Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Biden In? Bring on the Whole Team!

Hapless Joes. They're problematic in American politics, although Joe DiMaggio might have made it Big Time.

Joe McCarthy had no shame or not enough of it, and speaking of the Red Scare, Joe Lieberman sure enough turned Red in a Blue state. We've now had enough of him (rumor has it he may support a red candidate in '08, ouch). Joe, not so good to not know you, but here we go again with another suavely pompous windbag, Joe Biden of decidedly marginal Delaware. Mr. Biden ran years ago, as a young man, perhaps before his time. He got the young and brash ax they gave a certain Mr. Gore the first time he ran, at the age of 39, ALSO in 1988. (Maybe the young guns were thinking that, on the heels of Reagan, youth would count for a lot more than it did.)

Now, a more experienced yet no more compelling orator Biden is running much later in his career, perhaps after his time. But I'd say Joe Biden, even with his padded resume, doesn't really have a time to be president.

And I think he clearly knows it.

Biden repeatedly sites his experience as his trump card, but hasn't the 64 year old senator noticed that we're still floundering in the post-Reagan era, ever more camera-crazed, where experience counts for very little and an "outsider's" amiability counts for nearly everything? We sure don't want chortling bad boy Bush anymore. But we don't really want his dad back, either. We don't want Mr. Smith in Washington, naive and green, and we don't want some ancient turd face or out of touch patriarch. We want Martin Sheen. We want Joe DiMaggio. We want Shane.

I think Biden is running for the same reason a few other candidates are running: to be asked to serve in the next president's Cabinet. The way to do that is to raise a few tens of millions of dollars, a modest war chest, and go for the gray-haired "experience counts" voters in a few primaries. Biden won't even have to make it to the primaries to raise his profile enough for this "run" to be worth his while. But is it worth our while?

What these "also ran" candidates are betting on is not their winning but on a Democrat winning. That would put them in play for Cabinet and major diplomatic posts. Joe's been hanging around Delaware and Washington for plenty of years. He wants some field duty.

So it's not President Biden we're even needing to consider here, it's Secretary Biden.

But Joe, don't shoot for Secretary of State. I predict that if a Democrat wins the White House, Al Gore will have that post wrapped up. Payback time.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What Part of War Do We Not Understand?

OK, dear reader, probably not you. You may well understand. But it sure seems like a lot of us are still not getting it. War's been around for millennia. It's time we got it.

I think our leaders understand war very well, but their mouths are suave riots of Peace Speak. War, to them, means four things: power, money, history and (get this) Peace. How perverse is that!

The only definite thing there, for warriors, is money. Billions. Billions. Such an understanding doesn't keep them from being criminals, worthy of whatever justice war criminals receive. And get this, as well: we call it a "volunteer" army, but every one of those people is making a lot more money than I am. I am poor for them, refusing to raise the stakes in their barbarous game of roulette.

War is not diplomacy. War is stark. Here's what war means to me: you show an "enemy" that you intend to change them by killing them.

And ey, there's the rub: that same "enemy" turns around and shows you the same thing. They get it. They've learned your lesson, easily. It is not an ambiguous lesson. It's easy to get, and it doesn't take them long to kill as many as they can. You don't get to fight a polite or just war, even if that's what you say you're doing.

War shows that even savagery can be played out according to the golden rule. It is a dark and dreary dead end alley, and it goes both ways. So what lesson is the United States exporting?

The blood can be washed away, and the money can be carefully laundered as well.

The bombings in markets and along the paths of religious pilgrimages are getting worse. We're not hearing many of the cries and screams on television. Again, as in the 1960s, the mainstream media have reduced the war to numbers and footage of fires, smoking ruins. To show mostly wrecked vehicles and buildings after the bodies have been covered or carried away is an injustice and I would say a form of complicity.

How much will each of us pay for war? And what will each of us risk to be against it?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Religion V. Cult: What's the Diff

I heard recently that the German government does not recognize Scientology as a religion. I'm sure the arbiters of American freedom might also call into question the L. Ron crowd. Do those guys have a bible? Or at least a Koran? And hey, why give tax breaks to weirdos?

So who gets to have a religion? And who is relegated to the wings with mere "cult" status?

Both religions and cults evoke the supernatural. Or at least fantastical leaps of faith. Both religions and cults revolve around rituals steeped in hokum and dogma and doctrine. And as much as some would like to profess being "open to all," both religions and cults are rather tribal and exclusive. Not everybody gets a back stage pass.

I've come up with an aspect of cults and religions which could be used to tell the diff, to distinguish a full fledged Religion from a fledgling cult.

Here's the gist:

A religion is public about its weirdness, and a cult is private about its weirdness.

Religions are so audacious as to think their gigantic leaps of faith are normal that they assume they'll be accepted by millions. Religions thrive on their bigness and inertia. Cults don't have that sort of track record, so as they experience growth pains, they are much more guarded. Cults thrive on their tight knit size, on seclusion and specialization.

Some religions, especially the major ones, do a pretty good job of duping the masses, having them think almost everything out in the open. But not so fast. They are quick to establish uppity ups who don't let on their special connections and special powers. The pope is not exactly an approachable extravert. And the big religions seem to really encourage everyone speaking to God, whoever their God is. But they also like to make it seem sort of rare and special to hear back from God, directly and with authority. The uppity ups like to think their particular conversations with and declarations from God are bonified.



Say, for example, in your religion, you got mysterious space aliens? Who were they really, and how did they get here? Cult.

So that knocks out Christianity, of course, off the charts for a religion. Now clearly a cult. Heaven? What kind of major hokum is THAT? Got a MAP?

And as for the all-mighty Allah, he's nothing more than a made up Wizard of Oz. Prove otherwise. Sure the pious can prove their anger and the "power" of their faith, but they can't prove that there is any "higher power" better than a set of secular principles meant to help us be good, good for ourselves and good for one another.

