Archive for February, 2006

The Thinker

Don’t snub Alan Hovhaness

No one will accuse Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) of not being a prolific composer. This 20th century American composer lists 415 opuses, including 63 symphonies to his life’s work. He was a contemporary of more famous American composers like Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. In many ways he may have played the role of Antonio Salieri, whose works (at least according to the movie Amadeus) were overshadowed by the vastly more talented Amadeus Mozart.

That so little of his music has been recorded might suggest that much of it is mediocre. I cannot claim to be a judge on that. I have just three CD’s of his music. It is unlikely that his mediocre works would make it to plastic. I do know that after having sampled his better-known works these last few years, his music can at times be brilliant. It is also usually inventive, in way that so much modern classical music is not.

I happen to be fans of both Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. Bernstein invested most of his talent in conducting music rather than writing it. Perhaps Bernstein’s works are so good because he had so much time to polish his music. His musical Candide first appeared on Broadway in 1956. In 1989, shortly before he died, he was still perfecting it with his “Final Revised Version” of Candide. Aaron Copland also created some wonderful American masterpieces including arguably the most admired work of American classical music, Appalachian Spring. I am a huge Copland fan and have most of his works. While Copland’s works were far more numerous than Bernstein’s were, many of Copland’s lesser-known works deserve their obscurity.

According to Wikipedia, both Bernstein and Copland snubbed Hovhaness. “I can’t stand this cheap ghetto music,” Bernstein reportedly said at Tanglewood upon hearing a recording of Hovhaness’s first symphony. Sitting near him, Aaron Copland talked loudly through it while a humiliated Hovhaness sat nearby. Perhaps Hovhaness’s lanky figure, chiseled features and Armenian background also contributed toward their low opinion of him.

Mysterious Mountain is perhaps Hovhaness’s best-known work of music. Yet there is much more to enjoy about his music. If nothing else, Hovhaness’s music defies easy categorization. Its breadth can be sampled by listening to both CDs in Hovhaness Collection, Volume 2. What an odd collection this is! It starts with one of his more recent works that marks an event that even I can recall, the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens, Symphony No. 50 starts with a movement celebrating the pristine and picture perfect Spirit Lake, which straddles Mount St. Helens, before the explosion forever changed it. It then moves through the eruption itself, which through innovative drum work convincingly captures the awesome power of the eruption. It is shortly followed by another oddity, And God Created Great Whales that includes the sounds of whales mixed in with the orchestration. Following it is Mysterious Mountain, which while good is somewhat overrated. The highlight for me is a track on the second disk: Alleluia and Fugue for string orchestra, Godly music worthy of Bach himself.

I was turned onto Hovhaness one Saturday when I was driving around doing chores. I was listening to WETA-FM. This was when it was still largely a classical music station. On Saturday afternoons, the station often played music that would never get a spin during the week. What I heard was the last movement of Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 3. For a moment, I thought I was hearing an undiscovered work of Aaron Copland. It did not take too much listening to realize that this was too thematically rich to be Aaron Copland. I remember pulling off the road into a shopping center and sitting in my car waiting for it to end before continuing my chores. It defies easy categorization and blends many themes at once, including an undercurrent of Native American chants.

While there are many Hovhaness recordings available, they can be difficult to find even in the more discerning music outlets. I had to order Symphony No. 3 off the web. Moreover, many of the recordings are by second or even third-rate orchestras. The KBS Orchestra in South Korea, for example, performs Symphony No. 3. In spite of these imperfections, it is a memorable symphony. It deserves to be recorded by a first class orchestra and conductor someday.

If you spurn Alan Hovhaness, you may regret your choice. While I have just dipped into his music, I am still intrigued. If nothing else, his music is routinely adventurous. When you sometimes do not expect it, a piece can soar into the stratosphere. I will be adding more to my Hovhaness collection in the years ahead.

The Thinker

Iraq’s Unconventional Civil War

Sometimes I hate calling it right. Granted, I have been sometimes wrong with my prognostication in the past. Last I looked President Kerry was not in the White House. Nevertheless, I hit the bullseye on Iraq. I called it right even before the war started. Winning a prediction would normally make me want to gloat. Yet as I watch Iraq descend into the civil war that I predicted, I just feel sick over the whole thing. Moreover, I feel almost nauseous knowing that my country recklessly lit the fuse.

Arguably, there has been a minor civil war going on in Iraq since around 2004. At first American forces were the principle targets of the insurgency. We are still hit regularly by insurgent forces. Seven Americans died from IEDs just the other day. Of course, American forces are now harder to target. We have adapted to losses by keeping many of our forces in their bases instead of patrolling or fighting. It makes for lower casualty counts for our increasingly antiwar public, but it probably does not improve Iraq’s security.

No one knows for sure who is causing the violence. That alone is telling. If forces were really in control, there would be no anarchy. Yet here we are nearly three years after our invasion and we are still operating with our blinders on. It appears that our intelligence today is not much better than the virtually nonexistent intelligence used to start this war.

The best guess is that the current anarchy in Iraq is mostly caused by a myriad of sectarian forces, each hoping to expand their own power by cutting down opposing sects’. Of course, when hardly anyone is minding the store, it becomes easier for the entirely wrong elements to become unleashed. One hundred forty thousand American troops were clearly not enough boots on the ground to prevent anarchy. Therefore, al Qaeda and affiliated elements easily crossed borders and set up shop, possibly aided by Iran and Syria. It would be a good bet to assume they are responsible for this most egregious act: the destruction of the Askariya shrine in Samarra. However, it could also have done by a small sect of Sunni insurgents.

If we were to do a risk assessment of what would trigger an Iraqi civil war, you would think blowing up some of the holiest Shia and Sunni shrines in the country would do it. Forces sufficient to repel attacks should have been securing these sites. But since war is hell, it must lead to a lot of muddled thinking. It must be hard to think tactically when you are not even sure you can get down the street safely. While not quite to the Shia what St. Peter’s Church in the Vatican is to the Roman Catholics, the Askariya shrine is nearly as important. Think how outraged Catholics would feel if the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s precious frescos were turned into rubble by terrorists.

Not surprisingly, the attack had the desired effect. The Shia, who have always been in the majority, found that with an incident this egregious they could no longer sit on their hands. Numerous Sunni mosques were quickly damaged or destroyed, although with all the anarchy it is hard to quantify the size of the destruction. That in turn led to the destruction of some Shia mosques. Hundreds of people have been killed. Iraqis will be fortunate if only thousands more are killed as a direct result of this incident.

