Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bush and Maliki: The Un-Snub

I think I know a snub when I see one, Bush. I'm a Brit. We've been practitioners of this not-so-subtle art for centuries. It's in the blood, along with the stiff upper lip, the nose in the air, and the inbred knowledge of who's who and what's what. And--sorry, Bush--no matter how you slice this one, no matter how your palace people spin it, this was a snub. You hop on your Air Force One amid great advance hoohah, you make a stopover in Latvia to get a kiss of approval from the lady president there and tell your NATO partners--unsuccessfully, it seems--that you're expecting more from them by way of help to fix your other problem in Afghanistan; and then on through the darkening skies to fulfill the purpose of your odyssey--that meeting with al-Maliki--and you find out just before you land that he has decided to postpone it. Now that's a snub. (I suspect he was smarting, Bush, from that report that your people leaked to the New York Times before you left--the one in which your national security advisor questioned his competence and authority. And who could blame him?)

Oh, I know you had your meeting with the King of Jordan. He had something different on his mind, however. His main concern was the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which he sees to be at the center of all Middle Eastern problems. Many agree with him. Me too. One of the less discussed failures of your administration's foreign policy since your taking of the White House in 2000 has been the scandalous American neglect of an issue to which your predecessor brought much energy and passon. While Clinton reached the very brink of success, but lost out in the end, there were still avenues to pursue, and your apparent distaste for exploring them has certainly contributed significantly to the deterioration of relations in the region. Even this past summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah, the invasion of Lebanon and the simultaneous battle with angry Palestinians to the south failed to provoke much more than a yawn from your administration.

Now, it seems--perhaps in recognition of King Abdullah's willingness to host your meeting with al-Maliki--your Rice stays on in the Middle East as you fly home and meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, all smiles and handshakes across the conference table. Too little, many think, and much too late to repair the damage done. But I do hope that this might still open the door at least a crack.

Meanwhile, there is total confusion on the subject of Iraq. Before leaving Amman, you continue preaching solidarity with Iraq, faith in the government there, and eventual victory: "getting the job done." Your "study group" is talking "gradual withdrawal"--a bow to Democrats and, now, the vast majority of the American people; but without a timetable--a bow to you. They're likely to recommend direct talks with Syria and Iran---which you have once again unambiguously ruled out. They're also sure to recommend intensified training of Iraq's security forces, army and police--a strategy that has already proved disastrously misguided. If all the combined might of the American military and that famous "coaltion of the willing" has failed to pacify that troubled country in three years, how can anyone possibly expect results from a ragtag group of poorly trained, poorly motivated men who are themselves divided by sectarian loyalties?

It's sheer bloody chaos, Bush. I recall that boast, not so very long ago, that you were the "uniter", not the "divider." But all I see now, everywhere I look, is division, disagreement, dissenssion, dischord. And that's a lot of "diss." I don't envy you on your return to what you have created in this country. And, alas, I see it only getting worse.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Revising Nationalism or Condoning Slaughter: Part II

Posted by Cardozo

I was heartened to read of the Israeli Prime Minister’s proffered olive branch to the Palestinian leadership – a wholly unexpected bright spot in what has seemed a never ending cycle of dreadful world events. This news reminded me that compromise and the high road still exist, and must always, because…

I refuse to believe in the inherent maliciousness of humankind, or of any individual human being. Is this my Achilles heel, Bush? Does it reflect a naiveté, preventing me from arriving at sound opinions on world affairs until I rid myself of its intoxicating illusions? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the belief in the goodness of humanity is what propels and surrounds me; without it, I would not be Cardozo but some other being.

Clearly, the goodness inherent in all creation is not generally assumed in politics. Otherwise you would not go around creating axes of evil. Neither would Osama bin Laden launch a jihad against massive populations of “infidels,” nor would governments employ capital punishment to snuff the life out of those who commit murder.

It is equally clear that a belief in evil incarnate has failed to bring about more good in the world. Death, disease, and dis-ease are as rampant now as they were in any page of the history book.

How would it change the world, if, as its superpower, America began to assume that its enemies were not acting out of an endemic badness, but something else? Would it alter your strategy in the “war on terror” if you had absolute faith that inside the body cavity of every suicide bomber from Gaza to Saudi Arabia lurks a beautiful, if corrupted soul?

I would never suggest that terrorist atrocities go unpunished. But it’s time to try out a more nuanced strategy in combating violence, one predicated on the belief that violent people are driven to violence by hatred and a sense of victimization (real or perceived.) And while hatred is inflamed by more hatred, it will always succumb, in the end, to compassion, understanding, and perspective. (The pillars, by the way, of progressivism, Bush.)

Why does the world revere Ghandi, King, and Mandela – the great exemplars of passive resistance? Because, Bush, these leaders risked both life and limb; staked them on the idea that hatred can be diffused by incontrovertible evidence of our common humanity. The world makes heroes of such men. The idea strikes a chord. How about we try it for a while, by investing in the hope of peaceful coexistence between ourselves and the entire league of nations? There are many who would gladly wipe us off the map entirely, if given the chance. Can we win them to peace by showing restraint, not bloodthirsty vengeance? By showing humility, compromise, and an acknowledgement that we, too, have sinned?

What might such a foreign policy look like, in practice? That’s the debate we need to have.

On Being Right... Or Not

Posted by PeterAtLarge

You'll forgive me, Bush, if I make another brief aside to talk to my passionate friend, whose comment on my entry yesterday I read with much interest. My response, though, is addressed as much to you, Bush, as to my reader. It's this: that it's not always about being right. It's not about having the right definitions, the right data, the right historical facts, the right side of an argument. It's not about moral rectitude. What I'm talking about is just as important as all that. I'm talking about the ability to see around the corners of my rightness, to see the cracks in its surface, to take a look at it from the flip side. It's about having the humility and the humor to take my own rightness with that proverbial pinch of salt and to realize that others, too, might just possibly have some rightness on their side even--no, especially--when I'm convinced that they're wrong. When I act or argue from the advance knowledge that I'm right, I speak out of prejudice: I pre-judge. So it's about tone. It's as much about the way I try to tell you what I mean as the rightness of my words. To take a Buddhist approach, it's about not being "attached" to my rightness. It's a matter of reminding myself, always, to have a little com- with the passion.

That's the sermon for the day, Bush. Take it with a pinch of salt. I could be wrong. But of course I don't think so.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Racism, Again

Racism. It has been on my mind, Bush, as you know. I have been writing about Daniel Mendelsohn's "The Lost." I was disturbed by the Michael Richards rant and the response to it. I wrote about his apology on the David Letterman show and have taken note of the many dismissive reactions I have heard to that apology. I heard a report last night about his session with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and was pleased that Jackson himself saw in it an opportunity for national self-examination and discussion. I frankly see little chance of that happening, but I do agree that it's way past time for us to acknowledge the systemic racism that persists in America to this day, and to begin to find ways to heal. The first step of those famous twelve is to come out of denial.

As I've said only recently, Bush, I do acknowledge the racism in myself. I know that it's buried deep in the unconscious mind, that that it surfaces only rarely. I try to be watchful, and take note when it does. And I try to at least be attentive to the racism in others. And I have to say that I'm not a little dismayed--no, angered--when I see the state of Israel compared to Nazi Germany in the comment section of these pages. I censor no one, but there are times when the comments are so wildly out of whack with my own thinking that I almost wish I could. This one reader--and I do welcome him and thank him for his loyalty to The Bush Diaires--has recently contributed such vitriolic comments that I simply can't let them pass without some response.

First, I do not by any means believe that the state of Israel should receive a free pass. No nation is above criticism, and Israel surely comes in for its share. But to label an entire nation "Zionist" and to lay the blame for virtually every tension with its neighbors at its door is to ignore the history even of the recent past. Since the Oslo agreement, every effort toward peace on the part of Israel, every concession offered or made has been met only with increased hostility and violence. What are you to do when your small piece of territory is bombarded daily by a hail of rockets? When children and, most recently, old women are used to carry bombs into your populated areas and blow your innocent citizens to kingdom come? When most of your neighbors loudly proclaim their belief that you should be wiped from the face of the earth? When governments embrace this as thier policy?

If my reader who is so insensed about Israel that he compares it with the Nazi state in Germany, let him read "The Lost." Let him understand what institutionalized racism looks like. Let him experience from the other side, the victims' side, the meaning of discrimination, what the life of an ordinary citizen might be in a state whose official policy is their extermination. When not only the Germans but the Poles and Ukrainians who had for centuries been their neighbors, turn suddenly cruel and hateful when given the opportunity to unleash the basest of their racist instincts. I anticipate that his response will be to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians, and certainly there is much work to be done--and, yes, by Israel as well as by their own leadership--to address the very real issues that plague them.