So it turns out that a true religion, a REAL religion, is a completely open and clear set of moral and ethical principles. Nothing more. And nothing less. A true religion lacks doctrine, dogma and any higher authority. It is freely chosen and thus the responsibility of each practitioner.

Meanwhile, most of what passes for "religion" is really down deep just a top-down power play, on the surface a sheepish cult dressed up like a lion, a bleat meant to roar.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Woes of Winter Warming

I'm sure the planet, overall, as a ball with summer down under, is still cooking with gas, suffering it's mercurial meltdown. But anecdotally, that meltdown is mercurial. It comes and goes, and when it's really cold outside we think, in our grade school brains, that things are not as bad as they seem, not as bad as those bad boy greenies tell us things are. But hey, me, I'm glad to have some real winter, for a change.

I am a rather migratory bird of late. For years, more or less, I have headed north in the summer and south in the winter, south meaning back to my meager nest in Texas. But that doesn't mean I like 80 degree days in the winter. I find that about as gruesome as humid 95 degree days in the summer.

I do want winter to be winter, even if I don't have glaciers calving outside my windows. A good stretch of 25-45 degree weather does the soul some good. I feel energized by that sort of cold. Too bad it's sometimes that cold INSIDE my uninsulated house that acts like a sieve for drafts and cold-to-the-bone-under-the-covers sorts of days, especially if they are gray as well.

I have a few pathetic little electric heaters that I have to point at my ankles to get warm, and I have a fireplace, which is, as we all know, an aesthetically priceless but vastly, suckingly impractical way to heat a room, much less a house. The kitchen is like Siberia. I keep the door closed and just let it be the deep freeze. I don't have to worry about refrigerating anything, I can just leave the leftovers and the yogurt on the counter. Temp: a bit cooler than inside the fridge.

When there's a "cold snap" of winter down here, I can see my breath in the lamp light as I read. I am getting good at bucking up and not noticing quite so often how much I am shivering. It's a game. It's like winter camp. Outdoors and in.

Well, the last few weeks were like this, and with my frosty breath inside and crunchy layers of snow and ice outside, I was settling in to my hobby. But today, today back came the warm snap, bold and blue and bright, very bright. Lots of squinting and some smiles. Yes, I do crave the sun, especially in winter, so I better get out there and soak some up -- for myself and for those not so lucky.

But to the planet: just don't get carried away with that sauna in January stuff. I don't need those mercurial swings above 80 until mid-March, thanks.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Hero's Rebuttal to Bush

Freshman Senator (and Vietnam veteran) Jim Webb gave a good rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address last night. But member of the British Parliament George Galloway would have given a much better rebuff. It could have been the George Vs. George Hour, and that's a show I'd go well out of my way to see. Galloway is one of the most eloquent AND persistently, bluntly, bravely outspoken members of Parliament to oppose the efforts of Blair and Bush to wage war.

I happened to hear Galloway on the Pacifica radio station in Houston, KPFT, helping with a fund drive. Lucky me. And lucky you, too, if you get the chance to hear or read anything Galloway has to say.

[More soon on this post, with Galloway quotations to be added. Stay tuned.]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush's Bully Pulpit

Or is that Not-So-Bully pulpit?

Mr. Bush seemed again tonight like he seemed in his public appearances in the week after the mid-term election, not wanting his job much at all, feeling it itching like a suit of steel wool. And so the president relied on his stubbornness to get him to the end of the evening. Two more State of the Union speeches to go. Surely tonight, he's merely glad this one is over.

Not that he is looking forward to next year. Or even to the next year. More than ever, his presidency swims or sinks on one tattered goal, victory, victory somehow, whatever it is, whatever a victory might look like.

And he's not telling us. As I've said before, so he said again tonight: "success" and "victory" and "not failure," but no insightful or even updated clues as to what these things are.

We might think that Mr. Bush and "the White House" and his administration and government in Washington are somehow detached from the rest of the nation, somehow irrelevant. Life goes on. The economy is very good for many. The status quo prevails. Disdain may be widespread, but death and destruction seem to be rare enough to not incite riots or revolution, so why worry? Bush and his cronies will pass.

But indeed, the country is in a shambles. The times are turning downright Nixonian again. Thus far, Mr. Bush has eluded whatever Watergate might befall him, but the damage is pervasive, and not even Nancy Pelosi's presence on the dais can shore up real hope for a resolute change in course.

This was a speech to be watched, a visual spectacle, not one of words. Bush's address fell flat to the ear, but to the eyes, there were the yin and yang of the political season behind Bush.

There, to the president's right, was the slant mouthed Mt. Rushmore visage of a scrunched Dick Cheney in cold gray granite or dusty death-mask marble, looking solidly annoyed, full of disdain throughout, his squint set in stone.

There, to the president's left, was the much more kinetic Pelosi, flittering between grace and gravitas, blinking and squirming like an anxious yet ill-prepared school girl who didn't want to be called upon.

Mr. Cheney seemed reluctant to move, much less add any life to his countenance. He even seemed reluctant to applaud his front man, his talking head ticket to power. It's probably the only time of the year that Mr. Bush stands for an hour with his back to the vice president.

Ms. Pelosi seemed to wrestle inwardly with the timing and nuance of her cues for the chamber, when and how fast to stand. She nearly seemed to jump at times, especially juxtaposed to the suits of stone to her right. Other times, she seemed to be swallowing smirks and the downcast eyes that meant we are boycotting this particular ploy from the bully boy at the helm.

Mr. Bush has become an increasingly flat and illfitting ghost image of himself, the bully not of the pulpit but of the schoolyard, a boy at heart. He stands ill at ease, not caring for the word talk or magisterial wonder of a true peacher, cowed by the wizards who swirl around Washington and around the world. He's no wiz but the prodigal schoolboy, wanting to chomp down on weakness, insisting he gets to kick sand into the faces of those against him. And now, more than ever, there are many.

