Monday, April 30, 2007

Putting George Bush on the Couch

Tim F. posed an interesting question the other day: What the heck is wrong with George Bush?

That question may be answered in the future when psycho-historians plumb the depths of a man whose personal flaws, combined with the myriad blunders of his hubristic neocon brain trust, in a train wreck of a presidency.

But it’s worth taking a crack at the question now since we're stuck with the dude for another 20 months.

So what the heck is wrong with Geore Bush?
Is it his profound lack of intellectual curiosity?

Is it his demand that people be loyal to him even if it means making bad matters worse?

Is it a messiah complex growing out of his belief that he channels the wisdom of Jesus?

Is he overcompensating because he may think that he has failed to live up to his father’s expectations?

Or what?
I am well out of my depth here, so whuddya think?

* * * * *
A cross post of this over at The Moderate Voice is generating some interesting comments. Click here to read them. You're welcome to join in.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Under the protective canopy of the no-fly zone — actually it was also called the "you-fly-you-die zone' — an embryonic free Iraq had a chance to grow. I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening.


After failing to visualize the conditions of combat in Iraq, America's generals failed to adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency. . . . After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public. . . . The intellectual and moral failures common to America's general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship.


It has long been evident that President Bush decided to invade Iraq first, and constructed his ramshackle case for the war after the fact. So why, after all this time, are Americans still in the dark about the details of that campaign?


Flash! A senior al-Qaeda commander with ties to both Pakistan and Iraq was captured four months ago by the CIA and the secret was kept until now from the newspapers. Bill Roggio has details. The Washington Post devotes the bulk of its coverage to questioning when Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured, raising questions about the timing of the announcement and the prisoner's value. But the Post has a point: has the CIA suddenly becoming better at capturing terrorists or more skilled at keeping the secret from the media? Which development should be feared the more?


The State Department is gearing to release data showing a huge rise in terrorist incidents in the world last year, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the war on terror is focused. I fear we have cnjured up the worst of both worlds. We have picked a fight with an enemy - on his own turf, with just enough resources to lose and just enough to stir Muslim resentment to create even more terrorists. It has none of the advantages of offense; and none of defense. And we have a president insisting that he won't budge.


Democracy promotion, once the centerpiece of the Bush administration's foreign policy, has almost completely been forgotten.. . . As a result, Arab governments have worked to squash domestic calls for reform and undermine the progress that had been made.


On Capitol Hill, there is a strange passivity in Republican ranks. Republicans are privately disgusted with how President Bush has led their party and the nation, but they don’t publicly offer any alternatives. They just follow sullenly along. . . . They are like people marching quietly to their doom.


President Bush sent out an e-mail today asking people to send money to the Republican Party. How come those e-mails never get deleted?


Essentially, the U.S. government -- with the knowledge and inaction of the Bush Administration, which covered it up -- denied Katrina victims massive amounts of foreign aid and support, even aid and support from America's closest friends.

How fucked up is that? And how reprehensible?


It is hard to figure out what Paul Wolfowitz is telling himself as he wages an unseemly fight to hang on to his job as head of the World Bank.

Any hope he had of reforming the bank has evaporated in the face of allegations of conflicts of interest and undeniably poor judgment. Any hope of expiating his sins for the disastrous Iraq war have also disappeared as once again he stubbornly denies reality and the damage that denial is causing to his reputation and to the bank’s ability to do its work.


There is absolutely no sound scientific evidence that marijuana has any medicinal value.

The way that our country treats chronic pain sufferers who use too much pain medication seems insane to me. I can't find any evidence that Oxycontin, say, is anywhere near as dangerous as alcohol -- i.e., tens of thousands of fatalities every single year. But we don't make people get a prescription to buy a beer, let alone throw people in jail for 25 years for having a bottle of vodka in the house.


Jack Valenti lived a unique life between two of society's fascinations -- politics and Hollywood. For Republicans and Democrats, for senators and young aides, for celebrities and the legions behind the cameras, interactions with him were graduate seminars in history, politics, human nature and common sense. This extraordinary communicator punctuated every conversation with a witticism linked to his beloved Texas, a quote from an obscure historical figure or a rule passed on to him by his mentor, Lyndon Johnson. In the weeks leading up to his death Thursday, all over town a simple "How's Jack?" almost always led to, "You know, I try to live by something I once heard him say."


It was amazing. The zero-G part was wonderful and the full-G part was no problem. I could have gone on and on. Space, here I come.


Cartoon by Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

"Mythical Morning" by Amadeus Søren.

Click here for more.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Roaring Fork Rope Bridge Adventure

I republish this tribute each year
on the anniversary of my friend's death.

