoes. A gel or liquid threat? Watch out for the baby milk!) In other words, it seems to me that the whole Homeland Security operation is little more than another public relations game, a window-dressing effect to reassure Americans that the government is working to protect them from the threats that they, the government, uncover in perfect time to scare us just a little more.

In the name of security, Bush, your government has gone much further than these relatively small adjustments in the way we travel. While virtually ignoring such real problems as port security and the defense of chemical plants, you have developed a national defense priority determined more by the pecking order of lobbyists and politicians than by self-evident need. How else do you explain the absurd disparities in the apportionment of funds between, say, the State of Montana and the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Washington...?

At the same time, you have exploited fear in order to expand the power of the executive over the rights of idividual Americans. Your lawyers have twisted logic to allow you to stick your finger in the eye of Habeus Corpus, the cornerstone of individual rights since the time of the Magna Carta (that's 1215, if I remember right), allowing you to throw anyone you choose in jail without the benefit of knowing the evidence against them or the right to an attorney or a speedy trial. You have treated not only America but the world as your personal sheriff's fiefdom where you alone become the law. You have assumed the right to tap telephones at will, without warrant or restriction, all in the name of keeping America safe from those terrorists with whom we are at war... And you have attempted to do all this under the cover of secrecy, the most powerful tool at the disposal of the tyrant.

Worst of all, in my book, Bush, you keep trying to tell the American people that they are more secure as a result of your war in Iraq. You keep saying that we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here at home. Does anyone seriously believe this dishonest piece of rhetoric, Bush? I understood--supported--your action in Afghanistan following 9/11. There was little doubt that the Taliban were providing a training ground and support for Osama Bin Laden and his merry band of terrorists. I did see that as an act of justified retribution and self-defense.

At this point, though, my own little voice is hardly needed to reiterate the obvious: that Bush II, who complained that his father, Bush I, should have finished the job in Iraq in 1991, notably failed himself to finish the job in Afghanistan. Instead, you sent your armies marching off to Iraq on the trumped-up charges of Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction and support for the terrorists and 9/11, and created the most ideal of all recruitment and training grounds for the very terrorists with whom you claim to be at war!

Security, Bush? I look around and see more insecurity in the world than I have seen since World War II. Of course, no question, the lion's share of the blame goes to those who would willingly create chaos in the world, kill Americans with the same callous abandon that they slaughter their own people, and destablize governments in the region in pursuit of their own narrow interests. Still, Bush, I cannot let you off the hook for your part in creating this international insecurity. At the time of the attack on the World Trade Center, you had the goodwill of every government, virtually every person in the world. "Today," even a Frenchman said, "we are all Americans!" You had the opportunity, with skill, diplomacy, compassion, a broad vision and the ability, above all, to listen to the voice of others--you had the opportunity to begin to orchestrate a new world music for the common good of all humanity. And the opportunity was squandered. It went up in the flames of "Shock and Awe", in that blunt demonstration of American power and vengeance.

Enough for one day. We'll speak tomorrow a little more about freedom, Bush. Until then, I trust you're sleeping better than I am--with far greater sources of anxiety on your mind than George the dog and a talk in Springfield, Missouri.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Brian Williams Interview

It's Not About the Image...

... Bush, it's about the substance. Caught just a glimpse of your interview with NBC's Brian Williams this morning, before moving on to better things. I heard you insist for the zillionth time that the Iraq war was the right thing to do. You admitted that it wasn't Iraq that attacked on 9/11, but went straight from there to sayin that you had never claimed it was Saddam who had attacked us. Untrue. You may not have put it in those exact words, but you and your administration spent months in the attempt to persuade the American people of just that, in order to justify your invasion. Successfully, it appears. We had a new acquaintance over at our house last night who came out and said it: he still believed Iraq had something to do with that attack.

Wneh asked about the opinion of the rest of the world and the hostility to our policies, you were quick to attribute this to a poor public relations job. Not so. It's about the policies themselves, Bush. That's what's getting people riled up.

No more for now. I have something on my mind for later, though. If I find the time to get it written. Until then...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Or: Does the Exception Prove the Rule?

We were talking only yesterday if you remember, Bush, about movies and movie stars, about the predominance of the male action star at the box office, and about the paucity of outstanding roles for women. By coincidence, I slipped a new arrival from Netflix into the DVD player last night: "Proof". (Thanks to those of our readers, by the way, who had recently recommended it!) Proof that strong roles for women do exist, and that to grab the imagination and the compassion of its viewers, a movie does not need the swagger of the macho hero.

The only heroics here are internal ones. The battle is against the inner demons, and the outcome is still uncertain at the end. The "victory", if there is one, is left in doubt: we are not offered the comfortable reassurance that the demons will never return. Indeed, we are quite sure they will, and that our heroine, while emerging momentarily into the light, will likely continue in her struggle for the rest of her life.

Still, it's compelling drama and Gwyneth Paltrow does an extraordinary job in the leading role. It's not an easy one. Her character is allowed to be only fleetingly appealing, and rarely even particularly attractive. Depressed, self-doubting to a fault, angry and resentful, for the most part as devoid of energy as she is of physical attraction, she slouches around the house in confusion and despair and repels every attempt to get close to her. Her greatest fear is that she is too much like her father--a father whose genius she worships and whose madness she dreads, a father who is alternately tender, demanding and domineering toward a daughter who is at once lovingly dutiful and angrily rebellious.

It's the archetypal dad, in other words, and the archetypal daughter. His death, which should come as a release to her, only serves to increase her guilt and anguish as she flails about, emotionally and spiritually, in the attempt to free herself from his giant shadow and acknowledge that her own genius rivals his. She sees it even as the cause of his death, and herself as his murderer.

These are the kind of demons that we all must fight with, Bush, in order to flourish in our individual humanity. The reason that this daughter's conflict is so utterly compelling and convincing is that she is doing the work that all of us must do to liberate ourselves. Freedom, the word you bandy about so liberally (if you'll excuse my language, Bush!) is only in small part about the restrictions imposed on us by others. The inner demons, perhaps because they remain so stubbornly evasive and invisible, are more powerful than any of your Saddams. Freedom is what we are obliged to struggle for within ourselves. No one can give it to us, not even the powerful military of the United States of America. We must each find it in and for ourselves.

And when we fail to do so, especially the most powerful amongst us, the results inevitably manifest themselves in the outer world in the form of tyranny, oppression and war.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Top Gun

Cruise Control

This Tom Cruise business has me thinking, Bush. Let's agree at the start that he's a pretty darn good actor. I've liked his performance in some of his movies--most notably "Risky Business" and "Jerry McGuire." I'll even confess to having gotten a kick out his swagger in "Top Gun"--though looking back on it some twenty years later in the light of America's parading of its shock-and-awe air power in the Middle East and my own philosophical turn toward a more Buddhist world-view, I'd probably find it not a little distasteful today. Not to mention the unavoidable association with your own recent performance, Bush, in flight-suit costume on the deck of that aircraft carrier!

As far as the couch-leaping episode on the Oprah Winfrey show... well, I guess that a movie star is entitled to his antic moments once in a while. Less appealing, to me, was Cruise's appearance with Matt Lauer on the Today show, and his presumptuous castigation of an entertainment industry colleague for her use of anti-depressant medication to control the post-partum blues. The "Psychiatry Kills" bumper-sticker dogma of Scientology is one of its scarier manifestations; and that self-proclaimed religion, frankly, aside from its often bizarre tenets, carries with it the suspicious odor of sanctimony and intolerance. I'll cop to a healthy surge of Schadenfreude, Bush, when I read about Paramount's abrupt cancellation of Tom Cruise's contract.

More interesting, though, to me, was the sidelight on this incident in the form of a chart of the "Top 20" box office stars which was published in yesterday's "Week in Review" in the New York Times. Working forward since 1965, they were rated "by total film grosses" in "billions of 2006 dollars." Top of the list was Harrison Ford, followed at some billions of dollars' distance by Tom Hanks, Eddie Murphy and Sean Connery, before reaching Tom Cruise in 5th place. Then another nine male entries before reaching Julia Roberts at 14, the first of only two women in the bunch.