And so it may be that the next political season is one in which the bully is found lacking and loitering too long, ripe for getting kicked around some himself.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ready to Rumble

Word has it that tomorrow night's State of the Union address will highlight President Bush's domestic agenda, now that he is just coming off the raging success of his Big Bold New Direction in Iraq Speech.

Not wanting to be seen harping 100% of the time on what is not just his pet subject but his only passion, Mr. Bush will wow the chamber and the nation with wily and wonderful ways he's going to fix everything that needs fixing, stateside.

Don't count on it.

The pundits are hoping so to have some fresh meat, but Mr. Bush will prove yet again that he is the kind of guy who, same as it ever was, wants to give war a chance.

And if war's not working, then certainly more war will do. Might makes right. Just you wait and see.

Mr. Bush is not a war veteran, but he is a man of the trenches. He's the highest ranking grunt this country has endured.

On his way down the aisle, Mr. Bush will be glad handing and smiling, but he'll also be tearing up the carpet to dig himself a new front line. And he'll put up One Way signs. Roll over Franklin. Roll over Jefferson.

Mr. Vice President, Madame Speaker, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, the state of the union is a tawdry spectacle and a selfish shell game.

All rise.

Friday, January 19, 2007

M2M: Resolution Update 1.19.07

Two weeks ago, Friday the 5th, was quite a day for me. I'd tossed and turned that Thursday night. I'd stayed up late and been thinking of resolutions and a sort of haunting start to the new year -- and the fact that this year I'd turn 50, which seems sort of crazy old to me, considering that I feel about 38, ok, maybe 42. But then maybe 49 really is the new 29. In some ways, for me, it will be. In some ways, it already is, such is the power of purpose, of creating a personal and distinct labor of love.

I'd spent a lot of the last three years teetering around the edges, over the lip and deep inside the abyss of a Serious Mid-Life Crisis. Some days worthy of a memoir of staggering sadness, other days as if the iron in my blood were lead.

Strains of that abyss and down time had been with me, sometimes, on and off, all of my life, drawn to the peaks and valleys of passions and sensitivities and moods and melancholy. But the nose dive a lot of things seemed to take for me, around me and for my country after 9/11 made me feel at times as if I were bound up in a thick canvas straight jacket (or needed to be, eh?). I'd have to say that, even with some amazing high points and even a few accomplishments and spiritual and psychological leaps and bounds and revised satisfactions, June 2003 to June 2006 were the worst three years of my life. My mind floundered. Hope seemed naive.

Even at the beginning of this year, just a few weeks ago, I was counting pocket change to buy 59 cent cans of tuna -- and scrambling to sell stuff at auction on eBay, putting out little tawdry fires as others sparked. And this in a cold house where I huddled next to the fire in the fireplace, otherwise down into the 30s in other rooms.

But that night of ideas and that day of the 5th, I felt a new energy and excitement and focus and inspiration like I haven't felt in years. I decided to write about resolutions here at ABN. And I announced the idea that I wanted to hike M2M, Manhattan to Montreal.

It is amazing how latching onto such a goal seems to have an effect on other aspects of one's life, not necessarily revolutionary but not naive, not of the rut but of a fresh surge of endorphins coursing through one's veins, sharper and more spritely than Prozac could ever be (at least for me).

In the two weeks since that first Friday post of 2007, the M2M 'dream' has become a more solid goal, and though some of my moments and glances so far this year are still tinged with that amorphous specter of melancholia, I am still feeling the excitement of that goal, which seems at once simple yet grand. I think I am really going to do it.

I've contacted trails clubs in the Hudson Valley and in the Adirondacks of New York. I've poured over books about Manhattan, a place I know somewhat well. I am delving deeper into the woodsy realms of the Catskills and the Adirondacks, places I've hardly seen. And I am starting to look at maps of Quebec and books about Montreal, places I have never been and never even really considered before.

I've never backpacked more than a few days at a time, going perhaps no more than 40 miles in the wilderness. Now I am looking at 600 miles and two months. I intend to head north from Battery Park on or around Thursday, June 28.

This spring, to keep the focus and the M2M epic ahead of me, I will write here about my Manhattan to Montreal hike of a lifetime every other Friday, letting you know how it's going. And during the hike, I will keep an in-depth blog of the journey, here at ABN or at a blog site all it's own.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Colbert Vs. Papa Bear: The Report

I just happened to be at a friend's house to catch The Colbert Report tonight and happened upon an apparently much ballyhooed episode in which Stephen Colbert got his main man, Bill O'Reilly, to make a guest appearance. Monsieur Colbert played up the "crossover" showdown before, during and after. But the showdown itself came in with a reticent O'Reilly and went out with a whimper.

Maybe, just maybe, part of the satire is on those of us whose hopes or expectations for substance (WOW!), for swings (OUCH!), for knock out punches (BANG!) were raised. Colbert's got our yangs. He's even willing to be vacuous with the big dogs to get his themes of vapidity and vacuity across.

No swings connected, if those were swings. No BANG in that interview. In fact, beyond that one note satire of the media wasteland, far too many of Colbert's interview segments go out with a "huh" and a whimper. Bad boy Stephen mocks and parades O'Reilly's cut 'em off/box 'em in one-two punches, but it's a one horse show. He's so quick witted his less improvisational guests never get up the steam to swing back, as they do on The O'Reilly Factor. And even O'Reilly must have come to realize that his own show would not be so popular if his guests never got to get at least one of their two cents in edgewise.

Jon Stewart is the better interviewer of the two -- of the three -- whether for laughs or insight. Stewart is, of course, gentler and more respectful, but the main thing is he's less predictable than Colbert. And eventually, in the writers' meetings, Colbert's going to have to reckon with becoming predictable.

Colbert just dances around his guests like Wile E. Coyote with a good shoe shine and an extra dab of Brylcreem. In interviews, Colbert's dancing Coyote leaves his hapless roadrunners spinning in mid-air without the sort of traction that would make the interviews more compelling satire. Of course, the same goes for Bill O'Reilly to some extent. Hence the existence of Colbert's character, so the irony.