Of course there is a racist element in Israeli society. How could it be otherwise? They are human beings, and all human beings, I would argue, do harbor these ignoble feelings. But institutional racism? I don't see it. The national policy has more to do with self-defense, survival, preservation of the state, its protection from attack and eventual destruction than with any racial prejudice against their neighbors and their own non-Jewish population. The racial hatred, as I see it, spouts from the mouths of the Ahmedinejad's of this world, from the leaders of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah who preach it as the policy they embrace.

Beyond my disagreements with him, though, I am bothered almost as much by the tone of my reader's comments. I love passion, and I believe he is passionate in his opinions. But the line is thin between passion and vitriol, and my reader crosses that line to his own detriment. His arguments are offered in the guise of rational discussion, but they would carry more weight with me if they came less freighted in their tone with an anger and narrowness of vision whose source, I suspect, is unconscious and unintended racism. I acknowledge my own prejudices, and am willing to be called on them when they appear. My hope is that my readers would do the same.

And given that latest fatal shooting in New York, Bush, The Rev. Jesse Jackson has it right. It's time for a national dialogue on the reality of racism in our own society.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Lost (Part II): Impossible to Know...

Posted by PeterAtLarge

I spent a good part of the day yesterday finishing my reading of The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn. The last time I wrote to you about it, Bush, was on 11/21, if you care to look back in the archives, and I was thrilled to find a comment posted on that entry from the author's brother Matt, a photographer, who accompanied Daniel on many of his travels and figures prominently in the story, and whose photographs appear on many of the pages of the book. The pictures, many of them also from family archives, are small, faded and grainy, and their details are hard to make out--an entirely appropriate visual analogy to the author's struggle to make sense of the past.

It was odd, Bush, to find myself sitting out on the sunny balcony of our cottage on the Southern California coast, embarked on a journey through times and places so dark and distant that they might have seemed unreal, had they not been evoked with such poetic truth.

Because this truly is an epic, Bush--a modern Odyssey which takes us on a journey into the past which is part historical narrative, part detective mystery, part Biblical exegesis, part scholarly research, part family saga, part personal confession, part cultural history and in the end, all in all, a poem of epic proportions. It will make you--as they say of certain movies--laugh and cry, though I'm sure you'll do more crying than laughter, given the atrocities that are all too often described, and the heartache of those who were forced to experience them or, if spared, to watch their loved ones victimized before their eyes. It takes five years of study and travel, interviews, recordings, and photography for Mendelsohn to approach his destination and then, finally, to understand that what he was really looking for is unreachable.

But not quite, because we have Mendelsohn's text, the journey, which turns out to be in itself the goal. We have the writing. We have the phtotographs. His search for the factual truth concerning those six lost family members becomes, in his words, "narrower and narrower" as he travels the globe to turn up more and more telling details from the fading, never fully reliable memories of rapidly aging survivors--an extraordinarily rich and engaging cast of characters.

To Mendelsohn's "narrower and narrower"--speaking of the focus of his attention as the narrative proceeds--I would only add "deeper and deeper." Traveling ever further into the depths of the human psyche, the agony of not knowing, of knowing too much, of confronting the ultimate truths, for all of us, of the battle for survival and inescapable death, we end up, as you'll see--I refuse to disclose the "mystery" of this story--in the bowels of the earth, the darkest place of the human soul where moral truths become murkier and more agonizingly ambiguous even as the factual details become clear.

I myself have "known" about the Holocaust. I have seen those terrible films, the photographs from the death camps. I have read some of the books. I was myself alive already, while these events were taking place, not more than a couple of hours by air from where I lived. Other than the (for me) fortunate accident of birth, I could have been that child speared by a pitchfork or thrown from a third story window to the street. But this was not England, where I was born and where, certainly, those German bombs dropped, but Eastern Europe where Daniel's six family members were "lost" to history, swallowed up in the enormity of the Nazi crime--a crime not limited, as Mendelsohn recalls, to Nazis. Nor to the Poles or the Ukrainians who all too readily joined in the slaughter; or even only to those Jews who acted as enablers, betrayers of their own friends, neighbors and family in the misguided and usually futile attempt to ensure their own survival. It was all of us, who failed to prevent its happening, or who failed--as did certain of Mendelsohn's family, to their lasting regret--to respond to desperate appeals for help from America, for transportation out of that hell while it was still possible to leave...

But then I realized as I read this book that I have never "known". That it is, in fact, in the phrase to which the author constantly returns, "impossible to know." But thanks to Mendelsohn I know a lot more than I did. His story, in all its rich complexity and refusal to accept the first or the easy answers, in all the limitation of its scope to a single family, though millions died, in its insistence on the personal and on personal responsibility, opened up the door for a deeper knowing of the Holocaust and its meaning for mankind than I had ever had before, and I thank him for it.

If only all the world were to read this book, I thought, as I sat there in the improbable Sunday sunshine on my peaceful balcony with his book in my lap, there might, there just might be a lesser chance that we would find ourselves repeating that dreadful history.

But then I look to Darfur, and now to Chad, and to the world standing by and, at most, wringing its impotent, unwilling hands, and I'm forced to wonder, Bush. I'm forced to wonder if it will ever end.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Iraq: A Picture--Worth a Thousand Words

I was struck by this picture on the front page of the "Week in Review" section of today's New York Times, Bush. Such bright eyes, this young insurgent has, with his rocket launcher at the ready, and his Koran (bottom right). So very sad. I was searching for the anger there, the defiance, the revolt... and I found only a deep well of sadness. A despair. I suppose others would project other feelings into those dark eyes, with the rest of the face masked. But I saw only sadness. I found myself wondering how old he is, what else he might be doing with his life? What his father or mother might be thinking, feeling? Pride, fear, anger? How many brothers and sisters he might have? How long he might have to live? How many of his own people he might have killed, or be called upon to kill in the coming days, weeks, years? How many of ours? What do you think, Bush?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The War on Christmas

Today it's official, Bush. I'm declaring the start of my first annual War on Christmas. (I would have done it yesterday, Black Friday, which seemed the most propitious date, but the War in Iraq raised its ugly head and it would have been hard to compete with the news of more than two hundred dead, so I postponed my own declaration until today.) This news should hearten those who have fantasized the existence of such a war in the past, and who will now have something real to get their teeth into.

Yes, Virginia, there IS a War on Christmas.

My casus belli? Or should I say casi belli? I'm a little rusty with my Latin plurals these days, but there are many of them, Bush. Here's an admittedly incomplete list (with thanks to Ellie for her contributions):

Jingle Bells
Department store Santas
Shopping mall Santas
All other sources of fraudulent HoHoHos
The escalation of the gift war
Greetings cards with images of the family
Greetings cards with images of Rudloph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
and all other forms of wildlife and domestic animals
Sleigh bells
Santa Claus wish lists
Bing Crosby singing White Christmas
Images of airports filled with frustrated travelers on my TV screen
False advertizing
Pseudo snow
Pseudo holly berries
Pseudo mistletoe
Pseudo good cheer
Egg nog, all too real
Hypocrisy, particularly the pretense that this is all about Jesus
Sony Play Station 3
All other games, toys and dolls that stimulate the spirit of violence among children
Sleigh bells ringing
Neglect of the hungry and the homeless
Credit card purchases that cripple the family budget
Jingle Bells
Traffic jams
Angry drivers on the freeways
Faux Christmas trees
Abandoned Christmas trees littering the streets in the coming weeks
Christmas decorations appearing two months before Christmas
and strictly for reasons of commerce
Self-righteous breast-beating about Christian "values"
Dogs and cats in Santa hats
Rampant paranoia
AM radio (any station)
Elevators, shopping malls, supermarkets and department stores
and all other locations with wall-to-wall Christmas "music"
The abject pretense of goodwill to all men (and presumably women too)
Jingle Bells

As I say, Bush, it's only a partial list, but it provides me with sufficent cause for my personal declaration of war.

With this declaration, I hereby welcome all volunteers to the cause--a coalition of the willing, if you will--and I expect each member of my volunteer army to bring his or her own casus belli, along with the only weapon I will allow in our pursuit of eventual glorious victory: words.

Call me Scrooge, Bush. To which I'll just say, Bah, humbug.

Oh, and by the way, I can reassure all my volunteers that I have what you notably failed to provide for in your War on Iraq--or indeed, in your larger War on Terrorism: a guaranteed exit strategy. Mine is called, in England, Boxing Day--the day after Christmas when all good Christians do penance for their excesses, nurse their hangovers, and return their unwanted presents to the store for cash or credit.