So I wonder, Bush, what does this have to say about our culture, in the days since the love generation of the 1960s? Is this despite, or because of the women's liberation movement? I'd be interested to know what a comparable list might look like for the '30s, '40s and '50s. Would it be dominated so completely by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Erroll Flynn, James Stewart, Cary Grant? Or would some of the great women stars' names appear on the big dollar box office grossing list? Marlene Dietrich? Jane Russell? Olivia de Haviland? Judy Garland? June Allison? Elizabeth Taylor? Doris Day? Marilyn Monroe?

A curious speculation, when you think of it. I mean, I've heard complaints about the paucity of great parts for women (most recently, Helen Mirren at last night's Emmys.) But only two women out of twenty?

What I'm reading from this, of course, is that the biggest-grossing pictures are the male-dominated action movies--though in this light it's interesting to see Tom Hanks and Eddy Murphy in the top three. What the list in general suggests about our culture, though, is that as a society we have been obsessed in the recent past with the swagger of the macho action hero, the hair-trigger reaction, the illusion of power and decisiveness, the thrill of competitive aggression, and of course the big win, the "victory."

All of which may be the result of male insecurity in the face of the ascending power of women. It may have to do with the accelerated pace and the increasing challenge to compete in a shrinking world. But any way you explain it, Bush, it's not a pretty picture. Particularly distressing is the realization that this is all chillingly reflected in the reality of the nation's politics. You were elected to the most powerful office in the world not despite, but because of the tough-talking cowboy image you chose to project. The American electorate bought into it.

What seems clear from the mess in which we find ourselves today is that the world can no longer afford these easily accepted attitudes. Our culture thrives on obliviously, somewhere below consciousness in our collective lives (witness the triumph of "24" at the Emmys last night!) but the reality it generates is not just mal-functioning, it's obsolete. Unless we all wake up and make some serious changes in this America we claim to love, we will surely go the way of other dominant, domineering, empire-building cultures of the past. Into the trash heap of history.

Forget about Rambo. Forget about Top Gun, James Bond, Indiana Jones. Let's relegate them to the universe of fantasy, where they belong. Pay heed to "Brokeback Mountain," Bush. Even Hollywood seems to have a glimmer of awareness, an admittedly still tentative finger to the winds of change.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Barack Obama in Kenya

Is He the Man...?

I was interested to read in today's New York Times about Senator Barack Obama's ecstatic reception in Kenya, Bush. "He's our lion," one fan is reported to have said. And another: "He will help us."

Born of a Kenyan father--a "goatherd-turned-economist" reports the Times--and a "white mother from Kansas", Obama spent little time in Kenya while growing up, but remains to his father's former countryman "a role model; a black man succeeding in a white man's world [...]; a friend in a high place; and the embodiment of American opportunity and multiculturalism."

I remember his brilliant, inspiring speech at the last Democratic convention, Bush, and the great hopes that came to rest upon his (rather young, still) shoulders. Judging from media reports--or largely the lack thereof--there has been little drama or glamor around his freshman senatorial term, but from what I have heard he has chosen the path of least resistance, remaining very much in the middle of the political road, making no waves and attracting little attention.

Now, recalling his charisma, the breadth of vision he conveyed in that one speech, his articulate presentation, his youthful energy, I watch from afar this man with feet in two cultures, two races, two continents and delight in the warmth of his reception amongst people who claim him for their own despite his transplantation to the other side of the Atlantic; I delight in the prospect of the planned visit to his father's rural African native village, to the sit-down with his grandmother who speaks no English and awaits him with the traditional grandmother-grandson offering of an egg... There seems to me, somehow, much hope for humanity in this encounter.

So is this the man, I wonder, Bush? Is this the man who will prove capable of seeing beyond his parochial national interests? Who will be capable of connecting with the Earth and its people as that singular, fully interactive organism that I tried to describe just the other day (with the help of Ervin Laszlo)? Who will be empowered by birth, by intellect, by inner emotional integrity, by cultural maturity and awakened consciousness to nudge the rest of us finally past that old destructive thinking and into a new era of international cooperation, compassion and mutual understanding?

But then I read Obama's comments in response to a question about "lowering American subsidies on farm produce so that African farmers could compete," and I worry. Many of his Illinois constituents were soybean farmers, he said carefully. "It's important for me to be sure I'm looking out for their interests. It's part of my job."

I hear this and I think, no, this is not yet the man. This is a man who is not yet bold enough to step beyond his own political contingencies. We will have to wait a while longer for men and women capable of seeing further than their own narrow interests, beyond the interests of small numbers of powerful constituents, beyond the interests of political parties and nations.

It may be that, like the archetypal drunk, we Earth-dwellers will have to descend much lower into the pit of our own misery and abuse before we "hit bottom" as the saying goes, before we "come out of denial" and see the truth about the addictions that threaten to destroy us.

So there it is for Saturday, Bush. Some hope. Some sadness.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto: Dwarf Planet

It's About Size...

So reason triumphs over the imagination once again. Pluto is demoted by near unanimous agreement of those astronomers gathered in the Czech Republic to debate its future. It's about its size. It's about its unacceptably erratic orbit around the sun. It's also, it seems, about its failure to "clear its area." Which means, insofar as I understand these things, Bush, that to qualify as a planet it needs to be able to dominate its neighborhood and prevent competitors from invading its space. Sounds a bit like your administration's foreign policy, no?

I'm sad that it all came down to size and clout. The bully boys win out again, and the little guy slinks off to the corner of the school yard while they point and laugh at his diminutive stature. A "dwarf planet". I kind of thought that term had been given the PC treatment. Little people. Isn't that the term of choice today? I do understand that there are a zillion little, round-ish celestial bodies out there in the Kuiper Beltway, busy making their circuits around our sun, and no matter how clamorous their lobbyists, we can't give every one of them the dignity of planet status. Besides, no profitable commercial ventures so many billion miles away. Still, I'm surprised they didn't have the common decency to give this little one a free pass, after seven decades of full membership in the planetary club.

My favorite comment in this whole affair comes from six year-old Jaykb Olivas (quite a handle, that!) who was quoted in today's Los Angeles Times . "It's an awesome planet," he said. "Since Pluto's the smallest planet, we could visit it and be like giants." Way to go, Jaykb! Quite a concept! Giants, eh? We could all use a little of that feeling.

Makes you wonder, though, doesn't it, Bush? Might there not be some superior galactic council out there somewhere checking into the status of the planet Earth? Size is acceptable, of course. But the behavior of its current dominant species? Way out of control. Maybe they'll haul us up before the Supreme Galactic Court, like they do in those sci-fi movies, and indict the lot of us for "disturbing the peace" or some such offense. Send us to insterstellar Coventry. (Is that concept familiar to our American readers, Bush?)

Anyway, we'll sure look like a bunch of idiots then, for presuming in the vanity of our half-assed rational belief-system to send poor Pluto into exile.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Holistic World View...

... For a Planetary Civilization

This is it, Bush. I promised you big thoughts. Here we go. Take a deep breath.

For my birthday this month, my sister sent me a subscription to a British magazine called Caduceus. I cracked it open for the first time yesterday and came to an article that blew me away. Written by Ervin Laszlo, it was called "A holistic world view for a planetary civilization," and it so perfectly expressed what I take to be the basic thinking that lies behind the pages of this journal that I had to include some significant mention of it today. (I would give you a link, Bush, if I could, or simply copy the whole piece verbatim on this page, but "Caduceus" seems not to allow of this possibility, so you'll have to make do with my inadequate resume--or subscribe to this very worthy publication. Lots of quotations, instead.)

