Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Wall

So now we are to have our very own wall, Bush. Our own symbol of repression, exclusivity, and denial. Hurrah! I gather that you are sure to sign the bill passed by a cowardly, pandering Congress to erect a 700-mile long barrier to keep the barbarians out. I trust that it will prove as successful as the historical models. I think of the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's wall in the north of England, built to keep out those dreadful Picts and Scots. And of course, in our own time, the wildly popular Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. Something of an irony, no, that we cheer the destruction of those barriers and, so short a time later, put up our own? No doubt the yahoos will be gratified. No doubt your stout, patriotic Republican "protectors" of this country will garner their votes.

Next, may I suggest, another wall to the north, to keep those Canadians at bay? That would leave only the east and west. Surely we can think of something, well, oceanic, to solve the issue there. A Great Barrier Reef of our own, perhaps? Then, maybe, finally, we'll be safe. Except from ourselves.

Cheers, Bush. Have a good Saturday.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Habeas Corpus... Non!

You have the body, Bush. I'm reminded this morning that habeas (I've been spelling it "habeus", with a "u", and I've noticed that others do, too. A grammatical error, I suppose, for Latin purists. My own Latin, ignored since the age of ten, is not even rusty any more, it's solidified in corrosion!)... anyway, I'm reminded that habeas corpus is the 800 year old writ by which a prisoner has the right to challenge the legality of his or her imprisonment. You have the body. My Wikipedia describes it as "a court order addressed to a prison official [the "you" in question] ordering that a detainee be brought to court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisioned lawfully and whether or not he or she should be released from custody." The full writ is correctly habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, "you should release the body to be subjected (to examination)."

Which brings us to all those bodies in Guantanamo, and for all we know still in other hidden places in the world where we, the United States, are holding them as suspects in our war on terrorism; and to the craven House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States, which yesterday voted to essentially suspend the ancient right of habeas corpus, one of the corner stones of Western law and Western civilization, for certain of our citizens and certain non-citizens whom we (or essentially you, Bush) deem to be enemy combatants, terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers. In our fear, we are now prepared to rescind the very laws on which our claim to freedom is based.

I think it's a disgrace. I was hoping, a week or so ago, that a handful of senators would prevail in their attempt to halt the rush to surrender our most basic civil liberties--and their power as legislators to that of the executive. But no. It seems that thanks to the wisdom of our lawmakers, those men in Guantanamo, guilty or not--and we know that many of them are guilty of no more than having the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--will be allowed to languish in imprisonment at the pleasure of the United States for the rest of their lives, without recourse to know the charges that have been brought against them, if any, nor to challenge the lawfulness of their detainment.

Call me naive, Bush, but I'm with Senator Patrick Leahy: "This is wrong," he said, flatly. "It is unconstitutional. It is un-American." It's only reason, he declared, is to "ensure that the Bush-Cheney administration will never again be embarrassed by a United States Supreme Court decision reviewing its unlawful use of power," Even Senator Arlen Spector, I read, one of your staunch Republicans, proclaimed the right to challenge one's detention, as "fundamental to American law" and predicted that the Supreme Court would strike the law down. "The Constitution is explicit," he said, "in the statement that habeas corpus may be suspended only with rebellion or invasion. We do not have a rebellion or an invasion."

The adjective used by the military lawyers charged with the defense of those men in Guantanamo was more succinct. The law, said one of them, is "horrible."

When even our deliberative bodies act in panic to rubber stamp your efforts, Bush, to subvert the freedoms for which we stand as a supposed "beacon" in the world, I have to conclude that the terrorists have gone a good long way to winning the war you have declared against them. And more's the pity. It's unthinkable to have our laws held hostage by a bunch of brutal criminals who claim to commit their hideous acts in the name of one of the world's great religions.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Axis of...


Wait-a-Minute, Bush. (Sorry, couldn't resist it: if you're mystified, see yesterday's entry.) But did I hear you right? Was I dreaming? I thought I heard you boasting about the wonderful success of the new democracies in the Middle East, and citing Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon as the glowing examples. Having heard a few seconds of this flight of fancy on NPR--I think--I tried to find confirmation in this morning's Los Angeles Times, to no effect. So I'm wondering if I in fact made it up, if my mind deceived me as it tends to do sometimes, when I'm listening to you speak. Were you referring to that same Iraq where civil war is busting out merrily all over? Afghanistan, with the lethal resurgence of the Taliban? And Lebanon, half destroyed by Israeli (read "American") bombs and seemingly in the hands of the "terrorist" Hezbollah? Either I mnisheard what you said, or your glasses are of a still rosier hue than I had previously imagined.

But listen, Bush, I had only a brief window this morning for our usual encounter, and for some weird reason couldn't get online. Wasted a good half hour trying to persuade my computers to obey my orders, but in vain. Bottom line: I have to go. Too many others things to attend to. Try on another pair of specs today, okay?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wait-a-Minute Bush

A friend and reader referred me kindly to this plant, the Wait-a-Minute Bush. Thought you might like to know about it, so click on the link. "The most heartily disliked plant in the state" says the description. Not sure which state. But anyway, ouch! A bit harsh, wouldn't you say?


... yes, Bush, that word has been on my mind of late. Not long ago, it would have seemed to me excessive as a response to what's happening in the world around me. Nowadays it feels, well... almost mild. I’m no fan of one-line bumper sticker philosophy, but I’ve been seeing one recently that seems to speak for me with a certain elegance and precision. It says: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Outrage, I’ve come to think, is a perfectly acceptable, measured response to what’s happening in the world under the heedless, affect-less, self-congratulatory eye of your administration. And it’s happening not just here and there, but on every front I can imagine. It’s happening here at home in politics, religion, science…

Is it not outrageous. for example, Bush, that people who were barely voted into office turn everything to their political advantage, that they use politics itself as a wedge issue to divide the red from the blue, as a cudgel with which to belabor their opponents?

Is it not outrageous that one party’s intolerant religious base should dominate decisions that affect us all--decisions having to do with education, health, our civil rights... even war and peace? Is it not outrageous that religion stands in the way of potentially life-saving stem cell research and demands the teaching of creationism to our children in the guise of science? Is it not outrageous that our leaders ignore or disparage the warnings of its own scientists on the subject of health of the earth we live on?

Is it not outrageous that this, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, should allow its children to go uninsured and unprotected against the ravages of disease? That this, the wealthiest country in the world, lacks even the most rudimentary health care system for its poorest citizens? That poverty should be rife? Is it not outrageous that the children of our inner cities are deprived of the educational opportunities afforded by the wealthy? That parents lack available child-care facilities to take care of their children while they strive, often vainly, with two or three jobs, to make a sufficient living for the family to get by?

Is it not outrageous that so many of our schools are third rate, or worse? That they are unsanitary, ill-equipped, and staffed with people unqualified to teach? Is it not outrageous that, thanks to a small number of fanatics, we allow lethal assault weapons to reach the hands of teenagers, who slaughter each other with them on the streets? Is it not outrageous that for lack of care and supervision, so many of these teens resort to sex, and drugs, and violence? That countless fatherless children are born here in America to children too young to bear the responsibilities of motherhood or fatherhood?

Is it not outrageous that justice is a bargaining tool, and that men and women who need treatment for drug and alcohol addictions are sent to jail--while those wealthy enough "dry out" instead in luxury spas? That our jails are overcrowded with those who should rather be in treatment programs or, worse, in clinical psychiatric care? Is it not outrageous that this supposedly civilized, compassionate democracy should be one of the handful of nations that still sends people to their deaths in the name of justice, despite substantial evidence that numbers of them may be innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted?

Is it not outrageous that this same democracy should invade and subjugate another sovereign nation on pretexts that have proved demonstrably false? That we should do so with such incompetence and lack of forethought that we foster chaos where we promise to bring freedom and democracy? That we should claim to be waging war on terrorists when all we do is sow the seeds to grow armies of them where there were none before?

Is it not outrageous that we should threaten and bully other nations to comply with our demands? That we should do nothing to address our indecently disproportionate share of the earth’s dwindling resources, and resort to wars in order to assure that our needs are met, regardless of the needs of others? That we should lead the nations not in the protection and defense of our global environment, but in its despoliation? That we should at one and the same time wage war for oil in one country and tolerate genocide in another?