Have a good one, Bush.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Revising Nationalism or Condoning Slaughter - Part I

Posted by Cardozo

Since I began contributing to this page, I’ve often spoken of my impatience with the “good versus evil” theory that drives your foreign policy, Bush.

The terms of the theory, of course, are simple euphemisms. “Good” refers to America and anyone who supports her. “Evil” refers to anyone who disagrees with her to the point of taking up arms. Would you agree with these definitions? In other words, it is the preservation of the status quo of American dominance (conflated and equated with “good”) that underpins our foreign policy.

Thus, I wouldn’t go as far as some on the far left, who argue that racism, tempered by military and economic realities, determines which countries are branded with an “E” for evil on your war room map. (If race alone comprised the litmus test, your friends the Saudis would never have escaped inclusion in the “Axis of Evil.”)

No, it seems clear that plain old Nationalism – that scourge, that harbinger of war, that ever-ready excuse for all manner of atrocities – lurks, as always, behind the rhetoric and diplomacy. And I won’t blame you for the persistence of runaway Nationalism, Bush. Bill Clinton played the game too, as have each of your other predecessors, to my knowledge.

And as the death tolls mount on both sides of the Iraq conflict, and as Democrats preach eagerly to the choir (which now includes basically everyone) about your administration’s strategic incompetence, I wonder if it is time to begin discussing Nationalism, the elephant in the room.

There is one sure-fire way to prevent Americans from being targeted by suicide bombers, and that is to stop pissing the suicide bombers off. This strategy seems only too obvious, but is never seriously discussed by the President, in Congress, or in the mainstream media. Why? Because any policy revisions undertaken during a “war on terror” amount to a validation of terrorist tactics, and a violation of the great American dictum of non-negotiation with terrorists. Quite a corner you’ve thus painted us into, Bush. And one can see that it is your (and the neocons’) ultimate victory. In the context of a never-ending, global war on terror, America can never make substantive changes to her foreign policy.

So congratulations are in order, Bush. Regardless of outcomes in Iraq, it seems your larger failure - your refusal to grapple with the causes of anti-American sentiment- will remain unchallenged in Washington.

Another Black Friday--in Iraq

I was planning to write a light-hearted piece this morning, Bush, about the beginning of the Christmas rush (did you see some of those clips on television: crowds lining up for hours to be first to hit the stores?) but the truth is, I'm not feeling too light-hearted.

Black Friday over here is supposedly when retailers break into the annual profit zone: Black Friday in Iraq is just another Friday, when the good people begin to bury their dead from Thursday. For us, yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. For them, just another day of slaughter at the market. While we plump turkeys over here were stuffing ourselves to the gills with plump turkey and stuffing, those desperate folks over there were once again busy killing each other by the score. The result? Over two hundred dead, I hear this morning, Bush, at the hands of suicide car bombers.

There's nothing, then, to feel light-hearted about. My mind keeps coming back to this awful truth: we created this mess. Well, no, we didn't create it. The roots of hatred have existed for more centuries than this country has, Bush. But we did trigger the current bloodshed, with our brash invasion and our failure to foresee its consequences. Even if we concede that pre-emptive war was an excusable way to take out a bloody dictator and protect our access to his fossil fuel resources(I don't), the failure to foresee the consequences and prepare for them remains inexcusable.

The responsibility for this dreadful mistake lies at your door, Bush. Is it not now finally time to be accountable?

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Happy Thanksgiving, Bush! I wonder what blessings you're counting this morning. Not too many of them, on the political front at least. Nor in the world at large, this time around. The latest outrage in Lebanon doesn't help the situation in the Middle East. As for me, well, as you might guess I'm giving thanks that we'll soon have Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and perhaps, finally, hopefully, some accountability in Washington. Something to celebrate, at our end. Not that I'm one to crow...

But seriously, Bush, I'm sure that you and I both are thankful for some of the same things. For family, above all, and friends. For those who love us, and the love they give. For everything we have learned in life, even the hard lessons. For myself, for having been blessed to reach an age in life where I can enjoy a certain detachment, a kind of wisdom. And a greater ability to slough off the anxieties of the ego and just love, and live, and let live... I say "greater" in the full knowledge that I'm still capable of the tantrums, the petty acts of selfishness.

Ah, well. Speaking of petty, I have one more thing this year to be thankful for, Bush. A new car. The day before yesterday I'd have called you crazy if you had suggested such a thing. But then I took my Prius in for a minor service... and came out with a brand new one. They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. It seems that the demand for used Priuses (Prii?) is such that the Toyota folks are so keen to lay their hands on one for their sales lot that they're prepared to make special offers on their new ones--which are now more plentiful, I hear. So my thinking is, I did a double favor to myself and the environment: in making my old Prius available to another (soon-to-be) happy Prius owner and in acquiring a new one myself, I have effectively doubled my contribution to the health of the planet and can feel even a little bit more self-righteous as I drive the freeways.

So there you have it, for this Thanksgiving Day. Have a good turkey, Bush, down there in Crawford. I assume you're back at the ranch for the festival. Best of everything, your PaL.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Racism: The Richards Rant

I didn't see any more than a few clips from the now-notorious Richards rant, Bush. It was ugly. Like most people, I guess, I had known him only as the goofy Kramer on the Seinfeld show, and had always found him endearing in that role. But what he showed that night at the Comedy Club was ugly, no two ways about it. I did find his apology on the David Letterman show, however, and there could be no doubt that the man was shattered by the experience. He offered no excuses, acknowledged the rage that opened the way for his tirade, and made an apology that was too spontaneous, too halting, too vulnerable to disbelieve.

The key parts of the apology, for me, were two places where he seemed to recognize that this was not some aberration, but rather a deep truth about himself that he needed to address. Near the end of the interview, he said simply and, to me, believably, that he had "personal work to do." While he insisted in almost the same breath that he was "not a racist," that recognition of the racist in him was more important than the more proper--and much more familiar--insistence on denial.

I tend to believe that we are all racists, Bush. It's a distressing part of our human heritage. We struggle to hide it, but I don't suppose there's a person alive who is free of racist feelings and reactions. Some of us are ashamed of them, and work hard to keep them out of sight--our own and others'. And some are not. Some seem to take pride in them. But for those of us who know in our rational minds that racism is wrong--dishonorable, arrogant, instinctive--something from which we would want to dissociate ourselves at all costs, it's important not to slip into that comfortable zone where we allow ourselves to forget our baser selves, the dark side of our being.

So that Richards rant, as I see it, was a healthy thing for our society. It was not pretty, certainly, but it held the mirror up for us to look into and see some part of ourselves--whether black or white: the part that hates and rages. (The part, Bush, too, that declares war on other human beings.) Particularly healthy, too, was Richards' refusal to let himself off the hook with a quick, easy apology, and his understanding that he had "personal work" to do. I honor him for the recognition, and for acknowledging the hurt he inflicted on himself and others. His rage and the outburst of hidden hatred was grievous. His stunned recognition and regret, an example to us all. Let's wish him a difficult stint of personal work, and an eventual recovery.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sharks or Asses: The Potential Impeachment of George W. Bush

Posted by Cardozo

That is the question facing Democrats, Bush, when they walk into the chambers of Congress in January as the new majority party. When Nancy Pelosi wakes up in the morning on her first day as Speaker of the House, dons her snappy business suit and casts a final glimpse in the mirror before heading out to change the world, what will she see?

If she sees a shark, Bush, you are in very serious trouble. Sharks, as you know, are attracted to the smell of blood, and yours currently flows from a thousand self-inflicted wounds. If Pelosi does see a shark, you will only have yourself to blame for the inevitable circus sideshow to follow. Well, yourself and the GOP establishment who dramatically lowered the bar for impeachment back in 1998.

Of course, there are other possibilities. Ms. Pelosi may be in no mood for this fight, just yet. Her mirror’s image might present the mighty Donkey: the aptly plodding, moody, stubborn symbol of the Democratic Party. This would be fortunate for you, Bush, because the Donkey would probably rather keep you around, now that the country has seen you without any clothes.

Which begs the question: what should Nancy Pelosi see? As a stateswoman, as a leader in her party, as a citizen and as a human being, what is the right course of action? The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Progressive voices are split on the issue of impeachment. (See here, here, and here for some takes from the liberal blogs.) The question, of course, is strategic rather than substantive, because progressives are rightly united in the belief that adequate causes for impeachment exist, and in plenty. The founders created impeachment to prevent the accumulation of excessive powers by the Executive Branch, which describes, to a tee, your particular brand of high crimes and misdemeanors.