Okay, Laszlo starts from the premise that "our world has become economically, socially and ecologically unsustainable." A Chinese proverb, he tells us, warns that "If we do not change directions, we are likely to end up exactly where we are headed." (A nice irony, Bush, no?) "Applied to contemporary humanity," Laszlo writes, "this would be disastrous. Without a change in direction we are on the way to a world of increasing population pressure and poverty; growing potential for social and political conflict; escalating maverick and organized warfare, accelerating climate change; food, water, and energy shortages; worsening industrial, urban, and agricultural pollution; further destruction of the ozone layer; accelerating reduction of biodiversity; and continued loss of atmospheric ozygen."

Well, that about says it, doesn't it? So much for the bleak view of our present direction. There is another way, however. "Seizing the better alternative," writes Laszlo, "calls for new thinking, [...] more holistic thinking, encompassing all the factors." "The universe," he continues, is not "a lifeless, soulless aggregate of inert chunks of matter", as the old thinking would have us believe, but resembles, rather, "a living organism." He posits two kinds of growth: "extensive growth", which "conquers ever more territories, colonizes ever more people and imposes the will of the dominant layers on ever more layers of the population." "Intensive growth," on the other hand, "centres (British magazine, Bush!) on the development of individuals and the communities in which they live." (Rings a bell: I have a good friend who is working on this concept of "sacred lifeboats".)

The purpose of extensive growth "can be encapsulated in three 'Cs': conquest, colonization and consumption." Intensive growth "can be grasped under three other 'Cs': connection, communication and consciousness." We look around everywhere in the world and we see the disastrous consequences of those "extensive" three 'Cs' that represent the old thinking. It is precisely here, Bush, that I see you to be stuck, along with your neocon cronies. For you, I deduce from your actions, it's all about making the world safe for business. It's about control of the many, and the stimulation of consumption on their part for the profit of the few.

But philosophers, scientists and economists alike have a new view of the universe. "Matter," as Laszlo writes, "is vanishing as a fundamental feature of reality, retreating before energy; and continuous fields are replacing discrete particles as the basic elements of an energy-based universe. The universe is a seamless whole, evolving over eons of cosmic time and producing conditions where life and then mind and consciousness can emerge. The emerging scientific view is holistic and it can inspire the incipient holism of people as they search for more integral ways of living, eating, healing and consuming." (I warned you, Bush, this is Big Stuff!)

Connection, then: "One of the great myths of the Industrial Age has been the separation of individuals--skin-enclosed--from each other and the disjunction of the interests of others [...] But the contemporary sciences not longer support this view. Now every quantum is known to be subtly connected with every other quantum and every organism with other organisms in the ecosystem. In turn, economists know that there is a decisive connection between the interests of individuals... and the workings of the global system." Connection is not only desirable, it is what is!

The second 'C', communication: "First of all, "writes Laszlo, "we need to communicate with ourselves, caring for and cultivating our consciousness and personality. People who are 'in touch with themselves' are better balanced and more able to communicate with the world around them." And he extends this need for intimate communication to family, friends, business. (This resonates for me, Bush, with the teaching of our Buddhist teacher, who instructs us, in meditation, to start out with the practice of goodwill first to ourselves, our family and friends, and work ever outward in concentric circles to include, finally, to even those we dislike, and our enemies.)

Communication, then "calls for a high level of consciousness" to lift "the outdated ego-centered thinking to the urgently needed community, ecology and planet-centered dimension." Laszlo quotes Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia: "Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness," said Havel, "nothing will change for the better... and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed--the ecological, social, demographic, or general breakdown of civilization--will be unavoidable."

But this, argues Laszlo, "is not a reason for despair... Human consciousness can evolve. At the innovative margins of society" (California, maybe?!) "it is already evolving. A holistic view is taking shape, one that sees the human being as an organic whole, embedded in the socio- and culture-sphere, embedded in turn in the wholeness of the biosphere." And he stresses that this "cultural mutation can be purposefully launched and oriented. The purposeful orientation of humanity's next cultural mutation depends on how well and how rapidly people evolve their consciousness. The spread of a new, more evolved consciousness is now a precondition of our collective survival. And it starts at home--with you and me."

There, Bush, I couldn't have said it better myself. My apologies to Ervin Laszlo for having used his words so liberally. I only hope that, in abbreviating, I have not misrepresented them. When people ask me why I keep writing these pages, the most frequent answer I have is that I wish to remain conscious, and that writing is the best way I know how to do it. It's my hope, too, that in communicating this desire to remain conscious myself, I might connect with others who wish to do the same. I'm grateful to Ervin Laszlo for his brilliant article, and I believe this triumvirate of 'Cs' to be the last best hope for humankind.

More Later

Review: The Real Bush Diaries
While awaiting the great thoughts for the day, Bush, you (and I hope others) might care to check out this nice review of our book.

Deep Thoughts Going On
I have to sit and think a while this morning, Bush. There's a piece I want to write and it involves a little more reading than I have time for right now, and a lot more thought. So sit tight, okay? Patience. And don't forget to come back later... I promise you some really good stuff to be mulling over.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I just finished reading Fiasco last night, Bush--the appropriately-titled book by Thomas E. Ricks about your adventure in Iraq. A frightening read. And a fascinating one, for one who has no military knowledge or experience, since it describes in detail the lead-up to the invasion and its planning, and the grievous mistakes in both the strategy and the conduct of the war. We learn about all this often at first hand, from the notes and recollections of officers and men in the field.

It did not surprise me to learn, of course, that the greatest failure was in the almost complete absence of post-invasion plans. Your Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" seemed, at first sight, to work brilliantly, but his apparent conviction that the subsequent phase could be handled by a minimum force opened the way for the insurgency--and for increasing Iraqi mistrust and anger as they watched their country fall apart under American occupation. As Ricks tells it, our military failed to take into account the lessons learned from previous attempts to battle insurgencies and relied primarily on the application of force against the enemy rather than on "winning the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people who might otherwise have helped contain them.

The book ends on a somewhat hopeful note, but with a caution. The hopeful note is to be found in evidence that the military have learned from their mistakes, and that they are changing their tactics to a more peaceful and constructive approach, with some positive results. The caution is that, if we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, the whole region could destabilize in a variety of scenarios, none of which would be anything but hostile to the United States.

Events of the past couple of months are not encouraging, Bush, I have to say. The continuing sectarian violence in Iraq itself, the rise in power of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel's failed attempt to bring them under control, the unresolved situation in Gaza, and Iran's dangerous dance on the nuclear issue--none of these bode well in isolation for future regional stability; together, they form an ominous cloud of warning. I've seen no indication that you have any overarching strategy to address these escalating problems. The spread of freedom and democracy might make a good slogan, Bush, but it's no policy. And your Rice, for all her determinedly perky optimism, seems to be flailing hopelessly in this quicksand.

Meanwhile I learn from the headline in today's Los Angeles Times that 2,500 Marine reservists are to be called back to active duty in Iraq--"the latest sign," the Times reports, "that the American force is under strain and a signal that the military is having trouble persuading young veterans to return." The image of omnipotent American strength has been severely compromised. For myself, I wouldn't worry too much about that if it weren't for the concurrently increasing instabiity throughout the world. Iran, North Korea, India and Pakistan, the African continent... and I read somewhere that Chinese generals are advising their leaders that this is a good moment to think about invading Taiwan.

With the United States floundering under your leadership, Bush, I worry about how we are all to survive the next two years.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Ray of Sunshine....

... Before the Storm

As you may have guessed from yesterday's grumpy entry, Bush, I went into a bit of a funk when I woke up to make our morning cup of tea and found your press conference pre-empting the news. Oh, and it may have been the result of three sequential nights of reveling, with food abundant and wine flowing... Or stepping on the bathroom scale to discover... Well, I'll not bother you with the detail, Bush. Enough to say that the information was displeasing.

So it was a delight to find a couple of hours of respite at the movies. We went to see "Little Miss Sunshine" at our little local theater--the one where you can hear the explosions through the wall from the action film they happen to be showing concurrently. Remember the days, Bush, when movie theaters used to show just one picture at a time? Or, if they ran two, would run them sequentially, as a double bill? Ah, well. My apologies. I didn't start out this morning with the intention of wallowing in nostalgia.

