Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tornado Warning: A Narrow Escape

I read how you and Laura were evacuated today from your Crawford ranch--along with Barney and Miss Beazley--and driven by armored car to a tornado shelter during a spell of bad weather down there in Texas. Which conjured images of your good self being whirled up by the tempest, to be deposited without ceremony in a strange land called Oz, where you go prancing down the yellow brick road, accompanied by your hand-picked menagerie of advisors and your good witch Condi to that exotic Emerald City to see the great Oz and consult with him about the way back home from that dreadful country in the Middle East. Trouble is, when you arrive there, you realize suddenly that you're not in Texas any more: the whole place is in ruins and Oz turns out to be none other than the Father to whom you listen more than to your own, a foolish old dodderer behind the curtain who washes his hands of the whole mess you made of everything he gave you to take charge of.

Sorry, Bush. No ruby slippers. Wouldn't it be nice to click your heels and find yourself back home in Crawford with peace breaking out all over? Not to be. Just the hard work of being the decider. I saw somewhere that you've just been polled the world's biggest villain of 2006--and that's over both Osama and Saddam--by an overwhelming number of percentage points. Not sure who was voting. Americans? Or the rest of the world? Congratulations, anyway. I guess you'd best get back to that big speech about the new way forward, and come up with some magic of your own. Watch out for those nasty flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch. Meantime, I wish a good New Year's Eve to you and yours, and a better 2007.

Saddam Is Executed

I think you know by now that I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein, Bush. You and I don't often agree on anything, but I do share your view that this man was evil. The atrocities he committed in his long reign of terror are unforgivable by any rational human being.

I do take issue, though, with the process that culminated in his death by hanging this morning. First--and most importantly, for me--his sentence effectively deprived Iraqis and the world of an accounting for his many other terrible deeds. Most notable, of course, is the genocidal chemical attack on his own Kurdish citizens; his trial for this crime was already under way, and to cut it short is another criminal act. As the atonement hearings in South Africa showed, a public airing of these grievous acts is a prerequisite to national healing. Iraq, I believe, is sorely in need of healing of this kind.

My second issue has to do with the secretiveness and the barbarity of the thing. You know from previous entries that I am opposed, conscientiously, to the death penalty, which says more about the society that practices it than about those miscreants (not to mention the innocent) subjected to it. But the irony of this particular execution in Iraq goes far beyond my personal objections. The haste with which Saddam was dispatched and the dead-of-night secrecy that preceded his execution are bitterly reminicent of the man's own despicable methods. Add to that such recent events as the discovery, by the British, of that hellhole of a jail in Basra, along with the daily bombings, abductions and beheadings, and you have to wonder just how far this society has come as a result of Saddam's fall from power.

Were this some evidence of a civilized and orderly progression toward the rule of law, Bush, I would be less harsh in my judgment of the process that led to Saddam's death. It just seems that the words of that old French adage have been proved true yet again: translated, it says "The more things change, the more they stay the same." This whole sad, brutal spectacle makes me wonder, all the more, what it is you can possibly imagine you have achieved by your incursion into the politics and culture of the Middle East. The barbarism continues. Apace. And, heaven help us all, Bush, we are a part of it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


We saw the new Robert DeNiro-directed movie the other night, Bush--"The Good Shepherd." I enjoyed it a great deal. Ellie, not so much. True, it was long, but my attention was engaged throughout. Ellie nodded off. She found the plot convoluted, hard to follow. I thought it not so important to follow every twist and turn. There was a good deal that I couldn't sit here and explain to you: perhaps it was all consistent, perhaps not. In a sense, I felt it was important NOT to be able to understand it all. That was the point. Like that other recent spy story, "Syriana," the characters themselves were lost in their self-created world of lies, deceptions, secrets... The factual "truth" was swallowed up in the stew.

But that didn't prevent the deeper truth from coming through: that secrets, when pursued obsessively, are toxic to the human soul. And in this movie they were layered thick, from the intimate and personal secrets that lead to the slow destruction of relationships with other human beings to those big, national and international secrets that lead to war. In this sense, Bush, I saw the movie as being tragically relevant to our current situation: without the lies with which you led our military rashly into the morass of the Middle East, without the black holes of Guantanamo and those other secret prisons, without the secretiveness of your administration and its insidious attack on the rights of our citizens, would we be in the mess we are today? I tend to think not.

We have been lulled to sleep by the comfort of our lives. We have been content to know too little. Until recently, the media have been content to accept without probing questions the dribs and drabs of truth that emanated from your office and your agencies. There is still too much we do not know. About the war, its origins and conduct. About the abrogation of our rights. About the ways and means you have used to conduct the country's business--not least in the appointments you have made. My hope is that, with Democrats back in power, the Senate and the House will use the subpoena power of their committees to demand some truths that have been withheld from us. The process may not be a pleassant one. Truths are frequently painful in the process of their revelation. But maybe with more openness in government, the atmosphere in this country will begin to finally detoxify.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Israel: Life on the Kibbutz

Shalom from Israel, Bush! I arrived early on Christmas morning, a bleary-eyed but eagerly present for Karmit, who flew in a week earlier for some quality time with her parents in Rosh Pinah, in the far North and East of the country.

We are guests of the Ophir family at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'Emeq, which I heard described as "conservatively communist." In other words, this Kibbutz has mostly held fast to the collectivist way of living of the original Kibbutz movement.

As visitors, we are entitled to free room and board. In no other sense, however, are we a part of this community. We do none of the work, and aside from the Ophir's, the Kibbutzniks do not greet us in the pathways or speak to us in the dining hall. In this, one of the few havens of communal living (all for one, one for all!) accessible to outsiders, I feel pretty isolated. Other contradictions abound. While most Kibbutzniks have no real need to ever leave home, their exports (agricultural netting, used by companies as large as John Deere) are cast widely, bringing in impressive profits that keep the Kibbutz afloat. Full participation in global economics preserves the internal socialist order.

I've been having a great time here, Bush. As promised, the food in Israel is tremendous. I paid for dinner for five of us in the lovely winery town of Zichron Jacob. Sweet potatos with tahini, woody Cabernet, penne with beet sauce and homemade bread with butter that actually tastes like butter. Eyal's Hebrew-speaking sister, Efrat, ate with us, and to make her feel a bit more at ease with me I tried to speak as much Hebrew as possible, which meant spastically repeating the very few phrases I know, such as "Ani raq mavin Ivrit" (I only understand Hebrew.) Either Efrat finds me hilarious or genuinely retarded.

Because Karmit's mother is seriously ill, much of Kar's time will be spent in nearby Ram Bam hospital, which has a lovely view of the Mediterranean and the ancient streets of Haifa. I am learning to drive the route between the Kibbutz and the hospital so that I can give Eyal some relief from shuttling Karmit and her sister Adi back and forth several times a day.

So long for now, Bush. I hear that in my absence you are continuing with furrowed brow to puzzle out your next move in Iraq. As you ruminate, please consider the following advice, attributed to Buddha: Hatred can only be stilled by non-hatred.