What did Colbert prove tonight? That he's quick on his feet and quicker out of his mouth. O'Reilly, beyond the puffed up confines of his FOX hole, was shown to be more of a quiet smirker than (highly paid and applauded) belligerent barker (for god sakes he's not a journalist). Big Bill needed crib notes, cue cards and a lot more caffeine.

Stephen's still got the hyper-caffeinated schtick worked into a froth, and for now, he's still the closest thing we have to a half hour of artful satire on TV. That's satire, high and low, inspired and droll.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Doomsday Clock

Today is the day we lose a couple of minutes that we really might want to get back. These are the kind of minutes that matter more than most. No, it's not leap year, and no, this isn't a leap forward of any sort. In every way, it is a step backward. It's getting toward that time again when you'll need to scramble under your school desks or duck for other suitable cover and kiss your asses goodbye.

As Shakespeare famously said in Hamlet, most of our tomorrows creep by at a petty pace, to the last syllable of recorded time. Well, turns out there is a clock that's keeping track of when a heckuva lot of recorded time might end.

And when THAT last little millisecond strikes, for many of us, our time is, as they say, up.

In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists associated with the University of Chicago, started a symbolic clock to mark their collective perception of the planet's proximity to nuclear war. They played on the ominous phrase "minutes to midnight" and set the clock with just seven minutes to go to the witching hour. Now and then over the years, the bureau has chosen to reset the clock, backward and forwards. The closest it's been was a mere two minutes in 1953 and three minutes in 1984. And what's a relatively "safe" setting since '47? Try a not so impressive 12 minutes in 1963 and 1972 and a real breather at 17 minutes out in 1991. Still, that's 11:43, and most people are asleep by then.

You can read the Wikipedia entry about the Doomsday Clock here.

Since 2002, the clock has been holding at 7 minutes to midnight. But today, the clock is being reset to show another two minutes have been lost. So as of today, we're hanging in at 11:55, five minutes to midnight. The increasing instability in the Middle East, the recent taunts and war drums from North Korea, and the aggressive preemptive threats and strikes of the Bush administration's "war on terror" are the reasons we're losing a minute. And with six to go, maybe it's time we worked to move the clock back a few minutes or an hour.

While you've still got a keister to kiss, please take a bit of time to speak out for disarmament and peace. Otherwise, we'll all be kissing something much more sinister. We won't wake up in time, or we just won't wake up.

Achtung! Atencion! Pozornost! Hey!

Lechiem! Salud!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Brokeback War

I'm sitting in a Hastings Hardback Cafe, combination bookstore/coffee shop, in Kerrville, Texas. It's been especially cold here for several days, and now it's snowing and sleeting. Turns out this is a good place to consider the deep influences of cowboy culture on American culture and especially on this country's propensity to whip up a good war. Or slip in an extra bad war.

Cowboys fight the cold the way Bush fights. Not much of a jacket, probably unbuttoned some. No cap, no gloves. The cowboy types around here are leaning into the sleet with what look like cheap long sleeve underwear and some tough outer shirt over it, often not tucked in or buttoned up. No caps, no gloves, just a squint and a firm jaw, maybe a little brokeback grimmace, an "I don't need this shit, but it's the way it is. I can take this. I don't need no weenie fleece or gloves. Gloves are for sissies. Ear muffs? You're gay. A muffler, for chrissake? You're gayer than gay."

Bush fights his frat boy past, his blue-bloody family, and his lame legacy that way. And he fights his wars that way, too.

Legacies are like horses. Lame? See what's up. Bad? Shoot it.

Some wrenches and some rope, guts and guns help a man get a move on, ain't got the damned time to figure all that out and talk it over.

Here I am, about 40 miles southwest from where Lyndon Baines Johnson grew up, about 270 miles east/southeast of where George Walker Bush grew up, in a place where the backward fringes of the culture seem to be running the country and running the world.... Snow's coming down, and it can even hobble a semi and even put a Hummer on hold: there are rumors they've closed the interstate (I-10) and opened a shelter at the local Red Cross.

Want traction in all this modern snow shit, with all them fine print rules and the damned diplomats? Be an outlaw. Cut the fence. Break the gate.

War. War is like a sleet storm in Texas (or for a cowboy, even in Montana). It's a fight, ain't it? That makes it something to get through, not wuss out on. Lean in to it. Stiff chin, stiff mind. Squint. This too will pass, but while it's going, it feels ancient and famous and full of tech and men and duty and mortal pride, damn it.

And war's not for kid gloves or gloves of any sort. War's the time to take the gloves off, step up, be a man. But there's the rub. It's not the greatest of men who squint and lean into war. It's the crusaders, the gladiators, those not big on options and sitting around making conversation. War is for cowboys, and the cowboys don't mind.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Anger American Style

The author Peter Wood has a new book out which is just now getting a lot of attention. Wood was featured on CNN Saturday morning in a round table discussion of his book, "A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now."

Wood makes some great points. He says that, culturally, things have changed considerably and as of late, drastically. He says that now we have old anger and new anger. As Wood puts it, old anger is when you count to ten seconds. You consider your reaction and your response and perhaps take the opportunity to respond calmly or step away. According to Wood, new anger is where you don't wait ten seconds, and you may even become angry preemptively, to get the upper hand. Woods says people used to see anger as a weakness, so much so that they used to be ashamed of their anger and thus kept some, most or all of it to themselves not only in 'polite company' but in all sorts of situations. Wood says that as a culture, we are notably giving up on patience and restraint.

Now days, Americans are angry as a sign of warding off fellow predators. The most popular music, athletes and advertisements of the 21st century are either outright angry or tinged with anger around the edges. In America now, aggression is a fashion statement.

In some studies, Americans now boast of their anger and their rapid response times. Certainly, the rise in road rage and rude behavior of all sorts are actually not only on the rise but on the rise in relation to the population. In other words, any of us is more likely to express or act on anger than even during the 1960s, when the nation seemed to be engulfed in anti-war and anti-establishment protests.