Is it not outrageous that we should piously preach freedom to other nations while we deprive their citizens and ours of the freedoms that we preach? Is it not outrageous that we sermonize about democracy even as we make a mockery of it by scandalously and cynically depriving our own citizens of their vote by setting standards that the poor and the elderly are frequently unable to meet, and by deception and chicanery at the polls?

Is it not outrageous that our media are the tools of corporate interest?

Is it not outrageous that millions of human beings throughout the world each year should die of disease, starvation, warfare... while we here in America spend billions of dollars on a program to defend against the distant, barely imaginable threat of missiles launched against us from across the ocean?

It's time for outrage, Bush. When I saw the clips of Bill Clinton's outrage with his Fox News interviewer, I'm sure I was not alone in thinking: At last! At last an appropriate response to the self-satisfied, radical conservatism that has taken over this country and has fouled its image in the world. At last a public figure with the guts to speak out in anger rather than disguise the outrage in "appropriate" language. I did not watch the entire interview, Bush, but I watched enough to know that here was one Democrat who was ready, at last, after inordinate patience and tolerance of the excesses of your regime, to give as good as he got. Thank God.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The NASCAR Mystery Revealed

Okay, Bush, I need to make good on my promise to tell you what brought me to the NASCAR race at the Altamont Speedway this past weekend, but there are other things on my mind this morning, so I'll try to be brief.

You may remember my having written, around this time last year, about the disappearance of my son-in-law from his apartment in San Francisco. With no clue as to the reasons, we had to consdier the possibility that he might have chosen to end his life, but no evidence emerged subsequently to confirm that suspicion, as the SF police department worked as diligently as they could to trace him. With so few resources at their disposal, though, and--as we soon discovered--so many cases to handle, they could do little to help, and my daughter and her husband's family have lived in anguished uncertainty ever since.

Enter, improbably, NASCAR. It turns out that one of their Southwest division's drivers, Darrell LaMoure, took the problem of missing persons to heart. Hearing of one situation that was personally close, he offered the hood of his race car, at his wife's suggestion, to display a photograph of the missing person in the hope of eliciting information from the public. Since then, Darrell has linked up with a national organization for the missing, and has done much good work in helping families in their search for loved ones. Not long ago, my daughter, Sarah, was surprised by a call inviting her to submit a photograph for last weekend's race.

She asked me if I'd go up there with her for the race. Well, I'm honestly no NASCAR fan. I used to love the Formula 1 Grand Prix racing back in Europe, but I'd never quite cottoned to cars going round and round in circles at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. Still, it seemed like an exciting prospect, so we flew up together and were warmly greeted by everyone at the track--including the drivers and their pit crews. Wonderful people, Bush. Passionate about their sport, and living of course at the very edge of danger. Courteous and, as we discovered, filled with their own kind of wisdom about life and its risks and challenges.

So there we were. A second driver, Jim Pettit II, had volunteered to join Darrell in his efforts on behalf of missing persons, and it was on his car, number 03, that my son-in-law's picture was pasted, more than life-size. Before the main event, there was an opening ceremony around the singing of the national anthem and a prayer, which also honored the families. The hoods of the two participating race cars were detached and held up for the public and the television cameras to see, and official photographs were snapped with the drivers and the families. I have to say that it was a somewhat surreal experience, Bush, but it was also heartfelt--and certainly heart-warming.

I have to report, sadly, that Darrell's car hit the wall in the eleventh lap and was eliminated from the race. He was unhurt. And that our 03 car, having led the pack triumphantly for the first ten laps, dropped back to third and fourth for most of the race before losing another couple of places at the very end. Jim, our driver, explained afterwards that he was having trouble with the suspension, and seemed philosophical about his defeat. In fact, in our conversations with him, I found much in common with my own thinking about the paths we choose in our lives and the need to accept the cards we're dealt--even outcomes that are not those we might have hoped for.

Having made the trip, in part at least, in the hope that my daughter might find some healing in the experience, I left with a feeling of huge admiration for these men, their respect for life and compassion for those who have lost loved ones without even the small consolation of knowing their fate. That they choose to devote their time and energies--not to mention the financial gift of their prime advertizing space--speaks volumes about their quality as human beings.

Listen, Bush, I started out with the intention of talking about other things, but I seem to have used up my time. I was going to talk about outrage, thinking of Bill Clinton. Magnificant, I thought, his turning the tables on Fox News. But that will have to wait, now, for another day. Maybe tomorrow...

Monday, September 25, 2006


You won't believe this, Bush. I was up early this morning working on this journal, aiming to make good on my promise to explain the NASCAR mystery. I had a wonderful piece all typed out and nearly ready to send when my computer shut down without warning--it has done this a couple of times before, and I haven't yet discovered the reason for it--and swallowed up everything I'd written. I'm not even going to try to rewrite it all today--or at least not until later in the day--so you're just going to have to wait until I get around to it. Sorry...

Meantime, I note that nothing much has changed since I left on Saturday morning. I always imagine, when I get on a plane, that weeks will have passed before I get back home. I'm not sure why this is, especially when I get back no more than twenty-four hours after I left. I suppose it's a matter of the time-space disruption involved in flying thirty thousand feet above the earth and landing in some distant part of the globe. Tracy, California, where I spent the day in Saturday, could have been the surface of Mars compared with my Southern California home. I went into a convenience store in search of trail mix and could find only a bag of salty nuts, dry raisins and M&Ms. I also picked up a couple of sticky-sweet granola bars from the shelves of potato chips, cheesy snacks, and beef jerkies. At the check out desk, the proprietor looked at my purchases and then at me, with curiosity. "Very healthy," she commented. Very strange.

More later, Bush, when I get my head together. And yes, I'll tell you what took me to a NASCAR race in Tracy, California.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Off to the Races

You may find this hard to believe, Bush, but I'm off to the races today. NASCAR, that is. Tracy, California. I have never actually been a NASCAR fan. Back in the old days, in "old Europe", as your Rummy likes to say, I used to enjoy the Formula I Grand Prix races. That was in the days of Stirling Moss, Juan Fangio, the other great drivers, whose skill and daring in the turns was breathtaking... Alas, I've forgotten even their names, for the most part. They were great motor cars, too, the old bright red Ferraris, the British racing green BRMs, always playing catchup. Ah, the good old days...

So NASCAR racing has always seemed to me a bit... well, circular. No ticky twists and bends. Just round and round, endlessly. And commercial, somehow, with garish ads pasted all over the cars and drivers. A sport for the yahoos, I have always thought, in my snooty, elitist, European way. But then I never went to a NASCAR race before, so what do I know?

You may be wondering why I should be going today. There is, in fact, a very good explanation for this mystery, but I have no time to expound on it today. Sorry, Bush, I'll have to leave you in suspense. Tomorrow, maybe, when I get back... Or perhaps you'll even have to wait until Monday. For now, I'm off to the airport in just a few minutes for the flight to Oakland. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Common Article 3

The Deal...

I frankly do not trust this "deal" you've struck with those three supposedly renegade senators, Bush. It has the distinct, indelicate odor of politics as we near the November elections, and those senators are left looking more like pussycats than the lions I had hoped for. The spectacle of United States laid bare for a public whipping at the UN General Assembly this past week is deeply saddening. It is only compounded, at the end of the week, by a moral capitulation that seems to give validation to the ridicule and castigation. We came off looking at best defensive, at worst guilty of that with which we stand accused.

...and a Job Offering

Enough said. I started out planning to talk about the ecomony today, before I heard about your deal. You might find this interesting, if you'll remove your rose-tinted glasses for a minute or two.

Here's the thing: Ellie and I have begun to think that we could use some help with office and other tasks that are draining too much of our time and energy, so I decided a couple of days ago to place an ad on Craig's List. I made it clear that we wanted ten hours a week, maximum, and that the wage was pretty basic for a person with education and computer skills. Within an hour, Bush, I swear it, I had twenty applications in my email box. Within a day, more than forty--most of them from men and women who were highly qualified--perhaps even overqualified--for the job.

I was stunned. I mean, Bush, this is a really little job. I was also delighted, of course, to have such a great pool to work with. But it got to a point where I simply had to turn applicants away with their resumes unread because there were too many of them. The experience made me wonder about the job market. I hear you and others in your administration make frequent claims about the health of the economy and the strength of the employment market for those who wish to work. I ask myself, then, why so many enthusiastic applicants for a job that pays so little and offers no potential for advancement?