Goodbye to a President

Not a big surprise, Bush, the news that President Gerald R. Ford died yesterday. He had obviously been in declining health for months, and had reached an age when death comes as not great shock. But sad nonetheless. With most other Americans, I suspect, I had a sneaking fondness for the man, and gratitude for his ability to pull us all out of the slough of Watergate and the war in Vietnam. A remarkable achievement, when you think of it. You had the sense, back then, that this was a man of integrity and honor--a simple man, too, and a man of unfeigned candor--at a time when those qualities had been sorely missing in the White House. I wonder what he could have thought in recent years about the ruthlessness and duplicity evidenced by his party and his President. The TV stations keep replaying that clip where he describes himself as "a Ford, not a Lincoln." But amongst the Fords, surely not one of those lemony Edsels. And compared with his current successor in the Oval Office--I make the analogy with a certain sadness, Bush--Gernald Ford was possessed of the class and the stability of a Bentley.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Gifts

Lucky I declared that truce in my war on Christmas, Bush. Otherwise I might have missed out on a wonderful day with family and friends, not to mention some delightful gifts. For me, notably, from my son in England, via the Internet I presume, a special present: an original America's Real Action Heroes "Talking Presidents Presents" George W. Bush Top Gun doll! What a kick! It's a "12 inch tall action hero with accessories", replete, of course, with pictures, on the back cover, of that famous landing--and that infamous banner above your head as you made you "Mission Accomplished" speech.

I reread that speech, Bush. It's printed in full on the inside cover of the Bush doll box, above a picture of your good self standing tall at the podium in front of rows of raptly attentive sailors. It's the one where you declared that "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." "We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons," you added, "and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated."

Ah, well, Bush. This, and many other ironies in that speech, when read in hindsight, along with all the hot air and the promises of freedom and democracy that you continue to mouth in lieu of a sane, realistic appraisal of the situation your actions have created there, and a strategy with which to address it.

One other thing you might be interested to hear about. On the bottom of the box, just below the bar core and the Item No. 05103 you'll find the MADE IN CHINA stamp, in bold print. Odd, you'll agree, for "Real American" heroes. And on the front of the box, below a picture of this handsome toy-man in his flight suit, next to a warning exclamation mark enclosed in a triangle, these words: "Choking Hazard". And surely the crowning insult: "Small Parts."

Oh, no!

Hope you had a good Christmas, Bush. Hope Santa was kind to you. Hope you managed to do better than me in the food and drink department. My daughter gave me a refrigerator magnet image of the Wicked Witch of the West. I've put her by the handle of the ice-box door and renamed her The Diet Lady. Maybe that will scare me off, the next time I head in that direction. Anyway, we're all looking forward to that "new way forward" in the New Year, Bush. It's hard work, I'm sure, preparing for that speech-to-come. Just, please, a little more realism than the one that's printed on the George W. Bush Top Gun doll box.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas, Bush. Or, as we Brits like to say, Happy Christmas. Don't know where you Yanks got the Merry from. Dickens, maybe. Anyway, have a peaceful one. Laura, too. And those girls. And the same for all those good folks over in Iraq. Iraqis and Americans. And, of course, the coalition of the willing. May they have a truly peaceful day. Blessings, PeterAtLarge

Saturday, December 23, 2006

US Marines Charged with Murder

I haven't yet discovered how to get our usually faithful Blogger to break lines as I want them to be broken, Bush, when I write a poem for you. What follows is supposed to appear in short, ragged lines, not the ones you see, all justified to the left like a bunch of compliant soliders on parade. Ah, well, as they say, we can't have everything. Try to imagine what it's meant to look like as you read. It's called:


… United States
marines, indicted, charged
with the murder
of twenty-four
Iraqi civilians, in
the city
of Haditha:
unforgivable, should
their actions match
those for which they
stand indicted. Such
actions, even
in times of war, merit
harsh punishment.
And yet…
I see the face
of this one
supposed offender, so
fresh, so young,
“American” in its
of the duplicity
of the world out
there; I see
young eyes, brilliant,
of malice, eager, even,
to do right
by his buddies, by
his country,
I think, war
is it; it is
that turns this
man, this boy
into a monster.
there goes my
heart again, grieving
for our
barbaric species, that
slaughters its
young, grieving
for our state
of unenlightenment, for
the victims and
the victimizers; grieving
for the complicity
of our nation, for
my own
in this peculiar, unforgivable
insanity we call
End sum: it’s
all of us, it’s
an abomination that
we fail, time
and again, to see
how simply
it all

Friday, December 22, 2006

Iraqi Army Taking Charge

Well, that was some ceremony in Najaf, Bush--the one I read about in the New York Times yesterday. "As soldiers paraded past a reviewing grandstand," read the Times report, "commandos with their faces blackened gathered for a demonstration of their courage. Each man reached into his pocket, pulled out a frog, and bit its head off. They threw the squirming legs to the ground as the group's leader held aloft a live rabbit. He slit the belly and plunged his mouth into the gash. The carcass was then passed around to the rest of the soldiers, who took their own bites." Witnesses were told, the report continues, by way of hasty explanation, "that the practice was especially popular among Saddam Hussein's feared Fedayeen militias, whose members had done the same things with live snakes and wolves."

That's progress, Bush, no? That Iraqi military really beginning to step up to the plate. Frogs and rabbits, eh? Who knows but that they might soon be polishing off those insurgents--though not, we hope in the same way. And the report did give me something of an inspiration, Bush, to help you on your "new way forward." How would it be, when you give that speech you're planning in January, if you pulled a frog out of you pocket and... well, you know. In front of the live television audience. I mean, that would be a more than adequate demonstration of your macho, no? Worth a try.

That's all for today, Bush. Cardozo cannily suggested posting a picture of the above, and I was tickled by the idea. Not surprisingly, I was unable to find one, even on the Internet. Who knows, perhaps I just didn't look far enough. But curiously, as I googled, I did come across this report from your Department of Defense, describing a parade to celebrate the Iraqi army taking charge at Najaf--in September, 2005! History does have a way of repeating itself, it seems. But perhaps they forgot the frogs and rabbits back then. This time, for sure, it will work like a charm.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Iraq & Terrorism: The Fundamental Error

As you well know by now, I lay no claim to expertise in matters military or in international affairs, Bush. I bring nothing to this debate but what I learn from various news sources and a little studied common sense. And common sense tells me this: your fundamental error in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, was to elevate terrorism itself from the admittedly brutal tactic of a relative handful of fanatics to the status of a “global war.”

Whether this was a panic response or cynical opportunism on the part of your neocons I’ll leave others to decide. It could be either. Or, as I suspect, a bit of both. But this response, the rhetoric that accompanied it, and the ensuing policies have, in my common sense perception, brought us to the brink of failure where we now stand, disempowered, not quite—but nearly—friendless, deeply divided amongst ourselves, and terribly confused as to where to go from here.

At your press conference yesterday morning, I listened in disbelief as you mouthed the same vain, rosy platitudes about “victory” and “success,” about the “international war on terrorism” as the “defining issue” of the twenty-first century. I heard you talking about Iran, and the need for that nation to listen to you and acquiescence to American stipulations before talks could begin, without mentioning the possibility of listening to them. And frankly, Bush, it all sounded like utter nonsense to this one American who prides himself on possessing an ounce of common sense.

