This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A B in my Bonnet

LET ME BEGIN by saying that I am about as die-hard a Red Sox fan as you'll find on a long-day's march, as my grandmother would say. To wit: as a very young boy during the 1967 'Impossible Dream' season, I would often drop to my knees during a Red Sox rally, clutching my Rosary beads as I garbled prayers for a winning hit. (These beads, by the by, had come from a great aunt who was a Carmelite nun, so they were doubly powerful). When the rally sputtered out, or came to a sudden, ghastly end, I am afraid to say the Rosary beads went flying across the room, with a number of cuss-words rhyming with 'Other Trucker' serving as the non-musical accompaniment. As you might imagine, this did the Rosary beads little good--

"What happened to your Rosary beads, Joey?" my mother would shockingly and disapprovingly ask, seeing them scattered into fifty pieces on the other side of my room.

"They were defective," I would succinctly reply.

Let me also add that I love the fact that the Sox won again this year; nor did I miss one minute of the playoffs or world series, even though this meant tuning the dial to the Network-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named (hint: it rhymes with 'Pox'), an unheard-of breach of left-leaning political etiquette for someone like me. And let me add further that my Dad played for the Boston Braves-- as such, like opposable thumbs and five digits on each hand, rooting for the Red Sox was a choiceless, DNA-determined thing.

Finally, let me further hasten to say that I do believe parades provide a psychologically- and emotionally-healthy outlet for people: we're so much in our own heads these days-- it's good to occasionally drown oneself (as it were) in a sweating, roiling mass of humanity.

All this being said, it still strikes me as nothing less than absurd that one week ago, 4000 people turned out for an anti-war rally in Boston, while yesterday one million people took to the streets for a rally celebrating an (ultimately) meaningless sports victory, played by overly-pampered, idolized men who (ultimately) have no loyalty to Boston other than their paycheck and who would decamp to some other city if that venue offered a more lucrative deal-- though this latter concern is, I suppose, less of a consideration nowadays, when American cities have become increasingly homogenized and turned into overly-hot, overly illuminated shopping malls (and smile for the camera as you're being filmed.) That is, when those American cities haven't been left to rot on the vine by the Federal government, like Detroit and New Orleans and every single mid-size old mill- or factory-town you could care to name.

But I digress...which, of course, is what I do best. God is in the details, as Proust noted.

The point is, imagine if you could harness that many rabid, highly-spirited people, and get them to march on the White House every month or so, demanding an end to the Bush Regime and its constant, murderous undercutting of the American Dream and All Things Good? Things would change so quickly in this country! There would be an end to the Iraq War! A permanent postponement of the upcoming Iran War! A return to democracy! An end to domestic spying! An end to torture as an acceptable American policy! An end of corporations writing legislation! An end to the myriad assaults by this administration and its friends upon our environment and our constitutional rights! An end to the emptying of our treasury so one million Iraqis and 4000 American troops can die for corporate profit! An end to 60 million Americans having no health care! An end to the vivisection of the working and middle classes! An end to-- well, you get the picture.

The conclusion I've come to is that Red Sox Rallies and such like are deemed 'sexy' by the media, and anti-war rallies (many of which resemble poorly attended, moribund funeral marches these days) are not. There are two things that will doom any undertaking in America: an inability to make a profit, and a verdict by the media, implied or direct, that something isn't 'sexy.' People these days are so afraid to do anything that might be branded 'weird' or 'fringe' by our increasingly irrelevant media. There is no policer like the self-policer, as Foucault says, and we have become a nation that, like Hillary Clinton, must take a survey first, internal or external, to see how our thoughts and actions will play out in Peoria. And most of us have a big fat tssking Peoria lodged somewhere between the pituitary and thyroid gland.

They have us just where they want us. Last Saturday, a National Day of Protest to End the War and Drive Out the Bush Regime (according to Code Pink, Peace Action, and many other progressive groups, including the one I belong to, United for Peace With Justice), anti-war rallies were held in ten US cities, including Boston. Last night on, the Boston Globe's online site, (stay with me on this) there were 54 separate stories on the Red Sox Rolling Rally. There were dozens of videos you could watch, of screaming, idolizing fans, or of Papelbon doing his kilt dance (but why wear the kilt OVER the pants? Well, that's what happens when manly pursuits became sanitized and 'family friendly,' they become emasculated and puritanical-- the only ones allowed to be 'sexy' these days are corporations and the models who shill their ultimately toxic products.) This morning, is asking people to submit their Red Sox rally photos; yesterday morning, was taking the assumptive position and asking readers to blog in with their answers to the important, "Where will YOU watch the rally from?"