As for the nascent Iraqi constitutional government, it is likely gone with the wind. A major Sunni sect will no longer participate unless some extremely onerous demands are accepted. Perhaps they will think more clearly with time. Rather than expecting unity, expect Iraqis to become passionately sectarian. This one nation ideal is just no longer a good fit. When push comes to shove, you have to make unpleasant choices. In Iraq that means that clan loyalty trumps over national loyalty. Rather than seeing the united and pluralist Iraq of America’s dreams, Iraq will devolve into heightened civil war and ruthless sectarianism. The result will mean what is has arguably already occurred: the end of Iraq as a country. Instead, there will be Eastern Iraq. Since it is predominantly Shia, it will likely end up as part of Iran. The Kurds will have their own country, if Turkey will allow it. The Sunnis will form either their own impoverished nation or affiliate with Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Iraq as we have known it since the British assembled it after World War I is effectively history. We are too blinded by our predispositions to see this yet. What should concern us more is whether the civil war in Iraq will spill outside its borders, inflaming the whole Middle East.

This civil war is unlikely to look like most civil wars. I will grant that insurgents have been attacking the Iraqi army and police at levels that suggest a civil war started years ago. Yet there does not appear to be a united insurgency. Therefore, “civil war” may not be the right label. Then what exactly do you call it when a nation descends into anarchy and chaos and sects fight other sects in the street? To call it an insurgency is absurd. We may need a refined definition of civil war for our modern age.

I believe that what we witnessed in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s is what we will see in Iraq for at least the next decade. Perhaps as in Lebanon, the factions at some point will have released their entire animus. Perhaps even the insurgents will get so sick of fighting that they will either demand peace or go home. Perhaps. However, this day is a long way off.

I believe that this civil war was destined to happen. Saddam Hussein the chess player set up the violence we are witnessing by inflaming sectarian tensions during his dictatorship. Sunni and Shia have lived peacefully together for many years. Their relationship was not always in perfect harmony. However, prior to Saddam Hussein each side rarely saw reasons to get violent with the other. Much of what we are now witnessing is a sad denouement of Saddam’s dubious legacy. One thing is clear: by invading, we added gasoline to this smoldering fire. It is unlikely that history will look kindly at our noble intentions.

The Thinker

What the health care industry can learn from veterinarians

In my last entry, I discussed feline wisdom. Cats have been on my mind lately and not just because my special feline is clearly in his decline. However, because of my elderly kitty’s problems I have seen a lot more of my veterinarian. I find in many ways that I envy my cat’s health care plan.

My cat does not have a plan, of course. His “plan” is to visit the Animal Medical Center in Herndon, Virginia as needed. I pay out of pocket for services rendered. Nor am I necessarily anxious to give up my wonderful physician. Still, when I contemplate the Rube Goldberg invention that is our current health care system I have to wonder why we let it get so complex, expensive and impersonal. It should work more like a trip to my local vet.

Last week I swung by the vet to pick up more prescription-diet cat food for my beloved and elderly cat Sprite. The vet techs behind the counter nearly know me by name now. “Oh yes, how is Sprite doing? Is the prednisone working?” Yes, I reported. He is drinking a lot more water and seems more his normal self. That day the vet happened to be standing at the front counter working on a chart when I arrived. If I had been a physician’s office, I would not expect to even glimpse a doctor until after I had been ushered into the examination room. So naturally, I assumed that the vet was not listening to my kitty problems. Yet she tuned in the whole conversation about how the medications were working out and my feline’s current bowel habits as she worked the chart, and spoke up. She was glad to hear that the medication was working. She suggested staying with the wet cat food because it was moister.

If this conversation had occurred at all in most doctors’ offices, the informal chat would turn into a consultation. My insurance company would be billed and I would be writing a check for a co-payment. However, at my vet’s office such advice comes at no extra charge.

Formal examinations of course come with fees attached. Nevertheless, calls to the vet to discuss a particular situation or to ask advice on a topic are invariably assessed at no charge. If they think the problem is serious enough then they will tell us to bring Sprite in. An examination usually costs us $35-$50, plus medications. If pills need to be cut, they are glad to cut them for us at no additional charge.

Unlike most doctors’ offices, where you are sent to read dated issues of magazines for an indeterminate time, generally our pet sees the veterinarian in within minutes of the arrival. For our amusement the office comes complete with a few roaming “office” cats. You can often find them sitting on a counter, or perched on top of a computer monitor. They generally do not mind being petted by strangers. If we have to wait, there is usually another friendly pet owner with whom to trade pet stories.

Everyone at our vet’s office is glad to see both our pets and us. The feeling of warmth for the animals is palpable. I do not know how your experience is at your doctor’s office. However, feelings of genuine concern for my malady of the moment are not typically what we experience. The crew behind the counter is, however, quite concerned about whether my insurance has changed since my last visit.

I am sure that there are many veterinarian specialists out there, but for the most part our vet’s office is a one-stop shop. They do pretty much everything, including making sure our cat’s nails are trimmed and that he is on the proper diet. Unlike many physicians’ offices that I have visited over the years, they are not anxious to order an expensive test or even prescribe medication. They stick with treating the most likely conditions first, and then work from there as necessary. If the animal is really sick, they can also keep it under observation. Of course, they can also board the animal if needed. Clearly, you will not get any of these services from your physician. They do not exist. Even if you can hardly move, you are most likely to just get a prescription and be sent home to convalesce.

Most of us probably would not want their doctor to cuddle or stroke us like we do with our pets. Yet wouldn’t it be nice when the situation warranted if your doctor gave you a hug, or gently squeezed your hand, or really empathized when you seemed to need it? Instead, your physician is more likely figuring out how to wrap up the conversation so they can get to the next patient. You may get some empathy from the nurse that takes your vitals. Generally, physicians will divorce your physical problems from your mental ones. A general practitioner will point you to a competent therapist, but most will not going to spend more than a couple minutes listening to your situational problems.

Although our pets might disagree if they could talk, most veterinary clinics feel inviting. This is not usually true of physicians’ offices. Instead, you wait until you are called and maybe listen to some bad Muzak. Then you get to wait for an indeterminate time in a small and lonely examination room, sometimes while partially disrobed. However at our vet, pets are welcomed and sometimes even fussed over during their time with the veterinarian. Vets know this personal attention is a part of what the animal expects and that it may help in their healing. For some reason we human animals do not typically receive bedside manners from our physicians.