It is you, Bush, who have made what you are pleased to call the war on terrorism the defining issue of the twenty-first century. A wiser man, I believe, would have chosen a different response, one that did not empower and elevate these “extremists,” as you are wont to call them, to a nation of warriors worthy of a war with the most powerful military force in the history of the world—a war which they, these disparate gangs connected by little more organized than a common loathing of America, are actually winning! A wiser man, I believe, would have recognized the nature of these “enemies” and treated them accordingly, with rhetoric and tactics appropriate to their capabilities and their goals.

But now we have, thanks to your good self, a global war; and despite your protests to the contrary, we are not winning it. Now, too late, with a full-fledged and self-engendered war on your hands, you finally recognize the problem; and to solve it, you want to increase the number of the troops at your disposal. You have created this international war on terrorism, and hva committed us, willy-nilly, to fighting it. What a tragedy, to see so many lives sacrificed to what amounts, perhaps, to no more than a dreadful error in judgment, a rhetorical excess, and an obstinate refusal to recognize or admit mistakes.

More troops? To prove that America can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? To justify the mistakes that have been made and demonstrate to the terrorists that we are stronger than they? As I see it, Bush, not even the addition of thirty thousand American troops in Baghdad—nor fifty, nor a hundred thousand—will do anything to prevent the next terrorist suicide team from wreaking havoc here in the United States. On the contrary, it might only serve to encourage them. Will it provide you with your “victory” over those “insurgents”? I tell you, Bush, I have my serious doubts.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Endless Love

Yesterday on NPR's "Fresh Air," Terry Gross interviewed a man close to your own heart, the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, Richard Cizik.

This man's compassionate and sophisticated approach to policy discourse, to partisan politics, and to his own organization's mistakes truly made me stop and think, Bush.

I disagreed with most of Mr. Cizik' s positions on social issues, but his frankness and humility made me eager to listen, and to search for areas of common ground (like his belief that the NAE should prioritize poverty and environmental work).

When the interview concluded, I began to fantasize. How would things be different now if the "compassionate conservatism" you espoused during the campaign turned out to be more than just empty rhetoric? What if you had not abandoned our domestic poor to focus all of your energy on a strange, polarizing, crusadist foreign policy?

The hilarious images of "Bush and Blair Endless Love" helped feed the fantasy. I wonder, Bush, do you remember what it's like to be in love?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's Christmas...!

I've decided to call a truce in my war on Christmas, Bush. Or, as you call it, cut and run. The reason is simple enough: I need a vacation. So don't count on me for too much in the next couple of weeks. I'll post if I have something urgent to say, or if something strikes my fancy. And I trust that Cardozo will make himself heard from time to time, especially next week when he takes off for a stay in Israel. Should he be able to get online with relative ease from where he's staying, I'm looking forward to some first-hand observations from that part of the troubled Middle East.

So let's encourage our readers to keep checking in from time to time, Bush, but caution them not to be disappointed if we miss a few days here and there. But we'll certainly be back in full voice after the first of the year, and awaiting with great anticipation your promised "new way forward in Iraq." I trust that the spirit of "peace and goodwill to men"--and, of course, in these enlightened days, to women and children, too--will inspire you to come up with better plans this time.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gen. Colin Powell...

...and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

Good people all, Bush, who have been prominent in the news in the past couple of days (in the case of Powell) and weeks (in the case of Clinton and Obama). I watched Powell's interview with Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation" yesterday morning, and I was impressed with his mostly forthright answers to tough questions about the current situation in Iraq. Too much of a good soldier still, perhaps, to come up with direct criticism of yourself and your Rumsfeld, what he said was nonetheless an honest and unblinking appraisal of the failures of your policies and the bleak options that face us in that country now.

As always with Powell, I wondered how this thoughtful man could possibly have allowed himself to be so badly misled by those clamoring for war, or how he could have swallowed the misgivings based on his own wisdom and experience, and be swept up into the war fever your people were generating at the time. It was he, after all, whose reputation for unimpugnable integrity persuaded the majority of the American people and their elected legislators that Saddam was a real and present danger to the stability of the world. I myself, as I have said before in these pages, Bush, was persuaded by his rhetoric at the United Nations.

So, it seems, was Hillary Clinton, who voted with the majority of our lawmakers to capitulate to your plan to invade Iraq. She was asked about that vote on the "Today Show" this morning, and declined to call it a "mistake." She did allow that it had been "wrong" to believe the lies we had been told, and that in hindsight she would not have cast that vote. I like her candidacy, Bush. I like the prospect of having a woman in the Oval Office for the first time, and she came across well: a realist, well-informed and articulate, with both an intimate, family-based and a broad view of the world, both hard- and level-headed, thoughtfully critical of your administration and its policies, politically astute, and capable. I have no doubt that she would make an admirable President. My hesitations have to do with her propensity to equivocate and straddle the political fence. But is that, I have to ask myself, a part of what it means to be realistic.

And, ah, Obama. So much adulation. Hard not to fall under his spell when you hear him speak with such elegance and passion. What he projects, above all, and powerfully, is what your father memorably dismissed as "the vision thing." Is it possible that this still young man actually has a handle on the way past the present partisan impasse, the negativism and rejectionism rife in American politics? There can be little doubt that the vast majority of the country is heartily sick of the spectacle of political leaders who are so arrogant and dismissive of the opinions of others that they have run this country into the ground, and Obama seems to envision something different. Could he turn out to be the "uniter" that you once famously claimed to be?

What's heartening to me is that we do have good people in this country who show promise of finding a way back to those real American values that you, Bush, have talked about so often and so much, but have failed, notably, to live up to. Sure, they have made, will make, mistakes and errors in judgment. That's forgivable. They have made, will need to make compromises along the way. That's realistic. But there's a core of honesty, compassion, inclusiveness, concern for the welfare of not just the wealthy few but for the many--a breadth of vision that, frankly, has not been the hallmark of your presidency, Bush. There's a more expansive, open-minded quality of character amongst these people that contrasts favorably with the shiftiness, the secretiveness, and the arrogant, self-righteous certainty with which you wield the authority of your position.

God knows, it's past time for America to open its heart and mind to the rest of the world again. I'm looking forward to some significant debate about the direction that we need to take, and hope that the country is ready to engage it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Surge

The surge?

Bad idea, Bush. Take it from one who claims absolutely no military expertise but does possess an ounce, at least, of common sense and can see disaster looming. (Take a look at Mt. Fuji in this Hokusai print! Take a look at those boats!)

Oh, and a memory. The long term memory these days is better than the short, I will admit. It's age. But the long term is all I need to remember Vietnam. The more those darned "insurgents" threatened to whup us, Bush, the more men we sent in... and the more were killed.

Result? Much the same, I think, as it would have been if we had pulled out before so many more had died.

My advice? Free for the taking. Don't let those surge supporters con you into believing their bullshit this time around. Forget the macho stuff about not looking weak. You had your strut on that aircraft carrier, the USS "Mission Accomplished." So forget about "victory." You screwed up on that possibility months or years ago. Well, technically I guess your Rumsfeld screwed it up for you but you're the boss, remember? You're the decider-in-chief.