The ramifications of an impeachment battle for the nation are the real issue, and because of this I believe you should stay in office (unless of course, you decide to resign out of contrition, which is just fine). Yes, you have tried, and in many cases succeeded, in obliterating the checks and balances that were erected to avoid tyranny. Yes, I believe you deliberately manipulated the American people into supporting a foolish nation-building scheme. Yes, you have shown utter disregard for laws protecting our cherished civil liberties.

But you have not done so in a vacuum. Your expansion of executive powers happened right before our eyes and, in the case of the Iraq invasion, with the explicit, bipartisan consent of Congress. In so many ways our country was not prepared for 9/11. We are a politically immature nation. This immaturity should be the focus of a national trial in which we the people impeach a select few of our prevailing national ethics. For one, the mythology of “good versus evil” that fosters xenophobia among the public and diplomatic impatience among leaders of both parties. For another, the “look out for #1” mantra that impedes any meaningful national dialogue about political issues.

These cultural idiosyncrasies, more than your perfidious power plays, Bush, are ultimately responsible for the mess we are in. And when Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats look in their mirrors come January, I hope they see themselves not as sharks and not as donkeys, but as leaders who will turn the mirror back on all of us and usher in a national day of reckoning to answer the question: how did we get to this point?


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A Jewish History

I'm a goy, Bush, as I suspect you are, too. I could, actually, consider myself something of an honorary Jew, having been married to one for now these thirty-four years, plus a few days. But I choose not to. I choose not to identify myself with any faith or religion--although, as I've mentioned at odd moments in the past, I'm closer to Buddhism than any other. I guess one reason that I'm hesitant to declare myself such is the sense that it would feel like an act of presumption on my part: I still feel like a newcomer.

All this, though, Bush, because I'm reading a terrific book called The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn. You know who the "Six Million" are, right? The victims of the Nazi Holocaust. This is not a review. I have read barely a hundred pages out of many hundreds more in this huge tome, but it already seems to me like one of those truly important works of enormous dedication that should be read by everyone--but probably won't be. In the hundred pages I have read, I have learned more about the history of the Jews--ancient, medieval and modern--and more about Judaism, the religion, more about the culture and the ethos of the Jews than I have in thirty-four years of seders. And I don't mean to be trivial.

I have also learned a lot about my wife, Ellie's story-telling techniques, which have often mystified me, sometimes even aggravated me in the past. As you know from reading these pages that we write together, Bush, I'm a straightforward kind of a guy when it comes to the story. I aim for the concise. I aim for precision and clarity. I like to get to the point, get it said, and move on to the next. Ellie, on the other hand, meanders. She'll start a story and digress into three others before she reaches the conclusion of the first one. She adds-on endlessly. Sometimes, good goy that I am, I sit there squirming, impatient for her to get back to the point. She usually does. But not always. Sometimes that too gets lost.

If I mention all this, it's because reading Mendelsohn's book has made me realize something about the effectiveness of Ellie's approach--maybe something, too, about its origin. Mendelsohn meanders shamelessly, with abandon, weaving in and out from one topic, one story-line to the next, so that we're sometimes trying to keep up with three or four narrative threads at one and the same time, from Genesis and the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, to the horrors of the medieval hounding of the Jews from country to country, the pogroms, and the final atrocity of the Holocaust, even as we follow the intricate personal story of the author's family from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. I tell you, Bush, it's quite a feat. And a marvelously rich and compelling tapestry of Jewish life, history and thought.

I'm looking forward to the rest, though I admit it's quite a slog in terms of the sheer time of the read. But Mendelsohn engages us both intellectually and emotionally in his search for those six lost relatives, and is willing to narrate the journey toward their discovery only slowly, with all those asides. The asides are, after all, a good part of the journey.

They say you've been engaged in a reading contest this year with your Rove, Bush--to see how many books you can read, I presume. This one won't help you along in that contest, because it requires more time and patience even than those Shakespeare plays you're purported to be reading. Still, I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the peripatetic, often tragic, and very human history of the Jews. Aside from anything else, it helps one better understand that fierce, uncompromising, even aggressive dedication to the preservation of the tiny piece of territory that was set aside for their state in the wake of World War II.

More of this later, I'm sure. In the meantime, welcome home, Bush. Are you home yet? I presume. But the news media are not paying much attention if you are. Is it possible that you have already become, er... irrelevant?

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Monday, November 20, 2006

In Vietnam

Nice duds, Bush. That ao dai. You look good in blue. I like the gold trimmings, too. Kind of rich. But what's with the scowl? Things not going your way?

Or perhaps it was just a weird feeling, being in Hanoi? The description of your visit to Vietnam in yesterday's New York Times and its comparision of your visit there with Bill Clinton's visit six year ago was depressing: the gregarious Bill, the reclusive George; the expansive Bill, the secretive George. The Bill who loved nothing better than to wade into crowds and who insisted on making a lunch stop at a local noodle shop. The George who, according to the Times report, spent only 15 minutes ouside his hotel on a single non-official event.

Still, according to your national security advisor, Stephen J. Hadley, even though you did not come into direct contact with the Vietnamese people, you managed to "connect" with them anyway. Said your Hadley, "If you'd been part of the president's motorcade as we've shuttled back and forth, [you'd have seen that] the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles." (Which reminded me, Bush, of your driving past Cindy Sheehan in your motorcade in Texas last summer--minus, of course, the smiles and waves.) "I think he's gotten a real sense of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them."

Wow! All this from a motorcade, behind bullet-proof glass. I have to hand it to you, Bush, you really can read the minds of those people on the streets. I guess the waving and smiling says a lot. Bill, of course, could feel their pain--but everyone laughed at him for that.

On to Indonesia, on the grand tour. I gather that it was a flying visit to the largest Muslim nation on the face of the earth. Six hours on the ground. And massive security. No overnight stop, too dangerous. Ah well, I guess with your superhuman abilities to connect at speed through bullet-proof glass, you got a real feel for the Indonesian people too. Though from what I read and hear, there were more hisses and boos than smiles and waves from these particular visitees.

Home again soon, though, Bush. And back to Crawford, I bet, for the Thanksgiving feast. After Thanksgiving, I'll let you know about my planned preemptive war on Christmas. Just something I'm cooking up...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Women in Politics:Vive la Difference

Good to see that the French have voted for a woman to represent the Socialists in their forthcoming presidential elections, Bush. They've made Segolene Royal look like a bit of a harridan on her "site officiel"--that's French for "official site," Bush--and I wonder why they would have chosen to do that. Still you have to wonder whether things are changing in the world of politics, what with Nancy Pelosi taking on the Speaker's job in the House, a slew of new women in both houses of Congress, and now this news from France!

What's next, Bush? Hillary? No comment from me yet, on that subject. I'm still skeptical about her nose for the political winds. But I will say that I'm looking forward to seeing more women in powerful positions throughout the world. They can't make more of a hash of it than we men have done with our macho posturing and our territorial imperatives; and who knows, they might prove to be a benevolent force for peace and unity. So I say, Bush, to borrow a not-so-felicitous phrase from your own recent past, "Bring 'em on!"

Iraq Study Group: Baker & Cheney

Here's an interesting picture of your two great mentors, Dick Cheney and James A. Baker III in today's New York Times, Bush. A nice ambiguity. You could read it either way: the image of a two-headed monster, or of two men headed in opposite directions, with Baker the more prominently placed. No way to determine which it is, though, at least until the Iraq Study Group comes out with its report and recommendations. Both of these men, though, are grim-faced, wouldn't you say? Not surprising, given the mess you've passed on to this committee of elders to clean up.

Anyway, the Times reports that the group has been having discussions with Syrian officials about how Syria might be induced to help with the situation in Iraq. It must be a bit galling for you, Bush, having kept a studied and morally superior distance from Syria in the course of your administration, as you have done with that other "sponsor of terrorism", Iran. You and your Condi have been frostily stand-offish when it comes to the "axis of evil" and their friends. We see the results of this vain, ideological policy: more bitter emnity, more chaos in the Middle East, the building of nuclear weapons by Iran, the war in Lebanon, the growth in support for those terrorists who cause us so much grief... The opposite, really, of what you had presumably intended.

Let's hope that Baker and his chums can talk some sense into you, Bush. It seems, for the moment, that even the majority of the American electorate has failed to do so, since I still hear you blathering absurdly about "victory" in Iraq. The lesson you claimed yesterday to have learned from the Vietnam debacle was that it takes time to achieve success when you get yourself into a bloody quagmire. When you say such things, what I hear is still "Stay the course." Wrong lesson. The lesson from Vietnam was surely that we had no standing there in the first place: it was a civil war, we got ourselves caught in a bind between two implacable foes. The lesson was surely that the deeper the hole you dig, the harder it is to climb back out of it.

