American Politics, Before the Next Terrorist Attack

Our future safety and political freedoms rest upon whether Americans recognize sooner, rather than later, the terrifying truth that our traditional, well-intentioned and well-funded militaristic approaches to national defense and espionage have very limited preventative effects, and cannot keep us safe from the horrors of terrorism or global thermonuclear war during a century of instant communications and easily-accessible lethal weaponry.  Furthermore, such anachronistic, adversarial strategies actually provoke increasing threats to our country and our planet. Even as we squander more and more money, energy, and time, they advance the likelihood that our worst nightmares will become realities.


The next big terrorist attack on the United States will determine the direction of our political future. As 9/11 proved, confused and terrified Americans will support any leader who offers them reassurance, whether or not their proffered “plan” for safety is well-founded, tested, logical, reliable, understandable, open to public debate, cost-effective, democratic, credible, or even, in existence.


Rubber-stamping endless homeland defense expenditures primarily insures a politically-necessary illusion of security, since our “homeland” is clearly indefensible. Sending our grandchildren off to fight in distant, unwinnable pre-emptive invasions and occupations is morally unconscionable and fiscally reckless. Bankrolling unwieldy spy bureaucracies undermines the very freedoms such actions are meant to save. Focusing media attention on the weaknesses of our perceived enemies, and rattling our sabers self-righteously in their direction only heightens dangerous tensions. Pursuing “big-winner-takes-all” trade tactics lines a few greedy pockets and hurts everyone else. None of these strategies will keep us safe, and none can solve the real problems of the 21st century.


What we can learn, before nuclear horror humbles us all beyond recognition, is that there is no exclusive way to provide safety for any single nation or group of nations, no way to guarantee peace for only U.S. citizens and their allies. There are no constructive pathways to safety that can be selfishly withheld from some, or from any, on this unpredictable, unmicromanageable globe.


Only a universally inclusive path of international cooperation and non-violence can offer any long-term safety to Americans and our fellow-earthlings. Before the next terrorist attack, we must embrace the ancient wisdom inherent in all religions, that violence engenders only more violence, that war creates new problems without solving old ones, and that hatred begets more hate. Citizens of all nations will inevitably suffer tragic injustices during this violent century. We need not, however, add to their sum.


People everywhere want to live their lives in liberty, and to pursue their individual and collective dreams uninterrupted by violence. The only path to the very peace we all want for ourselves and our friends and families, is a path we can only walk together, along with everyone else. If we want peace and safety, we must teach it, live it, and offer it to all, just as if we lived in a world of next-door-neighbors. Which we do.


The night before his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It’s nonviolence—or nonexistence.”


The world can learn peaceful ways without facing the devastation of nuclear annihilation. We can open our minds and hearts now to the practical promise of non-violence, before greater tragedies befall our world. Non-violence has come of age; it is an idea whose time has finally come.


The cancer of violence is insidiously attacking, organ by organ, the body of humanity, destroying the nature and quality of human life on our small planet. Only when we learn to apply non-violent solutions to this century’s most urgent problems—energy sufficiency, disease, injustice, hopelessness, hunger, greed, environmental degradation, natural disasters, ignorance, addictions, prejudice, nuclear proliferation, crime, poverty, war, terrorism, and violence itself—can we restore health and safety to the embattled body of mankind and to our mother earth.


Which path to safety will we choose during our next elections? A violent, power-based one? Or the path of non-violence, Jesus’ path, Gandhi’s path, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s path, the gentle path of all those around the world who are now peacefully resisting tyrants? Do we want a path to a police state or a peace state?


In the past, we elected many representatives of the old politics of fear and aggression. During our next election, we can turn away from demagogues who rule our emotions with the fear of fear itself, turning instead to new, moral leadership which shows us peaceful pathways to greater global safety.


Nothing matters more than that our new leaders embrace the universal, timeless, and essential values of faith, hope, and love….




Only faithful leaders trust in God’s redemptive love for every one of earth’s children, and in international dialogue and peaceful cooperative efforts, disavowing the politics of exclusion, polarization, and dehumanization;


Only hopeful leaders join with like-minded light-bearers of other nations, stand with them, work with them, and lift all nations and peoples up, leaving no one behind;


Only loving leaders forgive, and let the past–and past blame–go, accepting, supporting, and respecting human life everywhere.


Led with faith, hope, and love, Americans can work with the whole global community to make the world a safer, more inclusive place for all. We can swing open, to greater cooperation and mutual support, the closed doors of secretive agencies. We can build new peace initiatives within our dedicated, patriotic Defense Department. We can develop a volunteer force of unarmed citizens to observe violent conflicts at home and abroad. We can establish a U.S. Peace Academy, equivalent in honor, distinction, and service to our proud military academies. We can found a cabinet-level Department of Peace, to influence policy, conflict resolution, and decision-making at the highest levels, as well as in our home towns and school curricula. We can apply cutting-edge peace research to the transformation of our combative diplomatic, justice, welfare, and education systems.


We don’t have to keep on contributing to an ever-more-insane world. We can decide now to work together to build a different one, where acceptance, respect, and support for human life everywhere is the new highest value, an inclusive world where Americans reach out in friendship and forgiveness to former enemies, and where all live together in safety and peace in a shared global home.


Wherever non-violent methods have been applied to political, personal, global, and local conflicts, they have proved to be successful, cost-effective approaches which defuse tensions, resolve conflicts, and heal past grievances. Non-violence, the best approach to a sound national defense program, offers us all the promise of a more effective, values-based, long-term path to a safer future.


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Safety in America–and Everywhere Else

Americans are justifiably terrified, not only by the dual threats of terrorism and nuclear war, but also by a dawning recognition that our present violent “defense” measures cannot save us from harm. Indeed, they are inviting greater harm. We’re squandering our national resources—money, energy, and time—on defense strategies that can defend neither our citizenry nor our beloved freedoms.


President Bush often equates the killing and destruction in Iraq with “freedom” and “liberty.” Yet if foreigners stormed into the U.S., shot up suspicious-looking citizens, blew up heavily-populated real estate, and established hundreds of foreign military bases on U.S. soil, Americans wouldn’t view such invasions as “freedom” or “liberty.”


In the 60’s, the hippies tried to tell us that no violent path, no armed road, no non-peaceful “way” could ever finally arrive at any peaceful destination, but that rather, peace itself is the only “way” to the goal of peace. The memorable hippie line, “Fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity” may sound distasteful to some, but it’s hard to miss its point—you can’t reach a goal or a destination using an antithetical process to get there.


“Hatred, “quoth the Buddha, “does not end through hatred. Hatred ends only through loving.” In the long run, violence primarily begets more violence, hatred engenders more hate, fear begets more fear.


None of America’s current violence-based defense strategies—whether war, stockpiled high-tech and nuclear weaponry, armed forces, spying, occupations, torture, imprisonment, or any other form of violence—will keep Americans safe. There will be no safe place for U.S. citizens during the 21st century, as long as our ham-handed foreign policies continue to breed more angry, hopeless enemies each minute.


No matter how lavish our support for unwieldy global spy bureaucracies, no matter how profligate our expenditures on formidable armed forces, no matter how many nuclear weapons we brandish, until we convince the Muslim world (not to mention China, Africa, and South America) that we will no longer irritate, threaten, exploit, or occupy them, until we learn to act like polite guests visiting foreign lands, and until we non-violently negotiate our commercial and strategic national interests like proper world citizens, we can only nervously await the inevitable lethal handful of angry, violent extremists who are now resolutely making their way to our largely indefensible shores in hopes of getting a really big bang from their terrorist bucks.


Wreaking havoc in America is as simple and cheap as poisoning a municipal water or food supply. John F. Kennedy once observed that anyone willing to trade their life for his could assassinate a president…and so it was. May I add that anyone who is determined, smart, and just a little bit lucky can commit a politically, socially, and economically devastating act of terrorism in America.


So why haven’t there been more terrorist attacks here? Has our vast spy network worked so well to protect us?


What Islamic extremists are most focused upon is ridding their lands of occupiers. Most Muslims see the American people as misguided friends tolerant of a diversity of peaceful worldviews; their quarrel is not with Americans, but with aggressive American governments (and citizens who elect such governments)—enemies perceived to be threatening Islamic political, social, and economic autonomy, religious traditions, and cultural heritage. Osama bin Laden justified his 9/11 attack in New York as a retaliation for earlier, American destruction of two similar Muslim “towers.”


If throwing money, soldiers, spies, and bombs at terrorists is not going to keep us safe, who or what will? Can any approach keep Americans safe? Is there a more effective way to spend our money on safety?


Our government could stop throwing its weight around for narrow, immediate commercial and strategic interests, and instead generously invest America’s creativity, wealth, and power in very different kinds of peaceful diplomatic, aid and trade initiatives that would help all nations achieve whatever is uniquely most important to their peoples. Thus, without conquering anyone, we could gradually transform even our most dangerous enemies into harmless friends—just as we did, eventually, and at far greater cost, with Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Libya.


Non-violence doesn’t require turning our backs on slaughter anywhere in the world. We can train large unarmed forces of peaceful observers, and send them wherever civilian or state thugs threaten the peace. America can stand ready to truck/ helicopter/ and parachute in massive armies of these volunteer citizens, who could then stay, watch, mingle with private citizens, and serve as heroic unarmed mediators, peacemakers, and media magnets.


To be sure, like the patriotic young soldiers who currently trade their lives willingly for their deeply-held beliefs, the idealistic youthful and elderly volunteer observers would risk and sometimes lose their lives in order to non-violently shine their personal lights on the world’s darkest places, and rivet media and world attention upon each pocket of violence.