I have a lifetime of wonderful memories of Rochelle, from the first time we met at a party when we were high school seniors to her radiant presence at my sister’s birthday celebration last November. We had many adventures over those 40 years, but I’ve recalled one in particular since her passing. Let’s call it the Great Roaring Fork Rope Bridge Adventure.

First some background: The Roaring Fork River starts near Aspen, Colorado and runs undisturbed, which is to say undammed, to its confluence with the Colorado River some 70 miles north near Glenwood Springs. The Roaring Fork is a river of many personalities as it wanders through meanders created over the millennia. At its source above Aspen’s toney chalets, it is a rivulet. At its terminus near the Glenwood cemetery where “Doc” Holliday of “Shootout at OK Corral” fame is buried, it is fairly wide, comparatively docile and navigable by raft and shallow draft boat.

At more or less the halfway point in the aspen and pine forests above the village of Carbondale, the Roaring Fork more than lives up to its name as it shoots through a basalt and limestone canyon. This is where our adventure unfolded in August of 1978.

The Roaring Fork Valley was a second home of sorts for Rochelle. She lived in Carbondale during the period when, as the joke went, it was first attracting the attention of the millionaires who were being driven out of Aspen by the billionaires. On her return visits, she was treated like royalty by the many friends she had made. She couldn’t pay for a coffee at the Village Smithy or a beer at the Hollywood Saloon.

* * * * *

As befitted her as a Libra, Rochelle was romantic, idealistic and pacifistic. She also was deeply spiritual, an extraordinary cook, practiced practical joker and namer of names. Few people escaped her nom de plumage. The resident beekeeper at the farm where Rochelle and I lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was a former battlefield medic and PhD candidate and thus was dubbed Doctor Doc by her to differentiate him from another roommate, Doctor Duck. A mutual friend’s Italian surname morphed into Eatabunny. I was Captain Cab because I would ferry the farm’s multitudes around the block -- or around the country -- in my VW bus.

In this particular instance it was to a house outside of Carbondale where three friends whom Rochelle called The Slow Children lived. She had so named them because of the


sign on the road near their driveway, but now that I think about it, maybe for another reason as well. Rochelle immediately set about squaring away the Slow Children’s kitchen, which was in the kind of toxic condition you would expect for three guys who spent their days building houses for those millionaires and their nights throwing back cold ones at the Hollywood.

Her domestic diva duties done, we headed out with two of the three Slow Children for an explore along the Roaring Fork River canyon, which is situated a few miles below Marble, a mountaintop ghost town that was once home to thousands of people who worked what was then the world’s largest marble quarry, supplying the goods for the Lincoln Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and many other buildings. There are many old mine entrances in the area, most long overgrown with trees and vegetation.

The day was gloriously sunny and quite hot, and it being late summer, the meadows we crossed as we climbed to the canyon were a riot of columbine, primrose, lavender and sage. While our hike was not technically difficult, neither was it for the faint of heart.

There was only one way to cross the canyon for miles in either direction -- a crude wood and rope footbridge straight out of an “Indiana Jones” movie that screamed DANGER! A goodly number of the wood slats were missing, providing a vertiginous view of the Roaring Fork hurtling through the canyon 75 or so feet below, while the ropes holding the bridge together were not in very good shape, either.

One of the Slow Children was two or three steps onto the bridge when I sensed that Rochelle was no longer behind us. When I turned around, I saw that she had stopped dead in her tracks. There was a “You’ve gotta be nuts” look on her face that I had seen other times when she sensed, usually correctly, that sanity -- along with Elvis – had left the building.

As the smarties among you will know, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” did not premiere until a few years later, but the following snippet of dialog between Indy (Harrison Ford) and Willie (Kate Capshaw) from that movie fits the moment perfectly:

INDY: Anything can happen. It’s a long way to Delhi.

WILLIE: No, thanks, no more adventures with you, Dr. Jones.

INDY: Sweetheart, after all the fun we've had together?

WILLIE: If you think I'm going to Delhi with you, or anyplace else after all the trouble you've gotten me into, think again, buster! I'm going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is not my idea of a swell time.
* * * * *

We backtracked into the shade of the aspens, where a canteen and orange slices were passed around. A magpie squawked off in the distance, but other than the thrum of the Roaring Fork coursing through the canyon, it was quiet.

One of the Slow Children finally broke the silence. “So what if we carry you across?” he offered. “You can close your eyes.”

Fire leapt from Rochelle’s eyes.

More silence.

“Well, we could always throw the Ching . . . ,” I suggested.