My fear, as I was saying only yesterday, is that Baker's group will be more concerned with saving your pretty face than with coming up with a real and lasting resolution. Let's hope they have the guts to do the latter.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Go Nancy: The Speaker Speaks

I didn't want to be hogging your time today, Bush, especially with you being on a trip and all, but I'm good and steamed by all this nonsense around Nancy Pelosi. From the faux storm that's blowing among the overpaid blowhards regarding her support of Rep. John Murtha and his defeat for the House Majority Leader's job, you'd think she had chucked her gavel in the village pond before she starts to pound it.

Here's the dissenting view: she did a great job. She took a stand. She lost. She accepted the loss and moved on with good grace. So there was disagreement. So there was wrangling and argument. So it wasn't tidy. But isn't that what your "democracy" is all about, Bush? Well, actually I'm pretty sure that's not quite your concept. From everything you've said and done for the past (nearly!) six years, and despite your frequent mouthing on the subject, democracy for you seems to be about authority from above, about loyalty, about hewing to the party line.

I don't happen to see it that way. What I've seen happening amongst the Democrats is healthy democracy at work, in my view, and damn the editorialists, damn the alarmist media, damn their know-it-all pundits, damn the Republicans rubbing their hands--and even those Democrats wringing theirs. Have we all been so benumbed by your "rule", Bush, that we have forgotten that this is how it's supposed to happen? Even John Murtha himself is clear about the outcome.

So good on you, Nancy, as those Aussies like to say. Don't go listening to everyone who knows so much better about everything. They full of it. Go ahead and risk being on the wrong side of the argument sometimes. Then pound your gavel and get started on what needs to be done.

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Religion & Politics: The Hudood Law

Listen, Bush, this does sound like good news at last from Pakistan on that infamous hudood law--the one that demanded four male witnesses from women accused of rape, or threatened them with adultery charges if they failed to produce them. Well, semi-good. Your, er... good friend, Pervez Musharraf seems to have been forced by world opinion into a reform that is seen as at least a partial vindication for those who have been pressuring for relief from this medieval, draconian, religiously-inspired law.

This week's amendment to the law approved by the Pakistani lower house of Parliament, as I understand from reports I have read, allows rape cases to be charged in civil rather than Islamic courts and removes the four male witness requirement. It also allows for the consideration of forensic and circumstantial evidence in addition to the absurd reliance on eye-witness testimony. As a concession to the religious opposition to the change, however, it upholds the law against "fornication," by which a woman may still be charged with a legal offense in cases of adultery. This, it seems, is the sop to radical Islamists and the continuing bone of contention among those fighting for women's rights.

Revealing, I thought, was what Musharraf felt obliged to say in his address to the Pakistani people about the passage of this controversial law (the fact that it is even controversial in this day and age is almost incomprehensible to the Western mind): "I assure the entire nation," Musharraf insisted, "that no Pakistani can ever think of enacting law that is repugnant to the Holy Koran and the Sunnah”--the recorded teachings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad.

You see how troublesome it becomes, Bush, when you add religion to the political mix. We would do well, however, not to be too smug about Muslim influence in Pakistani law while we continue to allow the radical arm of the Christian right to influence our own political issues here at home. I think, of course, of the Terry Schiavo case last year, when your Republicans in Congress enacted legislation in the attempt to keep a poor brain-dead woman alive--and you rushed back overnight from Texas to sign it in a flurry of publicity; of the road blocks you personally have set up against the progress of stem cell research; of the continuing battles over the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in our schools.

So let's not be pointing our fingers, Bush, at the Pakistani people; let's not be scoffing too loudly at their backwardness in matters where we ourselves are none too forward-looking. But special thanks are due to writers like Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times, whose efforts to bring world attention to this particular barbarity have surely played a large part in the eventual passage of this halfway measure in Pakistan. It was his story of Mukhtar Mai that first brought my attention to the dreadful hudood law, and I'm sure that of many others. And more importantly, let's not forget to honor that brave woman herself, and all those who chose to risk not only their reputations but also their very lives to fight against this injustice.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Those Auto Industry CEOs...

Posted by PeterAtLarge

Just a note from your PaL, Bush, about that session with the US auto industry giants in the Oval Office. Isn't it more than a little pathetic to see our country's corporate leaders come crying to the President for help? I mean, isn't it a bit late for that? Had they been thinking ahead some twenty years ago, they'd have the cars that we consumers want these days. Look at the exponentially growing number of Toyota Priuses you see on the city streets and in the mall parking lots. It's a phenomenon. Instead, they went hell-bent on producing their gas-guzzling SUVs and spent billions marketing them to the American consumer. Take a look at the monsters spilling over their lanes on the freeways, Bush, and dwarfing the average parking slot. Who needs them? Families of sixteen?

And while we're on the subject, had these guys no idea, twenty years ago, that the dual crisis of climate change and dwindling resource would be upon us? It seems disingenuous of them now to blame spiraling health insurance costs and pensions for their problems, and lay responsibility for their own mismanagement and lack of foresight at the door of the workers.

Still, with your knee-jerk support for corporate welfare, Bush, you welcome these guys in your White House. If only you could evince a similar concern for those who lose their jobs, or earn a bare minimum wage to keep their families alive, or live with the threat of disastrous medical costs. I'm frankly repulsed by that picture of grinning executives in their expensive suits.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Character Counts

Bush, you emerged from your meeting with U.S. Auto Industry CEOs talking about "our dependence on foreign oil," "fair trade vs. free trade," and "the rising costs of health care."

Congratulations, you have put your finger on some of the most pressing issues we face in this country. My question why don't you do something about it? Why don't you use the bully pulpit to lead us toward some solutions?

Here is what you told the media and the American people regarding the health care crisis you identified above: "...I assured these leaders that the Government is addressing rising health care costs through a variety of initiatives that I think over time are going to make a significant difference not only in their cost, but the cost to the U.S. taxpaper, as well."

Well done, Bush. Very specific. In fact, I'm tempted to stand on my street corner holding a sign that says, "Support the President's 'variety of intiatives.'!"

When it comes to oil, there is actually a great deal of substance you could say, and have said in the past. Deep down, Bush, I do not believe that you want to be a nation-builder. (On this point you were fairly eloquent and even showed some genuine-seeming conviction during the 2000 presidential debates.) Which may explain why there was no plan to win the peace in Iraq or Afghanistan. You don't have the stomach for it, do you? You don't want to take over Iraq's oil. In fact, you don't care a lick for Iraq either way. Your prime concern is and always has been preserving the status quo of American economic and military domination of the world. If Iraq is a military threat, let's take it apart. If Iraq is an economic threat because of its oil, why then, let's reduce our dependence on oil. Makes perfect sense.

The odd convergence of environmentalism and America's global economic interests has opened a window of opportunity. So why aren't we doing anything? Why aren't you on the airwaves pleading with us to purchase hybrid or electric vehicles. Why aren't you using your political muscle to force industry into making renewable energies viable NOW?

Answer this question Bush, and you will discover why America has lost faith in you.


Posted by PeterAt Large

(A sad note before starting, Bush. I was telling you yesterday about Noah Purifoy's wonderful art work. Today I hear from an alert reader what I had missed myself: the artist died a couple of years ago in a fire, apprarently started when he fell asleep while smoking. He was found sitting in a wheelchair in his smoke-filled home, according to this report, with burns over 90 percent of his body. What a terrible end for so gifted a man!)

Bipartisanship. Now there's a mouthful. The word is as hard to say as its meaning is to practice, it seems, these days. I'm tickled by your own idea of bipartisanship, Bush. You seem to believe, in all sincerity, that it's enough to announce that you're open to new ideas--and then exclude all those that don't coincide with your preconceptions. On Iraq, for example, you're ready to listen to anyone with fresh ideas, you say, but not to anyone who fails to embrace your concept of "victory." (I've heard at least three pundits in the past couple of days who say they shudder at the sound of the word. I myself said as much in these pages not too long ago. As I hear it, most analysts agree that victory is likely to prove elusive, at best, and yet this idee fixe is standing solidly between you and any possible solution.)

Off the list of admissable new ideas, we hear, for this very reason, are several that have been floated in unison by both your friends and foes: some limited form of partition, designed to keep sectarian factions from each others' throats (Sen. Joe Biden's long-standing theory); approaching Syria and Iran, among other neighbor states, for advice and help (even your good friend Tony Blair put this one out in his transatlantic meeting with the Baker gang yesterday); and a timed withdrawal that would put the Iraqi "government" on notice that they need to take care of themselves as soon as possible.