When your pet is clearly dying and in pain, the vet will do the humane thing and with your consent put your pet to sleep. Yet in our country only Oregon comes close to offering a way for a physician to help you exit your life in a dignified and humane manner. Why is it that what is considered humane for an animal is frowned upon for us human beings? Are we not also animals? I believe that we humans also deserve a dignified exit from this life. How is it more humane to keep us lingering in a narcotic haze until death finally releases us from our misery? Having recently witnessed my mother die this way, I would never choose this for myself. Nor would have my mother have chosen this final exit, if she had had the choice.

I think that the business model underlying our current regular health care needs to radically change. It needs to treat people as human beings, instead of insurable objects who get fifteen minutes or less with a harried doctor. It also needs to insure everyone. Bill Clinton tried to overhaul our health insurance system early in his presidency and failed. Those living off the fat of the current system had undue influence. Yet if we were to rethink American medicine, perhaps a radical overhaul would be in order. A good place to start would be to examine what works so well in our veterinary clinics.

The Thinker

Life lessons courtesy of my cat

Do you need a philosophy of life? Rather than read Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Sartre perhaps you would do better to observe your cat.

If you do not have a cat, the situation is easily remedied. There are plenty at your local animal shelter, usually for little more than the cost of some shots. Unless your cat has neurotic tendencies such as liking to shred your sofa, they are usually not much bother. Yes, they will hack up a hairball from time to time. In addition, some of them, like our evil ex-cat Squeaky can make your life a living hell. However, most cats are content if you change their litter regularly, give them clean water and half a can of cat food a day and amuse them when it suits them. Generally, they will look out for themselves quite well.

Cat philosophy is not written down anywhere. However, simple observation will allow you to glean their philosophy on life. For cats are ruthlessly selfish creatures. They may be selfish but that does not mean they are unreasonably selfish. Their pecking order is very clear: I will do what gives me the most pleasure right now. After about two decades of observing cats up close, I have to say that it is not necessarily a bad philosophy.

I am not advocating selling your children to the gypsies. Nor in our modern world is it a good idea to give no thought to tomorrow. Still, as we wend our way through daily living we could be much happier and a lot less neurotic if we spent some time every day emulating our house cat.

Yesterday, being very cold here along the Eastern seaboard, our furnace was having trouble keeping the house warm. It was maybe 65 degrees in the house. Our 19-year-old cat Sprite is clearly in his declining years. It has been a tough last couple of months for him. He has had bad constipation and diarrhea and lost nearly half his body weight. We now have him on a couple of pills twice a day. This, a dollop of kitty laxative, a half a spoonful of yogurt, and some prescription-diet cat food allows him to lead a decent life in his very old age. There is virtually no fat left on him, so a cold house is quite a challenge.

Fortunately, he is still reasonably mobile. His solution is simply to find the warmest spot in the house. When the furnace is running, he likes to sit near a vent. Otherwise the back of our master bedroom closet, bundled up next to some shoes works fine. There are no drafts back there and a vent behind the wall adds heat. However, even when the day is cold, if the sun is out, then the sun will at some point stream through our living room window. He anticipates its arrival in the room by sleeping in his kitty bed on the living room chair. As he sleeps, the sun will fall over his body. This is his cue to gently hop down onto the carpet and find the big sunny spot. He will bask in the sun and enter a deep hypnotic state, moving slightly as necessary to keep up with the sun’s traversal across the floor. When the sunbeam goes away, he is usually nice and warm, so he curls up into a ball in his cat bed and goes to sleep. If the room is still cold then he will usually sleep with one paw over his eyes and nose. This keeps the air and his nose a bit warmer. For variety, if a human is available, their lap will suffice as a nice heat source too. Lesson: maximize your own comfort at all times. Get reasonably comfortable, but do not waste too much time over it. Allocate no more than a minute for finding a comfy spot.

Sprite never stresses about tomorrow. He accepts what is presented to him and makes the best of it. In his old age, he is not as playful as he was. His inability to relive his younger days does not bother him. I suspect when he dreams his pleasant memories of those playful days of his youth occupy his thought. Lesson: take one day at a time and simply accept its experience.

Sprite knows he is a cat. He thinks he is neither the best nor the worst cat in the world, although I would disagree. In my eyes, he is the best cat in the world. Best and worst are human concepts that have no meaning to him. He has no pretensions. He is simply a cat. He is what he is and doesn’t stress over the fact that he hasn’t done much more in his life than eat, sleep, poop, sits on the occasional lap and play a bit. He has found peace by accepting himself. Lesson: to find happiness be who you are, not what you want to be.

Sprite is a loyal cat. Unlike most dogs, his loyalty is reserved. He is choosy about who he bonds with. Once you have invested enough time in him doing things that make him happy then he will stick by you. He will return the favor by purring, snuggling with you or seeking you out. As long as you treat him right and with respect, he will do the same. If you do not treat him right, he reserves the right to change his mind. Lesson: give affection only to those who return affection in kind.

Sprite is a homebody. We do not let him outside, except on our screened in desk in warmer weather. There he will bask in the sun, or enjoy a gentle breeze blowing through his fur, while he watches birds fly by and squirrels run across our railings. Mostly he prefers to stay inside because it is comfortable and familiar to him. Lesson: home is the best place to be.

I could probably write many more pages of cat philosophy. Since Sprite does not spend that much time philosophizing, neither will I. Rather he spends his days living simply and with complete earnestness. I am your typical restless Aquarian. Nevertheless, through my cat Sprite I have learned to chill out and take pleasure what is in front of me.

Yes, home is where my family is. But more than anything else, home is where my cat lives. For a cat sanctifies a house. He makes it real. For once a cat has made your house a home, it is no longer just a structure. It takes on meaning; it is truly a home. Perhaps that is why, when Sprite passes away, I will want another cat. I will be unlikely to get one. In the 19 years Sprite has lived with us my wife has discovered that she is allergic to cats. For now, she pops antihistamines in order to keep symptoms in check.

I will miss having a cat in my house after he dies. Yet I will know that in some sense the cat will still be there. Because he made my house a home, it will always be blessed. Moreover, we are blessed to have such a spirit among us, teaching us so many useful life lessons, free for the observation.

The Thinker

Washington D.C.: The Place Where I Belong

My father is a native Washingtonian, born in the District of Columbia in 1926. He lived there until 1950 when he married my mother. My father still likes to think of himself as a Washingtonian. However, he is not. He has spent most of his life living elsewhere. He has spent 25 of his 79 years living around the place of his birth.