This, too, in the context of the many young people I know who are trying to make their way in the financial world, with so many careers and professions seeming virtually closed to them. I'm talking about twenty- and thirty-year olds who are forced to take jobs like the one I'm offering--some with much lower remuneration--and think themselves lucky if they find one. Young people with college educations earning ten or fifteen dollars an hour, with no medical insurance, no other benefits, just the hourly wage. There's an army of them out there, Bush, in case you hadn't noticed.

I'm surmising that there's a broad cultural shift that has been taking place since I was their age. Back then, it was unquestioned that those privileged with this kind of educational advantage would go out after college and choose a profession or follow a career path that would determine pretty much the direction of their lives. Now many of them are floundering, and I'm not sure whether it has to do with their expectations or with the saturation of the traditional professions.

Many of those I know about, I grant you, are young people whose creative talents have been encouraged and nurtured to the point where they are alienated from the more boring responsibilities of making a living, working out a stable relationship, making a home and having children, and so on. Some, I think, are spoiled by their privilege and live with a sense of entitlement that society cannot fulfill in the same way that their parents did.

But I believe, too, that there's a broader social problem here that we will need eventually to address: the real shrinkage of employment paths and possibilities brought about by the mass availablility of technological means to achieve what it took people to do back then--or even, say twenty years ago; and of course by the accompanying outsourcing of jobs to countries where they can be filled by people willing and eager to work for lesser salaries and benefits than those a family needs for survival here in the US. It's in part one of the side-effects of globalization.

It's all well and good to complain about our young folk and their lack of motivation--in the suburbs as well as in the city streets--but there are problems here that seriously need to be addressed, and I see no sign of any serious effort to address them. No amount of hype about the health of the economy at large can begin to address these real challenges for real people "on the ground." My own anecdotal experience is surely just one minor manifestation of a much greater task that lies ahead. I'd like to hear some politicians talk about it with some small degree of understanding of its urgency. Including, Bush, from your bully pulpit, your good self. Enough with the happy talk. Let's get real.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The United Nations General Assembly


What a card, that Hugo Chavez, Bush! What a cutup! I sent you that little piece yesterday thinking you'd get a good chuckle out of it. But then he gets up to address the general assembly and calls you a devil, almost to your face! And makes the sign of the cross and brings his hands together in prayer to exorcise the sulphorous aftermath of your presence at the podium.

The nerve of it! But what can you expect from an avowed Socialist, Bush, whose mentor and bosom buddy is none other than the infamous Fidel! The axis of evil must surely have reached across the Atlantic at this point--and probably now extends back across the Pacific to span the globe. The one thing that can be said for this guy, Bush, he doesn't seem to want to spend his oil money on nuclear weapons. Not yet, at least.

And then there's that other speaker at the UN podium, similarly disrespectful. I refer of course to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. I heard some pretty nasty stuff coming out of his mouth last night in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Poisonous hatred of Israel and the Jews. He stopped short of holocaust denial, but insisted that the event itself mattered less than where it took place. If he weren't in such a position of power, you could dismiss the guy as an extremist nutcase. But he's well on his way, we're told, to having a nuclear button to push, and that's pretty damn scary. Even if he refrained from using it himself, he'd have a pretty damn big stick to shake at us, and at his neighbors; and I dread to think what might happen if he loaned out a just small piece of that technology to his terrorist buddies.

Listen, Bush, I'm willing to concede that there's something of the tinhorn dictator in both of these jackasses. Trouble is, I see something of the same in your good self. And the real trouble is that they have been handed incredible power in the world. In part it's the oil, of course. They have us, in some sense, by the balls, because we've lacked the gumption to address the fundamental problem of what you rightly called our "oil addiction." They have it, we want it. No, we need it. Which gives them terrible power.

The other part is that we have disempowered ourselves--and allowed ourselves to be further disempowered by the terrorists and the "war" against them which seems to have become our chief raison d'etre in the twenty-first century, thanks to your leadership. We left Afghanistan to the mercy of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda gang whom we failed to finish off when we had the chance, and blithely marched into the hornet's nest of the Middle East by neglecting the simmering Israel-Palestine problem and invading Iraq without forethought or planning as to the consequences. As a result, we have not only stretched our military strength beyond any credible threat to those nasty folk in countires like Iran and North Korea, we have--as your Colin Powell suggested the other day--lost the moral authority we once had as well. This is another, deeper, sadder manifestation of our disempowerment.

We have laid ourselves open to the barbs of the Ahmadinejads and Chavezes of this world--to such an extent that their excesses sound almost reasonable. It's a sorry state of affairs when the President of Venezuela gets to calls the President of the United States of America a devil from the podium of the United Nations. But as my wife Ellie points out, it's only a difference in degree in the name-calling war in which you, Bush, have also been happily indulging. It's a short step from the "evil-doers" you talk about to "El Diablo", the Evil-Doer-in-Chief.

Still, the whole thing seems to be paying off nicely for you--along with freshly reawakened memories of the 9/11 terror attacks. The headline in today's Los Angeles Times announces gains in the polls for you and your Republicans. The American electorate seems to rally to its leadership when their, er, Commander-in-Chief is being pilloried by those foreign rabble-rousers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bush Bashing

As you well know, Bush, I don't normally indulge in Bush-bashing. But I couldn't resist allowing Hugo Chavez to do it for me. This is hilarious. Check it out.

Fresh Out of Words

Sorry, Bush. Today is one of those days. I'm all out of words. Sometimes, when I listen to what's happening in the world, I just get discouraged. Today I hear of a treaty between Pakistan and the Taliban, and the conflict continuing to escalate in poor Afghanistan. I read about the famous dueling speeches at the United Nations. I'd like to have something smart to say, but I just throw up my hands... Maybe I'll think of something witty and wise a little later. For now, I'm fresh out of wit and wisdom. Have a good day.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Space Tourist

Out early, Bush, with George
who needs his morning pee.
Still dark. I found myself
looking up into the night sky
between our eucalyptus trees
and there, Orion’s belt, three stars,
magical even in the semi-dark
afforded by the city’s glow.
Then, suddenly, a shooting star
across the sky, faster almost
than the eye could see.
Then it was gone. I thought
about Anousheh Ansari,
our latest space tourist, gutsy
Iranian immigrant to this country,
Bush, who forked out
a reported twenty million
for the trip. She’d dreamed
since childhood of the stars,
I heard: this was her dream
fulfilled. She said she wished
the presidential candidates
would be sent out into space
for a perspective on the world,
And I thought, good idea;
I thought, let’s send Bush,
give that man a perspective
on the world, much needed.

Then I recalled thinking
only yesterday, as I worked out
in our local gym, of my own days
as a child, and the experience—
I told my friend who teaches me
the art of working out—of living
north of London with the threat
of German bombs. And I said
to my friend, we should send Bush
to Baghdad for a couple of weeks,
for him to begin to know first hand
that feeling; that experiencing
the fear that in the next moment
one might fall and blow your body
into a million pieces, or trap
you alive beneath tons of rubble.
Well, my friend laughed. He said,
I agree. But I have a better idea:
let’s send his family. If we send
his family, then he’ll know.
Then we’ll have the troops home
faster than blink an eye.

Not a nice thought, Bush,
for this lovely morning in L.A.
Not nice at all, I grant you.
But many would agree, I think,
it has a certain merit to it.
There’s many would agree at least,
it has a small, uncomfortable,
but undeniable grain of truth.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Iran and the EU: A Picture...

... Is Worth a Thousand Words

I was fascinated by a picture in yesterday's New York Times, Bush. You might have seen it. If not, I'd give you a link to it except that, when I checked online, I discovered to my dismay that the entire top third of the print version had been lopped off. What were they thinking? Anyway, this means that you'll have to make do with my verbal description:

Below, in the lower two-thirds, two men in business suits shake hands with every appearance of cordiality. The one to the left, in silk shirt but tieless, is Ali Larijani, Iran's negotiator with the six global powers on Iran's nuclear program. To the right, in shirt and tie, the foreign policy chief for the European Union, Javier Solana. They could almost be twins. Both wear rimless spectacles. Both are smiling. Larijani wears a beard, neatly-trimmed Western style. They are posed for the news cameras.

Look behind them, now, to the top one third that was cropped in the online version and where things get interesting. The grandly scaled picture in front of which the two men have been posed is perhaps a Velasquez. Or at least a painting "in the manner of." It represents a queen--I suspect a Hapsburg, since the pictures credit names the "Austrian Federal Chancellery"--in a regal pose. She wears a crown. Behind her, to the right, a throne. To the left, her elbow rests on a sumptuous cushion, on which are also placed another crown, an orb, and other paraphernalia of monarchy. One of her hands holds a scepter; the other, spread, suggests symbolic authority. If I'm not mistaken, over the ambassador's shoulder, you can just make out the shape of the head of one of those snooty royal pooches (not unlike our George, a King Charles Spaniel.)