The fire had gone out and there were now only wisps of smoke.

“ . . . Or we could just backtrack,” I added unhelpfully. “No big deal.”

“Screw all of you,” Rochelle replied.

It probably was as close as I ever heard her get to using profanity.

“I’m going to do it,” she added with an unchallenged finality. “I know how to fly this plane, I’m just not always sure about landing it.”

And then the most amazing but Rochelle-like thing happened. She suddenly was on the other side of the bridge waving her sun hat at us.

"Come on you Slow Children!" she laughed. "What's taking you so long?"


You wouldn’t think that Rochelle had much in common with Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, the novelist and world-class misogynist. She didn’t, but they both loved cats.

I took this photo of Rochelle, who left her own cat of 18 years, King Wenceslaus, with her passing, at the aforementioned farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, not long after the rope bridge adventure. Rochelle is holding Terrapin, a sweet little ball of fluff who was born at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Fla.

Papa had stipulated in his will that his cats and their progeny were to be cared for in perpetuity. Terrapin was polydactyl because of generations of inbreeding, which means he had more than the normal number of toes, in his case seven each on his front paws and six each on his rear paws.

Meanwhile, Wennie died exactly one week after his beloved mistress.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

David Broder & Warren Spahn

I have been reluctant to join the David Broder lynching party. First of all, the guy obviously has lost a step or two and is in the twilight of a distinguished career. Second, I never thought that he was as important as he is given credit for, but that’s because "Dean of the Washington press corps" is about the same as "Dean of a Midwestern cow college" to me.

But I’ve been doing a slow boil over the WaPo op-ed columnist’s slam at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for saying that the Iraq war is lost militarily (and comparing him to Attorney General Gonzalez).
Now I’m no fan of Reid, but the guy spoke a huge truth. The Iraq war simply cannot be won through blood and guts.

For Broder to get all pissy over something so obvious puts him well out of step with a majority of Americans and comfortably in the Bush administration’s back pocket, and the clearer-headed and less self righteous Broder of old would not want to be in that place.
One of my childhood heroes was Warren Spahn, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves who like me was left handed and unlike me was incredibly consistent on the mound. Spahn pitched 21 years in the majors, but that was about five years beyond his prime because he didn't know when to quitt.
The same can be said of Broder, and he ought to think about putting down his quill pen before he embarrasses himself any more.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere


Anyone who has been tortured by some of the really bad movies getting way too much play at the local theater these days probably wasn't surprised to read the New York Times story yesterday about the shortage of female power in Hollywood. Despite the fact that women make up 51% of movie goers, three of the four women who held top jobs at Hollywood's major studios have left in the past 14 months. All have been replaced my men.

I'm no fan of essentialism (i.e. women always make movies other women like because they share some innate sensibilty aka bad romcoms), but there is something unarguably frightening about one of our nation's most powerful messaging industries being in the hands of only men.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney cannot make the case that their Iraq policies have succeeded, so they are doing one thing they do very well: taking a serious argument over the future of American foreign policy and turning it into a petty partisan squabble.


When it comes to choosing people to serve the country, occasionally Mr. Bush gets lucky. Although repeatedly letting everyone know how much he likes Messrs. Gonzales and Wolfowitz, secretly Mr. Bush probably looks back gratefully at the quiet departure of Eric Keroack and the non-appointment of Bernard Kerick.

The truth is that the Bush administration has been extraordinarily scandal-free. Not a single instance of corruption has been unearthed. Only one significant member of the executive branch, Scooter Libby, has been convicted of anything. Whether the jury's verdict was right or wrong, that case was an individual tragedy unrelated to any underlying wrongdoing by Libby or anyone else.


Although I'm pretty familiar with the kinds of books and toys and foods Audrey prefers, there's quite a bit I don't know about my daughter after a full year. As near as I can tell, her political and social views are rather unformulated. I've apologized to her many times for helping bring her into the world during a Bush presidency, but I can't tell if any of that matters to her. She did, however, emit a strange and almost joyful noise today when I was describing the results of the 1980 election. One of my students speculated that she might be a "future Republican," and I explained that since she has a grossly uncomplicated view of the world and spends most of her time thinking about her own needs, she probably already is a Republican -- but that once she acquires basic literacy, she'll grow out of it.


We live in a time of great moronitude. Morons, everywhere, rising from their morasses, massing and moving forward. In their multitudes, the morons march inexorably to the moronocy. The road is not easy. Some will fall by the way. Others, struggling moronically, will rise to blithering new heights of moronality.

Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became well known for urging stressed-out students competing for elite colleges to calm down and stop trying to be perfect. Yesterday she admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T. Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.


