Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Sunday, June 27, 2004

On the Road Again

I've seen more of our Texas highways and byways than normal lately. Most weekends I have to go to see about one elder or another. Right now I'm in the middle of a series of workshops and have to drive because of all the boxes and equipment that we need for the workshops.

I like driving. I like to get on the road and let my mind wander. Sometimes it stays focused on "what's the next thing I have to do." Sometimes I have to work out what my next presentation or speech is going to be about. It helps to imagine what I might say. I can go through three or four versions of a speech before I get to the point where I have to actually deliver it, and, sometimes, a phrase or two that I've worked out behind the wheel will actually be quite helpful.

As often as not, however, I let my mind just wander into imaginary territory. For a while, I was plotting novels. I had a couple of plots that intrigued me, and driving time was time to see where the stories would go. The stories never got written, but the plotting was rather fun.

These days I'm having imaginary "If I were president" daydreams. If I were president, what could I do to bring the country back together? If I were president, what could I do bring civility back to public discourse? If I were president, how could I do a better job as commander-in-chief? Pretty cheeky, I suppose, for someone who's never served in the military or held an elected office. But still a good way to work through the problems that I see around me while trying to figure out what the solutions might be.

I rarely listen to music. I used to carry tapes for listening, but eventually got too busy to remember to bring them along. Recently, I discovered NPR and my grandson taught me how to set the radio button so I could find it again. But most trips eventually take me out of range and I'm back to searching the dial. That gets old way too quickly, so I'm back to my imagination again. It's more relaxing in the long run anyway.

Happily Texas roads are still pretty good. I don't like the drive down I-35 to San Antonio, so I take the back way. It's prettier, less hectic. I rather like the short stretch where the highway is only two lanes and you can only pass when a climbing lane shows up. That can slow things down even more. If I plan ahead and leave early enough--which I definitely do for the SA run--getting caught behind a rancher's truck is just part of the experience--until I hit the climbing lane and can pick up the pace a bit. I haven't found an acceptable alternative to I-35 north, so I just have to go with the flow on that one. It doesn't seem as crowded as the section between Austin and San Antonio, so I can survive the heavy traffic as far as Georgetown. Things flow rather well after that--despite the fact that there seem to be endless highway construction projects between here and Dallas right now. Of course, I've all but given up on driving into Houston on I-10. Much easier to take 290 and see the little towns now that Hempstead is no longer a bottleneck. And there's the added bonus of picking up sausage in Elgin on the way home.

I'm not going to be happy when any of these roads is turned into a toll road. I might even have to start thinking about flying again. At least I can sleep on the plane. (Yes, I do that.)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Texas Heroes (Part II)

I spent part of my weekend assisting with my father-in-law's seventy-first high school reunion in a nearby small Texas town. The Class of 1933 meets every year for a barbecue lunch and gabfest. The past two years, the reunion has been held in the community center of the retirement development where my father-in-law and his wife live.

The class has dwindled over the years, of course. Of the original 28 graduates, there may be only 3 of the original group still there. With wives and a couple of folks from the classes of '32 and '34, we had about 10 on Saturday. Two in wheelchairs, 1 on a walker, 1 with canes, and the others amazingly spry for all but one being in their late 80's.

The routine has grown over time. I always seem to butt in with my own ideas for these sorts of things, so about 3 years ago I started bringing grab bags. They seem to like drawing a number and getting some useless or silly surprise present. This year I added teddy bears that I had picked up at my favorite dollar store and decorated with pipe cleaners and beads, so that everyone went home with a bear in the old school colors.

On my way to the reunion, I had to pick up some crepe paper and balloons to help mark the directional sighs. In the party section at the grocery store, I saw some plastic medals on red, white and blue ribbons. I picked up a dozen and tried to figure out what I might do with them when I got to the reunion.

Once all the folks were there, we played "bat the balloon" for a while. This is good physical therapy for old folks, but it ran me ragged. I decided it was time for the medals. I asked each of them in turn what they did during World War II. Some stayed home to farm. "That deserves a medal," I said, because, of course, the farmers were an important part of the war effort. Some of the women worked at jobs, but others stayed home on the farm. I gave them medals, too, as I drew them out about rationing cards and recycling efforts and the contributions that each of them had had to make to support the war. I talked about Mama and Daddy a bit, whenever their stories would resonate.

And then there were the 3 who had been overseas. Old and bent and nearing the end of their time, they still remembered very vividly what they had seen. We only heard part of it, of course, but even that little bit gripped me in ways I find hard to express.

One had been in the Phillipines at the same time my father was. We talked about that a bit. He talked about going from place to place in the war, leaving out what happened at each place. When I gave him his medal, I leaned down close and told him that this toy medal was nothing like what he had or what he deserved, but it came with great love and much thanks for what he did. When I then said that I knew that he had not told about what happened on those islands, but that I knew there was much he couldn't tell, there were tears in his eyes and mine.