What fascinated me about the picture is how neatly it evokes the long shadow of the past, the history of the European monarchies, on our contemporary world. There she stands, all queenly, embodying in her portrait all the feudal authority of kings and queens, confident, privileged, unquestioning of her own God-given spiritual and temporal authority over her subjects and of their duty to implement her will. It was folks such as these, Bush, with their governments and their military power, who imperiously colonized the "uncivilzed" peoples of the world and offered the "gift" of their Western rule in exchange for the wealth of their natural resources.

Now look again, below, where we see, beneath the outward appearance of civilized cordiality, the historial fallout from the empires of Western Europe: the old conflict between the exploiters and the exploited, the colonizers and the colonized; the West (including, of course, tsarist Russia), now joined by that other ancient, newly upstart commercial and military power, China, still competing for the natural resource that has slipped from their control into the hands of the barbarians: oil. And Iran, defiant, unrepentant, super-aware of past indignities, contending now for that other indispensible resource of the contemporary world: nuclear energy, with its attendant capacity for nuclear weaponry--until recently the exclusive province of those other nations; Iran, still playing its ace-in-the-hole for all it's worth. And it's worth a lot.

The Times photo is a fascinating study in power, the struggle for power, and the historical context in which it is currently occurring. One of your problems, Bush, is that so many people in the contemporary world are haunted by the memory of the power of mnonarchies, and see you in that picture frame, the new King George, grabbing monarchical powers at home and sending your armies out into the world to grab their riches and assure your hegemony. No wonder the queen, whoever she is, is looking smug. She's out of the deal in today's world, maybe, but she's still very much in the picture, a haunting presence and a reminder of those times we'd thought to leave behind.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Talking Texan

I'm still stunned by your "press conference" yesterday, Bush. A whole hour of unadulterated blather, most of it repeated several times over in answer to completely different questions. You couldn't even come up with a few gracious, authentic, spontaneous words about Ann Richards--as a former alcoholic, you'd surely have a word to say about her courageous, and very public battle with that disease. The only thing that sounded theleast bit true was your joking reference to her noted ability to "Talk Texan." For Ann Richards, that implied a certain tough-minded, unsparing and impromptu wit.

For you, Bush, it amounts to nothing more than bluster.

I can think of no better word to describe your performance yesterday. Blustering, as I understand it, is talking Texan when you have nothing to say--or so little that you need to repeat it over and over, just a little bit louder and more indignantly each time. I'm talking about empty utterances like these: "My job is to protect the people of this country," "It's a dangerous world," and "We've got to give our professionals the tools they need... to win the war on terror."

Also gems like this one, (uttered in tones of withering pity for the ignorance of your questioner): "Pakistan is a sovereign nation. You can't go sending thousands of troops into a sovereign nation without being invited." Really? Though I suppose this rule doesn't apply when we're dealing with sovereign nations whose leaders we happen to despise--or when it's a matter of nations harder to defeat than was Iraq.

Or this: "The Islamic terrorists... want to impose their ideology throughout the Middle East." Oh? And what's your current rationale for being there? Or this: "We'll continue to work with allies, building a vast coalition..." A vast coalition? I mean, Bush, I don't wish to sound trite, but what planet are you living on, there in your White House? Has it escaped your notice that most of the nations of the world oppose your policies, and some of them with venom?

Then there were the usual political asides. "The Democrats," you asserted, after modestly disclaiming any partisan intention, "would raise taxes on the working people." I suppose there are those who would believe this kind of nonsense, but where do you get this stuff from, Bush? Not from the Democrats, for sure. And while proclaiming loudly your repudiation of any and all attacks on the patriotism of those who dare to criticize your policies and strategies (though please let's not forget John Kerry and the Swift Boaters), you impugn their character or their common sense instead. They are "confused." Or "partisan." Or "dead wrong."

I watched in open-mouthed amazement as you managed to bluster your way through a whole hour of reasonable questions while the media--give them a little credit--did their best to probe and keep you on the subject. To no avail. You blustered on without losing a stride. Texas talk, I guess.

By the way, you got short shrift from the BBC News last night. They led with Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmandinejad taunting you delightedly from Fidel Castro's Cuba, at the Non-Aligned Nations' summit meeting. Then came the Pope and his insult to Islam. Political protests in the Ivory Coast. The business report, with the troubles at Ford--and the thousands more jobs lost at that former giant of American industry. Then twenty seconds of the Bush press conference, before moving on to people trafficking in the Canary Islands and wind farms off the coast of Norway. Even Katie over at CBS relegated you to third place, Bush, after E.coli and Ford.

Is it possible people aren't taking Texas talk seriously any more?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Common Article 3

The Great Rebuff

Well, I must say I'm delighted--and a wee bit surprised--to hear that the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 15-9 against your proposed legislation to allow the CIA to... well, not to make too fine a point of it, to torture terrorist suspects in order to obtain information from them--in your words, Bush, "to prevent future attacks." Good for Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham, the three mutineers aboard your own ship, Bush. It must have been hard for them to make their stand against the wall of rhetorical guff about "protecting the American people" from the evil doers.

And good to hear from former Secretary Colin Powell at last, who emerged from his respectful silence, finally, swinging. That letter of his to John McCain must have come as a shock. This man has been the best of "good soldiers" since the days of his all too loyal service in your administration, most notably that notorious United Nations speech, when he apparently bought into the deceptions that your people fed him and passed them on to the world at large to justify your war. There must have been millions of good people out there who, like myself--and to my eventual shame--were misled by a man in whose integrity we believed. It's to your shame, though, Bush, that his integrity was so thoroughly abused. The man must be smarting from the memory of that speech to this day, and likely will be smarting from it for the rest of his life.

I have one point of disagreement, however, in the arguments offered by McCain. For him--at least according to the reports I've read and heard--it's about not doing unto others for fear that others will do the same unto us. The golden rule. It's about putting our own military at risk in future hypothetical situations. This might be a good practical argument in this case, but it fails to get to the heart of the matter. Colin Powell had it right, in my view, when he wrote that your proposal to redefine the Geneva Conventions to suit your current purposes would encourage the rest of the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”

Even that seems to bit too pragmatic for this old idealist, Bush. If we're only abstaining from inhumane behavior in order to gain the support of others--or kow-tow to their judgments--we'll be in real danger of becoming that which we despise. How about abstaining from torture simply because it's the right thing to do? Simply because the very thought of torture is alien to everything we stand for?

(Just caught a piece of your press conference, Bush, still in progress. It seems that your argument boils down to your belief that the rules of the Geneva Convention are so vague that they make our "professionals" vulnerable to indictment as war criminals. We must change the rules in order to give them the interrogation "tools" they need in order to protect us from further terrorist attacks. We talked about this only yesterday, Bush: if the law doesn't approve of the behavior you propose, you want to change the law, not the behavior. That's a bit like the drunk driver wanting to change the law to permit drunk driving.

Point number two: there is, to say the least, wide disagreement as to whether torture--let's keep calling it by its name--is effective. Most people, critics say, will invent any lie to please their torturer and stop the pain. You ask us to trust you when you tell us how effective your program has been in preventing terrorist attacks. But you have betrayed our trust on so many occasions in the past that your assertions of this kind no longer carry weight.)

I'm hoping, Bush, that what we're seeing now is only the beginning of a much larger revolt against your failing strategies and tactics on all fronts. I'm hoping that our representatives will also stand up against your illegal wiretapping program, and against your conduct of this "war on terrorism." It's high time.

Back to your new conference now, Bush. I hear you babbling about oil... about Iraq... about Bin Laden... More tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Up on the Hill

I signed a petition to be forwarded to my senators and congressman yesterday, Bush. It was to ask that they reject the legalization of your wiretapping program--the one declared illegal by the Supreme Court. Your response was not untypical: if it's not legal now, let's pass a bill to make it legal. If I'm not right, let's do whatever it takes to make me right. My daughter sent me the petition as a forward, and I had no problem signing it and sending it on its way. I'm happy that she cares enough to send it.