Well-designed, well-funded media campaigns before, during, and after such mass observances of violence, would draw idealists from everywhere to volunteer for financially-supported opportunities to do good, learn, share adventures, thrills and chills, meet new like-minded friends, and risk their lives—all of which they already do at home, but to less useful purpose.


Over time, as such unarmed forces flourish in many countries, as more and more media outlets report on their courage, purity, optimism, and the truth of their message, as the heroism of their martyrs becomes widely celebrated and their values universally adopted, thugs everywhere will begin to recognize that international opprobrium and scrutiny will closely follow their acts of violence, while their victims will reach out more quickly for ever more readily available help.


Neither violent nor non-violent approaches to self-defense can guarantee the safety of Americans as long as the number of our enemies continues to rise. During this violent and polarized century, innocents of every nation, including our own, will suffer some tragic injustices. But none of us need choose to add to their sum. By applying internationally cooperative, non-violent approaches to self-defense, rather than inflaming the fears and hatred of those who presently see us as enemies, we can begin together to build a safer world for all.


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“To Live” is To Die For

If To Live was intended to be a very persuasive heroic epic offering a model of feminine perfection during a lifetime of political and personal adversity, it succeeded admirably. I had to keep reminding myself that it was only a movie, and that the character played by Gong Li was fictional; I was stunned by her purity, refinement, selflessness, tranquility, quiet charm, and gentleness, and her apparent total commitment to creating a peaceful family life. Repeatedly, she let go of past regrets and bitterness, and worked through the many negatives of her life with a positive attitude toward the present and the future—despite a marriage to a weak, difficult husband.


I so admired the quality of contentedness I saw in this movie. Without any apparent advantages in education, cleverness, wit, talent, athletic ability, skill, spirituality, creativity, or money-making abilities (and other qualities many people aspire to), Gong Li’s character accepted herself, others, and her own situation, quietly working to improve her life without throwing energy into resisting or rejecting her challenging constraints. Her character projected no struggle whatsoever against the injustices of her situation, while so many of us second-guess every aspect of our lives, every choice we’ve ever made or have yet to make.


Most Americans—and probably most Chinese, who knows?—want so much more than “just” a quiet life with their spouses and children. And even when our steady American stream of personal requirements is lavishly addressed, few of us feel fulfilled, or filled with anything like satisfaction. Instead, we’re restless, doubtful, and grasping for more.


Gong Li’s character was so–believably–pure, I almost felt dirty–selfish, demanding, spoiled, neurotic. This film made me resolve to be less so in the future. I’m perfectly capable of getting myself in a big twist over a small thing; Gong Li’s character managed to make a happy marriage and a good family life out of very difficult circumstances and an unlucky match. Yet the movie still seemed a convincing personal vignette about a unique family.


To Live left me with a quiet ache for more simplicity and gentleness in everyday American life. For example—I was touched by how kindly and hospitably the older couple welcomed a shy young man as a possible match for their daughter—how accepting they were—especially when I consider all the hoops we sometimes make our prospective sons- and daughters-in-law jump through, and the impossible expectations we burden our children with.


Although I’m sure that Chinese culture has its many areas of challenge, I suspect that this movie is at least representative of values and attitudes the Chinese government would like to promote, and possibly is supporting through direct advocacy of such filmmaking. I wish we would see more similar work in our own culture; the media is such a powerful tool, and our airways are supposedly owned by the public—why not use them more wisely for the general good? Universal values are universal values—there’s little argument about what values we can all aspire to if we want to be happier. Yet, too often, our powerful media seems to be working against parental attempts to raise positive, productive, mentally and physically healthy children, and to create accepting, contented marriages.


I’m aware of the popular notion that Chinese blockbusters glorify communist history, but I saw little of that here. To be sure, the movie was pro-communist, just as many American movies are fundamentally (if perhaps less consciously) pro-capitalist, but viewers will see both the pros and cons of a rapidly-emerging culture during a very complicated, difficult, very human and fallible political and social era. In that sense, the portrayal of historical social and political realities should be familiar to Americans.


I found this window into a very-different-from-my-own private lifestyle completely fascinating.


I didn’t much enjoy the depressing, off-putting first fifteen minutes of the movie, as the director set up its initial sad premises. Furthermore, unsophisticated western ears won’t appreciate the traditional Chinese dramatic music during opening scenes, and may also find the opening gambling scenes, and dissolution of the early family, abhorrent. I was also restless during the initial revolutionary war scenes in which the Red Army was unrealistically idealized (war is, after all, war.) But when Gong Li finally returned to the screen, everything picked up, and the film was fascinating from then on.


The acting and the direction were outstanding, and the sets arresting and probably authentic. The very sad and memorable scenes depicting personal tragedies were compelling, beautifully, and convincingly produced.


I can’t wait to see Gong Li as the evil Hatsumomo in Memoirs of a Geisha. I’ve read that she does a brilliant job as Sayuri’s rival. What an opportunity to see Gong Li’s full range of acting abilities—from her portrayal of the somewhat Melanie Wilkes-type character in To Live, all the way to her villainous geisha in Memoirs.


If you think you might enjoy a poignant, thoughtful, beautifully-made movie depicting a starkly different culture, and offering on the side some sense of recent Chinese history and politics, you will enjoy To Live.


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What About All Those Pesky Missing WMDs in Iraq…?

I never thought WMDs in Iraq probable (although possible.) My reasons for this opinion were generally rejected, though, by “average Americans” (people relatively unsophisticated about politics who trusted a narrow, steady diet of  conservative news outlets) with whom I spoke on the subject at the time—so enthralled were they at the time with the booming Saddam-As-Evil-Incarnate pro-war propaganda machine as to be unreceptive to any alternate probabilities.

The reasons I thought Saddam probably didn't have WMDs were: (1) He was unlikely to have been able to conceal WMDs throughout so many years of U.N. sanctions and scrutiny; (2) he was unlikely to respond to the imminent U.S. threat by admitting he had no defensive capacity; (3) U.N. inspectors were very clear about the fact that their expensive and expansive searches had not as yet found any such weapons; (4) all the U.S. pro-war hawks had already embraced sufficient motivations for invading Iraq–motivations including cockiness, dominance, militarism, oil and power lust, ideology, fear, religious convictions involving protection of  Israel, U.S. strategic and commercial interests, too much testosterone (see “cockiness” above), a desire to test and use their fancy new weapons and troops, “because they could,” and so on….) So I distrusted what they said about WMDs (along with everything else) as likely being just another part of their long dubious list of overblown, panic-inducing manufactured justifications for going to war; and (5) I knew enough about the U.S. government's history of setting up and supporting tyrannical thugs throughout the world in the past, not to buy into any newly convenient shrill indignation about how suddenly dangerous to the U.S. Saddam Hussein had become, how he'd gassed his own people, etc. It was the U.S. (the CIA) who originally set Saddam Hussein up as Iraq's leader, who financially supported him in exactly that type of thuggery for many many years, in order to protect “our” cheap and steady flow of Iraqi oil from any possible Iran-like oil industry nationalization. (For annotated and documented history of such repugnant U.S. actions, read he-whom-conservative-demagogues-most-fear-you'll-read: MIT's Noam Chomsky. For starters.)

Although I didn't write critically about the WMD speculations post 9/11, a lot of very informed and interested people who opposed invasion did. I wish someone would take the (considerable) research trouble to compile an “I told you so” expose, listing all the thoughtful people who, before the war, accurately predicted in U.S. daily newspapers, exactly what happened later in Iraq.

I wish this researcher would list who and when and what each critic wrote at that time, to answer all those who now say, “Everyone worldwide thought there were WMDs.” This assertion is simply blatantly false–“everyone” did not believe that. A multitude of spot-on pre-war critics were writing frantically, in both U.S. and international periodicals and newspapers, offering scholarly, articulate, and perfectly reasonable rationales against WMDs and invasion, although by then, most Americans–including, unfortunately, many in government leadership roles–were so terrified by the steady drumbeat of pro-war, pro-fear propaganda that their minds were made up, and they never even bothered to read about or consider such warnings. 

Anyone who was the least bit skeptical about the logic, trustworthiness, and veracity of the Bush administration's blustering could have read all such arguments in many daily U.S. and international newspapers, and certainly they were rampant on the web. For example, most of such arguments against WMDs and invasion were right there in black-and-white, as plain as day (if sometimes in small print and at the ends of articles) in The Washington Post—the daily newspaper I read—tied up with string, for me and all others willing and capable of looking past the pro-war lies and hype.

Coulda Been, Woulda Been, Shoulda Been….Sad Lessons in 20/20 Foresight

A few weeks after 9/11, my local newspaper published my “solutions” and comments about “what we should do next/now.” Here is the article as printed then:

If I were the U.S. government, (and, come to think of it, I am!–a person in the government of the people, by the people and for the people) I would figure out which American foreign policies have resulted in so much global hatred and criticism, and change them.

I would use this terrible, tragic attack an an opening to form global alliances based in respect and love for human life, human freedom, and human interests everywhere.

I would stop acting as if American interests and American children and American families and American freedom and American lives are more important than, or in some way separable from, the interests of children and families and  freedom and lives everywhere. People in faraway places feel just as much pain, anger, confusion, frustration, sadness as Americans do, when violence touches them.

I would defend the lives of my family and friends with my own. I would defend our land, our forms of government and economics, our people and cultures and freedoms and ideals and our chosen way of life, but I would not insist that everyone everywhere adopt them.