The problem with the latter, of course, is that old Powell warning: "You break it, you own it." It would seem churlish, to say the least, after causing such deadly chaos there with our friendly invasion, to step back and simply tell the recipients of our benificence to go fix it. Partition does present all kinds of practical difficulties, obviously, and it flies in the face of your notion of a unified and peaceable government setting a noble example to the rest of those benighted people in the Middle East who fail to appreciate the niceties of freedom and democracy. As for direct talks with Syria and Iran--well, that would involve an awful lot of humble pie and nose-holding on your part, having scoffed at them and scolded them so roundly in what passes for your foreign policy.

So I do see the problem there, Bush, really. But "new ideas" are, after all, new ideas. You might need to bend your head around them. Soon. I don't hold out much hope for the Baker gang. As old friends of your papa, I think they're going to cop out, if only to save face for you, the Bush family, and its place in history.

Meantime, your Republicans are rubbing their hands over the apparent discord among top Democrats over leadership. Don't worry, Bush. I do believe they'll get past their differences and learn to work together. They might even learn to work with you, if you prove to be more open on other fronts than on Iraq. I believe also that they'll work for bipartisan solutions, if only for survival reasons, until the next election.

Given all the mouthings on both sides on the subject, I do love Michael Moore's magnanimous expression of bipartisan generosity in the letter on his current website--and also posted yesterday by a reader of these pages in the comment section. Thanks to him for bringing it to my attention. Moore's satirical bite offers more than a good chuckle, it also carries a whole lot of truth. Check out this "Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives", Bush. This one's worth reading.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fun with Video

Thanks to DownWithTyranny for alerting us to the latest Son Volt video. Enjoy!


The Art of Noah Purifoy
Posted by PeterAtLarge

Yesterday we were talking about the process of decay, Bush, if you remember. Today it's reclamation. I want to tell you about a special delight that Ellie and I stumbled upon in Joshua Tree. It's called the "Joshua Tree Environment." Or I think that's what it's called. We heard about it as the "Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Museum of the Desert." Either one would do. Whatever you want to call it, this is a truly magical place where the human imagination soars in a maze of art works so amazing that it's simply indescribable. You have to be there.

We were. Actually, we didn't just stumble on it. It took two tries to find the place, which is so remote that you have to negotiate several dusty, deeply rutted lanes in the far reaches of the town of Joshua Tree to get there. First try, we followed the directions we had been given and ended up nowhere. On a second try, we followed new directions and still had to improvise some of our own modifications to find it. We were glad we persevered on the second attempt.

Noah Purifoy recycles junk into art works on a massive--and, actually, also on and intimate--scale. If you didn't know better, walking into this acreage of impossible structures, you might mistake him for one of those great unschooled artists like Simon Rodia of Watts Towers fame, or Grandma Prisbey and her "Bottle Village." No. Purifoy clearly shares with them a curious love for the no longer needed, cast aside objects that litter our contemporary world, and a peculiar obsession with the processes and intricacies of construction.

But there the similarities end, because Purifoy is firmly and consciously rooted in the traditions of modern and contemporary art. He sees his roots in Dada, in the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp; and, looking the other way through the telescope, he himself has clearly exercised an enormous influence on successors like the Saar family, David Hammons, and countless others. He may be something of a recluse, he may be something of an iconoclast, he may be getting on in years, but Noah Purifoy is no folk artist, laboring in isolation or in ignorance of where his work stands in the history of art.

Okay, Bush. That said, a word about the work itself. Best take a look at the pictures first--and maybe read, in the same location, what the artist himself has to say about the work. It's worth a few minutes of your time. (You'll find the pictures at the bottom of the page I referred you to.) Purifoy has clearly taken the art of assemblage beyond those neat little constructions that, for the most part, preceded him, and enlarged it to environmental scale. Same with the idea of sculpture. These are art works that you walk through, or around, or clamber on--sometimes at your peril. They require your full participation and attention to detail.

Not having had a guide, I'm unfamiliar with titles or dates of individual works, but let's just mention a couple in particular. First, the big, semi-underground homeless shelter, through which you're invited to walk, end to end, through the mass of dangling rags of discarded articles of clothing and unsavory piles of rubbish, past rusting kitchenware and a wrecked bathroom, way past use, experiencing the dire circumstances and the mental fragility of those who are forced to dwell, in reality, in primitive shelters of this kind on the streets of our great, thriving cities. It's a sobering and humbling experience.

Or enter through the formal "portal" of a temple-like structure, dedicated, it would seem, to the gods of elimination. The columns at each side of the entry are stacks of white toilet bowls (Purifoy, like many other post-war artists, makes a great deal out of repeated imagery) and the wall of the interior "chapel" is lined, on one side, with a row of toilet thrones that invite the visitor to sit in contemplation. Amongst other things, it's a funny, outrageous, whimsical, irreverent and visually complex play on the world's architecture of religious institutions, from the Parthenon to the contemporary cathedral.

There are smaller, more traditionaly sculptural objects here, too, which juggle such wildly diverse objects as bicycles, baby carriages, and shopping carts with a myriad of odd cultural symbols: bowling balls, barbeques, beer kegs... often in a gentle rebuke to the values of our American society. As an African-American--oh, yes, Bush, did I mention this?--born in the deep South in 1917, Purifoy brings a personal and social history into play that is at times poignant, at times subversive, at times angry and satirical... and often simply joyous and celebratory, like this wacky railroad.

It's all about art, and it's all about life. It's all about the life of the imagination. It's about possibility, and change. I wish all America could visit this place, and get a taste of the energy, the humor, the curiosity, and the lively, irrepressible intellect of this eighty-nine year old genius. In the meantime, you could get a sense of him by visiting the Noah Purifoy website and learning about the artist, his work, and the foundation that has been set up to preserve it.

If you want to learn something about America, Bush, here's your chance.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Entropy: A Reflection

Or Perhaps an Elegy
Posted by PeterAtLarge

It's an education, Bush. Joshua Tree. The Mojave. A place of such incredible natural power and beauty, a person is simply overwhelmed by the grandeur of the landscape. That wonderful word "awe" comes readily to mind. It's humbling, as a small human being, to walk amongst those massive rocks and boulders, to gaze out at the sunrise or the sunset, to look down from a mountain top to the immense vista of the valley floor, and in this way to register a sense of scale that leaves us with a renewed perspective on our lives.

It's grand, inspiring... and at the same time a powerful reminder of the endless battle for survival, and the vital role of decay and death in that natural process. It's not only the plants--those which have adapted miraculously to an arid, rocky, inhospitable environment, and those which have not: their skeletons are everywhere in evidence, rotting in the desert sun... and providing, incidentally, a home for a myriad of more successfully surviving animals and insects. Not only the plants, but the rocks themselves, in the infinitely slow, but almost visible process of change, their surfaces eroding in the wind. You can feel it there, Bush: the Earth at work.

And then there are the works of man. A gold mine, high in a remote part of the mountains, its walls collapsed, its massive gears and crushing machinery rusted into silence, a testimony under the infinite blue sky to the short life of man's grandest and most ambitious plans... An old flatbed truck, the wooden boards of its cargo bed rotted, its upright steel frame locked in the inevitable process of decay, its engine block a solid chunk of useless metal... An abandoned mill, a heap of rubble out of which soars the spindly wreck of wind tower... Not long, we guess, before it, too, topples.

These are the lucky ones. They have become "picturesque," photogenic. Almost romantic. We tourists stop along the path and snap a nice shot with our digital cameras. Less happy are the other evidences of the hand of man. Vandalism. Ancient petroglyphs, "improved" with modern paint or marred with arrogant graffiti. Worse, Bush--you see it from the mountainside, looking down--the air pollution caused by our addiction to the consumption of fossil fuels. No question. Our stuff down there, ruining the atmosphere, fouling our own nest.

Does it count as entropy when the destruction of our environment is man-induced? I don't know. You can't help but think about this kind of thing though, Bush, when you stumble on a corner in the shelter of the rocks where there is evidence of grinding by the ancients who lived here, where a stick figure is painted close by on the wall of the rock, and where you can imagine those early humans practicing their survival arts with so little impact on the Earth on which they depended for surivival. You can sense their reverence for the natural world; just as, sadly, you see everywhere the evidence of our disrespect, and thoughtlessness, and greed.