We've taken most of the external and social forums of anger and turned them into personal hostility toward whatever and whomever.

Wood uses the escalations of political offensive and sports team tirades as pervasive and highly visible symbols of what the rest of the nation is doing. Attack ads set the tone for the embattled feelings of many in traffic, waiting in line, trying to get customer service, dealing with conflicts both neighborly and internationally.

I haven't read the book yet, but I would offer a few therapeutic notions to the debate:

There is a difference between justified anger and unjustified anger. And no matter what that guy you cut off thinks, there is almost never such a thing as justified anger.

Also: According to the latest neuro-psychological studies of how people function, we are not in control of our emotions. We are pretty much wired to FEEL certain ways in near instant reactions to situations. BUT, we are responsible for how we react to and act upon our own emotions. We are responsible whether we blow it or not. Whether our reactions are gruesome or graceful, it's up to us.

So why not side with a civilized and civil and admirable response to the darker of our emotions? With attention and training, we CAN control how we react, how we act. Our best behavior depends not on never feeling angry but on not exacerbating and escalating that anger. It is better to acknowledge the anger of others in a rather neutral and opening compassionate way... and then to step away.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shroud in Tatters

Let's just hope this week goes down in the headlines and in history as the week in which President Bush offered up not the future course of our country but rather the stubborn, dismal coffin in which his dangerous and damning legacy will be buried.

And that legacy is more plain than ever before: "Shock and awe," strike FIRST, don't ask questions later. And keep in there, making blood for oil and war for profit not just a chapter but an epic crusade. It is as if we now have no choice but to cut the president off from funds. Can Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Reid, can the Democrats, in by a sqeaker, play hardball? Can the aisle-crossers and We the People turn away from what Messrs. Bush and Cheney have wanted all along, more war, regional war?

No matter what our domestic ineptitudes and aggravations as a people, we're not the wanton warmongers these old-fashioned executives might prefer. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon certainly learned that the hard way, each in his own way. They might have tried to save face, but the fears they felt behind the scenes and (it's documented) late into the night ate away at them and aided in their destruction.

Three thousand, four thousand, five thousand military American deaths in Iraq (and the many more civilian deaths on both sides) hold only a few candles to the bonfire blaze of roughly 55,000 American deaths in Vietnam. But fortunately it seems we wouldn't take those numbers of slaughtered svelte young dead again for a bunch of gray-haired gas bags trying to own the oil in the sand.

It is a good thing for those of us against the war that, in 2007, three thousand seems like a lot. It shows that maybe we have made some progress. Maybe more of us really not only know but show we know that killing anybody, whether soldier or insurgent or citizen is not the answer. And enough of would-be lynchings of "enemy combatants." And how about an end to lynchings of former leaders, no matter how high or low they go?

I would wish a peaceful life and a peaceful end for every man, no matter how tattered his flimsy shroud, no matter how horrific, how wrongly-wrought his self-made coffin.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Depends on What "Success" Is

President Bush wants to "succeed" in Iraq. He wants "success" and "victory." He wants to be "victorious." All words he has used often.

I've asked before here at ABN: who is defining these words, as used by the president? Is he? Is Dick Cheney? Is anyone?

We could tell from Secretary of State Rice's testimony today that she too now shares the president's "deer in the headlights" look, certainly feeling she is about to make State look like an irrelevant shambles, just as even Colin Powell managed to do several years ago. So we know Ms. Rice is not calling the shots, and she's not defining the terms. She sounded like a wooden puppet today, with somebody behind the scenes yanking her around. Somebody's roughing her up, and now that the administration's shit is hitting the Congressional fan, she's clearly not up to the job.

There went her chances to run for president.

And we don't have Rummy to kick around any more. Today, when I heard the new Secretary of State Robert Gates warble like a school boy, I actually missed the smarmy Rumster, the squinty, Patton-wannabee Donald (who could kick Trump's ass, speaking of school boys).

Yep, it was a pretty good day for "sea change" in America. Within the last 24 hours, not a single member of the Bush administration sounded at all like he or she even knew what he or she was talking about. No evidence to support the troop build up, no alternatives, no scope, no vision, no diplomacy, no "new course," just blinders on -- and, in case you missed this one, a nighttime raid on an Iranian consulate in Iraq! Now that'll get the big ball rolling. And this is a big ball now, not a snow ball, not a ball of wax, but a ball that's got a Trojan Horse inside, ready to wreck the entire region.

Back in the old glory days of Vietnam, the chain-smoking staffers used to conjure "the domino effect," a vision of one country after another tumbling under the weight of Hanoi's Hell, a tyrannical cancer of communism. First Vietnam, next thing you know it's U.S.

I think Bush kinda likes the domino effect. In fact, it is at the basis of his policy for the Middle East and probably, yes, the Muslim World. Now, under Bush's thumb, the United States is the tyrannical nation promoting and fostering the domino effect. Really Bush has said as much, as he sees the straight-jacketing of Iraq as the key to putting the cuffs on the entire region. Bush is setting up the dominoes, just hoping they'll fall as he hopes they will.

Maybe success means that all the dominoes will fall willy-nilly into chaos so that US Corp. takes backhanded control of the oil fields. That's the only kind of "success" that seems likely to me. The whole "bringing democracy" thing is a ploy, a decoy. The live duck is crude oil. Success? Bush Co. doesn't want to count votes. They want to count barrels, billions of barrels. And trillions of you know what.

To Bush & Co., it's not about peace, it's about profit sharing, though I don't mean sharing with the likes of us, mere citizens. If you haven't received your guilded invitation to their back room victory party yet, you're out of the loop.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

When in Doubt: More War

President Bush is about to speak to the nation about his plans for fixing his war against Iraq. Apparently, the lynching of Saddam Hussein put a definitive end to Chapter One, which lasted longer than the United States was involved in World War II.

Chapter One ended on the deck of that aircraft carrier so long ago: "Mission Accomplished," and that's when the long, drawn out, pitifully stubborn Chapter Two began.