I would not subvert, and would ardently support, the right of women everywhere to freely choose their roles and work and religions and cultures–whether or not I agree with their particular choices.

I would not use the arguments of “stability,” “American interests,” or “protection of our citizenry” to legitimize unjustly invading, occupying, imposing on, or exploiting any other peoples, or to create or support undemocratic governments favorable to American interests.

I would not send secret agents to undermine others' right to self-determination. I would not assume that everyone wants us to come over and tell them how to live.

I would offer help to others in reaching whatever goals are important to them; that seems to be a good way to win friends.

Sharing our loving American hearts with people everywhere would make good economic and political and military sense. If some of the money we spend on military and intelligence were spent on kindness, diplomacy, and sharing, we'd be a safer, richer, happier country.

I would give no support to government policies and decisions that legitimize treating non-Americans in ways we Americans would not wish to be treated.

That's the golden rule for you–Jesus' rule, Buddha's rule, Confucius' rule, Moses' rule, Mohammed's rule. Treating others as you would wish to be treated is the christian thing, the humanitarian thing to do.

America is a land and a way of life that can legitimately be defended from those who would invade or impose upon us, true. But the America that is most worth defending is not just a land, not just a people, but a noble idea, a symbol, a belief and value system that supports freedom for all (not just Americans), a happy, joyful life for all children (not just American children), democracy for all (not just Americans), equality of opportunity for all (not just Americans), peace for all (not just Americans), freedom from terrorism and tyranny and war (90 percent of war deaths are civilians) for all, not just for Americans.

What we Americans all stand for, what is most worth defending, is the American creed we uphold, our fundamental creed that reminds us that our creator gave us all (not just Americans) inalienable rights.

Americanism is a creed declaring freedom for all, justice for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. If not, we Americans are not really about justice, democracy, freedom, rights, at all. By definition, these are inclusive human rights and legitimate pursuits, or they mean nothing at all.

How can we be responsible for everyone else? Well, we can at least make a small start by making sure that we're not part of the problem for anyone else.

We can look and see where we have burdened other people or countries, where we have taken unfair advantage, where we have supported an unrepresentative system of government for our own convenience or comfort or gain, where we have taken advantage of unjust conditions and governments and situations and workers to reap an inequitable, unkind benefit–and stop doing that.

Would I be willing to give up some of my comforts, some of my privileges? Yes, gladly, and so would most other Americans. We would give up a great deal, for freedom, for justice.

We must actively insist that our government act only in ways that express and uphold the values we believe in.

Capitalism does not have to mean unfair exploitation, unbridled selfishness, uncontrolled greed, blind materialism. Capitalism isn't a system designed to protect the rights of everyone to take whatever they want however they can get it. Capitalism is not about allowing the rich to exploit the poor. Capitalism is about open, ethical markets among free peoples. Capitalism is about creating and protecting fair economic systems which work to support the interests of all people, everywhere in the world.

If the idea of America is about anything, if it's worth anything, it's about justice, fairness, kindness, support for true freedom and democracy and abundance for all.

If we allow America to be about freedom, justice, and abundance–but only for Americans–how can we say we value human life itself? How can we be angry with others who don't seem to value human life, who take it away senselessly in terrorist acts?

How can we expect the rest of the world to give a damn about the 6,000+ beautiful lives that were lost in America on Sept. 11, and about the thousands of family and friends who are suffering today because of those losses, if we ourselves don't care, moment-to-moment, day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year whether our own economic and military and political policies contribute to the long-term suffering, starvation, disease, and death of millions everywhere in the world, and in our own country?

If we don't care about the millions of Afghans who died and/or are currently refugees from the last decade of war? If we don't care about the Iraqi children, 5,000 dying every month? If we don't care about these things, then we're not Americans, we're…I don't know…something else…hedonists?…some other entity that doesn't deserve to win, to be powerful, to thrive, to speak proudly of our rights and values and ideals and heritage, to people everywhere.

If we value human life at all, if we expect others to value American lives, then we must examine our own economic, military, diplomatic, intelligence and foreign policies, and hold our government responsible to insure that each of our policies and decisions reflects value and respect for human life, not just American life. Whenever we make policy that affects anyone anywhere, we must ask if we would want that policy directed towards ourselves.

Nothing can excuse this terrible, violent act of terrorism, or ever make it right. It has opened a Pandora's box of hatred and anger which will increase for a long time, and I pray in the name of its most direct sufferers that their memory will not be disrespected by using them as an excuse to start World War III. They know more than anyone else right now how much human suffering another war would create. Instead, I look for some kind of silver lining, some hope that some good can come of senseless tragedy, some understanding, some growth,  some meanings, as all things can work together for good.

I hope this disaster will impel us to finally open up global money tracking so criminals, terrorists, and drug dealers of all stripes cannot have a free hand. I hope we will finally track down all the weapons ever made, and make no more. I hope we will strengthen our highest-minded global alliances, create more, and continue to reach across national, racial, ethnic, historical, age, gender and religious boundaries, person to person, to further our highest ideals.

I hope we will support representative, responsive governments everywhere. I hope we will all listen, and talk, and share, and learn, and act in ways that respect human life and freedom and dignity, that alleviate human suffering. I hope that we will make decisions which reflect the highest beliefs of Christianity, of Islam, of Judaism, of Buddhism, of humanitariansm.

Only when we work together internationally in love, will we be able to begin to save our planet from the ravages or man's fear, greed, ignorance, and selfishness.

We must make choices from now on that are worthy and honorific of our beloved dead.

(Postscript, written on 12/19/05):

I never thought WMDs in Iraq probable (although possible.) My reasons for this opinion were generally rejected, though, by “average Americans” (people relatively unsophisticated about politics who trusted a narrow, steady diet of  conservative news outlets) with whom I spoke on the subject at the time—so enthralled were they with the booming Saddam-As-Evil-Incarnate pro-war propaganda machine as to be unreceptive to any alternate probabilities.

The reasons I thought Saddam probably didn't have WMDs were: (1) He was unlikely to have been able to conceal WMDs throughout so many years of U.N. sanctions and scrutiny; (2) he was unlikely to respond to the imminent U.S. threat by admitting he had no defensive capacity; (3) U.N. inspectors were very clear about the fact that their expensive and expansive searches had not as yet found any such weapons; (4) all the U.S. pro-war hawks had already embraced sufficient motivations for invading Iraq–a list including cockiness, dominance, militarism, oil, power lust, ideology, fear, religious convictions involving protection of  Israel, U.S. strategic and commercial interests, a desire to test and use their fancy new weapons and troops, “because they could,” and so on….) So I distrusted what they said about WMDs (along with everything else) as likely being just another part of their long dubious list of overblown, panic-inducing manufactured justifications for going to war; and (5) I knew enough about the U.S. government's history of setting up and supporting tyrannical thugs throughout the world in the past, not to buy into any newly convenient shrill indignation about how suddenly dangerous to the U.S. Saddam Hussein had become, how he'd gassed his own people, etc. It was the U.S. (the CIA) who originally set Saddam Hussein up as Iraq's leader, who financially supported him in exactly that type of thuggery for many many years, in order to protect “our” cheap and steady flow of Iraqi oil from an Iran-like oil industry nationalization. (For annotated and documented history of such repugnant U.S. actions, read he-whom-conservative-demagogues-most-fear-you'll-read: MIT's Noam Chomsky. For starters.)

Although I didn't write critically about the WMD speculations post 9/11, a lot of very informed and interested people who opposed invasion did. I wish someone would take the (considerable) research trouble to compile an “I told you so” expose, listing all the thoughtful people who, before the war, accurately predicted in U.S. daily newspapers, exactly what happened later in Iraq.

I wish this researcher would list who and when and what each critic wrote at that time, to answer all those who now say, “Everyone worldwide thought there were WMDs.” This assertion is simply blatantly false–“everyone” did not believe that. A multitude of spot-on pre-war critics wrote frantically, both in the U.S. and in international periodicals and newspapers, offering scholarly, articulate, and perfectly reasonable rationales against WMDs and for not going to war—although by then most Americans were so terrified by the steady drumbeat of pro-war, pro-fear propaganda that they had already made up their minds—including, unfortunately, many in leadership roles in our government who never even bothered to read about or consider the warnings. 

Anyone who was the least bit skeptical about the logic, trustworthiness, and veracity of the Bush administration's blustering could have read all such arguments in many daily U.S. and international newspapers, and certainly they were rampant on the web. For example, most of such arguments against WMDs and invasion were right there in black-and-white, as plain as day (if sometimes in small print and at the ends of articles) in The Washington Post—the daily newspaper I read—tied up with string, for me and all others willing and capable of looking past the pro-war lies and hype.

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Fear–or Faith? Despair–or Hope? Hate–or Love? So What's It Gonna Be, President Bush?

President Bush revealed his very human moral ambivalence in unscripted remarks following a recent speech in Philadelphia, when he said, “My job as president is to see the world the way it is, not the way we hope it is.”


To the contrary. I still count on my president to resist the temptation to give in to his darkest fears. Although 9/11 filled us all with doubts about the redeemability of terrorists—the ones who “lurk, hide, plan and plot” and coldly use violence to achieve their political aims—all the more reason, then, that President Bush should offer us all a consistent spiritual vision of a forgivable world where all of God’s children are lovable and capable of learning, right down to the last sorry, blackhearted, spotted, faithless self (that’s all of us, at times.)