Something to think about, on a Monday morning, Bush. I'm back. Somewhat chastened by my close encounter with that primitive world. We saw, with that great thrill you get from encounters with the wild, two coyotes, a rabbit, a couple of quail. But where were the rest of them, I wondered? This is their home that we invade--yes, me too!--with our cars and trucks, our recreation vehicles, our high tech climbing gear, our cell phones... This was their home, and we are the invaders with our destructive habits. No wonder they make themselves scarce when they see us coming.

Still, Bush, despite those thoughts, a great weekend. A great way to celebrate an anniversary. Have a good week.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Botero's Looking at You, Bush

An interesting perspective on the incoming class of Senators and Congressmen in today’s New York Times, Bush. Unlike the “Contract with America” bunch that took Washington by storm in 1994, these “New Direction” Democrats seem interested in crafting policies that are palatable on both sides of the aisle.

Yes, this is only rhetoric at the moment, and you may be right to be suspicious, Bush. After all, Democrats are Democrats for a reason, and these Freshmen may have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. Each emerged from a bitter campaign and probably are wont to shore up the Democratic majority (by any means necessary?) in order to ensure their own job security. Certainly, each sees him/herself as the next Robert Byrd or Ted Kennedy, standing righteously at their antique Congressional desk, hurling gracefully-worded epithets at rogue conservatives for decades to come.

But fear not, Bush, because the Tom Delay-style partisanship intended to result in a “permanent majority” was just roundly rejected by voters. Democrats are in a good position to learn this lesson and reach across the aisle toward solutions to the many, many pressing issues that have collectively forged America’s current image in the world, nicely encapsulated by Colombian painter, Fernando Botero.

Two or four years from now, what will Botero see when he peers into our borders? What will Hugo Chavez see? The British public? Muslim-Americans? The every day citizens of Iraq or Afghanistan? I know you well enough by now, Bush, to know that your grasp on power and your convictions about public policy have become inseparable – a very strange brew that has warped your ability to function as a statesman in times of crisis. Now it’s up to the Democratic rank-and-file to decide whether or not to force your hand toward compromise, for the good of the world.

Friday, November 10, 2006

America's Hangover

America has been drunk for five years, and election day was our call for help. We’ve been drunk on your affected Southern charm, Bush. We’ve been drunk on blood: the blood of some who had a hand in plotting or condoning the September 11th attacks, as well as the blood of many who did not. We’ve been drunk on ourselves, and a belief in our own superpowers. (“Smarter than the United Nations…More powerful than suicide…Able to erect democracies in a single bound!”)

It’s been one hell of a bender, and we now find ourselves bleary-eyed, unshaven, and full of remorse. Sometime during our alcohol-induced stupor, our woman left us, and our best friends stopped speaking to us. Which doesn’t surprise us because, truth be told, we can’t even remember half the crazy shit we must have pulled. Our house is in absolute disarray. Looks like a Hurricane hit at some point.

The ironic thing is, Bush, that you, our leader, were sober during all of this madness. After 9/11, every last one of us lined up dutifully on the White House lawn, awaiting your orders. You had a 90 percent approval rating. We were willing to sacrifice. No, we wanted to sacrifice. Our collective confusion and helplessness was going to change the world. And so it did, but first you drugged us with half-baked evidence of WMDs and a phony link between Saddam and Osama. Then you sent us into war, foaming at the mouth, so drunk with rage that we forgot right from wrong. We forgot about decency and we forgot that the antidote to hatred and violence can never be, simply, more hatred and violence.

Now we are in need of healing, a process that we finally started on Tuesday by acknowledging that we are on the wrong path. But more soul-searching and more brutal honesty needs to be done. We recognized the consequences of rash action based on incomplete intelligence. And we understand that pride and self-worship has led to incompetence in warfare.

But all of this just puts us back at square one – exactly where we were on September 11th, 2001. The same question that confronted us then confronts us now: How do we respond to terrorism?

It seems pretty evident to me that our Congressional leaders, Republican or Democrat, do not have a workable plan. We’ve already seen the Republican plan: 1) hunt down and kill terrorists; 2) incite more Anti-American sentiment, thereby creating more terrorists; 3)repeat; 4)if cycle continues, invade random countries we hate.

The Democrats obviously do not have a better plan, otherwise they would not have voted (tails between their legs) to give you carte blanch power to go to war with Iraq. My frustration with Democratic elected officials on this issue knows no bounds. After all, we know the answer. The fundamentals of progressivism, if we would only listen to them, tell us the answer. Those fundamentals tell us that when people act out (be they children, criminals, or countries) they do so for a reason. Punishment, while sometimes necessary, cannot stand alone as a response to bad behavior. At some point you have to identify the underlying causes, and, when it comes to terrorism, this is the question we have been avoiding from the start.

Now that Democrats have no small measure of power, answering the question is up to us. Can we do it? What do you think, Bush?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Senate, Too

That's what I hear, Bush. The media vote-counters have announced that Jim Webb has taken Virginia. I'm still waiting for George Allen's concession, and hoping that we can all avoid the agony of another cliff-hanger recount. We'll see. Meanwhille, though, we can provisionally enjoy the prospect of Democratic control of both houses. Checks, Bush, and balances. That's the ticket.

Rumsfeld? I hear of grumblings from Republicans who have lost their seats--and other Republicans who have lost their power--to the effect that they are pissed you didn't take this action earlier. Even a week ago, when you were still swearing eternal loyalty, it could have made a difference, they believe, to the election results.

Pelosi? Coming to lunch at the White House today, they say. Hmmm. Bon appetit, Bush.

But this entry is intended just to let you know that I'm taking a few days off. Ellie and I have an anniversary coming up (34 and counting!) on the 11th--yes, Bush, Armistice Day, 11/11: we made it out of City Hall in time to toast the event at 11 minutes past the 11th hour--and we're driving out to Joshua Tree to spend a couple of days in the California desert. Don't get your hopes up, though. I'm leaving The Bush Diaires in the capable hands of my new associate, Cardozo, who will be posting as usual. As for me, I plan to leave my computer at home. The only downside to this luxury is the anticipated flood of email waiting for me Monday.

Until then, Bush, keep working on that "New Bush" I've been hearing about.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Your Rumsfeld: Full Speed... Astern?

Sorry, Bush, back again--for the third time today. Just heard the news about your Rumsfeld falling on his sword. What a drama, eh? We had all been waiting for it, and the collective sigh of relief is almost audible through the wireless media. What I'm deducing now is this: that we'll soon be seeing an approach to the problem you created in Iraq that is far more pragmatic and far less ideological. Your "Full Speed Ahead" Dick Cheney and your Rummy will, I trust, recede into the background, while you begin to listen to more rational thinkers like James Baker, Lee Hamilton and, now, Robert Gates. Even the neocons, I hear, are stepping back from neocon-ism. Past time, but these are welcome harbingers of change.

As for your news conference, well, I'm afraid I joined it only towards the end. But I did sense--and heard in the wrap-ups of the commentators--that this was a somewhat chastened Bush who appeared before the press. "I never saw him as humbled as today," said one. "This was not the feisty, combative President" we're used to seeing, agreed another. One even went so far as to suggest that you might have heard the message from the voters.

I hope so, Bush. If it's true, I know we'll be much better friends than we have been sometimes in the past. Welcome, I hope, to the real world, where the climate is already seeming to improve.

Congratulations: A New Congress, and...

... a Happy Anniversary!

Yes, Bush, my eyes fell on the date at the top of today's newspaper and I realized: it's our anniversary! Congratulations! We made our first entry in these pages exactly two years ago today, on November 8, 2004, just shortly after that year's disastrous (in my view!) election. It was on that day that I happened to stumble all unwittingly into the blogosphere and hit instinctively upon the name that has brought us... well, if not fame and glory, at least a few faithful readers: The Bush Diaries. Two years old today. Still an infant, really, but with a relatively short life expectancy: only two years to go.

They promise to be tough ones with, now, a Democratic Congress and, just possibly, a Democratic Senate. But they should be interesting, too. I'm looking forward to them.

Speaking of congratulations, I neglected earlier this morning to send mine to all those Democrats who put their hearts and souls into this election. Not only those who won in sometimes bruising races, but also those (like Steve Young in my congressional voting district) who contended valiantly and lost. To the Democratic leadership: to Howard Dean and his vision of a fifty state attack; to Senator Chuck Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, for their efforts on behalf of senatorial and congressional candidates respectively; to Nancy Pelosi, a real winner, and Harry Reid; and to all those who volunteered their time and effort, who worked so hard to counter the Republican machine, congratulations!

And congratulations, too, to my myriad fellow-bloggers. Congratulations especially to online organizations like MoveOn. I do believe their contribution was enormously significant, and will continue to be in the coming years.