But here's the question, Bush. Do we really want to validate the taunts of those you declare to be our enemies, who condemn us for our hypocrisy and what they see to be our double standards? Is our Constitution nothing but an empty promise, to be broken or modified whenever the world around us refuses to conform to our expectations? Because if the current legislation passes, those who mock us will have even more credibility than they do right now.

It's not only the wiretapping, of course. I hear you're up on the Hill today to talk to your Republicans. You're trying to persuade the recalcitrant ones to support not only the legalization of your eavesdropping program, but also your proposals to reinterpret our treaty obligations by redefining acts that constitute war crimes, and to implement those kangaroo courts for suspected terrorists, depriving them even of the right to know the evidence against them. As I've noted before, this kind of "justice" flies in the face of individual human rights since the time of the Magna Carta, eight hundred years ago. It flies in the face of the most precious traditions of Western civilization.

The other night you uttered brash words about the war on terrorism, which you described as the defining struggle of the twenty-first century. Conflating this war deceptively with your adventure in Iraq, you elevated your impetuous and misguided actions to the lofty status of "the defense of civilization." Would it not be something of a contradiction, then, for our country to institute, by legislative act of Congress, the abrogation of the most basic, sacred rights that are the very underpinning of our civilzation? Would we then not look still more hypocritical in the eyes of our "enemies" (I do so much dislike that word!) and the rest of the world?

I see where you gained a few points in the polls in the past few days--the result, I'm sure, of the 9/11 anniversary and the opportunity it afforded you and your people to suggest once again, on multiple occasions, that the Iraq mess is "the central front in the war on terror." Apparently, there are some amongst us who are still inclined to buy that story. I trust that there are not enough of them, however, to encourage your Republican folk to pass these new, repressive pieces of legislation. You have already proved yourself, in my view, untrustworthy with the powers you have already appropriated. Let those who represent us, please, not grant you even more.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From the Heart

We met with one of our artists' groups last night, for the first time since our summer break. What a pleasure to sit out on the balcony and look out over the green of the garden into the darkening city--and to watch, in the distance, the fierce red glow of the sunset over the Hollywood Hills. I found myself thinking once again what a long, sweet--and, yes, sometimes difficult--journey it has been for this British schoolboy from beneath the usually grey skies of England to the sun-bathed landscape of Southern California. If someone had given me the gift of prescience as a child, I would never have believed it.

The topic for the evening turned out to be working from the heart. Ellie had sent out an email with a quote she'd read from the artist David Hockney (a fellow Brit, by the way, Bush, who also made that journey in his own, very different way). It was a response to a question about how he worked, and it went something like this: "I work from the head, through the heart, to the hand." It reminded me of how difficult it was for me for most of my life to think--let alone talk--about the heart; and how silly and embarrassing my old intellectual self would judge such talk to be.

Silly me. I'm sad now that it took so many years of my life to come to terms with the heart as anything other than the mechanism that sends blood pulsing through the body. Of course, as a metaphor, it means many things to many people. But these days, I think of it as more than a metaphor: it's a place where body and mind meet those other essential elements of the human experience, the emotions and the spirit. I think of it as the core of a human being's existence. If it's hard, resistant, closed, the experience of our lives reflects those qualities. If it's soft, welcoming, vulnerable, and open, our lives expand with it.

I like that old injunction: have a heart.

As I listened to others speak about the role of the heart in their work as artists, I began to get a clearer sense of my own understanding. For me, I realized, to work from the heart means two things: authenticity and engagement. I recognize authenticity in myself as well as others. I also recognize its opposite--when I'm saying something to score points, for example, or when I'm simply bullshitting in order to get my way, to make an impression, perhaps even to deceive. When I'm speaking the truth, it rings clear in the language that I use, the tone of my voice, the images that flow naturally and without restraint. I hear the authority in my voice--not the bossy do-it-my-way kind, but the genuine, from-the-heart kind of authority that makes it clear that I say what I mean and mean what I say. Integrity is another word for it. I know it's true when I see that others hear my clarity.

As for engagement, that happens at two levels. I engage, first, the object--what it is I happen to be talking about. The material. The topic. I am fully focused on its physical or abstract properties. If I'm writing about a church, for example, as I did in the long poem that was my first ever publication, "Aspley Guise", I explore every visual and tangible aspect that my memory can recall. I try to see it exactly as it was, down to the last detail; the stained glass windows, the red sandstone tower, the texture of the altar cloth, the pitted surface of the stone knight on his tomb, the lion on which his feet rest... I try to recall the sounds of the liturgy, the choir and the organ leading the way for psalms and hymns, the voice of my father, preaching from the pulpit; and the feel of the wooden pews, the knees where they met the knubby surface of the hassocks... all this, and much, much more feeds into the totality of the object. The more I can engage with it at this intense objective level, the greater the authenticity with which I can speak or write about it.

The other level of engagement, for me, is with the act of recreation. In the case of the artists in our group, that would take the form of painting, drawing... whatever medium best suits their pruposes. For the writer, it's with the act of writing. Hard to describe if you haven't experienced it, but it's a kind of concentration, a kind of focus, a kind of hyper-consciousness of the act in the moment of its happening. When I'm engaged at this level, everything else fades into oblivion--all the daily concerns, the anxieties, the projections into the future. It can happen with a computer as easily as with a ball-point pen or a pencil and a yellow pad. Nothing else matters. When I next look at my watch, hours might have passed without my having noticed their passage. It's a great feeling, Bush. There's nothing like it.

Together, these two forms of engagement equal passion, and passion equals the full engagement of the heart. Without passion, everything seems dull and unimportant. A couple of days ago I heard the public radio broadcast of a debate between a handful of students--some on your side, Bush, and some on mine--and I was saddened not by the quality of ideas, which were bright and interesting, but by the passionless language in which these students seemed to have been taught to put them out, as though passion were uncool. I have noted that same quality in some of your recent speeches, Bush, and I noted it most recently and most particularly in last Sunday's "Meet the Press" interview with your Cheney.

Hearing him utter the wildest of assertions in the most "reasonable" of unaccentuated tones, I wondered again about our culture: have we been trained to listen only at the surface, and to mistake the manner of speech for substance? If someone lectures us with such appearance of authority--the confident, monotonous, unbroken flow of language, the sweeping aside of doubts and questions in the steady stream of verbiage, the brash assumptions--how many of us simply roll over and buy into that smooth delivery, accepting wild assertions as literal truth.

Or was that your Cheney's passion, his heart's truth that we saw? I guess that could be argued. But I would counter that argument with the dissonance involved: when there are real, ascertainable facts at stake, the words must somehow honor that reality if they are to be authentic. To suggest or imply, for example, as Cheney continues to do, that Saddam Hussein was in some dark, indeterminable way responsible for the 9/11 attacks is to flout the reality that even you, Bush, now publicly acknowledge. And one untruth alone is enough to undermine all the fine speeches in the world. Tell one lie, and how can anyone trust the rest of what you say?

The discomfort that I feel when I hear you speak, or any of your people, arises from the pretense you make to be speaking from the heart even as you utter the most demonstrable of lies. You sold yourself to the electorate, I believe, largely on the claim of authenticity. You told us all that you were a "compassionate conservative"--from which we deduced, a conservative with a heart. Another dissonance. The reality turns out to be something very different. It seems that limits of your heart extend no further than the small circle of the very wealthy, very American coterie with which you surround yourself. If we discount the rhetoric, Bush, the rest of the world... seems almost beyond the realm of your understanding, let alone your heart.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Same Speech, Same Strategy

Ellie was the wise one, Bush, as usual. She opted out, busying herself with office chores, sweeping up the accumulation of eucalyptus leaves out on the balcony... Addicted as I am to the great affairs of the world, I sat like a fool and watched your television speech.

Fine words again, Bush. But to bill the speech as a "non-partisan" address to the nation on the occasion of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is about as deceptively disingenuous as Fox News calling itself fair and balanced. With the elections now a few short weeks away, it was a transparent attempt to persuade the American electorate of your concern for their protection and the success of your "strategy" in the war on terrorism.

I don't buy it, Bush. With Bin Laden still at large and cocking the occasional snook in your direction, with continuing terrorist attacks throughout the world, with Afghanistan descending rapidly into renewed warfare and bloodshed, with apparently ungovernable Iraq still tottering on the edge of civil war, I don't see how you can see there and boast about the success of your strategy. It seems to me that it has been proven time and again to be dangerously misguided and incompetently enacted.