Although President Bush has faith in the ideals of freedom and liberty, and professes a Christian faith, he still doesn’t “get” that he—and all other global leaders who resort to violence to achieve their political aims, whether offensively or defensively, through snipers, spies, armies, bombs, torture, economic policies, suicide attacks, or any other form of aggression—are demonstrating the same faithlessness and fatalism, the same motives and methods used by the very “evildoers” who, Mr. Bush believes, can never “become hospitable and decent citizens of the world.”


However admirable his desire to fulfill his oath to protect his countrymen, President Bush has abandoned his most formidable weapon against terror—faith in mankind's redeemability. Of late, instead of spiritual vision, he’s offered us instead only the worst fruits of spiritual defeatism—endless war, immense armies and arsenals, disrespectful nation-building, and huge, unwieldy, cruel intelligence-gathering bureaucracies.


Our fragile planet’s only hope during these chaotic times is our steadfast faith, hope, and love for all of God’s violent, prodigal sons and daughters everywhere, who will one day beat their swords into ploughshares and be welcomed back into the peaceful community of mankind.


Which will it be, President Bush? Are you a visionary leader who can accept that Americans may suffer some tragic injustices along with our fellow-earthlings, yet resist adding to their sum? Can you lead the world in solving the real problems of the 21st century, and in creating the new global reality we long for?


Or will you one day be remembered as just another in a long line of frightened, bloody world leaders who reacted blindly to their own fears and the paranoia of others, and ended up creating human nightmares far worse than any dreamed of by their enemies?


Only spiritual leadership can provide the understanding, acceptance, and appreciation necessary to unify the planet’s five polarized cultures—Africans, South Americans, China, the Muslim world, and the West. Only idealistic leadership can inspire each of these cultures to achieve its own unique ideals, hopes, and dreams, while respecting and supporting the quality of human life everywhere. Only non-violent leadership can address the century’s most urgent problems—the ravages of disease, injustice, hopelessness, greed, hunger, environmental degradation, natural disasters, ignorance, addiction, prejudice, nuclear proliferation, crime, poverty, war, terrorism, and yes, violence, itself.


So what's it gonna be, President Bush? Fear–or faith? Despair–or hope? Hate–or love?


Will the real President Bush please stand up, and lead?



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Afterimage – A Short Story

I search her face across the table for its usual reassuring perfections, but the comforting illusion of Claire the Exquisite eludes me today. She’s talking warily—but at least she’s talking, that’s good. So often we don’t talk at all. Such a tiff in the car on the way over here, about nothing. And then we both laughed at that sign announcing “Reliable Junk”—our own shared private brand of hilarity. We laugh at all the same things. Why waste even a minute picking at each other?


She wants to be good company today for our annual mom-daughter Christmas-shopping trip. I love taking her to lunch during the holidays, love encouraging her to select her own gifts.


She’s leaning forward now, for once chatty, confident, confidential, an evanescent afterimage of the sweet vulnerable darling who once trusted me with her whole world. But it doesn’t happen often anymore, not since our infamous adolescence wars.


Now she’s off on one of her quick voluble trips through slanguage, emotions, contemporary cultural allusions, my reader, film devotee, my fathomless millennium-daughter. She waves her slim arms, flutters her long manicured fingers.


Her earnest elaborations of distressing personal revelations are making me nervous. She’ll be anxious for my good opinion later, I know it. She’ll wish she’d been more reserved. I resist inserting acerbic remarks that would stop all her words along with my terrors about her welfare. She won’t hear them anyway, I won’t say them, they’ve always been ignored before. She just shuts down anyway.


“Well, very interesting,” I offer lamely. I know Claire scrutinized every word of Sex in the City for moral guidance, an unpleasant-enough reality without her filling in terrifying personal details. Raising a baby alone was hard on my body, my finances, and my sleep—but parenting an adult is so much harder on the heart. Our skirmishes back then were bloodless little all-defenses-down lullabies compared with the ever-threatening storm clouds cracking over our present well-mined war zone.


But. I’ve vowed that no subjects will be off-limits today. I will offer only matter-of-fact responses to any requests for information, any hints of her willingness to share. I will come from a peaceful, higher perspective where we can be honest and respectful and loving. A good mother should offer a retreat, a place where her young empress can try on outlandish new selves, rehearse her first drafts, teeter on her brink and fling herself haphazardly out into brand-new universes—all from her mom’s safe jumping-off pinnacle.


I so much want to be the non-judgmental friend I looked for in vain in my own mother when I was twenty-two.


“Hey Mom, I talked with Zilsa last night.” Our younger daughter, a freshman across the continent at USC.


“I’m so glad you two are close. How is Zilsa?”


“OK. Except she’s completely berserk. She’s contemplating leaving California to come home, have babies and a beautiful wedding or something. What a dork.” Zilsa passionately loves her hometown boyfriend Stephen, but also has very high career aspirations. We’ve resisted pushing her one way or the other, although we’ve stated our preferences. We like Stephen, but Zilsa’s welfare comes first.


Claire confides, “Zilsa says Stephen is practically suicidal without her.”


“Better him than her. He can move in with her, work in California. He’s not going to school here anyway.”


Claire agrees indignantly, and her voice rises as she itemizes Zilsa’s errancies.


Claire, no, please. We count on you to be Zilsa’s very necessary, listening, accepting big sister and friend.  Don’t sound so like me, so critical-parent, my little mirror. Claire always fought against my bossy, pushy, know-it-all side. She said she’d rather die than turn out reproachful and demanding like me. Don’t you dare pick up those crummy traits from me, Claire. I tried them already. They don’t work.


I’ve been better at handling Zilsa’s adolescence than Claire’s. All my fears still clamor, but I’ve learned to turn down their volume, to hold tightly to my vision of my children’s goodness, their luminous futures. Claire sure shoved my spluttering face down deep enough into that fount of knowledge. I can never change fast enough, though. I’ve finally got it down to an iterative but reasonable-length fit of weeping and rending and gnashing of teeth.


Claire doubly challenges me these days, since she’s become my double in anxiety and reactiveness. For it seems that, before I turned her loose on the world, I carefully passed on to her all my fears, and now she’s as defensive and alarmist with me as I was with her.


Claire and I do still occasionally manage some forward motion in our relationship, but it’s like doing the hokey-pokey.


“I wonder if you can help Zilsa?”


“I can’t. There’s no way.” Claire polarizes when she’s uncomfortable. She seems most assured and self-confident whenever she’s most uncomfortable—as if confidence in some opposite delusion will keep her safe. “She has to make her own decisions. All I can do is tell her what I think. And I think she’s a dork.”


Such wild polar swings—ah, my own old familiar path. Blunt. Black or white, yes or no, all or nothing.  Everything with Claire nowadays is good or bad, now or never, approach or escape, wonderful or unbearable, dead stop or full speed ahead. It’s not enough for Claire to be a fallible human being, to stumble along through life along with the rest of us mortals. No, for Claire to feel minimally worthwhile, or even just a little lovable, she must be perfect. Because whenever Claire makes a mistake, when she fails or is wrong, she sees herself as the dregs of society, of no use to anyone at all. My little gift to her.


When my own fearful mental conversations come up these days, I can recognize and acknowledge them more quickly and send them packing. I don’t swing quite so far so fast anymore. But my poor little rosy apple didn’t have much of a chance to fall far from her quaking mother-tree.


Like mother, like daughter. Shit.


I was scared back then. And awful to Claire. I was so terrified of that damnable public high school/ media/ youth culture. And haunted by my own missed opportunities. I wanted to keep her safe, keep her options open. I wanted Claire to make her own original mistakes, ones I hadn’t made first, couldn’t foresee, couldn’t throw my body in front of.


And I was quite successful—at circumventing every potentially character-building lesson that might have timidly ventured across Claire's path. And at impressing upon her every apprehension and dread in my vast repertoire. Yes, I honed every one of my trepidations onto my sweet little mime, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t repeat my own particular errors.  Just exactly as my mother insured that I would repeat all of hers.


“Claire, can’t you think of any way to talk to Zilsa?”


“Let’s just drop it Mom. It depresses me to think about it.” Claire gives me her hard, unblinking look, and I do drop it. Abrupt, direct. Despite our substantial differences in interests, experiences, and talents, Claire is totally my emotional and behavioral duplicate. If ever I had wanted to share my joys with this, my cherished daughter, why did I choose instead to act out every one of my fears?


I search for a less controversial subject. “What do you think of the war? Isn’t it unbelievable?”


“Mom! Don’t you ever have anything nice to say about your own country?” My previously well-indoctrinated left-leaning Claire is these days influenced by her buttoned-down law-school boyfriend. “Do you always have to see the worst?” She glares at me and then remembers herself. “Oh never mind.” Impatient. Dismissive. “You have a right to your opinion.” She looks away forlornly.


Claire hates to talk politics with me. She feels overpowered, squelched by my lifelong interest in politics. She’s young and forming her own ideas. Besides, she thinks it rude the way I turn polite social contexts into intellectual forums. I love serious exchanges, but she thinks I also talk too much and too loud, and listen too little. She’s right, of course. Claire likes to keep things light and fun. Her forte is sprightly intelligent witty small talk. Neither one of us has any clue at all about listening.


But no small talk will be forthcoming today it seems, for she has already backed away again, already forgetten how easily she can lighten me up, change any subject, make me laugh, effervesce among novelties so fast I can’t keep up with her.


I search for an undevisive, luncheony topic, but she’s cautious now, recalling how I lurk in the corners of conversations, hoarding stuff in the dark, waiting for opportunities to leap out and poison her tentative little essays with all my lectures.


God. Stop. Sometimes I even drive me crazy.