So take the path of greater valor while you can. Be wise. Retreat. Pull our good men and women out of there. You've done everything that can be done by fighting forces and bully tactics to offer democracy to the Middle East. They're not taking, Bush. Let them fight it out between themselves. Okay, so this would never have happened if we hadn't marched in there and stirred up the hornet's nest, but that milk is spilt (oops, sorry about the mix of metaphors!)--and that frankly doesn't seem to worry you too much anyway.

So there you go. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, if you prefer, what Jesus would say (and don't put words in his mouth, listen to his--among others, these: "Blessed are the peacemakers.") Swallow whatever is left of your pride. Admit that this war of yours is headed only for further disaster on all sides if you prosecute it. Pick up that phone and tell your Maliki the gig is up. And get us out of there, post haste. No waiting, Bush, until after Christmas. Who wants to be blown to smithereens on Christmas Day?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The Art of Outrage

You're probably wondering, Bush, what has been keeping me so busy that I have had little time for you and your nefarious doings. I've been working on a project, the first part of which I hope to have completed by noon today. It's a contribution to a projected "visual radio"--as I understand it, a kind of online podcast art magazine. I'll keep you up to date with its development. My segment is to be called "The Art of Outrage", and the piece is about the artist I consider to be the master of the genre, Robbie Conal. Here's one of his recent pictures of your good self as a "Dance of Death" skeleton shitting glitter skulls. An acerbic view of your activities in the world, to be sure, but not without a certain accuracy. Here's another of his images, this time a Bush-Condi tango with Condi, I note, in ascendancy! An unkind cut, perhaps, but Conal is nothing if not barbed in his observations of the world of politics.

I trust that the artist won't mind my showing you his pictures--but you might otherwise never get the chance to see them, unless you happen to visit the fascinating Robbie Conal website. And it's not, of course, that we have a million readers.

Anyway, Bush, I thought you'd like to know what's been consuming my attention and my time. The result of all this labor, if the publisher approves of what I've done and assuming all goes well with his plans for publication and airing, will appear next month, I think. I'll let you have details about how to find it when the time comes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Senator Tim Johnson: The Balance of Power

I don't have much time for you this morning, Bush. I'm trying to meet a deadline, and the job is far from finished. But I did want to put in a quick word about the stroke--no matter how you cut it, that's what it seems to be--suffered yesterday by Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota and its possible consequences on the balance of power in American politics.

First, of course, along with all right-thinking people, I wish heartily for the Senator's full and speedy recovery. Then again, I'm not sure what "right"-thinking people are thinking, since it might well serve their cause should the Senator not recover fully enough to serve out his term. If that turned out to be the case, the Republican governor of his home state would be in a position of unimaginable power: he could literally change the course of history with his little finger by tipping the scale in the US Senate back in favor of his own party. That would require, in my view, incredible hubris on his part--to override the decision of the people of his state (to elect a Democrat) for purely partisan political gain.

I don't know anything about the person who occupies the governor's mansion in the state ot South Dakota, but it's a fraught question: would he have the balls to single-handedly corrupt the will of the entire American electorate?

I trust that this one person will never be given this fateful power. I suppose a proponent of the selection of a Republican might bring up the example of Senator Jim Jeffords, who changed his alliegeance--and the balance of power--a few years back. But there it was the choice of a man elected to the seat to follow, presumably, the dictates of his conscience. In the case of Tim Johnson, it would be some other person usurping the power given him by the electorate.

I'm hoping that it doesn't come to this, Bush. I don't know about you. I very much fear that in your own evangelical hubris you might mistake this unfortunate medical event for the action of that higher Father you claim to hear whispering in your ear.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pandora's Box

Over the weekend I drove north to Stanford with Karmit (that’s my girlfriend, Bush. I’ll introduce you sometime.) In a heartwarming display of filial affection, Kar’s sister and brother-in-law, both talented artists, spent two days designing the cover art for her first demo-album of original songs.

Since I was only getting in the way of this adorable design and production process, I wandered onto campus, letting curiosity lead the way. (Curiosity, I’ve found, almost always leads to some worthwhile adventure, Bush, as long as you’ve remembered to pack your moral compass.)

Dodging bicyclists heading to final exams, I gravitated toward Cecil Green Library and, once inside, followed some twists and turns before stumbling upon a drafty, musky-smelling room containing copies of the official records of the United Nations. I took down the volume covering the 1947 special session regarding the “Palestinian Question” and began to read.

It was an eerie feeling, Bush, flipping through those pages and taking in the words of diplomats who could not foretell the gravity of the issue before them. The ambassador from Great Britain spoke first, conveying in no uncertain terms that nation’s determination to wash its hands of their territorial mandate in then-Palestine. A few days/pages later, representatives from the Arabs and the Jews put in their two cents, employing many of the same justifications that we hear today, for why their side should control the land in question.

What has transpired since 1947 has been sheer bloody mayhem, and I wanted to jump inside those documents and scream at the top of my lungs. Scream what? Anything, I suppose, to prevent the U.N. from making that fateful decision to split the land in half, cross its fingers, and hope for the best; an invitation, if there ever was one, for hostility to explode into direct combat.

This week, almost 60 years later, a conference was held in Iran, in which David Duke (among others), was invited to debate the historical legitimacy of the Holocaust. The conference itself is the insult of all insults. Meanwhile, suicide bombers and governments of all stripes and religious affiliations continue to treat human life as expendable.

Two questions haunt me these days, Bush, as I await the day’s reports of escalating rhetoric and rising bloodshed in the Middle East. First, when was this Pandora’s Box of unending violence and hatred opened? Was it in when Hitler took power? Was it when the victors of WWI carved up the earth as spoils of war? Was it when the intifadah began, or was it when a Jew blew up the King David hotel? Or has this visceral hatred for our fellow human beings always lurked in the human imagination, its periodic rearing inevitable?

And second, how deep does the Pandora’s Box go?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 Changes

It seems like change is in the air. Everywhere I turn these days, someone is talking about change. What I'm hearing, Bush, is that you yourself are contemplating this dread word. Stay the course is out. It's all about change. You're rushing everywhere, hither and yon, to create the impression of seeking the advice you never wanted in the past.

But change, of course, is just another word. The Bush lexicon is known to include quite a number of terms whose meaning is the opposite of what we ordinary, error-prone, English-speaking mortals have come to expect. The context in which I hear you utter the word "change" these days does not bode well for its welfare either. I very much fear that "change" has become another euphemism for "stay the course."

"Success" is the word with which I hear it frequently associated on your lips, and I suspect that "success" is the new word for "victory"--now banned, presumably since your Gates admitted right out loud for everyone to hear that we are not winning the war against the insurgents in Iraq: "No"--his plain, one-word answer to the question posed by a senator at his approval hearing--"no" leaves little room for ambiguity or doubt. "Success" may be a fraction easier to achieve than "victory", and a whole lot easier to sell to the American public.

It seems to me, Bush, that you're attempting what I might call the Jack Horner strategy. Remember the nursery rhyme? It goes like this:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plum
And said, What a good boy am I!

Well, good luck finding that plum, Bush. Your Christmas pie is very short of goodies at this point. Increasingly, you're looking to the Iraqis themselves to solve the problem you created for them. Good luck with that. The track record is dismal. The Iraqi security forces, so-called, have amply proved themselves to be the source of sectarian violence, not the cure. The most this feckless bunch seem capable of is collecting weapons paid for by the American taxpayer and selling them, unused, in mint condition, to the highest bidder.