So now we are at last on to Chapter Three, but of how many chapters?

Bottom line: As with most chomping-at-the-bit chief executives, American presidents hate to lose more than they hate war.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Speaking of Escalations and Presidential Hubris

In the broad arc of history, George Bush will be compared to Richard Nixon for some similarities, but Nixon was by far the wiser and better man. It's just that both men suffered such challenging, chilly and psychologically brutish childhoods. Freud would have a field day.

Bush will be compared to Nixon primarily for his antagonism toward the press and toward his "enemies," for his hidden agendas, for his impeachable offenses, for his disastrous escalation of an ill-wrought war and above all for his hubris as commander in chief.

We know little of Mr. Bush except for these traits. Even as he is sometimes only roughly comprehensible, Bush is not complicated, much less comprehensive. Mr. Nixon, for all of his own dark demons and in spite of his infamous downfall, was very complicated, very capable, and astonishingly comprehensive. Mr. Nixon was not an extravert, not a people's president, but at least he was not a pretender. Nixon was a man of the planet and of the intricacies of politics and diplomacy. And Nixon was in so many ways Mr. Bush would never recall, imagine or even acknowledge, quite a liberal.

We can't (or shouldn't) reduce Nixon's life, political career, and presidency to Watergate. Nixon inherited a much more liberal nation back then, from the summer of M.L.K. and Bobby and George Wallace and into the summer of love and the dread winter of war, fires burning abroad and at home. His options were wide open, and he did many good things. He was a relatively good president for the environment, for civil rights, for the handicapped, for Native Americans, even for the poor. A pet victory for me: it was Nixon who had the guts to make 55 'a law we could live with." Nixon ended the draft. He created the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the Endangered Species Act. He funded scientific research as well as ANY president. And Nixon wasn't a born again hack or a fundamentalist anything. So let's give him his due, on this, his birthday.

On Garrison Keillor's wonderful weekday radio program "A Writer's Almanac," which I so highly recommend, Keillor gave a poignant portrait of Nixon today. You can listen to the brief program here, but just in case, here is what Homegrown Democrat Keillor said:

It's the birthday of the 37th president of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California (1913). He had a childhood full of tragedy and disappointment. When Nixon was 12, his older brother got a headache that turned out to be meningitis. He died a month later. Nixon said that he cried for weeks afterwards. A few years later, Nixon's other brother caught tuberculosis and spent five years in a sanitarium before he died. The cost of his treatment drained the family's resources, and Nixon had to turn down a partial scholarship to Harvard. He did get a full scholarship to Duke Law School, but he had to live in a one-room house with no plumbing or electricity. He was forced to shave in the men's room of the Duke University library.

Nixon's luck only began to change when he decided to join the military during World War II. He'd been raised a Quaker, but he was interested in politics, and he knew that military service would look good on his résumé. One of the things he learned in the military was that he was a fantastic poker player. By the end of the war, he had earned almost $10,000. When he got back to civilian life, he used that money to fund his first political campaign.

He managed to win his first election for Congress, and he served as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, but he was defeated for the presidency by John F. Kennedy in 1960. Then, in 1962, he lost a campaign for governor of California, and suddenly it seemed like his career was over. But just six years later, he was elected president of the United States.

His policies as president were surprisingly liberal by today's standards. He began arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and eased relations with China. He established the Environmental Protection Agency, expanded Social Security and state welfare programs, and he tried to create a national health insurance system.

The Watergate investigations eventually forced Nixon to resign in 1974. At his last meeting with his Cabinet in 1974, Nixon burst into tears. He told them, "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Urge to Surge

I see the newly emboldened Dems coming in from left field with a plan to cut Bush off at the pass, but where are the protests?

A surge???? What sort of Orwellian "Clean Used Cars" Rot is that? Ever occur to us that we/them/the U.S. armed forces in Iraq are inSURGEnts, too? And what about "surge protectors"? Seems we'll need a globe-sized one of those too, to ward off what Gore Vidal called "eternal war for eternal peace," which, of course, brings us back to George... Orwell, who saw all of this coming through the dark crystal ball of his allegorical writer's genius.

A surge... sounds like the same old, same old, same-as-it-ever-was Southeast Asian DOMINO Effect to me. Kennedy made this mistake. Johnson made this mistake. Nixon made this mistake.

Smoke and mirrors for 'winning victory' but just plain old Daddy Warbucks EE to me.


That's... Escalation of Empire.

It's not really Ford we need back in the Republican ranks right now, it's Eisenhower. Where's IKE when we need him? "Beware the military industrial complex" Ike, and that's General Eisenhower to us all, especially to you, Messrs Cheney and Bush, ostrich MIAs as always, heads in the clouds, heads in the sand.

That burgeoning, already behemoth M.I. Complex, like a devilish psychosis, and with Bush Co. and Cheney and Rummy's fingerprints all over it, is the very bread and butter of Empire.

And we're worried about a public execution captured on a cell phone when there are private and much more spontaneous and riotous executions, shot on sight in the streets and Alleyways of a dozen countries every day and every night.

We would be a better nation if we quelled quickly the urge to surge.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Lofty Goal" Resolutions

I wrote about resolutions yesterday, and here I am back again. It's a bigger subject than I'd thought. Who knew?

I'd written to a friend earlier this week about some resolutions a bit more grand than mustard tasting and PayPal accounts, and she titled her response "Lofty Goals...."

Those resolutions involved weightier things than tasting the mustard and finding a love interest. Yes, weightier even than that pie in the sky stuff.

Things like my goals for the year if this were the last year I'd be alive. (Isn't that how many of us arrive at our "lofty goal" resolutions, by imaging "lights out" time is looming?) If this is the last year you're going to be alive, you don't care much about loosing weight or radically improving your health in any way. And you sure don't care about putting in overtime at the office or watching as much television as, well, some do. You've got just three hundred something days, so it's time to get down to it. What would you DO? Leave home? Stay home? Talk to people on the phone? Visit relatives? Commit a crime? Become a monk? Lose your religion or get born again? Be decadent? Write a will? Volunteer in a gross job no one wants to do? Jump off a bridge? Become a nomad? Make a plan? Lose your mind? Go find yourself?