Anyway, "Little Miss Sunshine." It's a delightful comedy about a little girl whose wacky fantasy of beauty pageant fame starts her dysfunctional family on a trek to California in a rickety VW bus. Her crusty grandpa dies along the way--but not before inspiring her with his belief in her ability to shine. Abducted from the bureaucratic snare of hospital red tape, his corpse accompanies the squabbling family on the last stages of their perilous journey to the Redondo Beach hotel, where they arrive in time to sneak their Olive in to the contest despite their last minute arrival. Our heroine--a bit on the plump side, and definitely uncool beside her immaculately primped and preened little rivals--manages to triumph over all of them by the sheer charm of her spunky authenticity.

Which is where the comedy began to spook me not a little, Bush, with its parade of sub-teen beauty queen hopefuls and their mercilessly competitive parents. Shades of Jon Benet, at a moment when that unfortunate little girl has crashed back into the news headlines with the arrest of her putative killer. The hideous distortion of little-girl energy into that row of curly-haired Barbie doll look-alikes with their sexy prancing on the runway to fame raises deeply troubling questions about the values of our society, Bush, with its rush to exploit even its own children in its insatiably commercial drive.

And we are shocked by the prevalence of child pornography. The New York Times ran a story yesterday about online pedophilia and its extension into real world predation. The arrest of John Mark Kerr leads to a media frenzy that shows no sign of cooling down. And yet we smile on the kind of emotional and psychological rape involved in making beauty queens of pretty little girls. I don't want to seem humorless, Bush, but I was disturbed by even this film's intentionally satirical take on its climactic scenes.

Then we got home and watched the first two acts of Spike Lee's four-act "requiem" for the city of New Orleans, and I got mad at you all over again... The cavalier incompetence of your response to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina simply defies belief, Bush. The documentary, thus far, has done a good job of allowing the victims of that dreadful storm to speak for themselves, and their story amounts to a terrible indictment of the failures of your administration at that critical time. Compared with your rush to send aid to the victims of the Indonesian tsunami, your inexcusably slow reaction in Mississippi and Louisiana leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that you simply did not know or care about poor black folks in your own country. Very sad. Very maddening. I hope it's not forgotten again before November.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Press Conference

I watched your press conference this morning, Bush. Nothing new. The same old cliches, repeated endlessly in answer to virtually every question, no matter what the particular angle of the questioner might be. I don't know how you get away with it--though I suppose you do have the pulpit. You basically subject the media to your agenda. The political edge gets sharper, as the November elections approach: "they"--the Democrats--"want us to leave Iraq before the job is done." The American people, you say (many times) need to understand that Democrats want us to leave before the job is done. A huge mistake, you say. If we leave, you say (many times) the terrorists will follow us here. I can just see it, Bush: boatloads of terrorists--maybe planeloads--crossing the Atlantic and landing in New York and Washington. You invoke the specter of Al Qaeda (many times): Al Qaeda, you assert, without any evidence I know of, "is still very active in Iraq." You suggest that Al Qaeda terrorists are behind all the bombings there: "the extremists, radicals, and Al Qaeda." You say (many times) that they're trying to halt the forward march of democracy in the region--the march, presumably, that you started and continue to support. I don't see a great deal of freedom marching in the region myself, Bush. I see tribal and sectarian violence. I see guns and bombs being used as the tools of choice to conquer, subjugate, and divide.

The effect of your press conference was to send me into another fit of frustration and despair, and I don't like myself for it. I don't like to confess that the subsequent report on the flight of John Mark Kerr (business class, champagne, pate, jumbo shrimp and chocolate cake) from Bangkok to Los Angeles was a lot more interesting than your press conference. I don't like the impulse to give up on our daily conversation, Bush, because it seems, at moments like this, to be a waste of breath. But there you go. That's how it seems today. And it's only Monday yet, the first day of the week.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hot Seat

I was quite surprised last night, Bush--at that 4-Leo birthday party I mentioned to you the other day--to realize that most of the otherwise well-informed and sophisticated guests had never heard of a "hot seat." I had just assumed that you and our readers would be well aware of the meaning of this term. But it seems I was wrong, so a few words of explanation might be needed before I recommend that experience once again to your good self.

The hot seat was invented, to the best of my knowledge, at the Esalen Institute in the 1960s. (You might remember, Bush, that we were talking about Esalen only last week. Check back through these pages, in case you happened to miss those entries.) It was the famous--some might say infamous--Fritz Perls who introduced this practice of subjecting one member of his "encounter groups"--remember those?--to an intense, unsparing emotional grilling by the others. It was a way of holding feet to the fire, of demanding that the occupant of the "hot seat" hold him- or herself accountable, of cutting through the bullshit with which we commonly defend ourselves from the deep, sometimes uncomfortable truths of our lives. Fritz Perls' famous book was called "In and Out the Garbage Pail"--a title that gives you some idea of the psychological depths he was interested in unearthing.

I mentioned earlier my own birthday gift to myself: a hot seat with a select few of those men I have come to know and trust over the years in the work of The ManKind Project (patience, Bush: the relevance of all this will soon become apparent!) This past Friday evening, I got what I asked for. I sat down with five of the toughest, least compromising men that I know--men who have proven experience in cutting through all manner of bullshit, including their own, men with laser sharp intention--with the knowledge that I was not to be spared. I did this because I know that there are still carefully hidden parts of my own heart and soul which stand between me and the full realization of the potential I am given to work with in the brief span of my life here on earth. Might as well make the most of it.

It's not my intention, here, to bore you with the inner secrets of my soul, Bush. Suffice it to say that the hot seat allowed me an important opportunity to work through one of the less endearing qualities in my character that have limited my capacity to live and love fully. The men I had chosen were more than willing to put me to the test, and to demand an ever-deepening penetration into the dark side of my self. It was not easy work. I had plenty of resistance. It was hard to let go of the intricate system of controls that have enabled me, since childhood, to protect the soft inner core from harm. It was distinctly painful at times. But it was worth every minute of the experience, and I came away with a renewed sense of freedom from my self-imposed strictures. I felt that I had grown in some significant way.

So heartfelt thanks to these men, Bush, for their insight and their powerful persistence. And here's why I bother to mention this at such length: what a blessing it would be for yourself, your country, for the world, were we able to offer you the gift of a similar hot seat! In my judgment, you have surrounded yourself with men and women who are all too eager to do your bidding without question and who gladly buffer your ego from all assaults. You have not held yourself accountable for your actions, nor has anyone else had the guts to hold you accountable. To judge by your actions and their results, your failure to learn from them, and your reluctance to hold anyone else in your administration accountable, you have no idea what accountability means. My judgment. If integrity implies the congruity between what a man says and what he does, it is something that you loudly and publicly claimed for yourself before your election, but have yet to demonstrate since.

In short Bush, I believe that someone needs to hold you seriously to account. It's time to pause for a deep look into the inner Bush and take measure of the bullshit in which, in my judgment, you are currently drowning--as a man, and as this nation's presumptive leader. It's time, Bush, for your hot seat. A vain hope, to be sure, but I know that I'd be feeling a lot safer if you were required to subject yourself to this kind of accountability. And rest assured, I'm not just picking on you: Bill Clinton could have used a hot seat, too. If I had my say, I'd make it a requirement for the presidency. But then, I guess I'm still a wide-eyed, naive optimist, even at the age of seventy. I still believe that with a better understanding of who we are as flawed and vulnerable individual human beings, we can save the world from our worst selves.

Friday, August 18, 2006

All Jon Benet...

...All the Time

Another fine distraction, Bush. I switched on the news this morning early and was not surprised to find every network dominated by news of the arrest, in Thailand, of a spooky character who claims to be the perpetrator in the notorious Jon Benet Ramsey murder case. How they love to keep replaying the same couple of minutes of tape of this obviously insane man in his green shirt and white pants, his vaguely startled, vaguely complacent look--and of course those pictures of the unfortunate little victim with her beauty pageant costumes and her curly hair. What a bunch of voyeuristic creeps we are, to be fascinated by this kind of thing. I presume the media know their audience well enough to cater to their interests.