There was no such curiosity on the part of the Globe before last week's anti-war rally in Boston; nor, the day after, were there 54 stories on the anti-war rally-- instead there was a lousy AP-written blurb, sans video, sans photo, buried in the bowels of the site. Despite the fact that 200,0000 people gathered in ten cities across the country, the headline for that story might as well have read 'Scruffy People in Non-Designer Jeans Tie up Traffic.'
But in the 60's and 70's, anti-war rallies were cool and sexy-- I've been told one could get laid as a result of going there (or at least there was always that possibility). They were the public plaza of America. They made things happen, on both a personal and political level. Now they are funeral marches because the media has left them in the dust and refuses to cover or publicize them. To further my claim: last night on Craigslist (which I consult for medicinal purposes only) there were many many classifieds from guys looking to hook up that began, "I'm so horny after attending the parade today." Of course you are, dear.

I think we need to inundate Craigslist with messages like the following, after the next anti-war rally: "Saw you today at the anti-war rally and even though there were hundreds of HOT men there, you were the HOTTEST. You were wearing...." and "I got hard looking at you today at the anti-war rally..." or maybe "Saw you today at the Red Sox Parade and you were wearing a Dolce and Garbana T-shirt that read 'Bush Kills People With Our Money While Schools and Highways Rot..."

Perhaps this will begin to get people to attend these more meaningful public gatherings. The problem is, people are afraid to do anything "out of line" nowadays-- after all, that might disqualify them for a photo-op on Hold up a "My Heart Jigs for Papelbon" sign and you'll be on the front page of Hold a "Bush Lies, People Die" sign and you've carelessly tossed your Fifteen Minutes into the dustbin of ignominy. As far as goes (where sports, real estate, and fire stories dominate), we have to get people, when submitting pictures of their houses for sale, for example, to have sheets draped from the upstairs bedroom windows proclaiming, "Welcome to the New Fascist Amerika" etc etc. "This smart little starter upper, close to highways and shopping, comes complete with appropriate, designer-inspired sheets with political messages, so you won't have to fuss with smelly magic markers...."

I'd love to see that-- fuck the closet space.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Night to Remember

I HAD ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE LAST NIGHT. As some of you know, I am an ex-parishioner of the Jesuit Urban Center, ex because they closed their doors this summer after 163 years of service. Many of us as a group migrated over to St. Cecilia's on Belvidere Street in Boston, a very progressive and 'welcoming' (as they say) community, and last night the pastor of our new church threw a cocktail reception to welcome the new members. I went with my friend and neighbor Billy, who picked me up, and I was somewhat panty-twisted as he was thirty minutes late. Anyway the traffic and parking were atrocious, due to the Red Sox game (which wouldn't start til 8:30, so I knew I could make it home in time to watch) and we drove all over the South End, looking for a place to park. At one point we tried the school parking lot on Dartmouth Street, and even that was chock full. As we were turning around in there, I suddenly saw what I thought was a bird flutter past my range of vision. It had been dark for hours by then (though the full Hunter Moon was a glorious thing, rising over the harbor at the eastward) and I wondered what a bird was doing out and about so late.

I got out of the car to give a look-see, and to ascertain if the bird was okay. And there five feet before me, sitting on the asphalt, was an American Woodcock, aka 'Timberdoodle!' Right there in the South End! Those of you who are regular readers of this column know that the Woodcock is hands down my favorite bird in the world, and one that I frequently wait and wait and wait to see each spring, when the male performs, at twilight time, the most extraordinary and amaxing courtship flight/mating dance. (Go here to see the first part of the courtship dance, though this video doesn't show the amazing flight 300 feet up into the air, with the wonderful singing and whistling. But you WILL hear the characteristic PEENNNNT)

I have gone to Topsfield, Ipswich, Concord, Sudbury, and Winchester to see the Woodcock, and have spent many long hours waiting and scratching, often in vain, to see this most amazing sign of spring-- and here was one right in front of me, in the heart of Fastidious Queendom! He/she wasn't wounded or anything, and probably was taking a rest from the arduous migration (they travel in the fall down to the Gulf Region). We just stood there staring at each other for a bit, his/her head tilted and the big liquidy eyes shining in the dark-- as I wrote to a friend this morning, I could hardly have been more surprised, or pleased, if the BVM had appeared; and I never would have seen it if Billy had been on time, and if the parking had been easier-- two things I had been fussing and fuming over for the past 45 minutes. The lesson? 'Less push and more flow,' as my sister Peg would say.

I know this means something, but I'm not sure what.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Must Reading: War, War War: Bush Rejects AllPeace Offers, Prefers War

This is from Esquire Magazine. The situation we are in now reminds me of the run-up to World War I. Most people in those days had faith in their leaders-- who happened to be more or less all related, members of the various 'royal' families. "They know what they're doing," people thought. "They wouldn't lead us into war unless it was absolutely unavoidable." But the truth is, many of these leaders were, literally, insane, due to intermarriage. They were no more fit to govern-- in many cases less fit to govern-- than the average man on the street, who would soon be asked to risk, and give, his life, for the petty whims and 'honor' of his leaders. As is usally the case, rallying calls and ethnic stereotypes were trotted out to whip the people into jingoistic frenzy. And thus, millions died.

