Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gluckschmerz in Northern Michigan

So, here we are, at the cabin in northern Michigan where we spent a week in August last year, again enjoying perfect weather. The temperature is in the mid to high 70s; the sky is clear; the humidity is low, what could be more perfect? I'll tell you what could be more perfect. If the weather here were better than it is at home right now. For the last several weeks we have had typical central Illinois July weather. Temperatures in the high 90s, with humidity levels to match. The sweltering that makes farmers happy because the corn loves it.

So, I come in to the Pentwater library with my laptop this afternoon to catch up on emailing and internet news, and the first thing I do is check on the weather back home so I can feel sorry for the poor saps who are not on vacation in northern Michigan, only to discover the weather is just as nice there as it is here. Right now, the temperature back home is 80 degrees, the humidity is 44 percent and the skies are sunny.

There is a German word, "schadenfreude" which means to delight in another person's misfortune. I was all prepared to feel schadenfreude at the poor people back in Central Illinois this week; I was more than prepared for it, I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, there is no schadenfreude for me today, I'm feeling the anti-schadenfreude, the feeling of sorrow at other people's good fortune. Thanks to the internet, I found just the word, "gluckschmerz." I know, I know, I should be more mature and be happy for the weather fortunes of the good people back home, even if they didn't have to pay $4 a gallon for gas to enjoy their moderate temperatures and low humidity. Oh, well. They didn't get to see the sun set over Lake Michigan last night, and instead of the pine-scented breezes wafting through their houses, they're smelling the Kraft factory and the University's south farms. (I hope.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ask Aunt Tillie: Can Amish Have Bicycles?

Blogger's Note: Since this blog is somewhat Amishcentric, I get questions from time to time from readers about Amish life and culture, which I refer to my Aunt Tillie, an opinionated, but humble Amish woman. Here is a recent question and answer. Please leave a comment or email me if you have questions you want me to refer to her in the future.

Dear Aunt Tillie:

Driving through the Amish community the other day, I saw lots of Amish people out riding bicycles. Is that really allowed, or were the bicycle riders doing their rumspringa, like I saw an ABC?

(Signed) Curious

Dear Curious:

I don't know what ABC said about "rumspringa" (we Amish don't have television.) "Rumspringa" literally means "running around," in Pennsylvania Dutch, so the bicycle riders might have been running around doing errands. But they usually don't have television shows about Amish doing errands (or at least so I assume, not being an expert on television shows.) So, you're probably asking about the other type of rumspringa which is when teenagers who are not yet church members have a little of what they consider fun by drinking beer, and dancing and smoking (and maybe engage in a little premarital sex.) But I digress, as I tend to do so often these days, you want to know whether it is allowed for Amish to ride bicycles. Well, of course we can ride bicycles. The Bible does not say, "Thou shalt not ride a bicycle." (Ha, ha, that's a joke, we Amish don't believe that everything we can't do is literally forbidden by the Bible. It would take a lot bigger book than the Bible to include everything we can't do.)

I've never ridden a bicycle, although I tried once many years ago when Ezra and the children were away. Our youngest daughter, Sovilla, had a bicycle that she stored in the barn and riding it didn't look that hard, so I got it out and tried to make it go, but it fell over and I got one foot caught underneath and one foot was waving around up in the air rather immodestly, so I just figured if God had wanted me to learn to ride a bicycle, he would have taught me long before then. That was about 40 years ago, and I've never had the urge to ride again.

So why are bicycles allowed but cars forbidden? I don't know the answer to that one. That's just the way it has always been. Maybe it's because cars go faster and you can drive further in a car than on a bicycle, so there's more of a temptation to use a car to get out of the Amish community and go see what the English are doing. But some of these modern bicycles can go pretty fast and far. Some of the Amish boys have been taking road trips on their bicycles, all the way over to the Mississippi River, and they're just doing that for fun, so I don't know. Idleness is the devil's work shop, they say, and maybe there's some devilment those boys could get into in a car that they couldn't on a bicycle, but I've never heard that as an explanation for why bicycles are allowed but cars aren't. I just hope those Amish boys don't start wearing that Velcro clothing, or whatever they call, that the English stuff their bodies into that shows all their bulges. That looks pretty awful, but somehow the English think you have to look funny to ride a bicycle, I guess. We Amish probably look funny enough already without having to start wearing Velcro pants, but to each his own.