I, on the other hand, spent my formative years far away from Washington. I ended up here in 1978. My brother, a recent college graduate let me stay with him rent-free. This was a good deal, for I had only a few hundred dollars left to my name. I had just recently graduated college. I was 21.

I have been here ever since. That is 28 years or there about, by my reckoning. I have beaten my father’s time as a Washingtonian. If anyone in my family has a claim to being a Washingtonian at this point, it is I. While I may end up spending my retirement years somewhere else, there is no denying it. Move me anywhere around the country, and I will not pick up the local values. For better or worse, I am now a Washingtonian through and through.

Heck, I was a Washingtonian even before I knew the term. Growing up I was one of these kids riveted to the CBS Evening News with Walker Cronkite. Stuff going on out there was heaps more interesting than stuff not going on at home. Our local newspapers lacked much in the way of hard news, but Newsweek opened my eyes to the larger world. So while chance seemed to bring me to the Washington area, I feel like I was destined to live here. This is home. This is where I belong. As strange as it seems, the Washington area fits me like a glove.

I once rhapsodized in a blog entry about Endwell, New York, the place where I spent my formative years. I still get a deep sense of peace and wholeness when I spend time in Endwell. Who knows, I may retire there. Yet with every visit back I realize that my nostalgic feelings do not meet the reality of the place. For the Triple Cities is overall a sad and depressed place. It is not necessarily a bad place to live, but it has little get up and go. It has no energy.

The same cannot be said for the Washington area. If you want energy, Washington is the place. I realize most metropolitan areas have their energy too. As energetic as the Washington area is, it does not have the frantic feeling of New York City. My father remembers a Washington that was segregated and more sleeping than alive. That is no longer the case. The Washington region is where things are happening.

Obviously, it is the center of our federal government. The political environment here is a 24/7/365 thing. Congressional recesses may sap the energy of the region a bit, but not much. For there is always something going on in Washington. In addition, while the federal government and everyone that feeds off it certainly accounts for much of its energy, there is more to the Washington area than just the federal government and the talking heads.

It seems to be true in every city that locals will attest, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”. In the Washington region, if you do not like the local landscape, wait five years. I am quite confident that if I were to move away for five years and then tried to find my way back to my old house, I could get lost. Because to be a Washingtonian is to deal with constant change. You have to accept that unless you live in a historic district, the place that you remember fondly will look quite a bit different in just a few years.

This is especially true for those of us living in the suburbs. The landscape is constantly changing. Developments go up. Roads and interchanges are widened. Real estate gets more expensive. Traffic becomes increasingly more oppressive every year. Little backwater towns like the Reston of my early memories have blossomed into virtual urban centers with skyscrapers, pricey condominiums and boxy office buildings. When I drive from place to place, I have to consciously remember how the roads are laid out today. That exit I used to take it not necessarily there anymore. There may be a cloverleaf where there used to be a ramp. There is good money to be made making local maps, because they require such frequent revisions.

I am amazed by our education levels. A graduate degree is almost expected in the Washington area. People are constantly going back to school to add a degree or refine their education. Just as our landscape is constantly changing, so do we residents assume we must constantly change too. Yes, most of us are political animals. You must be to survive in this area. Not being political in Washington is like not drinking beer or eating cheese in Wisconsin. Politics are in your face all the time. Yet this is not a bad thing. Most people think Washingtonians are out of touch with the real world. The truth is we are very passionate creatures. It may seem crazy to care about, say prescription drugs for the elderly, but we do passionately care one way or the other about it. We may be wrong to want to change the world, but it is our nature to not be happy with the status quo. Things can always be done better, and we want to be actively involved in making it happen.

There are of course many cosmopolitan activities in and around Washington. You can go to the symphony, take in fancy plays and attend seminars at the Smithsonian. However, unless you live close to the city, these are not realistic options for most of us during the week. Why? Because it takes too long to get there to make it worth your while, particularly if you live outside the Beltway. In addition, our cost of living continues to skyrocket. Real estate prices are reaching crazy levels. The government rate for a hotel in the nearby suburb of Reston is $180 a night. Consequently, economic forces require many of us to live further and further out, where land is somewhat more affordable. The price is to endure soul-draining commutes through the second worst traffic in the country.

It must seem odd to sing the Washington region’s praises given these facts. Yet the people keep streaming in. The commutes may be long, the real estate prices may be stratospheric in many communities, but jobs are here. Moreover, we are not talking just government jobs and those living off the government economy. There are great jobs to be found here. In particular, if you work in the information technology field, losing your job is not necessarily the end of the world. Unlike being a displaced autoworker, you have options in this area. Another company is likely hiring just down the street. Except in Washington itself, our unemployment rate is amazingly low. Combine the low unemployment rate with some of the best paying jobs in the country and the omnipresent tech industry and it is not surprising that growth continues unabated despite the horrendous traffic and real estate prices.

I am vested now. I have my spot in the suburbs. I realize there is little I can do about the increasing traffic. Yet I am in no hurry to leave. The incessant franticness and frustrations of living in this area are second nature to me now. I arise every morning with a little adrenaline flowing through my veins. I can understand why others would be appalled by the thought. Nevertheless, if you are going to change the world, you need the adrenaline. You have to embrace it. You have to surrender to it. Our tools are connections, wile, cunning and a certain amount of fearlessness. After a while, it becomes second nature. Just as our neighborhoods rarely stay the same for long, neither are we content to stay the same. Our missions may all be different, but we press on ever forward. That is our modus operandi.

The Thinker

Good intention wreak unintended consequences in the Middle East

Hindsight should always be 20:20. Strangely though, we seem to be unable to learn lessons from our attempts at nation building, particularly in the Middle East. Why is this? Let us ponder the wreckage and see if we can learn the lessons that seem to escape our current leadership. Then let us examine how we might do things differently in the future.

So Iran, which claims that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, may be building the bomb. This seems a rational assumption. After all, its latest president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not exactly firing on all cylinders. For example, he thinks the Holocaust is a myth. Even though Iran is a signatory to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, he feels Iran can give lip service to it. Perhaps channeling the spirit of Saddam Hussein, he is quite comfortable throwing out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency whenever he finds it convenient. Never mind that by doing so he is violating the treaty.