My hope is that it won't wash again this time, that we are sufficiently wised-up, as a nation, to listen to your words with greater skepticism. One more rhetorical appeal to support your "staying the course" and to "give you the tools you need" to win this "defining conflict of the twenty-first century" sounds too much like the rest of them, and each time the hole you dig for yourself, for America, and for the world gets deeper. It's time, as the Democrats have taken to saying, for a "new direction."

You talk about the hated "extremists" as the source of all instability in the world, and promise to exterminate those few in order to protect us. My view is different. I believe you do them too much honor in declaring war on them. They are, after all, "extremists"--out on the far edge of global reality. A far greater threat to international stability, as I see it, is the huge, growing mass of human beings who are suffering, neglected, jobless and purposeless, starving, disease-ridden, and in constant struggle for survival on this already overcrowded earth. A far greater threat is the exploitation of the planet's resources to the point of depletion. A far greater threat is the environmental damage we are causing, as a species, which respected scientists keep warning us may soon be irreversible.

These are the "defining conflicts of the twenty-first century," Bush. The terrorists are simply those who are finding them fertile ground for their own agendas and distorted values. Your speech, in my view, proceeds not from a great vision for the future of the world, but from a short-sighted obsession with one relatively small manifestation of much larger problems. Of course we need to do everything we can to rout out the ruthless criminal elements in our midst. That goes without saying. But you, I believe, are in danger of mistaking the symptoms for the cause. We should be examining and treating the root causes for the grave, global injustices which are the breeding ground for those extremists that you talk about, not simply applying band-aids to the resultant symptoms.

The fact that we don't seem to be winning this war of yours, on any front, is surely of significance. These wars are unwinnable, so long as their causes go unaddressed, because there will always be more extremists ready to take arms against perceived injustices. You're at the wrong end of this sick horse, Bush. Your grand speeches notwithstanding, the stench continues to spread.

Monday, September 11, 2006


That Day, Again

I was up at 5:15 this morning, Bush, thinking about those towers. Thinking about those hundreds of people who arrived to work that morning and never made it home. Thinking about those who were expecting them. Thinking about the men and women from the fire and police departments who lost their lives on the job...

My intention was to do my half hour's meditation and then get to the blog in good time before getting George's breakfast and making our morning cup of tea. Got started on the meditation, planning to devote the whole half hour to the practice of compassion for those who died, their families and loved ones, and those who survived. My mind, however, did not want to stick with the job I'd given it. Too hard. Too painful. It refused to concentrate, just wanted to go to sleep. I think maybe it did, because when I opened my eyes, expecting to see the digits on the clock read 5:45, it was already 6:30. It's possible that the mind simply numbed out.

This morning, of course, we're treated to the usual gang of politicians and pundits making points. More moving than anything they can say are the long lists of names being read out at Ground Zero and the other sites, and the sight of family members in tears. All the words in the world can't heal those wounds. That said, I'm out of words myself this morning, Bush. Grief seems simply inadequate...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Heartland

I was dreaming up the first line for today's entry as I was enjoying the ride back from a fishing expedition through the beautiful Ozark landscape--more of which later. The first line was to have been: a day without Bush, Bush.

Alas, it was not to be. Close, though. The day started with a visit to the BassPro stores--a journey into the heart of the heart of the Heartland of America. An incredible emporium of sports clothes and equipment, hiking boots and fishing gear, tents, camouflage caps and rainwear, camping equipment of all kinds, all-terrain vehicles, motor boats... and of course guns. Everything a man could need to destroy the abundance of the natural world around him. Then there were the stuffed animals--giant polar bears and grizzles, deer and armadillo, raccoons, possums--an entire zoological garden of prime taxological specimens. And the artificial streams running through, with artificial bridges and artifical ponds well stocked with oversized trout and bass--the latter real, so far as I could tell. And aquaria and terraria with fish and snakes and spiders, including one with a giant 75-year old turtle (tortoise? I never could tell the difference) weighing in at a respectable 170 pounds.

It was, in a word, a paradise in which artifice could interplay seamlessly with nature, and man could satisfy his every outdoor need. My personal favorite was the men's restroom. I was fortunate enough to need a pit stop before leaving--I might otherwise have missed it--and ventured into this sanctuary all unprepared for the delights within: walls painted richly with trees and foliage, a blue sky above, and soft music everywhere, interrupted only by the song of birds and the chirruping of crickets. Missing only, sadly, was a central tree trunk to accomodate the urinals. a circular affair along the lines of a Parisian pissoir. Only "natural." Something to think about...

Ah, yes. America! You would have loved it, Bush! I did.

This brief incursion into the world of nature prefaced a stimulating brush with art, in the studio of Rebecca Miller, my hostess here in Springfield, a teacher in the Drury University art department and director of the gallery--it was she who invited me to curate the show that brought me here. It's always a privilege and a pleasure to be with an artist in the studio and hear them talk about their work--the expression, always, of a deep, inner, private life that sees the light of day only in the form of a drawing, a painting... in this case, a remarkable series of photography-based works with a very different sensibility about the world of nature than the one at the BassPro stores: here, the focus was on compassion for its vulnerability against the onslaught of our human species.

Lunch, then, with a lively group of students. I don't often get the chance, these days, to spend this time with young people--now a couple of generations behind me. This particular bunch was smart, alert, and politically informed. I have to report, Bush, that they were more than a little critical--and that's the polite word, here--of your performance in office. We could have talked a whole lot longer, had we had the time.

And then the fishing expedition... With a couple of unscheduled hours in the afternoon, I had asked if a brief excursion into the surrounding countryside might not be possible. I got more than I bargained for. My friend Tom Russo--he of The Fens fame (see earlier entry, Bush, if you've forgotten)--drove me out of town for maybe forty-five minutes, no more, and we found ourselves in a true natural paradise in the middle of the Ozarks. We stood at the edge of a small river and listened to the only sounds that interrupted the otherwise vast silence: the subtle ripple of the water, and the song of birds (real ones this time, Bush!) While Tom was retrieving the fishing rods from the car, I disturbed a pale coyote, lazing just a few yards from me as I walked, and watched him lope off into the woods. Then we cast a few lines--something I haven't done for forty years or more!--smoked a good cigar, and enjoyed the surrounding landscape with its towering limestone cliffs and its lovely hillsdes, green with trees.

So I thought to myself: how glorious. A day without Bush. But then reality hit as we drove back into town and we found ourselves talking about the war, and terrorism, and the lack of affordable health care, and the decling state of education in this country...

Not much time for more at the moment. Must pack and get ready for my ride back to the airport. Enough to add, quickly, that the opening of the exhibition I'd curated was a great success. Well-attended, with generally good response. And we sold some books, Bush, you'll be happy to hear, and handed out fistfuls of cards and bookmarks. I trust we'll have gathered a few more readers for our efforts here. Then on to a convivial dinner with faculty, new friends... So many people of good heart! It has been a truly rewarding three days here in Springfield, Bush. Wish you could have been here. You'd have found no shortage of friends on your side, too...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Mission Accomplished

Well, Bush, we did it. Mission Accomplished, to borrow a phrase. A great audience for my presentation here in Springfield--I thought maybe a couple of hundred people, mostly college students, many of whom stayed well beyond the scheduled end for a question and answer session. Normally, according to the good faculty folk who coordinated the event, they are more eager to head for the doors. Most of all, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spread the word.

The word, as we discussed last week, was simple: It's personal. Well, that makes two words really, I guess. Or two and a half. I decided on impulse to abandon my plan to read all four of the preparatory pieces I've been writing these past few days, and instead started out with "Bound and Gagged", that poem about the carvings rescued by the painter Ed Moses from the basement of the Natural History Museum and installed in a floodlit cage as a part of that collaborative exhibition a couple of years ago. When I thought later about the choice, I realized that my instinct was to not challenge my listeners at once with the more "liberal" of my entries in this "belly of the [conservative] beast", but rather to establish some ground on which I felt we would all agree: the ground of common human experience seen in the perspective of the centuries rather than the past few years.

I think that choice worked well, because it opened up some hearts and minds which might otherwise have been closed to the implied--sometimes overt--criticism of your policies in these pages. It was also very clear that these ideas become more palatable to those who might otherwise be opposed to them when they come with a healthy dose of personal ownership and sense of responsibility. When I acknowledge the "Bush" in me, and share the understanding that I'm really talking to myself as well as to your own good self, people are more likely to be listening with a sympathetic ear.

Anyway, Bush, after the presentation I was thrilled to have so much positive feedback. The most encouraging to me were reports about how students had responded in later class discussions. Even if no minds were changed, perhaps at the very least some hearts were opened.