I know we both look forward to our annual mother-daughter lunch at Nordstrom’s. We always order different things and split them, because we know we’ll end up coveting what’s on each other’s plates anyway. Claire and I lust after the same fresh fruits and veggies, salads, sandwiches, ethnic experiments. Husbands never share this commonality, certainly not Ben. It’s a nice mother-daughter thing.


Now Claire has taken a deep breath, and has turned back to me, once again beaming little rays of sunshine. “You order that pear and gorgonzola salad every year. Ah, food sharing. Our special tradition.” She’s so mercurial—all light and affection once again, so much her truest nature.


Although it’s secreted well these days beneath that spiny skin she grew during our late culture wars.


“You are so nice, my sweet Mom, to take me out to eat and shop. I love eating out with you. It’s so hard for me to get out anymore. I’m always short on money. Seems like I just pay my bills and then starve for the rest of the month. I sure need a raise. I’m living on chicken-cup-a-soups these days. No, really. That’s all. That’s it.”


How long before her gums start bleeding and her teeth fall out? She’s exaggerating of course. Her boyfriend pays for a lot of meals out, and I know she lunches out with colleagues, even occasionally cooks. Is she trying to tell me she needs money, but can’t come out and say so?


It’s evident that I’m going to be a challenge today, for myself and for her, that’s for certain. But she’s graciously rising to it, determined to stay calm with me, to exude cheer, to be my loving, appreciative daughter. She has a short memory for grudges, she hates to stay mad. She was always a sunny little thing, with only occasional flashes of heat lightning.


“So, Claire, how’re things at work?”


“They’re OK. Mom, please, I don’t want to talk about work right now.”


Well. So much for that subject. I thought her job was going so well. They’re so lucky to have her, such a hard worker, a genius in my humble opinion, so much potential, such a darling personality…. Maybe relations with China are affecting sales?  She’s usually so enthusiastic about her work. I do hope nothing’s wrong. I want information, reassurance.


“Well, I hope everything’s all right….”


She glares at me.


OK, so push me out of two-thirds of your life, push me out of how you spend your days and half your nights and weekends. So we can’t talk about Zilsa. Or work. What else is there?


We eat, quiet, distrustful. Our new sad little norm.


I wish she’d ask me about what I’ve been doing, about my painting, my gardening. I probably don’t give her a chance to. I know she loves me, I know she finds me interesting and even admirable—sometimes she blurts it out spontaneously, confides it warmly. I feel it. I’m her irreplaceable Mom of childhood, her favorite ally in a dark alley. She knows she has me, forever.


Once I told her “I hate you.” She was a senior in high school, and truly awful to me, though charming to everyone else. It was the most frustrating moment of our whole lives together so far, and I screamed at her what I’d never dreamed I’d ever say.


She stopped whatever she was doing or saying…I forget what now…shocked. She stared solemnly at me for a long moment. And then she actually burst out laughing. And hugged me, uproarious at her slapstick comedienne mother who had just dropped a fish down her underpants. Like I’d just said the funniest thing she’d ever heard.


Smothering snorts but still stern and instructive, Claire scolded, “No, Mom. You don’t hate me.” Like it was necessary to remind her mildly retarded mom of the unshakeable reality that really, she loved her daughter boundlessly, unconditionally. I realized then that Claire hadn’t even been angry with me at all—she’d merely been toying with me, torturing me, testing her limits, watching me squirm.


Like quicksilver, she was doubled over before me, winding her long arms around her waist and wiping away tears of merriment.


But I just couldn’t let it drop, then, not yet. “I did mean it, Claire, at least I meant it when I said it. I don’t lie to you.” I’m feeling guilty, retreating a little, but I still want clarity on my hard-won point before I drop it forever, she’d been too mean. “Claire, for that one moment, I meant it.”


“No. You didn’t, Mom.” She smiles, wider, ever more amused, even delighted, her beautiful blue eyes innocent, confiding, tender. “I know you didn’t.”


Bratty little know-it-all. Contradicting me right to my face. And she’s still teasing me too. My hackles are still all fuzzed up, though. And besides, she’s raised questions of my integrity and self-awareness. “No Claire. I meant it. At least I meant it when I said it.” And I add, “And I’m still mad at you.” But I can’t find my anger anymore, it’s melting, melting. The wicked witch of the west is melting, and this makes me madder still. But melting.


“No, you didn’t, Mom,” Claire repeats calmly, confrontively, so sure of herself and her place in my heart–in fact, rather charmed by the notion that her steadfastly loving, if slightly unbalanced, Mom could manage anything but adoration for her beloved firstborn. Silly old Mom.


I’m rendered clawless and helpless and helpful once again, as always. I am, in fact, comforted, in a backhanded sort of way, at having done such a good job convincing Claire that she is loved. For a long while there, I was the only one she had. When you’re someone’s everything, you don’t drop the ball. I guess that’s something I can feel smug about, Claire. You’re secure in my love, you little twerp.


But she never asks me how I am, what I’ve been doing.


Deep down, Claire operates in our relationship just exactly as I’ve taught her to operate, taught her with infinite patience and attention to the minutest detail: she is the important one in our relationship, the one who counts, whose requirements need and deserve serving. And I’m the one who’s always OK, temporarily dismissable, capable, self-reliant, resilient.


I doubt she even yet sees me as having any reality at all outside my relationship with her. My lifelong urgent focus upon her moment-to-moment needs has negated any present possibility of her dredging up any real interest in my trivial day-to-day pursuits. I’ll bet Claire envisions me a robot, standing frozen and Schwarzeneggerishly erect on standby, waiting beside the phone night and day, all bodily systems shut down, ready to light up and leap into action whenever she calls me with some menial favor to ask, some minor request to keep me busy and keep my mind off my troubles. I’m like a toy doll to her, coming to life only in her presence, flopping back to the floor when she leaves, perking up again when she calls me back into being.


I close most of our phone conversations with, “Are you OK, Claire? Is there anything we can do for you?”—hoping to help, but also hoping to model for her a caring relationship. Too bad, though. Claire seems to think that my effusive-doormat approach is just the way all parents are supposed to treat their kids.


My own mother vacillated between nervous nurturing and critical sniping, doting and doubting, and of course I raised Claire the same way, unaware until long after my own little reproduction was well-stamped with the same overbearing pattern. I loved my parents, but didn’t treat them as well as I now wish I had, looking back. I grew up alternately insisting on and resisting their attentions, completely unobservant of their own, many, very human requirements.


I learned from their example that there are two very different kinds of love: one, openhanded, openhearted, and anxious, the kind of love one extends to one’s offspring. And another, more self-centered, self-protective, defensive, and begrudging—the kind reserved for one’s lovable but pushy parents.


To Claire’s great credit, she cooperates with most of the familyish things we ask of her, coming home often and keeping us generally informed of her whereabouts in a sort of  a “See? I’m not dead!” sort of way. I think she’d be there for us if we needed her.


She sure doesn’t come around looking for trouble though. Doesn’t peer around suspiciously as I do when I visit her place, projecting potential dangers requiring maternal input. Probably Ben’s and my little needs and dreams don’t even show up on her monitor at all. Probably she doesn’t see any connection between them and her day-to-day life. In fact, I’m sure she dreads the day serious needs will come up. As we do. And we’re quick to insist if she does ask: oh no, no, nothing, there’s nothing you can do for us.


But she usually doesn’t ask. And of course we don’t particularly want her youthful energies diverted to our support. She has enough to do to establish a career, friends, a family, a future—we’ve already done all that.


I do wish she’d be more solicitous though.


Poor Claire, what a mixed message.


If we need her, she’ll be there for us.


We hope.


But for now, she’s accustomed to our lopsided arrangement.


But then, after all, what is unequal about Claire’s willingness to bloom in our too-well-cultivated field of expectations, under the storm of our fears and hopes and ambitions?


Unarguably, Claire is drawn to this odd person, her mother. She’s expressed a guarded fascination with me, the sort that evolutionary biologists reserve for platypi and peacocks. She’s genuinely intrigued by my unconventional talents and experiences. Of couse, she’s not one to go around saying oh you’re so wonderful, and she knows to use extreme caution before showing any interest in anything that smacks of one of her mom’s “things.” Because I overreact and overwhelm her if she even inquires about what I do with my days. Outre among her friends, warm to strangers, Claire holds in all her emotions with me, except of course when we’re both drunk. We both get affectionately goofy and maudlin over a bottle of wine. How awful.


And she’s certainly inherited my own awkwardness with deep feelings, my own over-sensitivity when anyone gets too personal. Claire scrupulously avoids being nosy; she doesn’t want to be…what…like me, who these days is bashfully but persistently nosy, ever since Claire’s adolescent withdrawal.


Claire never asks me questions. She certainly doesn’t want to invite any of the potentially uncomfortable, or alarming, or boring answers she might get. I might let down my gray hair, share some intimate detail of my personal life, my sex life even, yuck, gross. Claire has nothing against Ben, he’s a wonderful stepdad, but really. Ugh. As far as Claire’s concerned, anyone over thirty should have the good sense to go out and shoot themselves. To be sure, she’s generously made an exception for us because we’re her parents and we need to…exist…somehow, somewhere, still available to her. But preferably in a distant parallel universe.


What Claire doesn’t want to know, what she’s definitely not interested in hearing from me, are exactly those details of my daily life that I’d welcome hearing about hers—details that, in fact, I’m jealous that she shares so freely with her boyfriend, her roommates, her sister. Claire’s current philosophy with her mother is: don’t ask don’t tell.