(Signed) Aunt Tillie

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bush Report: Two Grave Mistakes

Here is the final excerpt from the former Bush loyalist and chief spokesman Scott McClellan in his book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. This is from page 210:
The first grave mistake of Bush's presidency was rushing toward military confrontation with Iraq. It took his presidency off course and greatly damaged his standing with the public. His second grave mistake was his virtual blindness about his first mistake, and his unwillingness to sustain a bipartisan spirit during a time of war and change course when events demanded it.

At page 301 of the book, McClellan describes the scene when he talked to Bush in the Oval Office about the fact that he was leaving as his press spokesman. He says that tears were streaming down Bush's cheeks as they talked. I wonder if that is because he forsaw that his old friend was about to write a book about what really happened in the White House.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

JACK Report: Go West Young Men

There's a nice article in yesterday's Salt Lake City Tribune about the program the JACK Quartet will be participating in over the next several weeks with the Muir String Quartet as part of the Deer Valley Music Festival.

Weather Report: What A Perfect Day

This is a perfect day in Central Illinois. The temperature is 72 degrees, with a high of 82 predicted; the humidity is a relatively low 68; there is not a cloud in the sky. I don't know how we could get so lucky in mid-July, but I decided to thank God for such a day by staying home from church and enjoying the weather. So, I'm on the back patio, drinking coffee, reading the Sunday newspaper, listening to healthy radio, Whole Wheat Radio, out of Talkeetna, Alaska, and enjoying the beautiful yard, The Wife (and God) are solely responsible for providing. In a few minutes, I'm going to ride my new bicycle (new to me; it's a classic Raleigh built 35 years ago, and built to last another 35, my bicycle supplier tells me) to the Great Harvest bakery to replenish our bread supply. What could be better?

(Oh, and to keep from completely blissing out, go read Frank Rich's column in the New York Times (subscription may be required, but it's free) this morning. The stuff I've been posting from former Bush staffers is just scratching the surface of the ugliness that is going on in our nation's capitol. If you don't want to face any unpleasantness, just look at my backyard, listen to some music, drink some coffee and enjoy the perfect weather.)

Bush Report: He Just Didn't Understand

Today's meditation on the mendacity of the Bush Administration, another excerpt from Scott McClellan's book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Washington Culture of Deception. This is from pages 145 - 146:
"When Bush was making up his mind to pursue regime change in Iraq, it is clear that his national security team did little to slow him down, to help him fully understand the tinderbox he was opening and the potential risks in doing so. I know the president pretty well. I believe that if he had been given a crystal ball in which he could have foreseen the costs of war -- more than 4,000 American troops killed, 30,000 injured and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens dead -- he would never have made the decision to invade, despite what he might say or feel he has to say publicly today.

* * *

"In the end, of course, President Bush bears ultimate responsibility for the invasion of Iraq. He made the decision to invade, and he signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest. An issue as grave as war must be dealt with openly, forthrightly, and honestly. The American people, and especially our troops and their families, deserve nothing less."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bush Report: Political Manipulation; Plain and Simple

Today's meditation on the perfidy of the Bush Administration comes from page 117 of Scott McClellan's confessions, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception:
"(N)o political operative before Rove arguably had so much influence within a White House. As senior adviser overseeing political affairs and strategy, Rove controlled an inordinately influential power center in the White House. There were other influential power centers, but none had as much impact on White House governing, policy and operations. Unlike Karen Hughes, whose goal was to help the President shape his message in ways that would appeal to ordinary Americans, particularly those in the vital center, and unlike Andy Card, the chief of staff who served as an honest broker among various political points of view, Rove was a central player who was anything but neutral in his political and ideological views.

"Rove's role was political manipulation, plain and simple, which explains the machinations within the White House and their consequences, whether beneficial or detrimental."

And this from page 125:
"In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We'd done much the same on other issues -- tax cuts and education -- to great sucess. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and the substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents, that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality. Another cycle of deception would cloud the public's ability to see larger underlying truths that are critical to understand in order to avoid the same problems in the future.

"And through it all the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it. The White House knew the national media would cover its arguments for war even if the underlying evidence was a little shaky. Questions might be raised, but the administration had the biggest platform, especially when something as dramatic and controversial as war was at stake. And the public is generally inclined to believe what the White House says, or at least give it the benefit of the doubt until the watchdog media proves it is unreliable.

"But in this case, the media would neglect their watchdog role."

Want more of the same? Vote McCain

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bush Report: He Just Can't Remember the Truth

Here is the latest nugget from Scott McClellan's memoir, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. McClellan is describing an incident in August, 1999, when rumors of Bush's cocaine use were surfacing again. Bush is in his hotel suite, on the phone to a supporter:
"'The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'

"The overheard comments struck me and stayed with me to this day -- not for what it revealed or concealed about the young George W. Bush, but for what it said about Bush as an older man and political leader, especially as revealed through my later experiences working for him.