I notice from the news this morning that the volume continues to be turned up on the 9/11 anniversary, with your continued series of speeches, the release of the tape purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his band of miscreants preparing for the attacks, the massive car bomb in Kabul, the resurgence of the Taliban... and so on. It all provides you with the opportunity to change the subject, diverting attention away from your Iraq adventure before the November elections and capitalizing on the fears of the citizenry of this country.

Alas, this seems to be your strong suit. We can expect a lot more of it in the coming weeks. I have noted one particularly vile TV spot put out by a group that identifies itself as piece that unabashedly exploits those fears and suggests that only the great Bush team has the right approach to protecting us from terrorism. I'm hoping, without a great deal of confidence, that it will not escape the American public that this kind of advertisement flies in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Here. In Springfield

Well I made it, Bush. Forgive my silence yesterday. I would have written. I was counting on wi-fi connection at the airport and it wasn't available at Burbank; by the time I got to Denver, where I had my stopover, my mind was weary and befuddled to put any cogent thoughts together. The journey was an odd one: easy where I expected it to be hard, and hard where I expected it to be easy. Isn't that the way? A lesson to be learned again and again. Forget the expectations. Be in the moment as it comes. A great Buddhist wisdom.

The easy part was getting to Burbank airport and through security, I was all prepared for traffic jams, accidents on the freeway and allowed more than ample time... Nothing. Plain sailing, I expected the usual problems parking. A dream. Drove up, left the keys with one of the parking guys, strolled back across the street to the terminal. After the terrorist episode in London a few weeks ago, I expected longer lines than I've grown used to at security. A breeze. I was through in minutes. With an hour and a half to wait, I switched on the laptop and tried for the wi-fi connection. Nothing.

The flight to Denver passed, as they say, without incident. I made, as planned, the long trip to the terminal to meet with a fellow writer of similar interests--more of him and his work in a later entry, Bush--and chatted away, still on Los Angeles time, until he reminded me that this was Denver, and I had only fifteen minutes left before boarding. A race back through security to catch the train back to the concourses, with what seemed like an interminable wait at every station, then a dash down the long concourse to my boarding area--arriving out of breath to discover that the flight was delayed. Then came the hard part. I'm not the best person in the world when it comes to waiting. I waited and waited. An hour, two hours. Our plane had a faulty generator. We waited for the needed replacement. It didn't come... and didn't come.

And never cane. Finally, three hours later, they found us a new plane and got us off the ground. Arrived in Springfield three hours later than I had expected. A wonderful greeting, though, from Tom, a medieval art historian with a special interest in The Fens! Just up my alley, having spent my undergraduate years at Cambridge, where I studied, amongst other things, medieval literature. It seems a long time ago now. It WAS a long time ago. But we enjoyed a good glass of Scotch, a good glass of wine, a lively conversation...

And today... the speech. The reading. The lecture. The presentation... We'll see. I haven't been following your deeds, then, Bush, but I have gathered from glimpses of news reports that you've been busy promoting your war on terrorism. In the other war--Iraq--the volume has been turned up on that analogy with Wold War II, as though this mess were the latest noble war, the crusade of the 21st century. I don't buy it Bush. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bensten in his famous vice-presidential debate with Dan what-was-his-name: you're no Winston Churchill.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

International Relations...

... and a Difficult Romance

I woke early on this last morning of our summer at the beach--from a fear-of-flying dream. The month of August seems to have flashed by even faster than it usually does, and I have been haunted in the past few days by the feeling that overwhelms me every year at this time. It's the one that takes me back to my childhood days, when the end of August heralded the train ride from Victoria Station that took me back to school for the first term of the school year. It's the one that takes me back to my classroom, then my academic teaching days, which lasted in all for some twenty-five years of my working life, before I finally realized that this was not what I was supposed to be doing with my days on earth. I was always suppoed to be a writer. I quit the world of academia at that point, but that late-August feeling still persists...

Back to the big city today, then, Bush. An afternoon to get myself organized and pack, then off again tomorrow morning for Springfield. After that, from next week on, we'll be back to our regular routine, commuting down here to the beach at the weekend and returning to Los Angeles for the weekdays. There are worse fates in life--though if the choice were mine alone, we would be living down here full-time in this small seaside town. It should be reverting to its post-tourist season calm before too long.

Briefly, then, for today, the mention of a movie that we saw last night: "The Girl in the Cafe." We rented it because it received a lot of attention at the Emmy's, and it turned out to be more than worthy of the hoop-la. The main characters--two painfully shy misfits--find each other in a small cafe and inch toward what might become a relationship. He, a highly placed civil servant emotionally crippled by his inordinate English diffidence, can hardly bring himself to ask her out for lunch. She, young, Irish, out of work and doing nothing with her life, responds in kind. Then, on impulse, and considerably to his own surprise, he invites her to join him on a trip to Reykjavik, where he is a part of the British negotiating team at the G-8 conference.

Once there, he shares with her his agony over the compromises that will be made to reach a "deal" acceptable to all parties, basically signing away the lives of millions of African women and children living in abject poverty in order that the affluent countries may continue in their economic prosperity and growth. Unable to contain her innocent outrage, she speaks aloud, before the assembled delegates of the powerful nations, the truth that none of them want to admit--disgracing her new friend with the public admission of the honesty he had revealed to her in private. Meantime, their relationship has moved from that painful shyness into painful intimacy, and is finally left in a state of irresolvable doubt...

A wonderful, difficult movie, Bush, which manages to move believably between the intimate, personal relationship between two people and the world stage of international relations. It refuses to gloss over the hard moral choices involved at both levels of our human experience, but confronts us very honestly with the sometimes excruciating task of maintaining our integrity in the face of the contingencies of the "real world." A truly satisfying experience.

America, I have to tell you, Bush, did not come off too well, with its efficient, hard-nosed, and essentially heartless negotiating team resistant to any decisions that could require a sacrifice on our country's own part. As I said, a convincing and compelling portrayal of life on the top rung of the governmental ladder. An excellent rental, Bush. I recommend it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Liberty & Justice", Part III: A Prologue

It's Personal

I was wondering yesterday, Bush, as I sat out in the sunshine on the balcony with my Sunday cigar, what I might choose for a title for my talk in Springfield, Missouri later this week--or at least a subtitle for the somewhat unwieldy "Liberty & Justice in the Post 9/11 World." I decided that my own title would be: "IT'S PERSONAL."

Because that's what I believe it to be. This daily journal that I write is personal. I started to write it, if you recall, just a couple of days after the presidential election in November, 2004. Good Democrats, Ellie and I had worked hard for the campaign of your opponent, John Kerry. He seemed to us to be articulate, thoughtful, capable, respectful of others and their positions, and to have showed great personal courage not only in his service to the country in Vietnam but also in the public stand he took afterwards, opposing the loss of life in that other tragic, unnecessary, and mistaken war.

That was before your people trashed him. It wasn't only the Swift Boat issue; they succeeded in trashing his image as a politician of integrity, too.

Not that we didn't believe in him during and after that shameful trashing, but that's what did him in as a candidate. On our own somewhat modest scale, we had managed to raise a good deal of money for his campaign. In fact, we could hardly imagine he might lose, after that confidence-shattering first term of your presidency with the disaster of the Iraq war abroad equaled only by the threatened demise of responsible government at home, and our hearts were set on the election of a Democratic successor for the next four years.

Alas, that was not how things turned out. Like many other Americans--pretty much fifty percent of us at the time--I was devastated by the result and sat around deploring the ignorance of the electorate for a couple of disillusioned days before realizing that I had to do something. I had to do something! And the only thing I really know how to do is write.

At which time, fortuitously, without planning or forethought, I stumbled headfirst into the blogosphere.

What a revelation! The chance to write and publish something every day! And to grow a readership! This was something better than I could have possibly imagined. A writer's dream come true...

As I began to write and publish these entries in The Bush Diaries, beginning November 8, 2004, I realized more and more clearly what my blog was about. I understood, of course, Bush, that it was not about communicating with your good self. Your reputation for not reading was well known (though now we know, of course, through well-designed publicity, that you have read sixty books so far this year--maybe seventy-five by now--including three Shakespeare plays and "The Stranger" by Albert Camus! A good World Lit 101 reading list!) Nor was the blog anything to do with "history" or "journalism". It wasn't even particularly about politics.