Probably because when she does ask me something, I’m thrilled. I light up like R2D2, snort deeply and paw the ground as if preparing to fight the Trojan War or recite the Iliad, I’m so fearful that I’ll run out of air before she breaks in or breaks away, before I have time to reach the ever-receding horizon of my pent-up verbal barrage of repressed input.


I’m not shallow, and Claire respects my ideas, even some of my conclusions. But occasionally my thought processes tend toward the circuitous and muddied, weaving right past her, while I endlessly stalk my point, pounce on it, worry it, loop back and beat it to death…. As you see….


“So how’s Ben?”


“Ben’s good. Ben’s always good. His deck-building project is going well.”


“Oh good. He always enjoys his building projects—his 'therapy.'”


“Yes, his therapy.” For being married to me—Ben’s joke.


I want to tell Claire how sweet Ben was last night, how strong his arms were, how he makes me feel like a girl again, in bed with her best friend. I wish I could share my worries that’s he’s taxing his health working too many long hours, my resentment at having to ration my requirements on his time. But I don’t want to worry her.


On the other hand, Claire is a grown-up. So why not model the honesty, openness and vulnerability I want from her? After all, she did ask….


“To tell the truth, Claire, I kind of miss Ben lately. He’s been so busy, we don’t talk as much as we used to. It kind of worries me. I don’t want us to drift apart.”


Claire looks up startled, eyes wide and alert. “What do you mean!” she accuses me, countering my perceived frontal assault with one of her own. Her eyes glint ominously. How dare her parents’ relationship not be perfect? They’re fiftyish for godsake, crazy about each other. She glowers at me in apprehensive silence, her blond eyebrows rising to their haughtiest peak, her mouth fixing itself in an elaborate twist to conceal her concern.


I hasten to reassure her: “There’s nothing for you to worry about Claire. Just normal husband-and-wife stuff. Even good relationships have issues.”


Claire’s brow wrinkles wrathfully. How dare I unnecessarily alarm her? And she’s fighting another internal battle as well, torn between defending me and, well, fixing me. She likes things between her parents to be unworrisome, tidy. Should she be doing something about all this? Be indignant with Ben? Or sterner with me for spending too much time in the garden or curled up with a book? Should she take a stand, a side? Offer some help somehow to someone?


She shakes her head as if to clear out cobwebs, straightens her shoulders and spine, recomposes her face and body into its usual elegant lines. It’s all too confusing, too much for her. There’s nothing she can do about it. Let it go.


I shake out my own cobwebs, a little stunned by Claire’s peremptory dismissal of my smallest attempt to open up my inner life to her. Talk about an out-of-hand rejection. I’m suddenly feeling old, tired, and bereft. She’s young, and I’m dying, tomorrow, or in fifty years, whatever, whenever. The days suddenly feel so short, and my time with her so precious.


This whole conversation is so typically Claire-and-Grace, at least these days. No safe subjects. Everything loaded, risky, emotionally charged. I’m allowed to discuss only boring subjects. The weather…and…good grief, I can’t even think of a safe second subject. Or I can stick to her areas of interest and expertise—current eye shadow shades, accessorizing choices of bypassers, shoe styles, for godsake. Any subject of consequence spins us screaming back into the void, thrown into our lizard brains.


This is such hard work. So sad. Claire is awesome, too awesome for anyone to fight with. Translucent skin, shining hair curling in ringlets down her neck, electric currents shooting through her, so bright and charged up, so excited by all that’s happening in her job, her relationships, her culture, her city, her world.


But so private and self-protective. And so determined that I should not have a single chance to drape my soggy disapproving blanket over a single one of her passions. Her mind these days is an exclusive by-invitation-only place, a seething vibrant place I visit only in my dreams.


But I’m so determined that we will have time, to swing open all the rusty doors we once slammed shut. We will have time to scale the fortifications we hastily erected in the fright and flight of her adolescence.


Too bad. I still catch myself shading honesty with her, still withhold openness. Sometimes I still shelter her, buffer her, parse my sharings, as—regrettably—I did so often when she was a child. Yet now it’s not just to protect her, but to protect myself as well, from her disapproval and legitimate judgment.


We trudge despondently down our long, convoluted path, so far from that open-faced child who ran so ecstatically to her open-armed mother.


We know each other now too well these days. And too little. Her eyes searchlight around, elaborately casual, looking toward no one and nothing.


A long silence.


“Have you been writing much?” And instantly, I bite my tongue, absolutely certain that my carefully preconsidered, very thoughtfully analyzed, precisely-worded inquiry will not be received as intended—as the most general and open-ended and impersonal of questions.


And indeed: “I don’t want to talk about my writing, Mom. Why are you always pushing me to write? Maybe I’m writing and you don’t even know about it! And there might be a reason for that. Did you ever think about that possibility?” Accusingly glaring at me, backed up, hurt again.


What hath I wrought? Whenever did I mold such a prickly, ill-mannered girl-child, whenever did I earn such ill-concealed resentment, such instantly hostile assumptions about my presumed opinions about whether or not she’s writing, or how often, or what?


But then, it’s karma. I’m being repaid, inexorably, for all those high school years when I leaned on her, interfered with her, pushed, prodded, and directed. Bent her tenderly-budding still-supple twig none too gently this way and that.


But I’m not doing that anymore, Claire. I’ve learned. This is me, Claire, this is now, we’re sitting here in a restaurant at a mall, it’s Christmastime, years and years have passed. Can’t we just stay in the present?


But no. She would take even this as angry criticism. Which I suppose it is.


I know, finally, that I’m on this earth only to love her, not to change her. So why didn’t I know that earlier? Why have I finally learned it only when it’s too late to get anything right?


And why do I keep forgetting it?


“I’m sorry, Claire. Of course you don’t have to talk about your writing. I’m happy just … that you're writing…or…er, well, I mean, if you aren’t, that’s OK too.” Lame. “And no, you don’t have to tell me about any of it. I just thought…” picking around among my words “…that it might be fun…you know, to talk about…to hear you bounce your ideas off me, whatever you’re thinking about.”


“Can’t you just trust me, Mom?”


Trust you? What are you talking about? What does trust have to do with anything? What do you mean, do I trust you? To do what? To want good things for your life? Well, then, OK, do you know, Claire, that wanting things isn’t enough? That writing takes practice, work, perseverance? I found my artwork so late. Do you know that wanting something doesn’t matter, Claire? That only taking action does? No, I don’t trust you. to know that. I do wish I could tell you all the things I didn’t tell you before, because I didn’t know them yet.


But, no. Not today. Telling her anything won’t be on her agenda today, and what I want most of all after all is just to share a happy day with Claire. Not to ferret around in her mind, not to sharpen up her decisions, question her premises, show up her inconsistencies. Yes, yes, I used to do all that. Yes. All right. I did a lot of that.


OK, all the time.


But not any more. Not now.


Damn it, I hate myself.


Claire is looking at me tenderly, inquiringly. And I probably do look sad. Fended-off. Flustered. Resigned. Depressed. Discouraged. Defeated…. Alliterative.


“I’m so sorry Mom. I never mean to hurt you. I just can’t write, that way, you know, sharing it with you….” She’s looking closely at me, concern and kindness brimming in her eyes. “I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings, Mom. I never intend to.” Now she’s reaching over, touching my cheek. “It’s just that I work better alone. You know, you know I love your support and encouragement. It’s just that…all that career stuff…. It’s something I have to do on my own. Whenever you help me, it makes me feel like you don’t think I can do it on my own.”


“Well of course I think you can do anything on your own, Claire. I’ve told you a gadzillion times I think you’re brilliant. You hate the very word ‘potential.’ Of course you don’t need help. It’s just that…well, everyone makes better decisions…accomplishes more…when they have friends to help them. There’s no reason for you to go through your life alone.”


Claire sighs, shrugs. And it’s true, I’m hopeless. Open your eyes, Mom, are you blind? Claire is young and beautiful and bright and sweet and funny, and not, as you might have noticed, alone. In fact, she’s hounded by friends and colleagues and suitors thrilled with any opportunity to lend her an ear, a hand, whatever she’ll take. She needs acceptance from her Mom, not the same brand-new old brilliant revelations and insights. She needs my love and acceptance, as-is. How can I keep forgetting? My little Claire has the whole universe on her side. I’ve had all my chances, twenty-one years of chances, to dictate her progress. Now it’s time to let her go, to turn her over to a new world of eager new benefactors…and opportunists…and con men…..




Now even I’ve had just about all of myself I can stand.


I’m not hurt anymore, just lingeringly in love with my sweet Claire, sadly letting go of the old us, weaning myself away from her. I never could stay mad at her for long, she could win me over in an instant with the smallest loving touch or temperate word. I know I'll always forgive her anything, as long as she’ll let me be her mom, as long as she’ll be my daughter. Whatever that means. To be a daughter, a mother.


Whatever we decide on, whatever we come up with, moment-to-moment, I guess. Whatever it is that we make together, whatever we choose to create.


I guess that’s a lot.


And now she’s meek and mild Claire, once again.


“I know you care about me, Mom. I know you’re just trying to help. Really, I know it. Sometimes it just kind of makes me mad. I sort of forget everything I’ve ever known, kind of momentarily lose it? You know? Like you used to? So please, forgive me? Believe in me?”


“But I still want to know you, to share your life, Claire. How can I help still being interested in you, after caring for you all those years? Sometimes I just can’t help myself, can’t stop myself, can’t keep from helping you. I’m trying. It’s just hard.” A humble petition for understanding and patience.


But she’s already bored with her apparently failed attempt at openness. She’s tried to explain, she’s given me her all, she’s been open, vulnerable, but I wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t hear, it didn’t work, she’s given up. She folds her arms, looks away, alone and frustrated again.