I'm just happy that all those efforts were rewarded with the results we see today.

Election Victory

I'm not one to crow, but I woke up this morning and checked out yesterday's election results and, well...


(Actually, the whole nursery rhyme, if you remember it, Bush, goes like this:
My dame has lost her shoe,
My master's lost his fiddle-stick
And knows not what to do.

What is my dame to do?
Till master finds his fiddle-stick,
She'll dance without her shoe.

Read that as you want to, Bush. I thought it might cheer you up. I myself got a chuckle when I remembered the bit about the master and his fiddle-stick. I wonder if he'll ever find that stick again. As for the dame... Well, I trust you to figure that one out.)

But seriously... You lost the House. The Senate, as of this moment, is a toss-up--though I was especially glad to see that both Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill won, since I made telephone calls for both of them through I'm sure there will be challenges and recounts, but I'm confident both of them will prevail and take their seats in the US Senate.

Otherwise, it's Nancy Pelosi with the gavel. (Maybe she'll be dancing now, without her shoe!) The bogey-woman your people have been trying to scare the voters with for the past few weeks... and months. "The worst nightmare of the Republicans," I heard on television this morning. But what a kick, Bush, to have a woman in the most powerful position ever occupied by a woman in the history of the country! And third in line for the Presidency. Which means, should anything untoward happen--God forbid!--to your good self, and should your Cheney's heart finally pop, we'd have our first woman President. I'd frankly like to see that happen. We men have done enough damage over the centuries. It would be good to see what a woman might bring to an office with that kind of power.

Still, for the moment, let's be happy with what we've got. I'm personally confident that Pelosi will not turn out to be the monster she has been made out to be. Her power does not extend to implement a personal agenda, not even the liberal one that she--and, yes, I too, Bush--would probably prefer. She'll have a good support base for whatever she does, with votes and to spare in the House. I'm happy to see that our two Sanchezes, here in California, were handily reelcted and will be back at her side. (Remember, Bush, my having mentioned a couple of months ago having met Loretta Sanchez and having been much impressed by her? Her complaint at the time was that your Republicans controlled everything in Congress, including the agenda. That will change now. We'll see what she brings to the table.) I was happy, too, to note that voters have put paid to the career of that one-man environmental disaster, Richard Pombo.

The agreement among the pundits seems to be that this election was about sending you a message. The voters no longer trust you or your Republicans to manage the affairs of this country with any degree of competence. They no longer believe your rosy predictions about the war. They no longer believe your assertions of moral superiority: they have seen clear evidence of the corruption and hypocrisy of your closest friends and advisors. They are no longer entertained by the spectacle of the toxic partisanship you have fostered in Washington, and the diviseness your rhetoric has promoted throughout the country.

The message, Bush? You must change. Sorry. I know it goes against your nature, but you must change. You must change the strategy of your war. You must make key changes in the upper echelon of your administration (hint: think the Department of Defense.) You must change the direction of your policies at home and you must listen to the opinion of those who oppose them. And most importantly, you must change that part of you that refuses to change. That's the message as I see it. I hope we might be able to agree on this and, soon, on other matters. Looking forward to it, Bush. Hope you are, too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Purple Finger

Checking around the blogs today, I'm hearing about so many problems with the voting machines that I won't be surprised by huge delays after today's action. Maybe we should take a leaf out of Iraq's book, Bush, and get back to the old purple finger technique. We could all come out of the booth and wiggle one for democracy. I suppose the effect though, does depend on which finger you use.

Oh, and... if you have a couple of minutes, Bush, here's a nice montage of effects for Election Day.

Election Day

First, a footnote to yesterday's entry on Saddam's conviction and his sentence. No small number of people have drawn attention to the amazing coincidence of Sunday's announcement, just two days before our election, Bush. More to the point, I think, is the convenient supression of reaction in Iraq prior to the election over here. The curfews there have effectively postponed any possible adverse response to the verdict, especially, of course, from the Sunni population. I can only conclude that this was done with forethought: this way, you get to do your little victory dance in front of the electorate (not unlike the one you've been accusing the Democrats of doing!) without the risk of bad pre-election news about the anger and dissent.

Anyway, today is Election Day. Finally. After the most expensive--and I think the most divisive--race in history. We'll have to wait until likely late this evening before we begin to see what shakes out. Meantime, this anecdote. I was talking to a friend at the gym yesterday, election eve. Well, more an acquaintance than a friend perhaps, but I’ve known him casually for about ten years. He was on an exercise bicycle, I was on the elliptical walker, which I happen to prefer. We were talking about the election.

Turns out that my friend--my acquaintance--Michael had not too high an opinion of you and your administration, Bush. Which did not especially surprise me. I think that many of my friends--most of them really--share that unfavorable opinion. It did surprise me, though, when we began to talk about voting:

Me: So I imagine you’ll be voting for Steve Young tomorrow? (He’s the Democrat, Bush, running for Congress in this heavily Republican Orange County district. A good man. I voted for him already, last week, by mail.)

Michael (cheerfully): Oh, I don’t vote.

Me (shocked): You don’t vote?

Michael: Not since the fiasco in Florida in 2000. Gore won. Bush lost and got elected. So what’s the point? (I’m paraphrasing a bit here, Bush, but you get the picture.)

Me (sputtering): Well, I can’t disagree with you about Florida. But even so…

Michael: You were just talking about distrusting the election process. (We had been, Bush.) In Ohio, right? Those machines?

Me: But even so, it's a responsbility to vote.

Michael: Even if I can’t be sure it will be counted?

Me: If you don’t vote, you can be sure it won’t be.

Michael: You’re contradicting yourself. You say you don’t trust the election process and then you tell me that I have to vote. You're asking me to trust what you say you don't trust yourself. As I see it, it’s a waste of time.

Me: So you won’t be voting then?

Michael: I’m not even registered any more. I haven’t been registered to vote since 2000.

Well, Bush, I have to tell you I was shocked. Here’s a bright man, young-ish. Married, with a little one. Had a car detailing business, then went into real estate. Of Irish descent, and from back East, where he has two brothers heavily involved in Democratic politics. And he's not registered, and not even bothering to vote.

How many more are there like this? I was doing calls for the other day--did I mention this already, Bush?--and reached a man in the state of Missouri who was a registered Democrat and did indeed plan to vote. But not, he added, if he had to wait in line for three hours, as he’d had to do in 2004. Not enough polling places, not enough machines in his (heavily African American) district. How many more are there like this?

Ah, well, I guess we’ll see before the end of the day today. Or maybe not. I understand that there are armies of legal eagles out there, watching, from both sides of the aisle--the Democrats watching for unfair practices in the requirement of IDs and situations like the one described above; and the Republicans watching for “voter fraud.” So maybe by the end of the day we’ll be in a bigger mess than we are already, Bush. I can easily envision it.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, though. Let’s hope that we get a clear-cut verdict from the American people this time. Let’s hope they see through the bullshit of same sex marriage and the myth of evil Democratic tax hikes on the middle class and the looming "victory" in Iraq to the real issues that we’re facing. Let’s hope they give your Republicans a good trouncing.

Well, I hope so, anyway, Bush. You probably don’t.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Saddam Hussein: Hang Him High?

These are certainly times that test one's ethical principles, Bush. Saddam's death sentence puts me personally on the spot, with my principled opposition to the death penalty. If anyone deserves it, it's surely Saddam--along with those Nazi monsters we disposed of after World War II. I don't think there's anyone who seriously disputes the fact that thousands of his own citizens were brutally slaughtered on his orders. As Senator Joe Biden said on television yesterday, there has to be a special place in hell set aside for him.

Still, I have a couple of concerns about the Saddam verdict and his sentence. The most important, in my view, is that it effectively preempts all other trials, and every other accounting. To be sentenced for the death of a few dozen people when the man has tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of others to account for, seems to short-change those other many victims--as well as their survivors. I regret the hasty dismissal it implies, and the fact that it deprives the Iraqi people--especially, perhaps, the Kurds--of the opportunity to fully account and heal. I wonder, too, if there weren't a good few Sunnis who suffered at his hands, and whether that disgruntled group of Iraqi citizens might not be more fully persuaded of the quality of justice if he were to be brought pubicly to account for these offenses, also.

As for the death sentence itself, well, I hope we all might be allowed some exceptions from our principles. What else could be done with him? A life spent breaking rocks--or digging graves, perhaps, in the hard desert sand, and reburying the remains of those for whose deaths he was responsible, one by one? I don't know, Bush. I don't know. My nobler, more spiritual self says putting him to death does the rest of us more harm than him. And yet my gut says, hang the man.