So tell me, Bush, just exactly how do you expect these folks to achieve what the greatest military in the history of the world has failed to achieve in three long years of conflict? Unless, of course, when the irritant of the American presence and the enabling agent of American arms and money are finally removed, they do prove, surprisingly, capable of restoring their nation to some semblance of sanity. They'll never do it, Bush, while we're still there to give them the excuse for all their troubles.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Miami Dawn, Laguna Beach Sunset...

Two Coasts

To watch
the sun rise
over the Atlantic
Ocean, and
that same
day, set
over the Pacific
Ocean: something
of a marvel,
no? Who
of all humans
who ever
lived, but we,
this past
century, and less,
have seen
this miracle?

And a Final Thought ot Two...

... inspired by Art Basel/Miami. Aside from the fairs we have talked about, Bush, it was the number of private collections open to the public and the concurrent museum shows that made decisions about what to see—and what to miss—that much more difficult. I already mentioned the Rubell collection and its exhibition of Los Angeles artists, which we saw on our first day in Miami. Regrettably, we missed the show of Bruce Nauman’s neon works at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which proved too far to get to easily, especially given so short a stay. We also missed the Bass Museum—close to the Convention Center, but, well… we simply lacked the time.

I was happy, though, that we did make time to cross over to downtown Miami to catch two exhibitions of selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection. “The Sites of Latin American Abstraction” was a useful history of the manifestations of geometric abstraction in Latin America. My own preference is for the more “hand-made” works in this genre rather than those architectural, sometimes mechanical forms that strike me as rather cold and intellectual. I do love monochrome painting and even the simplest of geometric surfaces where I detect the obsessive striving for perfection of the human mind. There were enough examples of this kind of work included to make this show appealing to the soulful part, as well as stimulating to the brain cells.

Still more fascinating, for me, was the rather clumsily entitled “Forms of Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art.” This headline led me to expect something drearily academic, but the title proved misleading. I’m sure that the curator’s statement of intention was also intended to illuminate, but I found that it unnecessarily obfuscated what was a truly wonderful exhibition—by turns deeply moving, intellectually challenging, and at times just laugh-out-loud funny. “Conceptual art” can all too often be a bore, especially, for me, when I can easily “get it” and move on. The works in this show, for the most part, were rich, engaging to the eye and mind, and inexhaustible in meaning and association.

Take, for example, the work that occupied the entire first room of the exhibition, an installation by the artist Susan Hiller: a wall text, a whole wall of small, framed photographs and an accompanying book documented Hiller’s journey throughout contemporary Germany in search of streets whose names included references to Jews: Judenstrasse, Kleine Judengasse… innumerable variations which poignantly evoked the past history and contribution of a once-vital part of the population to German society and German culture, as well as the memory of their ubiquitous presence in these towns and villages and cities, and the tragedy of their loss in the Holocaust. And, too, a kind of ghost-like, haunting presence evoked simply by the remaining street names and the signs that identify them.

Or take the work of Mathilde ter Heijne, whose long racks of stark, black and white postcard images of unknown women of the nineteenth century brought all cultures together—African, Indian, Western-Caucasian, East Asian—in an equally poignant recollection of the vulnerability and the anonymous, transitory nature of human, in this case particularly feminine existence. Invited to take an image from the racks, I found myself involved in a complex contemplation of the possible reasons for making my own selection: beauty or pathos, strength, seeming intelligence or compassion… and exploring the social implications of those choices; and fascinated by the choices that others had made before me, how some racks were almost depleted of their images, while others remained untouched, neglected, waiting for recognition or attention. The piece seemed to me a new, less strident, more reflective feminism, an invitation to think with depth and penetration about how each of us individually views women and their place in the world.

Or the work of Francis Alys, the videotaped night-time adventures of a fox let loose in the deserted halls of the British National Portrait Gallery, assembled, I assume, from the tapes of surveillance cameras. It’s amusing, of course, to watch the creature’s restless travels over the polished parquet floors and, on occasion, over the stuffed leather benches, between the serried rows of masterpiece human portraits from all ages; but its also a study in the contrasting worlds of art and nature, an evocation of the old ars longa, vita breva (do I have my Latin right this time) conundrum, the swift vitality of the constantly moving fox and the stuffy, lifeless things hung on the walls. Lots to think about there, and an engaging visual treat—one that never bores or tires the eye.

More hilarious still, and equally compelling from the viewer-auditor’s point of view is the installation Julian Rosenfeldt, whose videotapes and sound equipment record the details of his every smallest movement in a deadpan reenactment of life’s daily activities: eating, walking, scratching, crumpling paper, rolling a cigarette and lighting up, placing things on the surface of a table, all in high definition sound and image… Three large, wall-sized screens record the action from three different angles, focussing sharpened attention on the most ordinary of sounds and movements and challenging us, it seemed to me, into surprised and delighted awareness of the inherent interest of each passing moment in time.

Joseph Grigely’s wall of simple paper notes also draws on the most ordinary aspects of the daily experience of being human. Colorful recycled post-its, sheets from memo pads, folded napkins, scraps of torn paper of all kinds are pinned up edge to edge to form and fill a perfect rectangle, a geometric not-painting flush against the wall inviting the viewer to contemplate the passing thoughts and feelings of scores of anonymous—and probably unwitting—contributors whose scribbled notes have been assembled here. Polite or acerbic, passionate or simply business-like, these throwaway texts form a fascinating pattern of interrupted, essentially temporal human-to-human (or self-to-self!) communications, spontaneous in their original intention but transformed into a kind of gently ironic timeless status by their inclusion in the artwork. We are asked to reflect on the relationship between the public and the private, the relativity of meaning and ephemeral intentions…

And then there are Allan McCollum’s surrogate paintings, lines of small black monochromes which mock the art of painting, the viewer, and themselves; Jimmie Durham’s videotape in which the artist is seen simply smashing whatever happens to be brought to him by willing participants, and handing them a signed certificate in exchange; and Monika Weiss’s moving work about books, their physical properties and their intellectual content… and the tyrannical act of burning them.

And more, too much to mention here. I found myself engaged throughout, constantly shifting in intellectual position and emotional response. The “up” side of the Miami experience remains the reassurance that our artists will continue to surprise and challenge us with their investigations into the unknown and the unknowable, and their inventive forays into the infinite possibilities of creative media.

Back home in California, I gather that you, too, Bush, are exploring infinite possibilities. None of them good. I have some catching up to do before we talk again. In the meantime, forgive these long digressions.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Miami Airport

I have to tell you, Bush, that this is the worst I have ever seen. Unbelievable, the lines. First to get your boarding pass at the ticketing desk, a twenty minute wait. Then to check the bags in at the x-ray area. Another twenty minutes--and we were jumped to the front of the line at one point because our time was getting short. And then security. Another twenty minutes. The whole process about an hour of waiting in line. At the security check-point, with long lines of people waiting to reach their boarding areas, they had only two of four gates open for business. Still, we all waited with remarkable calm at each stop. Conditioned, I suppose. I'm not sure who to be angrier at, though: that tiny confraternity of terrorists who started all this, the panic that dictates such stringent security against so small a prospect of actual threat, or the airport administrations and the various airlines for their remarkable inefficiency.