Meantime, in the real world, a judge in Detroit turns thumbs down on your NSA's wiretap program, and your Gonzales announces his intention to appeal the decision. Until that process is complete, I understand, the program will continue unabated. Nothing if not stubborn, then. Nothing if not dedicated to getting your own way. On the same day, another judge upholds the decision against the tobacco industry--but voids the multi-billion dollar fine that had previously been awarded. Oh, and the war in Iraq contiunes, fierce as ever. Terrorism seems able to thrive, despite your "war" on it. Darfur's descent into holocaust hell remains unaddressed by the world community. And Hezbollah makes hay while the sun shines in Lebanon, whilst Israel and America are stuck with the dual, contradictory image of at once being disempowered by the powerless, and having blood on their hands.

And the news media give us... Jon Benet. As they gave us Michael Jackson. As they gave us that unfortunate woman who drowned her children. As they gave us the arrest of Mel Gibson for drunk driving. And Brad and Angelina and their baby. As they have regaled us with countless other stories of murder and wayward celebrities. So many distractions, Bush. I imagine you must welcome them as a relief from the scrutiny to which you might otherwise be subjected. But what does it have to say about the rest of us, and about the culture we have created?

As for me, I have an interesting day ahead. This evening, a gathering of men--as a birthday gift to myself--to hold my feet to the fire and hold me accountable for where I stand in my life right now. To help me look in those hidden corners of the psyche where I still manage to believe in my own bullshit. A hot seat, in other words. Tomorrow, by contrast, a day-long retreat with our Thai Forest Buddhist teacher--a distinctly cool seat, with plenty of opportunity to look inside in another way, in silent meditation. And tomorrow evening, up in Santa Monica, a birthday celebration for four Leos, two artists and two art writers--one of the latter being myself. And I thought I was done with that birthday for this year...

Anyway, Bush, it's a busy day or so ahead. Don't expect to hear from me until Monday. Unless you inspire me irresistably, before then, with another of your antics...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Cowards: Shot at Dawn

A piece on the BBC News last night, Bush, that might interest you. It concerned a belated pardon and vindication for a number of British soldiers who had refused orders to go "over the top" in the trenches during World War I, and who had been court-martialed for cowardice. Their punishment, and to set an example to others: to be summarily shot at dawn.

Many men lost their lives to this exercise in brutality, Bush. Men who were "shell-shocked" and battle-fatigued. Men who simply couldn't take it any more. Men who perhaps consciously chose the swift, certain death of execution over the terror of that climb up the ladder from the filth and mire of the trench into the barrage of enemy fire. I don't know about you, but to me it's simply unimaginable, the courage it must have taken to make that climb.

We are perhaps slightly more enlightened in our understanding of the stress of battle today. We have progressed from the shame of shell-shock to the pathology of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and are more likely to treat the symptoms as psychological war wounds than to condemn them as cowardice. Still, we continue to ask and expect it of men--and women now, too--that they expose themselves to the very real threat of dismemberment and death, and the courage of those who accept that challenge is still to me unimaginable.

I am happy that in these few cases at least, condemnation has finally been superceded by compassion. I celebrate the clearing of their names. I just wish that we had managed, in the nearly one hundred years since the dreadful lessons of World War I, the "war to end all wars", to find some way to resolve our differences other than sending brave souls such as these "over the top." For the sake of what? Sadly, mostly for the sake of the misbegotten egos of powerful and misguided men, whose arrogance, ignorance and intransigeance leads them into wars which others must fight on their behalf. It's these men, in my view, who are the true cowards, not those whose lives they so horribly forfeit.

I would hope that sometimes you lie awake at night and think about this, Bush. I would hope you would lie awake every night... Sadly, though, from everything I hear, I don't see you losing too much sleep.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

9/11 Revisited

A moment of great sadness last night, Bush, when Ellie put on the CD of that post 9/11 concert, "America: A Tribute to Heroes." Great songs, with a huge amount of heart and soul put into their rendering that night. The artists seemed to transcend the idea of "performing" on that occasion. They seemed rather to be enacting their feelings around that tragedy in their songs. And the sadness, for me, came up around the missed opportunity, because the gift that 9/11 offered us, in all its grotesque and catastrophic violence, was the gift of glimpsing our unity as a people, the deep level of emotion at which we all can share our common humanity.

It was a moment that could have capitalized on differently from the way in which you did. It was a moment in which the entire world was ready to gather around us in support and sympathy. It was a moment of common cause, not only in our country but in the world beyond our borders. Was it Chirac who said, at the time, "We are all Americans today"? That was the feeling, anyway.

So, Bush, what an unprecedented opportunity. I'd venture to say that never before in human history had such an opportunity presented itself to a man in your position. All it required was a man who had it in him to reach out to the world, unashamed of vulnerability, and accept all that sympathy and help; a man interested in the "root causes" you speak about so glibly, and ready to address them even as he sought to redress the violence with appropriate strength and action. Instead, your response was unmitigated anger and aggression. You played on the understandable--indeed, the justifiable--instinct to hit back, and ignored the opportunity to heal.

It saddens the heart, Bush, to see that opportunity squandered. What a reversal since the moment of that concert! The divisiveness, the hatred, the insecurity and mistrust, the tragic increase in violence and death throughout the world. It saddens the heart...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Freedom Agenda

It was just a couple of days ago, Bush, that we were talking about the futility of that age-old question, familiar to every child who ever squabbled with a sibling: Who started it? Now the question seems to be: Who won it? And this question, it appears, is no less futile, childish, or unanswerable.

Oh, I know you came down firmly on the side of the Israelis, Bush. I saw the clips from your speech, or press conference, or whatever it was. You sounded... almost desperate to justify your long inaction in this latest war and to claim success, again, for you policy in the Middle East. To counter accusations even from your right flank that you had made the situation in Lebanon worse through your inaction, you sought to divert the blame to "Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah." That argument might wash in some quarters, Bush, but it sure doesn't wash with the vast majority of Middle Eastern citizens who are more likely to ascribe it to "American sponsorship of Israel." As I see it, both sides are right, both sides are wrong.

On the win-lose front, you declared Hezbollah to be "the undisputed loser" in this fracas. Hezbollah, unsurprisingly, doesn't see it your way, and they have good grounds--to their Middle Eastern supporters, at least--for claiming to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by simply having survived the military onslaught of Israel. The underdog has less to prove. Israel, meanwhile, continues to assert that it has met its objectives, even as Hezbollah fighters emerge defiant from the mute rubble and ruins of Lebanon. The images speak loudly to the rest of the world, via the media, of the vast destruction that has been wrought in this latest no-win war.

As for your claim of progress in your "freedom agenda" for the region, it rings peculiarly hollow in view of the destruction caused, the deaths of so many innocents, the continuing chaos in Iraq and the increasing recurrence of violence in Afghanistan with the return of the Taliban.

You let slip one of those revealing comments yesterday, Bush, which has a lot to say about your mindset and the reasons for its disastrous consequences. "We want peace," you're reported to have said. "We're not interested in process. We want results." I wonder, first, if this is a generational thing--the expectation of immediate results without having to do the work it takes to get there. Perhaps, in this regard, you're the unfortunate exemplar of a whole new generation of privileged Americans whose sense of entitlement knows no bounds. But it also has a lot to say about your understanding of your role as President. You want results, you don't want to get involved in the more difficult business of finding ways to achieve them.

This attitude is reflected in so many of the failures of your presudency, from the absence of planning for the aftermath of your invasion of Iraq to the fiasco following Hurricane Katrina. It explains your apparent disinterest in enlisting the support of other nations, or in working with them to solve international problems. You left the negotiations wih Iran, for example, and with Korea, to consortiums of other countries and remained determinedly aloof yourself. You wanted to have the results served up to you. You were not interested in process.

It also goes a long way to explaining the differences between the two of us, Bush, because for me it's all about process, Everything. These diaries are about process--the process of writing and the process of digesting and working through the information that invades me through the media. My relations with others are all about process. There is no end result. If Ellie and I had viewed our marriage as an end result, a thing achieved and requiring no further work, it would have ended long ago. It's interesting, now that I come to think about it, that people who share your mindset have such a problem with the idea of evolution. They are not interested in process.

