Scott McClellan’s Memoir

I have not read Scott McClellan’s new memoir about his role as President Bush’s former press secretary.  And so perhaps that puts me in a precarious position to be commenting on it.  Nevertheless, here goes.

From the reviews I have read, McClellan apparently confesses that he joined the “culture of deception” that characterized and still characterizes the Bush administration.  During his tenure of office, he was a big player in creating the communications strategy of the White House.  Moreover, he looked the American people in the face over and over again and told us what he knew to be bald-faced lies.  And now he’s telling us how he himself was deceived?  Pity. 

I heard him say in an interview this morning on NPR that President Bush and his compatriots didn’t actually know that they were deceiving the American people–they were just caught up in a system “that works that way.”  (Or something to that effect.)  I guess nobody is really responsible, then, for the war in Iraq.  Gee, too bad about all those dead soldiers and those tens of thousands left with horrific physical and emotional wounds from the conflict.  Too bad about the devastation wrought upon the country of Iraq itself and too bad about all the dead Iraqi civilians.  This deception business was just . . . good people getting caught in a bad system, I guess.  We wouldn’t want to lay blame now, would we?

Let me guess how this pseudo-confessional memoir came to be.  McClellan had two needs: (1) to disavow himself of his relationship with the Bush administration, regaining in the process some semblance of personal integrity and respect; and (2) to make a chunk of money.  His publisher probably said something like this to him: “Scott, there’s only one way to make this book fly–tell the truth.  Yes, rat on your friends.  I know that will be hard for you–but I’ve got to tell you, it’s the only thing that will sell.”

And so now we have yet another memoir from yet another past Bush staff member or hanger-on who is telling us that the present administration is dishonest and/or corrupt.  I have just two comments, and then I want to go wash my hands, because suddenly they feel grimy: (1) how long does it take the American public to catch on to the level of abuse they have been subjected to by the Bush administration?  How many more such books will have to be written? and (2) how thoroughly did member of Congress bother to inform themselves about the probable consequences of our unilateral attack on Iraq?  And where have they been hiding out for the years since that first ignominous attack? 

The ignorance of the American public, aided and abetted by the cowardness and ineptitude of the media, and the formidable lack of both knowledge and courage of our elected officials is astounding indeed.  And yes, blame should be laid.  The theological term for this is “sin.”

Such a political, and I might add spiritual, void leaves a vast, open space that cries out for change.  Let us hope and pray that with our desperate need, leaders of vision and integrity and strength will step forward.

The Will to Live

They are the lucky ones, Wang Jhijun and his wife Li–they survived China’s earthquake after 28 hours of being buried together in the rubble.  Breathing had become harder as the hours dragged past.  Their bodies had gone numb.  Wang wanted to give up at one point and tried to kill himself by twisting his neck against the sharp edges of the debris.  Cold rain soaked them to the bone, as they lay there, their arms around each other.

Li sensed that her husband was giving up.  “We’re still alive.  We must be fated to live,” she told him.  They whispered to each other, speaking of their 14-year-old daughter–if they died, who would care for her?  They remembered moments of their life together.  They thought about the changes they would make if they made it out alive.

They lay there recovering in the hospital, in separate beds, Wang covered with bloody, pus-filled cuts, but no serious injuries.  Li had tears in her eyes–she had lost her left arm, after pleading with the doctor not to amputate it.  But gangrene had set in, and there was no recourse.  Still, they both were thankful.

Wang and Li did not have a “good marriage” by any standard.  He had just returned home two days before the quake, after having traveled around the country for 6 months trying his hand at various small businesses.  He had lost a lot of money.  He and his wife hardly ever spoke.  Ms. Li was raising the daughter pretty much on her own, while working in a chemical factory.  “My husband doesn’t have a stable life,” she said.

The quake changed everything for the couple, though.  Their daughter was unhurt and refuses to leave their side at the hospital.  Wang and Li have rekindled their love.  “The only thing we had was each other,” Wang said.  “We encouraged each other to live on . . . we said once we got out, we’d live a good life and care for each other.  Now we have a new start.”

How is it that we take for granted what is most precious to us?  How is it that we give ourselves to the peripheral and ignore the center, the heart of it all?  Sometimes it takes an earthquake of some sort–something that shakes us to the core–before we wake up.  It needn’t be that way.  If we had a mind to, we could learn from Wang and Li. 


Instantly Green in Juneau

According to today’s NY Times, Juneau, Alaska, is quickly becoming the greenest ever city, and the change happened almost overnight.  And how, may you ask, did the residents of this little far-North city come to come clean and green so quickly?  Well, it was the avalanche.

Electricity rates apparently increased about 400 percent after an avalanche on April 16 knocked out several large transmission towers which delivered more than 80 percent of the community’s power.  “People are suddenly interested in talking about their water heaters,” said Maria Gladziszewski, who is in charge of special projects for the city manager.  “As they say, it’s a teachable moment.”

How are people coping?  The public sauna has been closed.  (That would be a tough choice in Juneau, I would guess.)  One elevator is operating in the library instead of two.  The temperature in the convention center is down to 60, from the former 68.  Stores ran out of clothespins, because so many people started hanging their laundry outdoors to dry.  Even schoolchildren are getting into the act, as they voluntarily sacrifice Nintendo time, boasting during show-and-tell time at school. 

Talk about a teachable moment, folks–Juneau R US.  And what can we learn?  Human beings typically do not learn from words or even pictures (an inconvenient truth), and we will not pay attention until we have to pay money.  Please, please, political leaders take note: serious policy change is all that will save us. 

And what else can we learn?  There’s just a lot of stuff we could do without, if we wanted to save the planet for our children and grandchildren.  Maybe we should start now, instead of waiting for our own avalanche, in whatever form that will take. 

Growing up in a small town in N. Louisiana, I remember how sweet those sheets used to smell when I pulled them off the clothesline.  I wouldn’t mind doing that again.  Really, I wouldn’t mind at all.  



Losing Eight Belles

Having lived in Kentucky for years, I of course follow the Kentucky Derby.  Big Brown won this year, as expected, but the horse which captured the attention of the nation was the big-hearted filly Eight Belles.  Eight Belles was the only horse spirited enough to go after Big Brown in the final stretch, and she finished second after giving the race her all.  Apparently her all was too much, for both front ankles cracked just after she finished the race. 

Eight Belles didn’t stumble or trip.  Perhaps the track was too hard–we know other major tracks, including Keeneland in Lexington, KY, have been changed over to a softer surface in recent years.  Perhaps Eight Belles was not mature enough or strong enough to run with “the big boys”–rarely has a filly won the Derby.  Race horses often begin and end their time in the sun before they are fully mature–if they look good in a few races, they are much more valuable for breeding than for racing.  Huge sums of money are involved here.

So what is comes down to is that these magnificent horses, like most everything else in this society, are really first and foremost a commodity.  To see Eight Belles lying helpless on the track and to know that she had to be euthenized there somehow made me indescribably sad.  I kept reading the various accounts in the newspapers, trying to figure out what happened, why this beautiful creature had to die. 

I finally had to conclude that for me Eight Belles had become a symbol for something much larger than herself: a culture which will sacrifice spirit and life and beauty–all of which Eight Belles epitomized–to the pursuit of the dollar. 

What do we value in this world?  What are our lives really about?