Me? I'm small potatoes. I'm more honest and open than most, but that just leaves me open to seeming overly proud or overly pathetic. Still, I'm here, it is now, and you are reading this, so....

If that were the case, Capital D Death is coming in January 2008. As for me, I'd set up and lead a few bike tours this year, in Texas and the Berkshires, and in the fall in Minnesota and Hawaii. I'd be sure to visit NYC, Yellowstone, San Francisco, Yosemite and the Big Sur Coast. By late spring, I'd have sold my car and almost all of my worldly possessions so I could pay off some debts and free the way to do the hike of my current dreams, "M2M" I call it, Manhattan to Montreal, via Schenectady, NY, where I was born. I'd walk north out of Battery Park on the summer solstice and wander roads and towns and trails up the Hudson, maybe swing a bit into the Catskills and get a major dose of the Adirondacks on my way to the St. Lawrence and Montreal, a place I've never been. I'd blog about this long walk as a means toward getting out a book about the journey, a la the long walks of some of my heroes and mentors, Thoreau, Muir, Abbey, Dillard, and McKibben. In fact, on New Year's Day, I wrote to Bill McKibben, the renowned author of The End of Nature and Wandering Home, and struck up a bit of correspondence about a route through that part of the world.

So is this a resolution? I'm not sure. It sounds like a pie in the sky plan to me. I haven't been doing "Big" things lately. The last few years, I've become more resigned to the small and here and now, become more ingrown and sadly close to home. But sometimes in a guy's life, he needs to break out and carpe terra. As my sister says, "Gotta bust a move!"

And so at least in words, words put down before you now, here is to that spirit.

Carpe anno, 2007.

Carpe vita.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Real World Resolutions

I hereby resolve to not resolve to solve world peace.

World peace? Are you kidding?

That's not the real world.

I hereby resolve to enjoy each sip of beer.

That's the real world.

I hereby resolve to eat more mustard.

And different kinds of mustard.

I hereby resolve to feel for others' failings at weight loss.

I hereby resolve to eat three cans of black-eyed peas on New Year's Day 2007 to make up for last year. (DONE.)

I hereby resolve to use spell check more often. (Done: I inadvertently set it on automatic and can't figure out how to unset it.)

I hereby resolve to get a PayPal link for A Better Nation, so I can make it even easier for you to donate to the cause. (Stephen Colbert doesn't need your money, I do! You wanna T-shirt? I'll make T-shirts!) Or shall I resolve to find, for financial frolic (call it debt relief if you have to), a benefactor? Or lucrative work? Or better reasons to get out of my pajamas?

OK, back to reality: I hereby resolve to sell off more of my STUFF on eBay.

I hereby resolve to help get rid of some of the millions of surplus cattle in this world by eating more steak, cooked on my own grill in the front yard where people can see me putting a fork into it.

I hereby resolve to look into buying carbon credits to offset my modest but not inconsequential use of fossil fuels. (I might even sell my car.)

I'm thinking this resolutions thing is pretty cool. More mustard? You bet. And actually taste each sip of beer? Now that's living.

What about the resolution to live in the here and now?

On the other hand, it HAS occurred to me to write a will. Yes, I hereby resolve that someone else shall distribute my detritus after I am dead. Speaking of which, I hereby resolve to ride the bus MORE but to stand in front of moving buses LESS.

If you think about it, most resolutions are about trying to ignore your cravings or at least to put the reins on them, but I resolve to pay MORE attention to my cravings. Like right now. I'm craving a late night bowl of beautiful, shiny burgundy kidney beans, followed by an even later night bowl of white rice. And before that it was Coke Zero (with fresh lime, which I add myself) and chocolate with WALNUTS or pecans.

And as I slouched toward the new year with that $7.78 bottle of Marquis Du Jour or some such, I am still craving a really decent bottle of champagne and a setting worthy of sensual sipping, beside a fireplace, no doubt, or an ocean.

Next thing you know it'll be good SEX or finding the ultimate significant other, that elusive kindred spirit, but this is the real world: resolutions can work to fend off sex, but there's not much resolutions can do about kindred spirits. Attaining nirvana, achieving world peace and making exquisite love with that special someone are all sort of in the same category these days.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pajama Party

About mid-December, I'd been thinking I'd take a three week break from politics and other weighty, worldly topics, but this '06-'07 transition has been a rather ghostly one. No wonder I spent precious resources on a bottle of champagne (ok, sparkling wine, but at least it was from France). No wonder some people party like they're not going to like tomorrow or even wake up tomorrow.

This past week, I've been mired in the spooky execution of Saddam Hussein and in the maudlin, remembrances of Gerald Ford. It is sort of schizy to witness the mix of angry pillaging and regal whitewashing of these center stage exits, ceremonies both vicious and vacuous, somber and sinister. And you don't have to look to the demises of deposed national leaders to see grim reminders that not every day is a holiday when you are married to this world. We took a breath, and the real world surrounds us again, from girls gone wild to school shootings to dire dysfunctions of all sorts.

Here it is Wednesday evening, and I am still in my pajamas. I still haven't seen a single person I know this year. I haven't gotten in a car this year. And my expenses for the year thus far run to $4.02. And did I mention the pajamas?

Monday, New Year's Day was a beautiful day, just right, and it felt like good fortune. Yesterday, Tuesday, was an increasingly overcast "national day of mourning." And today, today, Wednesday, has been more than twelve straight hours of cold, dark rain. I've crept along at a petty pace while hump day became a notable slump day.

Last week, I wrote a sort of glowing tribute to President Ford, and by New Year's Day, I was ready to add the downside to that one. Meanwhile, the fearless (and reliably contrarian) Christopher Hitchens and others at did a fine job of that for me.