Meanwhile, a leading Iranian newspaper is sponsoring an international cartoon contest on the Holocaust. Reputedly, this is being done so that Jews will know how it feels to suffer the gross sacrilege Muslims are going through with the publication of imprudent cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad. I have to wonder why Jews would feel offended if indeed the Holocaust were truly a myth. Do they think that Israelis are not aware of the many virulently anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish cartoons already routinely printed in Middle East newspapers? Moreover, there is the wee problem that it was not Jews but a Danish newspaper that published the offending cartoons. Meanwhile the rioting over these cartoons continues unabated across the Muslim world. Nine Muslims died today alone in Libya. These Muslims seem to think that by accidentally killing more people (all fellow Muslims so far) and destroying more property that the Prophet Mohammad and Allah are pleased. Somehow, I doubt it.

Over in Iraq voters in a recent parliamentary election, rather than voting for secular candidates, voted for sectarian and religious ones instead. The majority Shi’ites, at the insistence of their firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, nominated Ibrahim Jaafari as the new prime minister. Jaafari is the current ineffectual interim prime minister. Sadr, of course, wants closer ties with the Shi’ite country of Iran and wants nothing to do with a national unity government promoted by the United States, or for that matter the United States.

In addition the Palestinians have elected Hamas into power. As you probably know, this is a political party whose professed aims include the destruction of the state of Israel. The many suicide bombers that have killed Israel citizens demonstrate the sincerity of their beliefs. Palestinians voted this way quite mindfully of the implications. Although unhappy with the outcome, even President Bush complemented Palestinians on how well they followed the Democratic process.

So perhaps democracy is spreading all over the Middle East. Arguably, even our current nemesis state Iran is a democracy. (It would flunk our test of being a real democracy, since clerics have the final say on whether a candidate gets on the ballot.) Unfortunately, Americans are not getting the desired outcome for the billions of dollars we invested. We assumed that democracy would to lead naturally to pro-Western, pro-American governments happy to sell us oil. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests (with Kuwait perhaps the exception) that in the Middle East people will vote for those with virulently anti-American, anti-Israeli and pro-Islamic state positions. For the most part, they are democratically saying, “Bring on theocracy!”

This should not surprise us. From interpreting the Quran, a theocracy should be the natural form of government in a predominantly Muslim country. Values we cherish like pluralism and secularism are much harder to instill when submission to the will of Allah trumps all.

Where did our good intentions go wrong? How did Iran become such a problem for the United States? Why are Iraqis voting for religious and sectarian parties? Why would the Palestinians, whose better relations with Israel are now finally bearing some fruit, suddenly prefer a religious government with murderous impulses toward Israel?

I see two overall reasons. First, our government has engaged in short-term thinking and ignored the long term likely consequences. Second, we projected our worldview on the Muslim worldview and assumed it would be a natural fit.

Case Iran. How did Iran get to hate us so much? It is because during the Cold War, we used Iran like a ten-dollar whore. It was just another pawn in our international chessboard. We wanted to deny the Soviet Union access to warm water ports. Therefore, it made sense for us to promote an Iranian king, the Shah of Iran. It was convenient for us to overlook his excesses and his oppression of his people. He was a means to an end: containing the Soviet Union. We discounted the ill will that would result if the Shah were overthrown. We assumed we could contain Iran so this would never happen. Our outcome in Iran though was partly a result of bad timing. Islamic fundamentalism was sweeping across the Middle East at the time. Iran was the first place in modern times where it would be tried as a form of government. Perhaps in the context of those Cold War times our choice was unavoidable. On the other hand, perhaps instead of allowing Iran to become a monarchy, we should have promoted real democracy. Had we done so perhaps its current clerics would not be associating us with the Great Satan. Perhaps instead of hearing regular chants of “Death to America” they would be peeling the bells for their democracy day.

Our tactics were similar in Iraq: contain the Soviet Union with what you have to work with. Consequently, we promoted Saddam Hussein, the very man we revile. Why did we help him? We aided him because our plan for containing the Soviet Union using Iran collapsed when the Shah was overthrown. In Iraq, we took big risks, including looking the other way as we did in Iran when Saddam ruthlessly oppressed its citizens. Saddam became too powerful and his ambitions became too imperialistic, resulting in a situation we could not contain.

As far as the needs of the Palestinian people, we have been unabashedly pro-Israel since its creation. We came late to the table in recognizing that the Palestinian people had legitimate needs. We looked the other way or offered the mildest protests every time another Jewish settlement was established in occupied Palestinian territories. We often aided Israel in the Security Council. We made sure that virtually no resolution against it would pass. We should have been cutting our aid to Israel as it expanded its settlements. More often, we simply increased our aid. The more Israel whined, the deeper we dug into our pockets.

This is what hindsight should show us if we were to look back on the past objectively. It should also inform us that democracy is not always the solution. Even if we are able to install a democratic government in a Middle East country, the odds are that its citizens will elect leaders opposed to our interests. Should this surprise us? For the culture of the Middle East is much different than our own culture.

Fostering democracy in the Middle East may or may not take wings, but it will not necessarily lead to a world more aligned to America’s interests. Neither is democracy in the Middle East a panacea for our nation’s long-term security. Perhaps President Bush is finally sobering up. In his latest State of the Union address, he said our nation is addicted to oil. Unfortunately his policies did a lot to increase our addiction. However if we were to follow through on his suggestion to dramatically reduce our need for oil from volatile spots like the Middle East, in the process we should also increase our national security. For whether democracy or more totalitarianism results in the Middle East in the future, the outcome is less likely to affect our national security.

The Thinker

Little Cherubs

During services, we parishioners know the cue. At the Unitarian Universalist church that I attend, it is a song from our hymnal. It begins “As we leave this friendly place.” We stand when we sing it. Until this moment, the children have been up near the front of the sanctuary. They have been half listening to the minister or the Director of Religious education tell them a story. With the first bar of the familiar hymn the children, roughly ages five through twelve, exit the sanctuary and head downstairs. It is Sunday school time.

From downstairs, where I am preparing to greet them, I can sense their imminent arrival from the rumble of the floorboards above me. For this week, I am their Sunday school teacher. One thing is for sure: it will not be a dull class. On a typical Sunday, there are about a dozen children in my class, ranging from first through fifth grade. They cascade down the stairs and head straight for the back classroom where I and another teacher are waiting for them. On this day, I am their primary teacher. The backup teacher is there to help if needed, but also to ensure I do not molest any of them. Not that my church members are paranoid or anything, but we have to explicitly declare that we will not engage in any inappropriate behavior.Nor are we allowed to be alone without another responsible adult present.

For some reason, there are few things that I find more terrifying than grade school children. Therefore, I find it a bit ironic that I am here, busily setting up chairs, arranging tables and distributing art supplies. I taught Sunday school about five years ago to some Junior High school students. Since then I gave it a pass. Nevertheless, when the church was one teacher short last fall I decided it was time to get off my duff and volunteer.