Am I reading too much into an innocent aside here, Bush? I think not. It does much to explain both your actions and your absurd, almost pathological insistence on "staying the course" when the outcome begs reappraisal. It explains your disinterest in the discussion of ideas and policies, your unswerving belief in your own rightness on every issue. You want results, You're not interested in process...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Birds of a Feather

You're not going to like me for this, Bush, but I was watching the Mike Wallace interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sixty Minutes last night and I couldn't help but be struck by the qualities you share in common. Struck and, frankly, deeply disturbed.

You don't believe me? Well, here's what I saw: I saw a man of cocky self-assurance, willing to shoot off his mouth at the slightest provocation, alternately bellicose and charming in an awkward, slightly sinister way, unable to listen, and sensitive to the slightest suggestion of criticism. Okay? And then there was the same glib dismissal of the possibility of any point of view other than his own, the same prejudicial partisanship, the same nationalistic arrogance, same readiness to exculpate his friends and castigate his enemies, and the same propensity to ward off serious questions with a jibe and the same sly mockery of the questioner. Same grin, hiding the same anger--in my judgment--and the same discomfort with himself as a public figure. Oh, and he had to close the interview because it was time to get off to his prayers.

Don't get me wrong, Bush. I don't like this guy. I wouldn't trust him, as they say, any further than I could throw him. I find his intolerance of Israel and his constant reference to all Jews as "Zionists" to be repugnant. He's clearly a rabble-rousing menace of the first order. I was that much more distressed, then, to realize that there was much in what he had to say that I could not disagree with, particularly in his remarks about the role that America seems recently to have adopted in the world, its arrogant use--some would say abuse--of power, its assumption of rightness, its tendancy to look for military solutions to every problem, its relentless pursuit of its own interests and its apparent lack of true concern for the suffering of others.

While I hated to hear these things coming from the mouth of a man whom I consider to be a dangerous hate-monger and bigot, I hated still more to find myself in agreement with many of his points. And one thing he had over you, Bush: at least this man knew how to talk. (I have to assume that his simultaneous interpreter knew what he was doing in the interview.) Even his wildest pronouncements come out in well-modulated language, with every appearance of rational, sequential thought behind them.

Clearly, this man does not wield the kind of military power that you have at your fingertips, Bush. And yet--isn't this a curious and uncomfortable irony?--it's undeniable that he has you by the balls and is enjoying every minute of it. He delights in every opportunity to thumb his nose at you in full view of the world. Your invasion of Iraq, along with your neglect of other problems in the Middle East and your stubborn refusal to sit down and talk to those who have earned your lofty disapproval, has left you weakened and bereft of the kind of moral authority and flexibility you'd need to negotiate solutions in that sorely troubled part of the world. You have left yourself open to the open distrust and mockery of men like Ahmadinejad. What a tragedy for you. What a tragedy for all of us.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Fresh Face in Democratic Politics

The Leadership Myth

I've been making a bit of a point of this recently, Bush, but it bears repeating: it's time for otherwise moderate- to left-leaning folks--I won't even use the word "liberal"--to get past the myth so successfully promulgated by right-leaning folks that the Democrats lack vision and leadership. Once again, just a couple of days ago, an old friend of Ellie's repeated that tired old nonsense on the telephone as though it were some preordained and immutable truth.

It isn't. Enough, I say! Every time I hear this mind-benumbed cliche reiterated these days, I snap back, and I trust that more and more others are doing the same. There are proven leaders out there, and there is vision that has been validated by events. How long has Al Gore been trying to reach the American public (and its politicians!) on the subject of climate change? How long have men and women like Howard Dean, Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer spoken out honestly against the fiasco of your foreign policy and the incompetence of those you have appointed to high office? Their wisdom and prescience deserve not the ridicule too often heaped on them by rightist loudmouths, but recognition and praise.

I'm on this hobbyhorse again today after a brunch yesterday, to which Ellie and I were invited to meet Sean Patrick Maloney, a candidate for the Attorney General's office in New York--the job that Eliot Spitzer elevated to national prominence. An openly gay candidate, a man of a long-standing committed relationship and the devoted father of three adopted children, he impressed me enormously as having the knowledge, the intellect, the ethical values and the passion--not to mention the substance, strength and personal integrity as a man--that would serve the State of New York extraordinarily well, were he to be elected. He also has the political experience, having served in the previous administration as Bill Clinton's staff secretary--a baptism of fire, if ever there was one! He spoke with ease and eloquence, listened to questions from a small, attentive audience, and answered them forthrightly and with sensitivity to the variety of his questioners. He spoke not from some high perch of superior knowledge but with respect for the point of view of those who were genuinely interested in his positions.

Though he called himself in many respects "conservative" in his views--particularly on the fiscal front--he made no attempt to disguise or modify them for what seemed to me a largely liberal gathering of mostly gay men. He was refreshingly inclusive in his perception of the needs of our society. He was also in good command of his facts, and clear about his opinions without being glib. We could use more men like this in politics, Bush. And of course more women too.

A word about our fellow-guests at this event. To judge by the absurdly vacuous national "discussion" on the subject of gay marriage, we still seem to be a pathologically homophobic society. All too often we accept without question the stereotypes and prejudices that are handed us--and at our cost. It would have done the heart good, Bush, to see you stand as a man among men amongst these men and to have been open to their very real concern for the world in which we are all given to live, and which we are all responsible for shaping.

Maloney is promoting "an active and progressive agenda that includes full equality under the law for everyone." I believe him, and I share that aspiration. At the age of 39, this man has the time and the potential to grow into creditable national office. Let's encourage our readers, Bush, to visit the Sean Maloney for Attorney General website, and to add their encouragement to this potential new leader in the form of a donation to his campaign. It's not something I often do, but in this case I think it's worth it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

"What Oft Was Thought....

...But Ne'er So Well Expressed"

In which category, Bush, I trust the writers of the following letters from this morning's New York Times will not mind if I use their words for mine in today's entry. Readers of that paper, too, as well as of these pages, will forgive me for repeating what they may have already read. I just found them to be especially apt...

Re “Terror Plot Foiled; Airports Quickly Clamp Down” (front page, Aug. 11):

The actions of the British in stopping this bomb plot were classic examples of good international police work. President Bush touted this as part of the “war on terror,” but it apparently did not involve any army, navy or air force.

No bombs were dropped. No country was invaded. No one was killed, and nothing was destroyed.

It was effective, and it did not enrage millions as the invasion of Iraq has done. It was a police action, not an act of war.

The “war on terror” is not a war. President Bush calls it a war so that he can be a wartime president and claim to be a heroic protector of America, but this is bogus.

Terrorism cannot be fought with armies. They make things only worse. Mr. President, bring the armies home and concentrate on good police work.

John Hilberry
New York, Aug. 11, 2006

To the Editor:

One of the Bush administration’s many justifications of the fiasco in Iraq is that “we are fighting the terrorists there so that we don’t have to fight them at home.” So thousands of lives are lost and billions of dollars are wasted in Iraq, which is dissolving into civil war.

Meanwhile, the real threats to our interests are apparently being nurtured in Western cities like London, with the help of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

How much more effective might the “war on terrorism” have been if we had concentrated on defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan rather than allowing its forces to become entrenched in Pakistan; and using the billions of dollars expended in Iraq on truly effective homeland security measures, which we can’t afford because of the war in Iraq?

Judith Pulley
Chapel Hill, N.C., Aug. 11, 2006

To the Editor:

President Bush said on Thursday: “It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. We’ve taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we still aren’t completely safe.”

Every American should demand to know what measures Mr. Bush has taken. Why are our ports, railways, airports, borders and nuclear power plants still vulnerable?

Most important, why, after three years, has terrorism spread like a cancer out of control around the world? What has Mr. Bush done to unite the world against the terrorist threat? If national security is an issue this fall, Mr. Bush and the Republicans have failed.