I had thought to have left enough time to make a full report on yesterday's art fair activities, but alas, I have no longer the time nor the head for it as I sit waiting to board. Shouldn't be too long. So I'll try to catch you up tomorrow, assuming that I'm up and about in time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Art... and Money

It's easy to be cynical about this whole thing, Bush. I mean, where else can you see people dolled up in their designer best lining up to crash the doors to get at million-dollar merchandise like those less wealthy folks at Macy's for the post-holiday sales? It's a pretty disgusting spectacle, when you think about it. And yet... as a friend astutely pointed out at dinner last night, there's something satisfying about the complete nakedness of this greed parade.

Ah, yes. Money. The ka-ching of the cash register is loud and clear here at Art Basel-Miami Beach. The prices are so outrageous, you wonder where people can possibly get the money to afford these high-priced trophies. You see an artist you could have acquired a few short years ago for a mere couple of thousand dollars selling works for fity, sixty, a hundred thousand dollars... and more! You kick yourself for not having bought them when you could have done: my God, you could sell them now and make a more than handsome profit! Or you kick yourself for having sold a piece five years too soon.

So the talk here, Bush, is all about money, and very little about art. It's a fair, for God's sake. What else to expect? We art jungle denizens love to exchange self-righteous exclamations of horror at the beastliness of it all, but here we are--a good number of us with checkbooks in hand, in some cases buying stuff which no self-respecting artist would have allowed out of the studio unless some hungry dealer had happened by and snatched it from his hands. Big name stuff sells. Go around the booths, you'll see the red dots everywhere there's a De Kooning or a Johns, a Gerhard Richter or Gilbert & George. Believe me, Bush, thanks to you and your policies, the money is out there amongst the wealthy, and they're happily exchanging it amongst themselves. As to just how much of it trickles down, well... no bets there.

So there you have it. Our day was simple: we started out with a few-block walk up to Aqua, another of the satellite fairs, intending to stop by and make a quick tour of the two floors of this deco hotel taken over by lesser-known galleries from throughout the country, and ended spending four hours at this one location. We enjoyed the less formal, less expensive atmosphere, and found the dealers eager to talk about their artists and the work. We even managed to find an artist or two in the melee, and handed out not a few Bush Diaries cards. And were ourselves parted with a bit of money.

Up the street to Pool, another, still smaller satellite fair, where we ran into a couple of old friends amongst the dealers and stopped for a bite of lunch, and pushed on under a gentle rain shower to the main fair again. It was getting toward late afternoon at this point, and we managed only a couple of hours--maybe another eighth of the total, leaving about a half uncovered for our last day, today. We found a small Cuban restaurant on our way back home, and were happy to stumble upon good people from Los Angeles. Good to have the opportunity to sit and chat and get to know each other better.

That's all that time allows this morning, Bush. I trust you're looking forward to a relaxed weekend to come up with a solution to your problems in Iraq. I'll probably get to read a newspaper again tomorrow, to catch up with your doings. Until then, well... don't worry too much about the rich. They're doing okay.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Art, Artists... and Some Politics

I don't know what you've been up to these past couple of days, Bush. I haven't seen the news, haven't read a newspaper. Haven't had the time. This place is amazing. it's not just the Basel/Miami Art fair. There are ten other, concurrent shows. We must have seen the work of a tousand artists yesterday, and we barely scratched the surface. Great names you would recognize, Bush, like Picasso, Matisse, Georges Braque--giants of the early twentieth century--along with those of only slightly lesser fame: Balthus, Duchamp, Max Ernst... Then, too, the prominent--now mainstream--artists of the second half of the twentieth century, many still alive and working: Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Wesselman, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol (hundreds of these, it seemed!) and countless others.

Okay, Bush, I know. A bit of a yawn, these chestnuts, at this point in time. We've seen a lot of them. But what's amazing is the sheer multiplicity and diversity of creative endeavor. There are the paintings, of course, and millions of them; and drawings and prints, and assemblages and collages, and relief works and sculptures; and then the films and the videos, the sound pieces, the performances... Massive works--so immense, you wonder however they got them in here--and tiny, erotic and bland, fascinating in the detail and starkly monochromatic. There's everything, Bush, that you could imagine... and more.

We started out the day at the renowned Rubell Collection, where they had installed an exhibition of current Los Angeles art, and were startled to find out how many L.A. artists we had no idea existed. Many of them we knew. John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy--these are the pioneers and the teachers, the ones whose work has opened doors for the younger generation. I was impressed with a huge Jason Rhoades "Chandelier"--a vast, ungainly, and yet strangely appealing arrangement of neon wordage, complete with all the cables and transformers; the words were all euphemisms for the feminine genitalia. Just what you'd need over your dining room table at the White House. A conversation piece.

All in all, a good show, and one which gave a good impression of the vitality and diversity of visual art in our home city. The crowds were uneblievable. The streets all around the warehouse building were jammed with traffic, and in the building itself there were places where it was simply impossible to move. Better, then, to walk from the Rubell's to our next destination, Pulse, one of the ten satellite fairs, where the artists were for the most part slightly less well known--and a tad less expensive. (I haven't talked about money yet, Bush, but you'd be amazed at the prices of some of these artworks; and amazed that people acutally vie with each other to pay them.)

Rather more interesting than Pulse was Nada, another satellite, where the galleries and their artists are supposedly more "cutting-edge" than the others. We travelled there, this time, by a kind of bicycle-propelled rickshaw, with a cheery driver who chatted with us happily along the way and accepted, at our destination, not a fare but a tip. Nada proved to be a much more approachable affair, with less crowded aisles and young dealers who were willing and eager to talk about their wares. We noted a couple of artists ourselves, whose work was interesting enough to consider affording. At least it was within our price range...

Back to the main fair toward mid-afternoon, where we found a pleasant spot in the adjacent Botanical Gardens for a chocolate (P) and pistachio (E) gelato. Delicious. The enthusiastic proprietor even insisted on bring us seonds. A couple of hours, then, in the fair, where we covered perhaps a quarter of the acreage of art--ranging from the aforementioned Picassos and Braques to the only slightly lesser known, and only slightly lower-priced major artists of our own time. Much to be happy about here. The creative spirit is still very much alive in our times, and it does feel good, Bush, to be in touch with that side of our human existence. So much more positive than the world of politics, in which we usually find ourselves engrossed.

A note of politics, though, here and there. Ellie and I were particularly attracted by an artist who works with books and paper, scraping and shaving the material into interesting transformations. The one that initially attracted my attention was a book, laid neatly on a pedestal, whose cover had been scratched to inscribe a new title: THE WAR HAS BEEN LOST. Oh, Bush, you would surely have been displeased by the clarity of this satire. For me, I have to say, it tickled my fancy.

A fine dinner at Talula's, and a pleasant walk back to our hotel through the bright, crowded streets of Miami Beach.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006


Did I tell you I was coming to Miami, Bush? I think I may have neglected to mention this earlier in the week as I had planned. Too many other things to talk about, I guess. But anyway, here we are, Ellie and I, in Florida. The sun is rising in the wrong place as I write--over the ocean, where it's supposed to set. The time is all wrong. Last night it was warm, even muggy, until midnight...