Teaching the Junior High students was fun. Yes, like most their age they were overcommitted and scattershot about attending. However, we were able to go on some neat field trips, for we were learning about other faiths. Unitarian Universalists may be unique in that we have no creed. We feel part of our mission is to help each person find their own authentic faith. My junior high students got an eyeful and an earful that year. From being proselytized after services at a Mormon Church, to an incense-filled trip to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, to a two-hour plus service at a black Pentecostal church where the patrons were literally dancing in the aisles, they got some fascinating exposure to the world of divergent faiths.

For this new group though it was back to basics. Did they know about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This teaching comes by default in most Christian churches. (Arguably Unitarian Universalists are not Christian, although their roots are in Christianity.) For the most part the stories of Moses, David and Goliath and Solomon are all new to them. There will be no boring lecture for these students. They need to keep their hands busy. They do get a reading. Then it is quickly time for arts and crafts. For a few weeks, we worked on a paper mural describing the story of Moses. A couple weeks later we were writing the Ten Commandments (somewhat sanitized — trying to explain adultery for a third grader is a bit much) on “stone” (cardboard) tablets.

What you do not know from week to week is whether you will impart any actual learning on these children. We do our best, but in many ways, it depends on serendipity. Sometimes the children are on the warpath. There are siblings in the class and sometimes their mission is to make life miserable for their sibling. Mostly what these children are are, well, children. Consequently that means they have short attention spans and all sorts of needs for attention. So it’s “She’s hitting me” and “Can I get a drink of water?” and “He’s not being fair” and “I don’t want to” and infinite variations in between. The only question is whether it will all cascade out into a toxic group dynamics situation.

That usually depends on the success of the first few minutes. Can the children be organized and stay focused? If so, then you are likely to have a good Sunday school experience. Otherwise, watch out. If nothing else teaching younger children has reinforced to me that I do not have a calling as an elementary school teacher. I do not know how teachers do it year after year after year for five days a week. The chaos is constant. If you are lucky, only a couple children will be misbehaving at a given moment. In the worst cases, it becomes a free for all. I am sure elementary school teachers get training in how to deal with it. I suspect though that they learn to cope. You teach in between the plentiful periods of chaos.

I too have learned a few things about elementary school children. One thing I have learned is that while children are not geniuses, all children are master emotional manipulators. It is instinctive with them. They know how to play off parents, how to anger a sibling in five words or less, how to devastate someone’s feelings, and how to work persistently to get what they want from someone. While they may not be able to persevere at their ABC’s, they are relentless when it comes to getting what they want. They will keep up the Chinese water torture technique as long as necessary until results are achieved.

I have one girl who goes into tears at the drop of a hat. Psychologists might call her “emotionally sensitive”. Maybe she is, maybe she is not. However, she certainly is good at pulling strings. She knows crying will get her some attention, be it good or bad. Other children are quiet and introspective. Others engage in annoying habits or simply head off in random directions at the slightest impulse. Others are itching for a fight. My job is to impart a little learning. Sometimes I succeed. It is hard to measure results.

While the adult in me finds these traits annoying, I am still attracted to their enormous energy. If an adult is a 100-watt light bulb, children on a bad day are going at 1000 watts. Most are incredibly curious. Yet they will flit from thing to thing as fits their feelings and the context of the moment. What I find neatest about these children is how incredibly alive they are. Life just radiates out of them. They are wholly engaged in this thing called living. Moreover, they are still self centered enough to think that we all exist to help or amuse them.

For me the most gratifying aspects of teaching them are not imparting some old Bible stories. They are those few moments when I can pierce through their defenses and tap into some positive aspect of them. The emotionally sensitive girl, for example, reacted quite well when at a quiet spot I would seek her out and tell her simply that I liked her. Her eyes brightened up.

Personal attention: that is what their world is about. They all want it, even the ones who appear withdrawn. What they really need though is someone who can understand and complement something unique about themselves. They like to hear it. They want to know they are not just another kid at a desk, but someone with unique gifts and talents. Their appetite for such attention is boundless.

This apparently is my real mission on those Sunday mornings when I teach. As they go through school, they will meet a myriad of adults. They need to hear from all of us, even though our acquaintance may be ephemeral, that they are both good and special. Despite my initial misgivings, I found that I get something from them too. For a while, I can put away some of my cares and concerns. For a while, I can bask in the pleasure they take in being so passionately, painfully and gloriously alive. Sometimes when I head to work the next morning, I succeed in carrying that energy forward into my adult world. Sometimes on Mondays after teaching, instead of shuffling off to work, I walk with a bit of a spring in my step, a smile on my face, and with a fresh reminder of a time when life was full of enormous possibilities.

Thanks kids.

The Thinker

Time to dig up the lawn again

I would file this under “General Annoyances” if I had such a category.

During midweek, we came home to find part of our lawn dug up and parts of our sidewalk in pieces. Ho hum. I am getting used to it by now. This seems to be an annoying fact of modern life. Once a year, sometimes more than once, some utility will come by, break up sections of our sidewalk, and tear up our lawn.

This time it was Verizon. How do I know? Because a Verizon guy actually knocked on my door to “inform” me that our telephone service may have been disrupted for a time. Not to worry; it was done to install this nifty new fiber optic high-speed internet service call FiOS. Okay, whatever. I shut the door in his face. I hate it when people knock on my door pretending not to be selling anything but are really selling me something.

I guess Verizon got annoyed that our cable company Cox Communications beat them by six years in the high-speed internet business. That is how long we have had their high-speed internet service. We were the first on the block to subscribe back in 1999. Seeing their revenues plummet, Verizon is finally coming around to offer some competition. They never even bothered to offer Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) in our neighborhood. That technology requires you to be fairly close to a major telephone switching station, and apparently, we are not. Now they have arrived at last with a fiber optic high-speed Internet / TV / POTS (plain old telephone service) bundle. Of course, to offer these new technologies they had to tear up our lawn and break apart our sidewalks.

They insist that they will make it look all nice and pretty again. They laid new sidewalk on Thursday and it is now drying. Moreover, they will stick sod back to fill in the gaps and like the others, throw some ryegrass on it for good measure, although it will not germinate for a couple months. Meanwhile my lawn will look like hell. Well, at least so will all our neighbors’.