Look, I'm not a journalist. I'm not an investigative reporter. I'm especially not a political pundit. I'm a writer. And writing is what I do when I want to find out what's going on inside my head. The Bush Diaries, I always understood, was a way of talking to myself, and it followed my basic tenet, that old writer's chestnut: How do I know what I think 'til I see what I say.

So this blog, I soon realized, was about myself. It was my own way of staying awake, of staying conscious in a situation where the temptation was to close my eyes and hope that the nightmare would soon be over. The act of staying conscious can be nothing but an insistently personal effort. It requires that I be scrupulously honest with myself. It requires that I remain vigilant in my attention. It requires that I not goof off every time I feel like nodding into blissful oblivion. I requires the maintenance of a practice.

So that was how it started. If we were all fully conscious at this level, I fully believed, the world would be a better place. And if I set out to work diligently on my own consciousness, I hoped, I might engage the consciousness of a few others. And through them, eventually, a few more... And if I failed in that, I had no one in the world to blame except myself.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bombs Away

I did my own share of bombing this morning, Bush. Flea bombs, that is. Even with fleas, though, I did not feel good about my action. It offended my nascent Buddhist sensibilities. But I have to say I'm not THAT Buddhist yet. I still have a flinty and unforgiving heart when it comes to fleas, particularly when they attack my George.

You may remember that George's scratching has been keeping us awake. We had wishfully believed it was allergies--they are rife at this time of year in this part of the world. But no. Fleas. We were combing him before bedtime last night and came upon a bunch of them. We drowned the ones we caught.

This morning, after a good flea bath for George, a call to the vet persuaded us that desperate means were needed, and I drove down to the local market to buy flea bombs. We set them off and left the house for a few hours, then vacuumed and dusted the carpets with a nasty white chemical powder that claims to devastate the larvae--or whatever it is that fleas use to repopulate.

So there you have it, Bush. Weapons of mass destruction on a microscopic scale.

Speaking of which--WMDs, that it--I read in this morning's papers about the test, yesterday, of your "Star Wars" missile. Apparently "successful"--though isn't it cheating a bit when you fire your own target? I mean, presumably then you know its location and its destination. No?

But what message does this send to North Korea and Iran, our current miscreants in the nuclear game? Surely none other than that we're spending billions--$43 billion, I read in one report, in the past five years--to maintain our first strike superiority. Now, given the hostility you have openly expressed to these countries since your "axis of evil" speech and your refusal to speak to them directly or to renounce any intention to attack, who can blame them for feeling threatened enough to persist in developing their offensive weapons?

Ah, well. And I see that the Pentagon is finally forced to recognize the grim state of affairs in Iraq: "Conditions that could lead to civil war exist." Really? not greatly helpful, perhaps, that the report coincides with your own new rhetorical offensive to bolster support for your war. Makes your words sound kind of hollow, wouldn't you say?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Liberty & Security in the Post-9/11 World, Part II

Still Sleepless in Laguna

More hopelessly romantic meanderings from this social idealist, Bush, as a sequel to yesterday's discourse on "Freedom and Security." Today, for reasons unknown, they came in the form of one of my semi-metered rants… For want of a better idea, it's called


I am interested to know your definition,
Bush, of that much-bandied word "freedom".
When I hear you loudly vaunt our American freedom
to countries you consider less advanced than ourselves
I find myself wondering what exactly you mean.

Because for you, Bush, it does seem that freedom--
the freedom you brag about, at least--
is an immutable concept, unquestionable,
self-evident in its meaning; whereas I, Bush,
find freedom as a concept filled with paradox,
ambiguity, difficulty; for me, freedom is elusive,
it shifts shape according to time and location;
and its meaning is oftentimes compromised
with uncomfortable, unintended ironies.

To what extent, I would want to consider,
am I truly free in this land of the free?

I am free to vote for whomsoever I please--
and this is a precious freedom, Bush, as I know;
but I find myself painfully questioning that freedom
when I consider what happened in Florida, 2000,
for example, when you were appointed President
by fiat of the Supreme Court of the United States,
and this despite tens of thousands of votes
that went indisputably discounted or miscounted;
or when I consider what happened in Ohio, 2004,
when good people with the freedom to vote
were effectively disenfranchised by faulty procedures
and by the intentionally anti-representative distribution
of electronic voting machines and polling places;
I find myself questioning that freedom
when good people with the freedom to vote
are denied that right by thinly disguised poll taxes
or punitive post-felony-conviction exclusions;
I am forced, painfully, to reevaluate that freedom
when I witness the dishonest, outright fraudulent
activities of politicians and their henchmen
in the crass battle for votes; when I consider
the politics of redistricting; when I count up
the dollars spent in the corporate interest
to purchase votes by misleading, untruthful
advertisements put out to hundreds of millions
of television viewers. And when I consider the power
of paid lobbyists to change and influence law,
I am forced to question the true value
of the freedom to vote for whomever I please.

I have the freedom to buy whatever I want,
the freedom to liberally consume--
so long as I have the money to afford it.
My freedom to consume extends to endless shelves
of choices between differently packaged
but otherwise identical products in the supermarket;
between endless racks of clothes in the department store,
so long as I have the money to afford them;
between endless rows of automobiles
and pick-up trucks and recreation vehicles
in the new and used car lots of America,
so long as I have the money to afford them.

I have the freedom to live where I choose
so long as I have the money to afford it.
I have the freedom to live in a mansion in Bel Air,
or a brownstone on the Upper East side of Manhattan
or a cottage at the beach or a cabin in the hills,
so long as I have the money to afford it.
Otherwise I have the freedom to live
in a tract home or a tenement apartment
or a cardboard refrigerator box under the freeway.

I have the freedom to make as much money
as I choose, so long as I do not break the law,
so long as I am able to find legitimate work
that pays a living wage. I have the absolute freedom
to make a hundred million dollars if I choose,
so long as I have the entrepreneurial skills
and the personal drive that I need to achieve it.
If I happen to be born in the projects
or the barrio, if I happen to be born
on the wrong side of the tracks, I do have the freedom
to pull myself up by the bootstraps--
so long as I have the educational opportunity,
so long as I have the social and parental support
to be able to do so.

I have the freedom to read what I want
and watch what I want, no matter
how violent, no matter how obscene, it is
at my disposal at the touch of a dial, at the click
of a mouse. On my cable television
I have hundreds of channels to choose from--
understanding, of course, how my freedom
may be subtly subverted as I do so,
may be subtly subverted by the marketing needs
of corporate sponsors in search of consumers.

I have the freedom to live as I choose
(but not, it would seem, to die as I choose).
I have the freedom to purchase protection
from illness and injury and premature death--
so long as I have the money to afford it.
I have the freedom to purchase protection
for my house, my belongings, my car, my pet--
so long as I have the money to do so.

I have the freedom to eat, drink, and be merry,
I have the freedom to indulge in my sexual fantasies,
to indulge all my appetites to my heart's content;
and the freedom to visit my shrink when I'm down--
so long as I have the money to afford it.

Ah, yes, Bush. Your freedom… the freedom
you choose to lecture the world about so liberally
(forgive my language, Bush!) so liberally…
the freedom, well, honestly, to eat cake
while much of the world starves. The freedom
to parade around town in our super-sized SUVs,
the freedom bitch about the high price of gas--
which others have been paying for decades…
the freedom to consume so much more than our share
of the limited resources of this shrinking Earth
in order to maintain our privileged life-style...
These are not pleasant thoughts, Bush,
but just sometimes we must think them…
to be honest, to maintain at least a shred
of integrity. Sometimes we must honestly think them.

And here's the truth, Bush; here's the bottom-line,
honest-to-God truth: the only freedom that counts
in the long run is the freedom within--the freedom
that comes from not-needing, not-wanting,
not-consuming… The freedom that comes
from acknowledging that everything, Bush,
everything I believe to be mine, everything I love,
everything I flatter myself to own can be gone
in a moment, can be gone in a nanosecond
at the whim of a force I do not understand,
at the whim of a force I do not control.

THAT's freedom. A freedom few of us mortals
will ever attain, a freedom experienced only
by the Ghandis amongst us, the Martin Luther
Kings. Meantime, let's settle for the freedom
we can get: it's time to stop the preaching
and start practicing; time to remember, Bush,
that the greatest gift we can offer to the world,
in all our wealth, all our goods, all our power,
is the scrupulous practice of those principles
of freedom we claim to embrace, the example
of liberty, equality, and justice for all.