We came here for the international art fair, Art Basel/Miami Beach, and the place is jam-packed with art folks celebrating their own importance. I took good note of all my habitual judgments coming up, about the extravagant wealth of the privileged few on ultra-glamorous parade. And I was outraged, Bush, having called two months ago to arrange for it, to find myself bereft of the VIP pass I had been promised by the fair administration on the telephone. ME! Excluded! Can you believe it? I have my press credentials, of course, which will allow me almost universal access. But where shall I be without a VIP pass?

Absurd, right, Bush, to be so outraged? We managed to make our way around the fair without one--although we were denied access to the only area where there was food and drink, and we had eaten nothing since early morning at the airport in Los Angeles (and don't get me started on American Airlines food and service: at one point, when the dreadful croissant sandwich I had been sold for $5.00 by way of "lunch" began to leak all over me, the attendant told me sharply to use my newspaper when I asked for a napkin! The sandwich was inedible after the first bite.)

So no food, no drink until very late in the evening, after we had left the "vernissage"--that unnecessarily chi-chi art world word for an opening event--and we had to walk a ways before we found it. The food, I mean. Still, it was fun discovering Miami Beach--my first visit here, Bush, in brother Jeb's territory!--at night. A glimpse of all those famous deco facades. Fancy hotels. Music everywhere, most of it at head- and heart-pounding volume. A zillion people jostling, elbow to elbow, in the streets. A festival of life, and light... and noise. Unbelievable, Bush, the noise!

Anyway, I concluded this morning, on waking early, that my outrage had all to do with privilege. I was outraged that some people should be considered more important than my worthy self and treated accodingly. How dare they! Forgetting, of course, in the heat of the moment, just how much privilege I have in my own life, how much more I have had the grace or simply the good fortune to achieve and receive: as a pampered Brit, "old school tie" and ancient university, with a nice--though eroding--British accent; as a white male immigrant, admitted to the privileged American middle class; as a resident of sunny Southern California; as one privileged to live and work as he pleases, and to gripe about his exclusion from the ranks of the VIPs at the Miami Art Fair; as the owner of a King Charles Spaniel, for God's sake. So much...!

Ah, yes. I woke this morning to the sun rising over the wrong side of the ocean and had a good inner chuckle at the pettiness of my outrage, Bush. And I felt a lot of gratitude for the all privilege I have in life. I thought about Darfur. Baghdad. New Orleans. How about you? It's humbling, really, when you think about it. No?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Balance and Play: an Alternative War on Terror

Part I: Balance

This year’s senior oration at Brown University was delivered by Greta Pemberton who said, in part:

In life, the method doesn’t have to be meticulous and the results don’t have to be repeatable. From here on out, we get to figure things out playfully. We can teeter around, arms outstretched, until we find those good balances between isolation and community, between service and self, between action and contemplation.

Since my own college graduation in 2002, Bush, I have tried to absorb knowledge about politics, and about the politics of my personal life, as well. Although I have much to learn about how to be happy and successful, there are a couple of lessons (or metaphysical “laws of the universe”) that have emerged over and over again. I ignore them at my own peril and so, too (it would seem) do nations.

Greta Pemberton alludes to both of these lessons in her oration. The first is balance; as Greta notes, “between isolation and community, between service and self, between action and contemplation.” These are truly words to live by, and they, more than words like “incompetence,” “arrogance,” and “hegemony,” explain why America stands paralyzed, five years after 9/11, with no coordinated response and no current path forward.

America is unbalanced. As the world’s only superpower, she is isolated among nations, having forgotten, or never learned, that successful leadership requires a balance of isolation and community. Within our borders, we usually remember that no one is above the law (not even you, Bush, whose extension of executive authority will shortly pass under the white light of scrutiny). But outside our borders, we have scoffed at international law and ideas like “fair trade,” which might help lift all boats together. Our thinly veiled strategy inside the global village is to amass money and influence, period.

Naturally, this kind of imbalance is not unique among nations. But we are leaders. We have the awesome responsibility and opportunity to impart a guiding ethic onto the world. Do we really want that ethic to be: “Might makes right?” Are we then surprised when the world’s response to that is often hatred, and that that hatred sometimes (at the extreme fringes which we cannot ignore) boils over into violence against our citizens?

I think its important to note that, in terms of protecting the safety of Americans, it doesn’t matter that terrorist tactics are immoral. It doesn’t really matter that America’s enemies are using her as a scapegoat to further their territorial or fundamentalist ambitions. What matters, ultimately, is that we have failed to connect with the world, to become part of the community. Until the world at large views America as neighbors rather than (military, economic, cultural) overlords, we will continue to be attacked, we will continue to be used as scapegoats, and we will continue to have to resort to violence to enforce a semblance of order.

Balance between isolation and community. That’s the mandate of the powerful and I hope that - despite your utter obliviousness to it, Bush, and despite the credibility we have lost during your tenure - we can begin to address it in the next Congress.

In an upcoming post I’ll discuss the idea of “play,” which Greta also discusses in her oration. Play might just be that root cause which tells us why our nation’s leaders are failing us.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Oil Addiction

I wonder, Bush, how the world would look today had we elected George McGovern instead of Richard Nixon, back in the early 1970s? I wonder how it would look had we honored President Jimmy Carter's pledge to end US dependency on foreign oil instead of increasing it, as we have done? I wonder how the world would look had we not swallowed--hook, line and sinker--the bait of the giant SUV and embraced the electric car instead of killing it?

These sadly idle thoughts inspired by two recently-viewed DVDs in our household, Bush: "One Bright, Shining Moment"--the story of Senator George McGovern and his run for the presidency against Nixon in 1972; and "Who Killed the Electric Car"--about the design, brief life and premature death of General Motor's EV1, a vehicle much loved by its owners and equal in performance to its gas-consuming cousins but soon recalled for demolition by the manufacturer.

I voted for George McGovern, Bush. No surprise there. He was among the most liberal of politicians of the past fifty years. He was also clearly a thoroughly decent, caring, intelligent man of absolute integrity and perhaps precisely for those qualities was roundly mocked and soundly defeated by the red-blooded American electorate. We reelected Richard Nixon instead, and look what we got. A prolonged and unnecessary war in Vietnam. More needless deaths--on both sides of that conflict. And Watergate.

As for Carter's pledge, this was no idle promise. It was delivered with an unquestionable seriousness of purpose. I didn't write down the exact words, but I can assure you they were unambiguous. Never again, he said--and I paraphrase--will we allow this country to be held hostage to the interests of foreign oil producers. Well, we know what happened to that solemn vow. Ronald Reagan soon put paid to those good intentions, and we were back on the mainline.

The EV1? A wonderful little car, by all accounts, with enormous promise for the future. It was capable of driving perfectly acceptable mileage before recharging, and the battery technology was already dramatically improving. The new hybrids, as I understand it, have capitalized on developments for the electric car. And yet no sooner had the public begun to cotton to its potential when GM got cold feet, pulled back the entire fleet, and literally crushed it. The short-term profits from the despicable Hummer and other SUVs--promoted by the hype machines which had all but ignored the EV1--were preferable to energy independence and the future of the planet.