Pam Walton
Mountain View, Calif., Aug. 11, 2006

In the same category, I'll take this opportunty to refer our readers to a few particularly timely thoughts about the conservative movement in this country by author Thomas Frank on the opinion page. He puts his finger on the paradox of those in power who succeed in perpetuating that power by adopting the mantle of powerlessness. A perception which is not necessarily new--I have entertained these thoughts myself, Bush. But certainly "ne'er so well expressed." Enjoy.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The London Terrorist Arrests

Congratulations to Tony Blair's government and the British police on a successful outcome to what appears to have been a thorough intelligence operation. It has always been my opinion, as you know, Bush, that the terrorist threat is best addressed as a police and intelligence problem, and that this whole "war on terrorism" is a delusion. Its greatest success is the breeding of more terrorists than it kills. In this instance, lives were saved, arrests were made, suspected terrorists were taken out of the game, and more knowledge was gained to make their future operations more difficult.

Granted, this was a dire and imminent threat, but does that make it necessary for you and your people to seize upon it so immediately to make political hay? Yourself, Bush: "This is a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists, who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom. [...] It's a mistake," you added, "to believe there is no threat to the United States." And your Cheney, the day before the arrests--surely in full knowledge that they were about to happen--made this comment about the Connecticut election results: "It's an unfortunate development, I think, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party, to see a man like Lieberman pushed aside because of his willingness to support an aggressive posture in terms of our national security strategy." He added that the rejection of Lieberman would encourage "al Qaeda types."

So now, with elections in sight, we can expect a chorus of Republican voices accusing their Democratic opponents of being "soft on terrorism" and failing to "protect the American people"--a feat for which you once again claimed credit yesterday. Backed up by the daily experience of airport lines and terror alerts, such words are likely to be heard by an electorate that seems to swallow such drivel without scepticism or critical appraisal.

Speaking of your Cheney, Bush, I note from yesterday's New York Times that he's also busy in the Middle East catastrophe, pushing his aggressively imperalist vison of America's role in the world through the agency of his man Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra infamy (he was pardoned, as I recall, Bush, by your father back in 1992, for his role in that nefarious affair.) With Abrams apparently prompting at her elbow, your Rice has effecitvely ruined America's trusted reputation as an honest broker by endlessly delaying the cease-fire that might--even temporarily--have staunched the flow of blood: the impression created in the Arab world is clearly that this country is prepared to sacrifice Arab lives in order to allow Israel to gain the upper hand in the conflict. All the noble talk about addressing the root causes must sound like empty rhetoric to those whose homes and very lives are threatened by the rain of bombs, and those who sympathize with them.

It sounds like empty rhetoric to me, Bush, to hear you spouting aggressive words about the war on terror when I see the results of the anger and hatred that it breeds. Your voice--along with the voices of your Rice, your Cheney, your Rumsfled--keep assuring us that we are making progress, that we are protected by your strategies, that the world will be a safer and more peaceful place where democracies can thrive... But I don't see it, Bush. I look around, I see one disaster following another. The world is everywhere in a dangerous state of chaos and confusion, and our actions do nothing to bring security or clarity to the mess. In the midst of it all, you and your people have the balls to loudly proclaim that the Democrats are soft on terror, and lack the vision to make things better! As the saying goes, Bush, what a crock!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

At the Hollywood Bowl

The Art of Listening

Ellie and I were guests last night in a fabulous box at the Hollywood Bowl. We sat under--well, I spotted a couple of stars (the night sky variety--as we enjoyed a wonderful picnic with friends, drank a glass of wine, and listened to some of the best jazz musicians that you're likely to hear. Herbie Hancock was the headliner. An extraordinary musician. I especially loved the compelling musical webs spun by Joshua Redman in the evening's opening act.

But I have to admit that I'm no music critic, Bush. I'm certainly none too knowledgeable about jazz. If I could find the right words, I'd try to describe the enchantment of the music, the sophistication of its rhythmic and melodic patterns, its lyrical delicacy or at times its sheer, all-engulfing power. But I lack the words, Bush. I'm a hopeless duffer when it comes to musical anything. So let's just say that I was amazed, rapt, totally delighted by the experience.

One thing I did come away with: that it's all about listening. And I don't mean just the audience. I watched the musicians listen intently to each other as they played. There was no inattention. When one was off on a solo riff, I noticed how the others paid close attention--not only out of courtesy and respect for the other's work, though that was evident, too--but I thought out of a sense of musical necessity, in order to know themselves where to go next, what mood to pick up and elaborate on, what rhythmic progression to pursue, what melody to follow with their variations.

Out of the many, ome. E pluribus... etcetera. You know that piece of Latin, Bush, I'm sure. You're the uniter, remember? The only way that's achieved in music--aside, of course, from following the score--is through the art of paying attention with the eyes and listening with the ears. Something to learn there, Bush, for all of us. I know I've harped on a bit about this with you in the past, but it seems particularly important at the moment, with diplomacy the only, thin thread of hope left in the Middle East, to listen to the other players in this dreadful, unrelenting cacophony of violence and hatred.

I answered an online questionnaire yesterday, Bush, from a fellow-blogger who will be reviewing our book, "The Real Bush Diaries." The last question in the series asked what I would wish to advise you if I miraculously had your ear. And the word I used was that simple one: listen. We love to hear ourselves talk (okay, okay, I'll cop to it: me too!) and I'm sure those jazz musicians love to get off on their own virtuosity when they play. But the best of them must realize, along with the best of actors, that the first key to success is not the ability to perform, but the ability to listen.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Joe Lieberman Defeat

Another Casualty

I have mixed feelings about the Joe Lieberman defeat in Connecticut yesterday, Bush. First off, I'm sad to see another good man sacrificed to your unspeakable war in the Middle East. I believe this erstwhile Democratic candidate for the Vice-Presidency to be a good man at heart, but one who allowed himself first to be deluded by your lies, Bush, and then to be seduced by his own rhetoric and perhaps by a heady sense of power in his dissident stance. He seems to believe that it's "the old politics of polarization" that defeated him, and that he, Joe Lieberman, is the one true Democrat.

I say no. I do very much believe that this is a time for Democrats to stand by each other, and not to allow single-issue politics to stand in the way of much-needed party unity. Division among Democrats is in good part what has empowered the well-oiled Republican machine these past decades. But it was Joe Lieberman himself, in my view, who betrayed his fellow-Democrats, not the other way around. His announced intention to run as an independent and thus, possibly, to divide the Democratic vote and assure a Republican victory in November is evidence enough that his priority lies in the vindication of his own wounded ego, not in those Democratic values that he claims to support.

There's a powerful message here for Joe Lieberman--and for you, too, Bush, and I hope that you're able to listen to it. The message is an angry one: that you have seriously mis-led us into the path of war, and that we need to find our bearings as a country once again. The spectacle of our powerlessness in the debacle of the Middle East has reached truly tragic proportions. We are no longer trusted. We are no longer respected. We are no longer even feared: the limits of our military power have been revealed before the world. And while people are dying in their hundreds, in Israel and Lebanon now, as well as in Iraq, we are reduced to little more than standing on the sidelines and watching it unfold.

This is your doing, Bush. This is the result of the arrogant misuse of power. This is what happens when you believe that your power is unstoppable. Your heedless rush to action, your rash interventions with insufficient plans for their results, your misplaced belief in the unquestionable rightness of your vision, your inability to listen, your inflexibility--these are among the "root causes" of the Middle Eastern conflicts that you say must be addressed.

Since you have proved yourself incapable of a change of mind, a change of heart, it's up to us voters now to ensure that this country's course is changed. I'm grateful to the courageous voters in Connecticut for having led the way. Joe Lieberman's true task right now is not to make empty speeches about polarization. It's to get behind the Democratic candidate in his state, and to help ensure another voice for reason and sanity in the US Senate. To even risk the replacement of his own voice by that of yet another Republican is to dis-serve his country at a time of crisis.