And then there was the fellow who flew reconnaisance over Marseilles--the day before D-Day. He was a gunner, but he had never fired his gun. Instead, he was always taking pictures. It gave me cold chills to realize how dangerous those missions must have been to get intelligence for the invasion. He had had to bail out once, he said, but he didn't tell us more about that. I gave him his medal with the same love and gratitude and wished that I could do the same for my father.

The third fellow flew air transport. In WWII, in Korea, and in quite a few other places. He knew how important his work was after a long military career, but I assured him that we, too, also recognized his work. Only he, of the three, had a wife still. I had to hold her hand to take her to the bathroom when he wasn't available to be her "walker."

I somehow felt that it was important--as we recognized Memorial Day and the anniversary of D-Day--to look closer to home, so to speak. I don't know what recognition these folks have ever gotten for their work--whether in the military service or keeping things running at home--but I wanted to tell them how much I cared and give them a moment to realize that someone thought of them as heroes.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Tenet's "Resignation"

The Panhandle Truth Squad cites the Capitol Hill Blue report on President Bush's "erratic behavior." Buried in the story is a case-in-point nugget about the firing of George Tenet:
"Tenet wanted to quit last year but the President got his back up and wouldn't hear of it," says an aide. "That would have been the opportune time to make a change, not in the middle of an election campaign but when the director challenged the President during the meeting Wednesday, the President cut him off by saying 'that's it George. I cannot abide disloyalty. I want your resignation and I want it now."

Tenet was allowed to resign "voluntarily" and Bush informed his shocked staff of the decision Thursday morning. One aide says the President actually described the decision as "God's will."
In a related story, Capitol Hill Blue reports the facility with which the President handled the matter before the press:
The news caught Washington by surprise. Bush informed his senior staff Thursday morning at an Oval Office meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. The president told his staff that the official story is that Tenet was leaving for personal reasons.

"He told me he was resigning for personal reasons. I told him I'm sorry he's leaving. He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people," the president said at a hurriedly arranged announcement before boarding a helicopter to begin a trip to Europe. Inside the West Wing, staffers joked about the President's ability to keep a straight face during the televised announcement.
Anonymous sources seem to be all we're gonna get for a while, but this seems to fit the general range of discussions I've seen, i.e, that the "resignation" was likely not entirely a Tenet's unilateral decision and that was likely not for his personal reasons. If it did come down to a snap judgement about "disloyalty," then there's no surprise that the White House needed an "official story." The truth would have been an embarassment.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Gore's Words (Part I)

A few days ago, Al Gore made quite a stirring speech to MoveOn's Pac regarding the President's failed policies in Iraq. I read the speech. I read the reactions to the speech. Then I listened to the speech. But it was a busy time for me at work and at home. I'm setting up a couple of workshops in two of the nation's larger metropolises and running some Texas back roads to do some elder care in the meantime, not to mention bracing for the coming majority of the grandson. It keeps a girl hopping. But the brain still works, even if we do run a little low on blood sugar now and then (I ran out of steam years ago), and I've been thinking both about Gore's words and the reaction to his words whenever I had a chance. Still it took me a while to get a chance to write down my thoughts.

Now let me point out first that Al Gore had my vote and my admiration in 2000, but he did not entirely have my heart. He's a fine man. He certainly didn't deserve the ill treatment he got from the press in those days--and since, for that matter. He did not have my heart because I was not convinced that he was passionately committed to being president. I sometimes felt that he would rather be doing something else, and I would have been happy for him to be able to find his own dream, not his father's dream for him.

That means that I tend only to look at Gore's endorsements as matters of idle curiosity these days. When he endorsed Dean for the Presidency, it was interesting, but I was much more concerned to see who Bill Clinton might endorse. When Gore made his speech to MoveOn, it was a matter of interest that he was continuing to involve himself in the national campaign with some higher profile, but it was only after I read so much diverse reaction to his speech that I felt compelled to read the speech.

When I read it, I was moved to tears. I was moved to joy. I was so relieved that someone at last had said the things out loud that so needed to be said--and said them in the terms that made powerful sense--and said them in a way that brought strong attention to the message.