"I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn't make a lot of sense.

"I compared Bush's memory, or lack of it to my own experience. When I was young, I had my moments of excessive drinking at parties or out on the town with friends. There was also a time or two when I was around others who smoked marijuana. But I always drew the line at illegal drugs. The closest I ever came was holding a smoldering joint in my hand at a friend's home, gazing at it for a second as if tempted -- more to tease my friends than anything else -- and then passing it along to the person next to me, saying something like, 'Thanks but no thanks.' After that happened a couple of times, my buddies knew better than to even tempt me.

"Whether or not I smoked pot isn't that important. The point is, I know what happened. And I found it hard to understand how George Bush could say he simply had no idea about what happened in his own past.

"I know Bush, and I know he genuinely believes what he says. He isn't the kind of person to flat-out lie, particularly when speaking in private to a supporter or a friend. So I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true and that, deep down, he knew was not true. And his reason for doing so is fairly obvious: political convenience. He is certainly not the only politician to embrace the hazy memory defense, especially in our ever-more transparent political culture where voters are exposed to more outlets for news than ever before and just about everything is considered fair game to some.

"In the years to come, as I worked closely with President Bush, I would come to believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment. It is not unlike a witness in court who does not want to implicate himself in wrongdoing, but is also concerned about perjuring himself. So he says, 'I do not recall.' The witness knows no one can get into his head and prove it is not true, so this seems like a much safer course than actually lying. Bush, similarly, has a way of falling back on the hazy memory defense to protect himself from potential political embarrassment. Bush rationalizes it as being acceptable because he is not stating unequivocally anything that could be proven false. If something later is uncovered to show what he knew, then he can deny lying in his own mind.

"In other words, being evasive is not the same as lying in Bush's mind. The former is acceptable, but the latter is not. I've seen it happen during other private moments, around people he trusted, as well as at times during press availabilities and news conferences."

So, what do you call someone who convinces himself to believe something that deep down he knows is not true? "Pathological liar" is a term I would use, although McConnell is too nice to call GWB by that name. But McConnell admits that he saw Bush repeatedly say things in private moments and news conferences that simply were not true. I think it's an astounding admission from a press secretary about a sitting president. Impeachment anyone?

Want more of the same? Vote McCain.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bush Report: McClellan Tells What Happened

When I was a young man in my first year at Flint Community Junior College, confused about all the new things I was learning that did not jibe with my religious indoctrination, I started praying a prayer that I continued for many years. It was, "Lord, show me the truth. Even if the truth is that you don't exist and I'm just talking to myself." I realized then the paradox of praying such a prayer, although I didn't comprehend the naivete that would make me think that I could ever know "THE TRUTH." But I'm happy for the idealism that made me try and continue to try to know "THE TRUTH."

Scott McClellan, who was George W. Bush's main spokesman for three years and before that was deputy press secretary from the beginning of his administration, had a similar naive belief in the truth. I finally got my hands on McClellan's book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception. A graduate of the University of Texas, McClellan says he was very familiar with the inscription carved in stone above the south entrance to the University of Texas Tower, from the Gospel of John: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

McClellan now admits that as Bush's spokesman he didn't always tell the truth, although he claims he didn't intentionally lie. He says in the Preface, page x:
"My own story, however, is of small importance in the broad historical picture. More significant is the larger story in which I played a minor role -- the story of how the presidency of George W. Bush veered terribly off course.

"As press secretary, I spent countless hours defending the administration from the podium in the White House briefing room. Although the things I said then were sincere, I have since come to realize that some of them were badly misguided. In these pages, I've tried to come to grips with some of the truths that life inside the White House bubble obscured."

He goes on to say that while he has friends and former colleagues in the Bush Administration who remain convinced that the administration was fundamentally correct in its most controversial judgments, he has become "genuinely convinced otherwise."

The universal criticism of McClellan, both from Republicans who are still drinking the kool-aid and Democrats is why is McClellan speaking out now. That doesn't worry me. At least he's doing it. Colin Powell, Bush's Secretary of State, has hinted at similar concerns, but he has let his surrogates do the talking. I think it takes particular courage for someone like McClellan, who still professes to like Bush as a person and who has deep roots in the Texas Republican Party, to speak out at any time. I wish he would have seen the light and come clean earlier, but that would not have stopped the Bush White House. When McClellan resigned, we got a new liar in chief, Tony Snow, even more glib than McClellan.

Elections count. Want more of the same? Then vote McCain.