The result of all these repeated diggings is I have a front lawn that even in the middle of the growing season looks like hell. Admittedly, if I were a bit more anal about throwing fertilizer and weed killer on it, it would look better. I know the odds favor that some company with an easement will show up during the year and just tear up the darn thing again. So why bother?

In fact, Verizon is replacing blocks of sidewalk that were just replaced two years ago. I am not sure who was digging it up then. It all rolls together in my mind. Was it Cox Communications putting in their fiber optic/digital cable/telephone service? Was it Washington Gas? Was it the electric company replacing bad wiring? Was it the electric company putting in that streetlight near the corner by our house? Whatever. My lawn seems to be of intense interest to many companies out there. They cannot leave it alone. Unfortunately, they are not doing a good job of restoring it to a healthy lawn. Instead, it is another patch job. As a result, my front lawn constantly suffers from erosion problems. I am not too surprised. After all, when does the new grass have a chance to get firmly established?

Twice in the nearly thirteen years that we have lived in the house, we were actually responsible for tearing up the lawn. The first was an involuntary experience: a defective PVC water pipe broke. $3500 later and about a week later we solved that problem. The other was to deal with our drainage problem. We had our lawn service install a pipe that fed our storm water out into the street. That turned out to be a much cheaper solution than trying to waterproof our basement.

There should be better ways for utilities to do their work. I wonder why houses cannot be built with three main pipes: one for the sewer, one for the water, and one for all the electric and electronic necessities in life including power, telephone and cable. The latter would need to be a big pipe, but at least cables could be snaked through it and the lawn would not have to be torn up. I would think it would save the utilities boatloads of money. If our legislative representatives want to be useful, why don’t they work on common sense legislation like this? Instead, they are wasting our tax dollars passing stupid and mean marriage amendments.

One thing is for sure: there will be more digging up of my lawn in the years ahead. Life is about change and business has to respond to change. And that means to bring their services to me, many of which I do not want, they will have to dig my lawn up again.

If I am very lucky, I may get through 2006 without my lawn being assaulted yet again.

The Thinker

Advice from Heather

Yesterday I saw a dietician. I mentioned to my doctor at my physical last month that I was having a difficult time maintaining a healthy weight. He suggested seeing a dietician. With obesity rampant in this country, you would think it would be easy to find a dietician. It is not. I have looked in the Yellow Pages before to no avail. He said you find them at hospitals. The only one around where I live with dieticians that saw people on an outpatient basis was Reston Hospital. To see a dietician, I had to schedule my appointment about a month in advance.

Fortunately, I am not obese. However, I am overweight. Like most people, I have tried a couple fad diets, as well as tried upping the exercise and cutting the calories. Each approach worked for a while. Eventually, and sometimes it took a few years, something would happen. It would be easy to say I was getting lazy, or lacked the willpower, but it truly was more than that. This latest weight gain was doubtless exacerbated by my wife’s annual holiday baking cycle. Generally, I have more willpower when junk food is not in the house. When it is constantly in my face, I can easily lose willpower.

I have written about diet and exercise before. Gone are the days where most of us can burn away excess calories through on the job physical activity. If you are like me, you spend your days doing anything but that. Hey, I am a white-collar dude. If I did not walk up the stairs, the most calorie intensive thing I would do at work would be lifting my phone’s receiver. Therefore, I must make time for exercise. I bike to work when weather permits, which is about six months a year. I also hit the gym about three times a week. When I have the time and the weather is nice, I take long bike rides. Yet apparently, I was still eating too much. On the other hand, much of the time I was eating too much of the wrong stuff. These little extra calorie habits, even with regular and vigorous exercise, have a cumulative effect.

So there I was at Reston Hospital registration, getting a band around my wrist as if I were going in for major surgery. Instead, I walked a couple hundred feet down the hall to see Heather. Of course, the dietician is named Heather. I bet there are no dieticians named Gertrude. Naturally, Heather was about five feet three, and weighed about ninety-eight pounds soaking wet. Moreover, she was half my age and stunningly attractive. Considering I had to meet a deductible because the appointment was at the hospital, instead of a co-pay, perhaps I shouldn’t complain about this fringe benefit.

It is all about portion control, Heather told me. Yeah, I knew that I told her. However, I am not the type to sit there and measure 15 grams of carbohydrates at a meal. I am a busy guy. I need to have a plan that will work with me. I need to stick to the same foods during the week, and the foods need to be foods that I will mostly enjoy. Otherwise, after too much deprivation I am going to slip.

She said she would work with me. We also made an appointment for early April so that we could meet again to assess progress and perhaps change the diet. She complemented me on the eight pounds I took off during the last month (not without the usual grumbling) and warned me the weight loss would probably slow.

Yes, success at dieting and maintaining a weight in the end takes hard work and perseverance. Most diets fail, she told me, because we set our expectations too high. Step one is to take off 10% of body weight and maintain it for four to six months. Then, if you want, work at taking off another increment. This is a formula for success. You can get to the summit of the mountain, but you will want to take a couple rest breaks on the way there to make it.

I thought I had read a lot about nutrition. Yet I am still glad that I took the time and considerable expense to consult with a dietician. For I still learned a lot from Heather. I knew about good carbs and bad carbs. However, I did not know about the importance of having protein with every meal. I never gave it a second thought. I usually saved my protein for the evening meal. Protein with any meal will help stave off hunger, Heather told me.

I also thought I was being good by skipping lunch on the weekends. After all, I was not eating until 9 AM or so. Wrong, she said. Eat three meals a day every day. Include proteins and carbohydrates at every meal. You can even enjoy snacks. Just make sure you balance the carbohydrates, protein and fats. Do the usual good things. Avoid high fat foods. Try 1% instead of 2% milk. Make sure your breads have whole grains. And of course limit portions. Needless to say, what you get at most American restaurants do not qualify as normal portions, unless you are a sumo wrestler.

Looking at what was working for me the last month she made some changes. Add food to my breakfast, she told me. A bran cereal is fine; its energy will be absorbed slowly. Using 1% milk is better than 2%. Add those sugar substitutes if you want sweetness. Also, add fruit to the meal if you want. However, make sure you add a serving of low fat meat. This is not a problem; we have plenty of pre-sliced low fat turkey and ham.

If I feel the need for a mid morning snack (I rarely do) try a granola bar (without the fruit filling), or a piece of fruit, or a small box of raisins, or even crackers with peanut butter. Of course, limit yourself to one portion, which might be the size of what you can put your fist.