We sit tired, groping for another topic.


“I finished a painting yesterday.”


“Yeah? What?”


“About the war. Just some visual concepts about empire building, aggression, you know.”


“Mom! I thought you decided you weren’t going to put out all that radical stuff. I thought you were worried about how your weird ideas might affect Ben’s job.” Icy pale-blue eyes narrowing.


“Well, I decided it was more important to express myself than to repress my voice,  worrying about his job. If this war goes on, maybe no one will have a job, or a pension, or a home, or maybe even a country when it’s all over.


“Mmmmph.” Turning her head away.


Well, thanks again for nothing, Claire. Thanks for your sensitive encouragement of my first fumbling attempts to be creative and useful to the world since devoting my life to raising you.


I know I’m exaggerating wildly, but still, I cross my arms too, look irritable. I do try to stop myself.


Here we go again.


“Nothing against your painting, Mom. I’m just worried about Ben. Not everyone feels about politics the way you do.”


“That’s true.”


Well. End of that topic.


Claire’s lovelife is usually a safe place to go for a nice talk. She usually blathers quite happily about her current flame. “How’s Wayne?”


“Fine.” But after a quick warning look at me, Claire’s face rearranges itself to studied coolness. Uh-oh.


Now she’s looking down, fidgeting, glancing around nonchalantly, casting a suspicious glance my way. A sigh.


So cagey. Who can know anything? And how did I find myself so lost in this unapproachable emotional-earthquakeville? Even the most polite, most considered conversation with Claire today seems an impossibility. Any interest at all in her life, in anything that matters to her, any small hope for a response, good bad indifferent boring interesting relevant, or not, who cares, meaningful or trifling….


I’d welcome the words to her favorite song, a retelling of any book she’s reading….




Her hard face says, Mom, please, butt out of my relationship with Wayne.


Claire wants me to think she handles everything with ease—all her relationships, her career, her money—but what person can do that, young or old?


I did push her to be perfect, I admit it, just as my mother pushed me, only hoping to keep me safe. I wanted only to protect Claire, protect her options, keep her from hurting. Now she thinks anything less than an announcement of ease and automatic achievement in every area will leave me distressed and overwrought. And continuingly critical. And she’s right.


She certainly doesn’t want my advice either. She thinks she’s heard it all already, she’s sure of it, all the same old things she was forced to listen to when she was in high school.


But we’ve both grown up. We've changed so much since then. I’ve learned some new things, some new stuff I want to share.


But she doesn’t want to share any of it, not with me, certainly not all the gory details of her life, certainly not the unpleasant ones…and god, certainly not the good ones, not with her mom.


We face off across our usual thousand-foot-deep-high-wide chasm.


“I guess Wayne’s busy with work these days?”




“Anything fun lately?” Fun would seem a safe-enough subject. Claire takes pride in my vicarious delight in her pleasures, and she and Wayne are fun people, always running around, always into all the latest things.


She shrugs in disgust at her presently unfulfilled life. “No. Nothing. We’re always both out of money and comatose from work and studying and from marathon training. We just sit around a lot, sit around and eat.” She glowers, defensive now about this distasteful revelation, wanting to fly instead to Wayne’s defense, prepared to fend off my forthcoming judgment.


And then her face lights up. “Guess what? Wayne bought us tickets to Ireland!”


“How sweet of him.” Icily.


Such spendthrifts they are, such obsessive-compulsive consumers. And she’ll have to pay her own way in Ireland, I’m sure of it. No wonder she never has any money for new tires or dentist appointments. And I guess that blows any possibility that she’ll be with us in San Diego on her birthday.




“I guess you’ll have fun showing him around all your favorite spots?”


“Yes! We’re planning so many neat things! We’re staying one night each in seven different places, and I’m going to take him to all my favorite pubs and restaurants, and to the cliffs too.”


“Wow. Sounds great!”


Hmmmph. Sounds expensive.


Shut up. Let her live her own life.


“I know you loved Ireland! What a romantic place. Let me see, weren’t you with Sam, the last time you were there?”


Now how did that pop out of my mouth?


“Yeah.” Pensively. “And I hope Wayne won’t be as much of a pain in the ass as Sam was. I remember we fought the whole way across Europe. God I hope Wayne and I can stand each other for a whole week. We get on each other’s nerves. You know, Sam drove me crazy all the way across Ireland.”


Yes, I do know. I know Claire’s love relationships, which tend, like mine did at her age, toward extremes of passionate abandon or dark doubts.


“When I was your age, Claire” (am I the one now really saying this?) “I wanted so much for everything, my whole life, to be decided right now. I was dying to know who I was going to marry, what my career would be, what I’d name my kids, where I would settle down….”


“Yeah, Mom. Thanks, but I don’t feel that way.”


“You don’t?” Now that’s interesting. A dismissal? A sign of growth? I’m intrigued. “Claire…?”


But the waiter appears, refills our water glasses, takes our plates and our orders for coffee and dessert. And the moment passes.


Claire remembers something she’d wanted to share. “Did I tell you what I’m getting Wayne for Christmas? And what he’s getting me? I bought him this fantastic leather jacket he tried on the other day. Incredible. I just had to get it, he looked so hot in it. And he’s made us Christmas Eve reservations at the Inn at Little Washington. Have you heard of it?”


Just that it’s expensive…. Shut up.


“Wonderful!” I say enthusiastically.


So we won’t see you on Christmas either, Claire?


Stop, Grace. Don’t go a step further.


I do anyway.

“I hope you’ve managed to set aside a little money for Ben and Zilsa’s Christmas gifts this year.” (And mine. Don’t forget about me! Again.)

Claire scowls darkly at me. “I’m not going to forget your present, Mom, if that’s what you’re worrying about. That was in college. I’m a big girl now.” But still, she looks a little lost and sad. “I hope it’s OK if I don’t spend too much on you guys this year. With the Ireland trip coming up. And all my bills. But I should get a raise soon.” She brightens up at that thought.

“Hey, Mom, I made my Christmas list, like you asked me to. Wanna see it?”

I love Christmas shopping with Claire, love the self-indulgence of going in and out of every store looking for exactly what we want. I love watching her try things on, love to watch her prance around in new finery. I love giving Claire pretty things, dressing her up, helping her. It’s fun to buy things for one so pretty and young—I wish I could have bought things when I was young and gorgeous, or whatever. Claire looks so good in everything. And she does appreciate what we give her. And she knows we don’t want her to feel obligated, just want to share our small disposable income with her.

It must be hard for her to take our money, though, our gifts, even though we don’t attach strings.

On the other hand, this generation is so materialistic.

Stop, Grace. Stop being a fuddy-duddy. It’s a new century. She likes having things. And just what alternatives did I hope would attract Claire at this stage? Perhaps she should live in a dump in rags with no material desires at all? Like I did?

I am so hard on her. Whatever she chooses, she can’t win. I always question it, ponder all the alternative choices she’s missing out on.

But at least she’s having fun now, anyway. “That was a great lunch Mom! Thank you so much. I love our Christmas shopping trip, don’t you?” She strides ahead, a tawny feline, oblivious of all the turning heads. Ah, I remember those days. Vaguely.

Claire’s incorrigible when she gets going on something, so animated, funny, and now she’s going on about Wayne, all the funny things he said, what the guy across from her cube said on email, what she’ll wear to the Christmas party, all those prom dresses we bought her in high school, how she never appreciated them but really does now. Poor Claire, so young and beautiful and poor and tempted by everything. But we’re proud of her, the way she’s taken on the tough job of taking care of herself, standing on her own two big feet, making her way.

Suddenly she’s frowning, confronting the total stress of having nothing to wear to the office party, thinking about all her tough day-to-day economic choices, her dire state of poverty, Ireland, Wayne's new jacket, the long career climb ahead, paying for graduate school too, all before she can begin to go where she wants to go.

Subtly but surely, her long lithe body seems to bend slightly, collapsing inward. She seems suddenly smaller. She’s been working too hard, not getting enough sleep, no exercise. She’s not eating right.

“Do you want to rethink your Christmas list, Claire, with a party dress in mind?”

Her brow furrows into a deep frown. “No. I need those work clothes.” Then she slips her long arm companionably through mind, leans into me, smiles apologetically for being so short with me, and we swing along looking into store windows.

Well. This is fun. Though I’m still feeling a bit tender, a little wistful, knowing, regretting, that I can’t, and in fact never could, control Claire’s tomorrows.

A hard lesson. But one I’ve learned. For sure. For ever.

I look down at her Christmas list.

“Why on earth would you want a black purse, Claire? I thought you were going to go with browns and neutrals, not blacks and whites. It’s like silver or gold, you have to choose, at your stage in life, in your financial situation….”

“Mom! Let me make my own fashion decisions, OK?!”

She’s given up on me now, can’t even look at me, afraid I’ll see her totally—berserk—deranged—furious. She feels completely put upon, overwhelmed. I’m impossible. It never ends, does it? It will always be the same old stuff. Her mom will never give up, I'll always baby her. It will always be like this. Good god, telling her what clothes to buy, giving her advice on style, her, the only one in the whole hippie family who ever even cared about what she looked like….

Claire’s face is furious.

And I’m recomposing my own face now, too, feeling so old, so cold, so completely frustrated. And struggling to hide it.

I want to shriek, give me a break!

Is there any subject you’re not touchy about? If there is one, tell me, tell me now! I need to know what it is! However may I earn your royal highness’ approval? How ascend Rapunzel’s lofty, impregnable wall? Tell me, what is it that you want me to say?