And then, this afternoon, most succinctly, Cindy Sheehan put the slam on our rosy farewell to Mr. Ford and to the incoming Democrats, who might quickly become sycophants and suckers if they're not resolute, and she knows it. Sheehan knows it takes guts.

Along with about 70 fellow protestors, Sheehan disrupted a Democrats' press conference to insist her demands be heard, that the Democrats not authorize any more spending for the Iraq War, and more power to her. She said, "We want accountability. We just buried a president who did not hold another president accountable for war crimes, and that's why we're in Iraq right now. Our leaders who get us into these messes are the ones who need to be held accountable."

Sheehan said that if the Democrats authorized more funding for the war, that would make the Democrats "co-conspirators" with the Republicans. She said, "there is already enough money in their killing budget to bring the troops home," Wow, Sheehan's got it, slam dunk, and right about Ford, too. Ford might be better than what we've got now, better by a long shot. But again, he was not a hero: he considered this war a huge mistake but didn't want that view to be known until after he'd died. But going back to 1974, whether or not Nixon was a crook, Ford's pardon was a shame if not a crime. Sheer forgiveness? Certainly not. And besides, civilization and "a land of laws" depends on fairness even more than it depends on forgiveness.

Let's hope Bush isn't so lucky. Peace depends on justice a lot more than it depends on sweeping high crimes under the rug or burying them in the sand.

And so between here and the Beltway and Baghdad, we're off to a rough start, '007. I'm still in my pajamas, and it's no party.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Black-Eyed Peas May Be Answer to World's Ills

Apparently, the experts, whether highly elected or highly paid, haven't been able to solve the world's ills the last few centuries, so I think we can turn to luck and insipid rituals and get results at least as good.

I didn't mean to neglect my duty, but last year, I got distracted. There must have been black-eyed pea lethargy in the air. The rote cynics sidelined whimsy and ritual, and woe is me, I didn't eat any black-eyed peas on New Year's. Nobody in the house did. My sister mentioned it the next day, but by then it was too late. Well, as for 2006, you see how things turned out. Not so well. No world peace, Britney fell from grace, Dick Cheney got a clean bill of health, and I put on a few pounds.

So this year, I made up for it. I ate THREE CANS of black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. So 2007 is a shoo-in for better times ahead. Happy days are here again. Three. Cans. That's almost three POUNDS of sheer, straight, microwaved-and-drained-but-otherwise-unadulterated LUCK. I mean this must be a significant investment in not only MY future but in the prospects for the future of us all, of all species and of life on Earth. Britney will redeem herself, and Dick Cheney will check out -- I mean take early retirement. And as for world peace, visualize if you will, whirled peas.

Surely no other vision says "Fix This Mess" like a three-a-day bowl of such a handsome and unassuming vegetable. And maybe it's not too late for you to make your contribution to our collective betterment by ingesting copious amounts of this excellent source of fiber, so go to it. A decisive dousing with ketchup supplements our luck with special mellowing agents, and from what I can tell lately, you can't get too many of those. Get your daily dose from now 'til Valentine's or even Presidents' Day, and maybe we'll catch a break around here.

From the entire staff here at A Better Nation, good luck to ALL. Happy new '007. And cheers all year!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Midnight, 1/1/007

At midnight, I'm standing outside. The air is just about perfectly cool, that exact chill we crave this time of year, not too warm, not too cold, just right, right about 39 degrees, headed toward a low of maybe 28 just before dawn.

Past DONE. Future, maybe. The clock is just the excuse for a ritual protesting our mortal ends, for parading our exuberance, our embrace of the NOW we've got. Air like champagne, crisp, sharp, dry, black above, stars above, with tinges of letting go behind and now and again, before us, possibility.

I'm standing out in my sparkling yard, with it's bright white and blue streaks, hundreds of holiday lights, arcs up and into the trees, toward the black sky, and it looks good. A Walt Whitman moment, a dust to dust to star dust moment. I am feeling my aliveness and maybe yours. Feel your aliveness. Feel you've made it this far, for worse or better. And you lovers, sing the body electric. Sense the kisses, millions of kisses, those stolen and those long anticipated, in close quarters and out, outside, way out under those Walt Whitman stars, a human universe. Cold space punctuated by the near miracle of blood and a human pulse, putting your mind to the sky and the passing of time.

And there's no breeze, no wind, nothing's moving outside, except for the cacophony of muted hoots, horns, and hollers. And then there are these big BOOMS. Wow. Not your average neighborhood fireworks. Someone has invested in these big bangs, these pyrotechnicolor galaxies. They're taking a sizable and very visible risk. These puppies would make a big city display proud, and they're coming from about eight or ten houses away, and you just kind of wonder if the cops will make it to them and spoil the party. And I am thinking there is something so primordial about declaring loudly 'Damn it, I've made it this far. Time's marching on, and I am hanging on for the ride!" There's something so refreshing about the ragged exuberance of New Year's, even buried in a backwater of the heartland, sans Dick Clark, sans television coverage, sans expectation, wondering if any rich ritual will rear it's boxer's dance for a midnight smattering of lookers on, from near and far, just people outside cooking stuff and and drinking more than a little and handing out noise makers and laughing at midnight, such a rare thing in this gotta-get-to-work-early country.

This is Monday. It's a work day. But no, not tonight, and not tomorrow. Not today. Monday busted by a holiday. And so life is just a little bit better than it was a week or two ago.

Just a few minutes ago, it was December 2006, the month of many headlines and stacks of stuff and Big Deaths. And now, either all of a sudden or in a subtle flow of moments, it's January of a NEW year, never reached, never realized before, the proverbial slate sort of swiped clean, at least now in this bracing air just after midnight, 2007, in a year maybe 20 minutes old. 2007. A few moments after midnight it seems crisp and lean and acutely focused on and making it this far, at least this far, this far for worse or better, but tonight here and now.

Two thousand seven. That sounds fresh, with the twinkling lights, the sharp chill and the fleeting fires of promise.