What was so good about the speech? Let me start with the bad stuff, just to get it out of the way. There were some issues with delivery. I missed a couple of minutes at the beginning of the tape and about five minutes at the end, but otherwise watched the rest rather closely, because I had read some rather nasty stuff about Gore's delivery. Most of that, of course, came from Limbaugh (no link, find The Bloviator for yourself) but a little from other sillies who have issues with pronunciation. (I have no clue how Mr. Feith's name should be pronounced myself.) Gore made fairly good use of gesture; the gestures seemed natural, unforced. The stage must have been terribly hot. I kept wishing he'd just take out a handkerchief and wipe his face. Eventually he found a towel and did so, but not effectively enough. He could have made some minimizing joke about it and kept it from being as distracting as it was. There were some passages when he was giving long lists of information rather than opinion where he became somewhat dull in delivery; the most resounding passages came when he expressed judgment and allowed his oratory to soar (these, of course, were the parts that most offended his targets). This dullness was exacerbated, I think, by the lack of a teleprompter, since he was obviously having to refer to a printed text on a lectern. As for that shouting--Hallelujah! It was what I loved. In fact, there were a couple of times when his voice dropped too low for me to hear. There was plenty of variety there. Someone (I'll have to find the link) criticized Gore for delivering the speech as if he'd never read it before he got there--I don't think anything could be further from the truth. Gore milked the lines for audience reaction--and he flat knew when he wanted a reaction. It was a friendly crowd, but I'm not surprised at the number of standing ovations.

On the whole, when his speech delivery was best--and got the best response--he was speaking in the mode of many southern preachers. There's a tone and pace that you can hear in any Sunday sermon that came through rather clearly in the more effective parts of his speech. It's also a tone and pace that Bush tries (and mostly fails) to adopt when he's pausing and emphasizing words somewhat inappropriately in his speeches. Someone more familiar with homiletics might analyze Bush's speeches someday to see what he's trying to accomplish.

So what was so good about this speech? Let me count the ways.
George W. Bush promised us a foreign policy with humility. Instead, he
has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world.
I tend not to want to give George Bush credit for much, but that was a campaign promise that resonated with me. I heartily agreed that a powerful nation still had to conduct itself with some humility in the world. Speaking softly while carrying that old big stick is still a good idea in this day and age, and I had seen enough of the world and the world's attitudes toward the U.S. (pre 9/11) to know that we were already the target of a great deal of ill will whenever we conducted ourselves with too much arrogance and forcefulness. Humility doesn't have to be a sign of weakness by any means--it just means we don't have to be a bully about everything. Instead, we are humiliated. The images from Abu Ghraib overturn every word we've ever said about human rights. And there is a strong whiff of military defeat floating about the lack of security in Iraq.

Why is this a good thing to say? Am I gloating that Al Gore said it? Nope. I'm sickened. I am angry. What pleases me is that it was said in simple and clear terms that reflect the same language that George Bush has used so that anyone who will listen can understand. The promised humility has become humiliation.

He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead,
he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as
the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.
This, too, was one of those campaign promises that galled me to agree with. I surely did like Bill Clinton, and I surely was upset with him. Of course, I was even more upset with the Republicans in Congress for the witch hunt that persisted throughout Clinton's administration and the flimsy grounds for impeachment and the sickening obsession with sex on the part of the apparently very repressed Ken Starr. So I was ready to see the honor and integrity, not of the White House, but of the Presidency, restored. The office of the President does, in fact, mean something in this country. It's not just a chance to be the Chief Fox in the Big Henhouse. It doesn't give you the keys to the national treasury. It carries the hopes and dreams of 250 million people--and the responsibility for their safety and, yes, dammit, their honor and pride and dignity. We don't need to know what kind of underwear the president wears or whether he (or she) sleeps in jammies. We do need to know that the president is alert to matters of concern both domestic and international, is sensitive to the broad diversity of this nation, is intelligent enough to adapt to changing circumstances, is sufficiently knowledgeable in the humanities and the sciences to bring critical thought to debates among his advisors, and is canny enough to discern the human frailties of his advisors and overcome them. After that, we can only hope he (or she) has some discretion in the bedroom.

It is a powerful image now for Al Gore to compare George Bush to Richard Nixon. I remember the day when Lyndon Johnson stated that he would not run for re-election. I was just beginning to become political. That fall was my first chance to vote in a presidential election. I started as a supporter of Eugene McCarthy. When he dropped out of the race, I became a supporter of Robert Kennedy. Then, of course, I voted for Hubert Humphrey. I was overseas when the news of the Watergate break-ins was first published in Newsweek. I wondered what was becoming of my country. A couple of years after my return, I was driving my little VW beetle with the car radio on and heard the news that Nixon was resigning. I did not shout for joy. I cried. I cried for the shame and dishonor that he had brought to that high office. Yes, he was a crook.

Note that Gore steered carefully clear of any hint of allegations of criminality toward Bush. Instead, he switched to a litany of broken promises failures in the concept of honor:
Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of
Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or
even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.
Gore asks next:
How did we get from September 12th , 2001, when a leading French newspaper ran a giant headline with the words "We Are All Americans Now" and when we had the good will and empathy of all the world -- to the horror that we all felt in witnessing the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib.
I have an opinion on that, but it's time to try to con the grandson into doing some heavy lifting at the grocery store. *evil grandma grin*