Or shall I just retreat forever into silence??

Not to mention: Pardon me for living!

I just want to go home, want to get a nice backrub from my warm, accepting husband, drink the glass of merlot he’ll hand me with a sympathetic grin. He knows our relationship, he hears me whine about it until late into the night curled up close, murmuring, she’ll be fine, she’s wonderful, keep trying, everything will come out all right….

Claire and I are two copycat mannequins, one feeling so very old and one so young. We stumble along side-by-side, grimacing, vacant, extending ourselves numbly and pointlessly away from each other, outward toward nothing, our hearts hardening.

Claire sees the veiled twist of my mouth that trembles infuriatingly when I’m most hurt, when I’m trying, god forbid, not to cry.

“Uh-oh,” she says. “Mom’s mad.”

Damn straight. And thanks, Claire, that helps a lot.

My long hard look at her means, just drop it. You don’t even want to know what I’m thinking.

And sure enough, that look is devastating, and it’s had its withering effect. Claire now looks quickly away too, her own mouth twisting.

We're affronted little hurt-twins, distraught duplicates, huffing along in unison, our eyes rolling in torment, our livers picked endlessly by crows. We sigh. We shrug. We sigh heavily again.

“I can’t seem to find any safe subjects, Claire. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

“Not really.” Grimly. “Let’s shop.”

Let’s get this over with, she means. I just hate this. We both hate this. It’s impossible. She hates taking my money, hates acting happy and grateful, hates being here with me, hates being the dutiful appreciative trapped recipient of my importunate largesse. She doesn’t want any of this, wants to run away, wants to go home to her friends, at least they like her, Wayne likes her….

We stomp along efficiently, towards nowhere in particular.

All right. We’ll shop.

I press my lips together. No words will pass them that’s for sure. No words to be misunderstood and misinterpreted and judged unworthy. Far be it from me. I’m finally and forever hunkered down. All right. This is what she wants. All right. So we’ll both just get old and gray just like this, driving each other crazy. All right. Isn’t this fun? OK. We’ll shop in silence. Fine.

“Do you want to go in here?” she asks. Indifferent.

“Whatever you like, Claire.”

I spy a beautiful lagoon-blue jacket, the precise color that sets off her eyes, her skin, her hair, the Banana Republic style she gushes over. I hold it up and signal across the room, “Hey—like this?”

Of course she doesn’t. She drags herself up from her own deep scrutiny of something important, distantly polite. Coldly examines my limp offering. “No. Thank you.”

I put the sweater back. Of course.

Much later….

“How ‘bout this one?” and even as I hold it up, I instantly regret having done so, instantly dread her condescension, her pained response to the very suggestion that I might select something appropriate for her. I actually have to strain to momentarily hold the sweater up for her bored inspection, almost duck behind it, longing to bury my indiscretion back under the clothes on the rack.

Claire dutifully glances in my direction accommodating my improbable, outrageous request once more for her attention, endures the wasted length of time necessary to coolly dismiss whatever implausible remnant I might hold in my hand.

Her eyes dilate.

She peers closely, sucks in her breath, whistles out through pursed lips.

“Yes. That is nice,” she exults, walking over, whisking the sweater away, hugging it, doing a little whirlwind dance in a circle around me. “It's perfect, Mom! Thank you!”

It’s so sad. It's so maddening. It’s such work, loving your mom, loving your daughter. It’s so hard.


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“Eat Drink Man Woman” – Universal, Instructive, Thought-Provoking, Culturally Fascinating

One reason I watch foreign films is to broaden myself about the ways American films, families, and culture are different from those of other cultures. This movie was richly rewarding in that sense, as well as very enjoyable, and artistically very well-done.


“Eat Drink Man Woman” is a thoughtful drama about a Taiwanese master chef/widower with three marriageable daughters.


The many intertwined plots were surprising and satisfying, never pat. The disparate characters were each interesting and believable, and their choices turned out to be very true to their characters. I felt a sense of real people, distinct, unique, each with his/her own very human set of strengths and weaknesses, each making real, important choices; yet this movie left me with no sense at all of strings having been tidily or predictably tied up, or even ending. Instead, I felt that much had changed, much had stayed the same, and family life would go on, a bit differently. How like life….


It was interesting to see how each character isolated him (or her) self  from the others concerning their most important, major private struggles. It was also interesting to see how unique and true-to-character each was in his/her choice of personal struggles, and how differently, in terms of personal styles, each one went about pursuing his or her chosen quests–and finally, how OK all these varied paths felt.


This movie left me with so much respect for uniqueness, and with a renewed realization that there really are no universal answers that work for everyone, although there are some pretty good universal values.


For instance, one character’s personality was quite unconscious about herself and others, resistant and defensive, even to choices which later worked out to be just right for her. Yet she was always true to herself, and worked to surround herself with others who cared about her.


One character strove toward a difficult long-term commitment, taking step after careful step to overcome heavy obstacles to achieving that goal. Another character merrily flowed along in life, characteristically open, eager, honest, generous and thoughtless—and of course stumbled enthusiastically into his/her destiny.


An unusually talented individual with great integrity anguished over every small deliberate choice, making small, excellent, creative decisions among many options despite considerable adversity, opening many more new opportunities to yet more expansive sets of difficult choices. This individual subtly worked to balance all her choices for the good of everyone she cared about, herself very much included, miraculously without being obnoxious about any of it.


Each character in this movie, like every human being, came burdened with past mistakes, regrets, heartaches, disappointments and misunderstandings, which of course impacted their present feelings and choices.


I admired this family’s loyalty, and their mutual respect and support, all very evident in their efforts to be kind, helpful and courteous to one another and others, despite life's many challenges.


I was intrigued as well about the evident “Asian” diffidence concerning effusive affection. Americans are often more pal-ly (pal-ish?) and casual, which can be hurtful or helpful, depending perhaps upon sensitivity and luck? It also seemed “Asian” somehow that no one in this movie really knew much about what was going on in one another’s lives and thoughts—but then, do Americans ever really know very much either, despite how much we share about ourselves and how many questions we ask? Everyone in this particular family seemed to accept one another’s right to privacy (perhaps to a fault); evidently this is a mixed blessing, which Americans often share with equally mixed results. Just like in America, these characters avoided and deflected direct questions about the really important issues in their lives–yet everyone still did a lot of guessing and gossiping, with all the usual resultant confusions–because everyone’s assumptions are always way off. All of which made the movie that much more interesting and universal.


The many intricate plots were each compelling, moving, and beautifully acted, and each story was worth telling and well-told. Each story, as well as the story of the whole family (an interesting plot in itself) was allowed to develop naturally and richly over time, yet efficiently, with no extraneous detail.


Although each person was very private, sharing little of their personal lives with one another, and rarely consultative about decision-making, each announced important personal decisions which would affect the family courageously, honestly, and openly, even when such disclosures were sure to be upsetting or unwelcome. The family always seemed to surmount initial emotional reactions and eventually come around to respect, acceptance and support for the different choices and values of the others, with no attempts to change or manipulate one another.


I was also impressed, coming as I do from a culture of fast-food and fast-living, with how much time and excellence this family put into its mutual offerings of caring for each other, friends, colleagues, etc.


If you like beautiful cooking, you’ll like this movie.


I took away a strong sense that things tend to work out in families (if not in the exact ways each family member would want) when family members strive to uphold ideals and values of commitment, courtesy, acceptance, caring, and respect, despite conflicting personal values, personalities and choices, and often in the face of tragic, embarrassing, or unwanted outcomes. In this sense, this movie reminded me of a Japanese book I once read (and also enjoyed very much) called The Makioki Sisters.


I found it difficult to keep up with the many names and faces at first. But I enjoyed this movie so much that I watched it again, so as not to miss all the delicious, rewarding details, and was glad I did.


The filming was gorgeous, particular the details about food preparation. I particularly admired the acting of the father, and the middle sister, who was memorably beautiful and charming. I appreciated that “Eat Drink Man Woman” was exemplary of the “show me, don’t tell me” school of art.


A character in the movie made the comment that different families communicate in different ways: this family communicated—really, loved one another–through food. It made me remember how much my birth family loved one another through singing together.


I recommend this movie for anyone interested in a charming, artistic story about individuals in a close family facing many challenges, both together and apart, over time. I also picked up a lot of fascinating details about interesting cultural differences in Taiwan.



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Rumsfeld Redefines “Success”

Click on my latest political cartoon, the top one on the left side of this page, called “Success Redefined.” Always, the first victim of war is truth…. At various times, Secretary Rumsfeld has worked hard to redefine the terms, “torture,” “insurgency,” “victory,” “winning,” “enemy,” “mission accomplished,” “terrorism” and other words of war to make them fit his needs. 

Unfortunately, he's also having a hard time figuring out who and what we're fighting, and fighting for. Whose freedom? Whose liberty? Whose democracy? Whose rights? As defined by whom? Mr. Rumsfeld could use some thoughtful coursework in linguistics and ethics. 

The sad thing is that all violence is about fear, terror, hatred–call it whatever you will. As the Buddha once said, “the end of hatred is not hatred, but love.” The 60's hippies used to say “fighting for peace is like fucking for chastity.” It just can't be done. There is no way to peace: peace is the way. 

A just cause cannot justify an unjust (violent) means. We will all suffer some grave injustice in this imperfect new century, but we needn't add to its sum. It's a different way of seeing, yes. But John Lennon took that leap way back in the 60's. Isn't it about time to try to imagine all the world living life in peace? They may say you're a dreamer, but you won't be the only one….

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