It's the web media equivalent of the central cosmological constant: does the universe of personal sites expand ad infinitum, or else collapse under its own weight? And we may finally have an answer. The number of active blogs tracked by Technorati has stalled at about 15 million. Now that's still a remarkable number, even before one adds in quasi-blogs, such as pages on social network sites such as Myspace. But, compared with the conventional wisdom -- that every human, and household pet, will eventually have a blog -- the reality is sobering.


You know, if we had reporters in this country, they could actually find out the hair-care costs for all the candidates rather than just assuming that the one barbering bill that has come to light is unusual. If reporters want to huff that such work is beneath them, I'll have to demand that they give me a break, by taking hostages if necessary. Not only is nothing beneath them, as they have repeatedly shown, it's absurd to argue implicitly that candidate hair care costs are a big deal if the story happens to fall into your lap, but not a big enough deal to do actual work on.


There are four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. . . .

The argument with faith is the foundation and origin of all arguments, because it is the beginning—but not the end—of all arguments about philosophy, science, history, and human nature. It is also the beginning—but by no means the end—of all disputes about the good life and the just city. Religious faith is, precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, ineradicable. It will never die out, or at least not until we get over our fear of death, and of the dark, and of the unknown, and of each other. For this reason, I would not prohibit it even if I thought I could. . . . As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Quote du Jour

"We are one signature away from ending the Iraq war."

Prince Harry: King or Country?

The lie that the U.K. is drawing down its forces in Basra and will be out of Iraq altogether in the not too distant future because the area has been stabilized has had an unexpectedly serious consequence that has a name:
Henry Charles Albert David Wales, who is better known as Harry Prince of Wales.

Prince Harry, the dashingly handsome (handsomely dashing?) 22-year-old son of Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana, is third in line of succession to the British throne, but has more pressing business to take care of before he is fitted for a crown and scepter.

Harry is a cornet in the Blues and Royals, a mechanized tank regiment of the Household Cavalry in the British Army and his unit is scheduled to rotate to Iraq. Harry’s job would be to lead a force of Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicles on the Iraq-Iran border.

Scimitars are fast and agile, but they also are especially vulnerable to IEDs and there is some question about whether Prince Harry’s superiors will let him get his hands dirty considering the level of violence in Basra and thereabouts. The British casualty rate has been skyrocketing and nearly 30 soldiers have died in the last month.

For his part, Harry has made it clear that he will leave the Army if he is left in safety.
So what’s a commanding general to do?

Robert Fox, writing in The Guardian, observes that:
"Undoubtedly we will get the usual blather from 'friends of the prince' in the red-top tabloids saying that 'Harry will quit the army, if he is refused Iraq' etc, etc. The army chiefs are mindful of not inviting a publicity own goal after the navy's self-inflicted bruises to image and ego with the soap opera of the Tehran 15. In the great list of operational problems now facing the forces and the government, Harry is little more than a footnote. The way things are going in Iraq and Afghanistan, his commanders know they have bigger and more serious fish to fry."
As someone who is 100,000th or so in line of succession to the throne (I’m not making this up), I heartily concur.

'What Part of Our Lives to Leave Behind?'

Riverbend was one of the first Iraqi bloggers and has been one of the most outspoken. She is fiercely proud of her Sunni heritage and fiercely unapologetic about her own views.

Herewith excerpts from her latest (and for all I know her last) post:
The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn't enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It's time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of "Shia areas" and Shia out of "Sunni areas."

* * * * *
I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

* * * * *
So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive. . . . It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.

Godspeed Riverbend.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007)

Mstislav Rostropovich, a cellist and conductor who was renowned not only as one of the great instrumentalists of the 20th century, but also as an outspoken champion of artistic freedom in Russia during the final decades of the Cold War, died today in Moscow. He was 80.

As Soviet rule collapsed, the cellist was at the barricades among those who defended the government headquarters alongside Russia's first President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow during the abortive putsch staged by Communist party hardliners in 1991.

Yeltsin, Rostropovich's long-time friend and admirer, died on Monday.

Writes Allan Kozinn:

"Perhaps because his repertory was so broad, he was able to make his cello sing in an extraordinarily range of musical accents. . . . As a conductor, Mr. Rostropovich was an individualist. He happily molded tempos, phrase shapes and instrumental balances to suit an interpretive vision that was distinctly his own, and if his work did suit all tastes, it was widely agreed that the passion he brought to the podium yielded performances that were often as compelling as they were unconventional. He was at his most eloquent — and also his most freewheeling — in Russian music, particularly in the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich."
More here.