In the McGovern film, such terrible reminders of the long-denied similarities between our ill-fated ventures in Vietnam and Iraq. "I will never be swayed," said LBJ, by those protestors in the streets. By the will of the American public, then. Not unlike your good self, Bush. Remember the promise of "Vietnamization"? Handing over the responsibilty for the war to the Vietnamese... Sound familiar? It may be a cliche, but history certainly seems to be repeating itself as you dig yourself ever deeper and ever more stubbornly into the bloody hole of Iraq.

Thanks to my reader for having alerted me to these two important movies, Bush. You'd do well to spend a couple of hours with them yourself. As a former alcoholic by your own admission, you should understand something about addiction, particularly the ways in which denial can blind you to the realities that surround you. Sadly, despite all the talk of change, I heard your recent pronouncement on Iraq in a news clip: "When all's said and done," you said, "I will make decisions based on principles--and I'm not changing my principles."

Which doesn't bode well for Iraq, for the United States and its military forces at risk there, nor for the future of the world.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Iraq: The Rumsfeld Memo

A great dinner party last night, Bush! Great food, great company, great conversation, good wine to loosen the tongue... And especially good to be in a house whose every wall and niche is occupied by provocative art works and a wonderful, pristine collection of American ceramics. It's surprising how rarely art takes this kind of prominent place in a lived environment, and alwys a real pleasure when we come upon it. This was a place, like our own, where there is something to attract the eye no matter which way you turn. Small talk, big talk, lots of stories, anecdotes, plenty of laughter around the dinner table... Just a terrific evening.

This morning's news: still the Rumsfeld memo. Aside from the duplicity it revealed--not only Rumsfeld's, but also yours, in those pre-election days when you were clearly more concerned with getting votes than with the welfare of those troops you so readily accuse others of failing to support--I was apalled by the paternalistic tone and the assumptions it suggested. "Stop rewarding bad behavior," your Rumsfeld writes simplistically. And "reward them for their good behavior." "Start 'taking our hand off the bicycle seat.'" The clear assumption: the Iraqis are a bunch of children, whose good and bad behavior warrants reward or punishment from a "Father knows best" daddy. If this reflects the depth of thinking at the top level of the Defense Department these past four years, it's hardly surprising to find ourselves in the mess we're in. This kind of shallow thought ranks up there with "Stuff happens."

Rumsfeld's "laundry list" is further evidence, too, of the absence of any serious strategic planning in your administration. To come up with this kind of off-the-cuff, back-of-the-napkin stuff bespeaks a confusion, a desperation, and cynical indifference that boggles the imagination after so many months of warfare, so many American lives sacrificed, so many Iraqi citizens slaughtered. Let's see, it says, we could try this, we could try that... And if all else fails, we could go "below the line" and consider even undesirable options. There's no real substance to this memo. It's a throwaway. What monumental arrogance and care-lessness. And this from the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

I was surprised to hear, as a kind of aside in the news this morning, of your Bolton's resignation from his United Nations post. Not by the resignation, but by the lack of interest with which it seems to have been received by the media. Perhaps there's more to come.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Crime Wave in Venezuela

It was disheartening to read the article in today's New York Times about the current crime wave in Venezuela. I'm sure you're delighted to have a bludgeon with which to belabor your friend Hugo Chavez, Bush, but I'd like to believe that this it not what socialism is all about. When I read that "homicides are up 67 percent since 1999," I'm horrified for the people who must live with the insecurity and the daily danger such a statistic suggests--and I read further to discover (surprise!) that these are mostly the poor.

It seems that the Chavez policy is to have the police go easy on the criminals, perhaps in part to give the appearance of social concern. But it seems also--if the same report is to be believed--that the police themselves are the source of some of the murderous violence. That age-old disparity between the rich and the poor is evidently not the outcome of one particular political ideology if, in oil-rich, socialist Venezuela, the poor are still victimized by both social discrimination and virtually unchecked crime.

It would be nice to believe that the purported values and the good intentions of socialism--the political philosophy in which I, Bush, as I have mentioned in the past, was brought up believing--would lead to something approaching social justice. It would be nice to believe that those you personally despise and distrust could create a better situation for the poor than the more conservative-minded. I would be nice to see satisfying results from the Chavezes and the Castros of this world. Alas, no. Poverty, social injustice, neglect of the needy persist. Who was it said, The poor will always be among us?

It's not about what we preach, as human beings or as political idealists. It's about what we practice. And it seems, sadly, that that discrepancy, too, will always be among us.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Controlled Chaos

Posted by Cardozo

This blogosphere amazes me, Bush. It provides a snapshot in vivid colors and wonderfully varied colloquialisms of what people are thinking, all around the world.

Today’s snapshot of America shows that life, in all of its many forms, rolls merrily along in this country despite the madness your administration has wrought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of my favorite bloggers are focusing on domestic issues like feminism (see skylarkd’s strident defense of public breastfeeding in Life as I Know It), while some merely dabble in political punditry while allowing themselves frequent forays (see Gone Mild’s mouth-watering education on winter ales) away from the daily life-or-death that is America’s foreign policy.

We’ve sunk into a kind of controlled chaos in relation to rising death tolls of soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we talk about those crises, our voices quake with passion. We curse and spit at the television screen. (Or, like PeterAtLarge in this morning's entry, we wax incredulous at the extent of your career advancement, Bush.) But then we move on, and this is partly due to a "success" of yours. As you’ve said repeatedly, “we’re taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don’t have to face them here at home.” That’s true enough for now. Even though your preventive wars have clearly bolstered anti-Americanism and put us all, ultimately, in greater peril, there has not been a successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

I’m thinking maybe we are too set in our ways. Too self-absorbed, perhaps. The utter nonsense in Iraq and Afghanistan – the absolute and absolutely unnecessary horror – has ultimately failed to arouse Americans to any particular action except voting your party out of Congress. Is this all we’re made of? The Mexicans have a simple recount, and they are out in the streets marching! They’re camping out on the steps of the capitol!

I am not one to complain, having adjusted quite comfortably to our state of perpetual purposeless war. It just amazes me that the only clear sign of discontent with your administration’s gargantuan blunder are public opinion polls, editorials…and blogs.

"The President"

I was listening to an interview with your Rice this morning, Bush. She was going on in that scolding, "I can't-beleve-you-don't-get-this" tone about "the President" this and "the President" that, and I realized that I cringe inwardly every time I hear those words applied to you. I don't like to think of myself as a Bush basher, but every time I hear "the President" applied to your good self... I don't know. Is it disbelief? Anger? Something comes up that is deeply rooted in a sense of usurpation, of a man acting in a position far beyond his capacity and desserts, something fraudulent and incongruous. You are now, it seems to me, virtually the only man in America--no, the world--who clings vainly to the belief that you are somehow a capable "decider" and "leader", that you know what you're doing up there in the elevated position of this country's highest office. I have to confess that see it all as a sham. Which is why, then I hear those two words, "the President", I feel that cringing sensation in the gut. "The President?" I wonder. "What President? You mean... Bush?"