Bush, we need your followers out of power. We need to move on beyond this oligarchy of corporate wealth that you and your Republicans have helped create, and into a truer version of the democracy you preach so piously to others, but practice so little yourself. If this be partisan politics, so be it. We have suffered bitterly under your partisanship for too long. It's time for us to move on to a different kind of party now.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Esalen Experience II

I would not want to leave you with the impression, Bush, that I indulged only in the doom and gloom of advancing age at the Esalen Institute. Far from it. The acknowledgement of all those feelings that welled up around the change in decades was only the prelude to their glorious release, which came about that very evening when I was offered the opportunity to take a good look in the mirror and make a sage assessment of my self. The words that came out at that moment were simple and to the point, but no less memorable for their directness. They were--excuse me--FUCK THIS AGE SHIT. THE TIME IS NOW!

These were words that apparently resounded in the hearts of my fellow-circle sitters, who took them up and echoed them repeatedly, in chorus, with gusto. Their support and heartfelt empathy was an inspiration to me, and I trust only that they felt the same from me. I'm sure it will sound hopelessly idealistic to you, Bush, but this is how people should be together: wise, caring, supportive. Such circles as these are a magical reminder of our deeply shared humanity and our ability, once we let down the defenses with which we armor ourselves against the outrages of the hard, real world, to communicate heart-to-heart, beyond the often inadequate level of ideas.

I have also to report from Esalen, Bush, that there was little sign of admiration for you, your administration, or your policies. None, in fact. The consensus, as I sensed it, was pretty much that you have been a disaster for our country. Oh, I did hear a few kind words spoken, early, in the hot spring baths overlooking the ocean. I woke at 5:30 Sunday morning and wandered down there in the gathering light of dawn, expecting to be alone--but finding already quite a crowd of early risers in the pools.

I found myself sitting in the water with a small gathering of what I took to be Esalen interns--young, passionate, curious about themselves, their friends, the world about them, and the universe at large. And talkative...! I had been hoping for a quiet, meditative moment, but instead I closed my eyes and simply listened to their voices. It was one of these--a young man who had evidently found the Buddhist path--who wanted to speak no ill of you, but rather to view you through the eyes of compassion. He decided that, while we could all agree on the unfortunate results of your actions, your intentions were probably not purposefully evil or destructive. Nice of him, no?

So that's the news I bring you from Esalen, Bush. Okay, I already hear you say that it's a just place for the usual band of California tree-huggers, and that you could hardly expect to pick up any votes there anyway. True enough. We are a bit nutty. But in a nice way. Anyway, driving back yesterday, Ellie and I finally found ourselves close enough to what we call our civilization to switch on the radio, and we discovered that virtually nothing had changed since we left it behind a couple of days before. People were still busy slaughtering other people in large numbers in the Middle East. The nations of the world were busy wringing their hands and wondering what could possibly be done to stop it, without coming to any agreement as to how to go about it...

And I thought to myself, we could really use more of these nutty people around the planet. People who are ready to sit down without prejudice in a circle and share what's in their hearts. People who are ready to listen to other people's truths and to speak their own, openly and without guile or deception. People who are ready to open their eyes to the realities of other people's lives--and recognize themselves. Ah, well, Bush. In the immortal words of the late, much lamented John Lennon, "You may say I'm a dreamer..."

And I suppose I am. But, as Lennon also added, I'm not the only one. Get to it, Bush. Enough pride, revenge, and anger. Enough tribalism, macho swaggering, and ancient warrior aggression. It's time to sit down with enemies in that ageless, primitive circle that human beings have used for countless centuries to sort out their differences. And talk.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Esalen Experience

It does the body good, Bush, to strip itself naked and soak itself in a tub of natural hot springs water with other naked human bodies, male and female, at ease with one another. It does the spirit good to gaze out over the endlessly restless, immeasurably deep Pacific Ocean from your hot tub, nested halfway up the side of the cliff; and to gaze up into the even more immeasurable depths of the California skies--by day, by night, at dusk, at the break of day... It connects the spirit with its true home in the vastness of that great, ever-mysterious natural universe, and the body with the water and the earth. It also does the body good to lie naked under expert hands and feel its aches and pains be tended to with tender precision and care.

It does the heart good to sit in a circle of fellow human beings and open itself out to hear the truth of others and to speak its own without fear of the kind of ill-treatment with which it is too often met in the world out-there, in the form of ridicule and judgment. For myself, arriving in that circle, I was surprised by the sudden rawness that I felt: I had celebrated that seventieth birthday, yes, and well. But I had not fully processed the experience, along with all the sadness around reaching that age, and the fear of growing old--with all the debility and dependence that might entail.

And I have to tell you, Bush, I used the opportunity of that circle of good, fellow-suffering, fellow-curious, fellow-feeling human beings to unburden myself of those feelings in their full depth. Here's the poem I wrote, in a long, sleepless night of endeavor to explore and expose them: I call it,

Go Gentle

I wish to acknowledge that I am now
seventy years old, and entering
what is at best
the last third of my life.

I wish to acknowledge the fear of getting older--
there, I said it, I denied myself permission
to say "old"--the fear of getting old.

I wish to acknowledge the fear of being helpless
and helpless
the fear of infirmity
the fear of dependence on others
the fear of vulnerability and exposure.

I wish to remain conscious through the process of aging
and the process of dying.

I wish to suffer any indignities I may be called upon to suffer
with dignity and grace.

I wish to suffer any pain I may be called upon to suffer
without self-pity.

I wish to be an old man of kindness, compassion and contentment
and not an old man of anger and bitterness,
of resentment and regret.

I wish to be helpful and never helpless.

I wish to bring joy to my children and grandchildren
and never a burden.

I wish to be known for my wisdom and compassion
and not for my small-minded foolishness.

I wish to grow outward toward the great universe
and not inward toward my small self.

I wish to live for as long as the universe allows
and no longer.

I wish to live until then in the spirit
of tranquility and generosity and love.

I wish to live always in the moment.

And when my time comes to leave this great planet
let me not, with my countryman Dylan Thomas--
remember that line?--
"rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Let me rather go gentle into that good LIGHT.

So I had the opportunity to lay bare the heart and soul in the same way as the body, in the hot tubs. And equally important, I had the opportunity to hear others as they laid bare their hearts and souls, and to hear the echo of my own in theirs. They were all "doing my work", and I was grateful for their courage and the depth of their concern. Life is immensely richer, I have discovered, happily, as I grow older, when I can be authentic and true amongst true, authentic people. It does the heart and soul good.

So it is at the Esalen Institute, Bush, where I just spent the weekend. You should try it sometime. It would do you good. It would be great if you could try it sometime soon, before you do the universe and this small planet more harm than you have already done.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Check in again next Tuesday...

Best thanks to those who sent kind birthday wishes. This is to let you all know that after nearly two years of almost daily entries, from locations as distant as Alexandria, Egypt and Mexico City, "The Bush Diaries" is actually taking a real vacation, starting today. I have promised myself to make no more entries until next Monday at the earliest. More likely Tuesday. Please check in with me again then. Forget about Bush--though not, please!--"The Bush Diaries", and have a delighful early August. See you next week.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Excuses, Excuses...

I know you're probably bored with hearing about this by now, Bush, but today is finally, actually the day--my birthday, the 70th in a series that I hope will last a little longer yet. I plan to take the day off. I deserve it. Besides, the news is so consistently awful that I can scarcely bring myself to read about it or watch it. So today, it's a leisurely walk around Balboa Island with George, the dog, a pleasant early evening cocktail at the Montage Hotel, and sunset dinner with Ellie at their excellent restaurant on the clifftop, The Studio. Maybe even an after-dinner brandy and cigar. I trust our readers will forgive a suspension of responses to their always welcome comments, and be patient with intermittent postings between now and next week: we're headed out on vacation starting Friday, and I'm planning to leave the computer at home. But I'll probably check in with you, Bush, at least a couple of times before we leave.

By the way, Bush, I completely forgot to mention this: we had our first review of "The Real Bush Diaries" last week. Check it out. It's a good one!