For lunch, if soup and a salad are working for me now, she recommended keeping at it. Nevertheless, dress the salads up with proteins from sources like beans and nuts. She said to keep eating an apple with lunch as I am doing. It has lots of fiber and no fat. She said I could even add some starchy choices with lunch. A six-pack of crackers works for me but pretzels are even better. If I feel the need for an afternoon snack, the same morning snacks will work for afternoon snacks. Or I could try different types for variety.

During dinner she said I needed to limit myself to four starchy choices, each about 15 grams of carbohydrates each. She said to make sure I got three servings of protein, and lean meat is better. Add as many vegetables as you want, and you can have one fat choice. Of course, a fat choice is not very large. One teaspoon of olive oil is one good fat choice.

This is my diet based on my age and height, so these may not necessarily work for you. Meanwhile, she said not to slack off on the exercise. Do more exercise if I can find the time. It will not hurt, but I should still take off weight regardless. If I can do this I will naturally get the calories I need, and the exercise will help me lose weight.

As for fad diets, Heather said to ignore them. They are all a waste of time because they can only work for a while. That was my experience with the South Beach Diet and the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet. I have seen the same result with others I knew who were on the Atkins diet. Vary your diet, Heather told me. Eat foods that you naturally enjoy, but eat less of them and prefer those lower in calories and fat. Just stay within the portion limits for any given meal.

Perhaps I have finally found a diet that will work for me for life. Time will tell. I know that Heather will be there to help me succeed. She said to make sure to call her if I have questions or am having trouble sticking to the diet. She will help me rework the diet into something I can live with.

My wife scoffed when I told her I was going to see a dietician. “It won’t work for me,” she told me. “There is nothing they can tell me that I do not know.” I knew most of this too going in, but I still was not able to put it altogether. Thanks to Heather, I believe I now have now I have a plan I can live with. And I plan on living well to a very ripe age.

The Thinker

The view from the bubble

Am I the only one who blanched at President Bush’s speech at Coretta Scott King’s funeral today? I hope not. Granted I blanch a lot when this president talks. No one will ever accuse Bush of being eloquent. Three out of four Republicans would probably agree too: when Bush talks he sounds insipid and vapid. Like he is not quite there. I find it particularly irksome to hear him speak when he is trying to pretend that he shares values he clearly lacks. His sermon about this wonderful woman named Coretta Scott King was yet another high water mark of discontinuity. The words may have been lofty, but they were delivered in a voice that gave a much different speech. We all know what the speech said. However, here is what we picked up.

“You know, I just really don’t care about this woman. I’m sure she was a nice lady to these folks, but I don’t care because, well, she isn’t my kind. I am just here being nice and because it’s expected. I am the president. I really haven’t a clue how this woman motivated millions of these people. She sure didn’t motivate me. And the people here to say goodbye, goodness, what a sad and lost bunch of people. They just don’t get it. If she really wanted to help them, she’d have been getting them off welfare. These Negroes here, boy their values are all wacked. They need to follow ladies like Condoleeza. They gotta lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. If they act a lot like me I’ll hardly notice that they are black.”

In many ways Bush is a Martian. He does not experience the world you and I live in. He can mouth the words but he simply lacks the empathy (and consequently the ability) to make us believe that he believes them. He is a man comfortable being stage-managed. And why shouldn’t he be? This is the way his life has always been. He has always been told what to do and what to say. He doesn’t rebel when it happens. He likes it. The staff always keeps the riff raff out. Someone is always smoothing the path for him or taking the fall for him if necessary. In Bush’s world, this is normal. This is the way things work. There is always money to pay your rent, because even if I didn’t have any, Dad does. While he talks the talk about self-reliance, he has never been self-reliant himself. Instead, he relies on connections. Connections got him into Yale and the Texas Air National Guard. His father or his father’s friends set him up in the oil, baseball, and governor business.

Of course, he has never known poverty. In fact, he has never come close to it. His has lived a life of undeserved privilege. No wonder when he stands in front of a crowd of African Americans he hasn’t a clue where these people are coming from. No wonder he can go to a devastated New Orleans, make noble speeches about how the full resources of the federal government are going to bring it back to life, and then blithely forget it. Living to him is about being stage-managed. The butler lays out your clothes in the morning. The cook has a breakfast ready. That’s the way things are. No doing dishes ever. No need to take the car to get the oil changed. No need to figure out whether you will either pay your rent or buy your medicines this month. Days are merely events to get through. You follow the script and get many pats on the back from the many yes men around you. Then you go home. Bed by ten p.m. Your presidential pajamas will be laid out on your bed next to the chocolate on the presidential pillow. The staff will see to it. They’re good folks.

Lacking grounding in the real world, and because he only makes friends with those in similar situations, it is not surprising that he is hopelessly inept managing the government. Lacking any grounding in the real world, the otherworldly becomes routine. He is like The Buddha before he ventured outside his father’s estates. Tax cuts for the rich? Sure, why not? I can identify with rich people. Gosh, we pay too many taxes. Health care savings accounts? It works for me, so it will work for anyone. Surely poor people will put money into them too and then use it to shop around for their own doctors. After all, they may be poor, but they should have enough money left over from my tax cuts to throw a couple hundred a month into their MSA. War in Iraq? Everyone knows Saddam is guilty, so let just topple him and hang those prissies at the U.N. It won’t be a problem. After all Dick says we’ll be greeted as liberators. Global warming? It’s always hot on my ranch in the summer. I don’t see the problem and it’s no big deal anyhow. Most people hate winter anyhow. Deficits going out of sight? Cut more taxes and tax revenue will spout out of the ground like a Texas tea. Yee haw! Liquid gold; it will be more than enough to pay for costly new entitlement programs and keep more than a hundred thousand soldiers in Iraq for decades to come. Need to do some domestic wiretapping? The law is for gentlemen, not for us Texans. We do not wait for prissy politicians to pass bills giving us the authority. We go for it and never look back.

I can see the attraction of the presidency to Bush. It is the perfect job for him because win or lose reelection he gets to stay in the bubble for the rest of his life. The Secret Service will be there for the rest of his life too, even guarding him on his deathbed. The presidential pension will ensure he has health care for life. He will never have to drive a car again, unless it is for fun. In addition, he won’t have to account to anyone again either. It is the perfect retirement plan for a man whose life has always been on a silver plate.

The bubble is perfect for him. The bubble is home. In a few years, there will be no more of the tedium of attending funerals for people he does not care about. It will be nothing but clearing brush and mountain biking for the rest of his life, at taxpayer’s expense.

Ah, the joys of living the surreal life.


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