If there's anyone left out there who believes the Bush Administration is concerned about the world, or Americans, or bringing good governance to our people, or peace, I have some swamp land in Florida I'd love to sell you. They are evil incarnate. Here's the Esquire article below. It is utterly insane that they are about to attack Iran, especially in light of the colossal failure Iraq has been, and continues to be. But that's just what they're planning on doing.

The Secret History of the Impending War with Iran That the White House Doesn't Want You to KnowBrian Berman

In the years after 9/11, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann worked at the highest levels of the Bush administration as Middle East policy experts for the National Security Council. Mann conducted secret negotiations with Iran. Leverett traveled with Colin Powell and advised Condoleezza Rice. They each played crucial roles in formulating policy for the region leading up to the war in Iraq. But when they left the White House, they left with a growing sense of alarm -- not only was the Bush administration headed straight for war with Iran, it had been set on this course for years. That was what people didn't realize. It was just like Iraq, when the White House was so eager for war it couldn't wait for the UN inspectors to leave. The steps have been many and steady and all in the same direction. And now things are getting much worse. We are getting closer and closer to the tripline, they say.

"The hard-liners are upping the pressure on the State Department," says Leverett. "They're basically saying, 'You've been trying to engage Iran for more than a year now and what do you have to show for it? They keep building more centrifuges, they're sending this IED stuff over into Iraq that's killing American soldiers, the human-rights internal political situation has gotten more repressive -- what the hell do you have to show for this engagement strategy?' "

But the engagement strategy was never serious and was designed to fail, they say. Over the last year, Rice has begun saying she would talk to "anybody, anywhere, anytime," but not to the Iranians unless they stopped enriching uranium first. That's not a serious approach to diplomacy, Mann says. Diplomacy is about talking to your enemies. That's how wars are averted. You work up to the big things. And when U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had his much-publicized meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad this spring, he didn't even have permission from the White House to schedule a second meeting.

The most ominous new development is the Bush administration's push to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.

"The U.S. has designated any number of states over the years as state sponsors of terrorism," says Leverett. "But here for the first time the U.S. is saying that part of a government is itself a terrorist organization."

This is what Leverett and Mann fear will happen: The diplomatic effort in the United Nations will fail when it becomes clear that Russia's and China's geopolitical ambitions will not accommodate the inconvenience of energy sanctions against Iran. Without any meaningful incentive from the U.S. to be friendly, Iran will keep meddling in Iraq and installing nuclear centrifuges. This will trigger a response from the hard-liners in the White House, who feel that it is their moral duty to deal with Iran before the Democrats take over American foreign policy. "If you get all those elements coming together, say in the first half of '08," says Leverett, "what is this president going to do? I think there is a serious risk he would decide to order an attack on the Iranian nuclear installations and probably a wider target zone."

This would result in a dramatic increase in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, attacks by proxy forces like Hezbollah, and an unknown reaction from the wobbly states of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where millions admire Iran's resistance to the Great Satan. "As disastrous as Iraq has been," says Mann, "an attack on Iran could engulf America in a war with the entire Muslim world."

Mann and Leverett believe that none of this had to be.

Flynt Lawrence Leverett grew up in Fort Worth and went to Texas Christian University. He spent the first nine years of his government career as a CIA analyst specializing in the Middle East. He voted for George Bush in 2000. On the day the assassins of Al Qaeda flew two hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center, Colin Powell summoned him to help plan the response. Five months later, Leverett landed a plum post on the National Security Council. When Condoleezza Rice discussed the Middle East with President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, Leverett was the man standing behind her taking notes and whispering in her ear.

Today, he sits on the back deck of a house tucked into the curve of a leafy suburban street in McLean, Virginia, a forty-nine-year-old white American man wearing khakis and a white dress shirt and wire-rimmed glasses. Mann sits next to him, also wearing khakis. She's thirty-nine but looks much younger, with straight brown hair and a tomboy's open face. The polish on her toenails is pink. If you saw her around McLean, you wouldn't hesitate:

Soccer mom. Classic soccer mom.

But with degrees from Brandeis and Harvard Law and stints at Tel Aviv University and the powerful Israeli lobby known as AIPAC, she has even better right-wing credentials than her husband.

As they talk, eating grapes out of a bowl, lawn mowers hum and birds chirp. The floor is littered with toy trucks and rubber animals left behind by the youngest of their four children. But the tranquillity is misleading. When Mann and Leverett went public with the inside story behind the impending disaster with Iran, the White House dismissed them. Then it imposed prior restraint on them, an extraordinary episode of government censorship. Finally, it threatened them.

Now they are afraid of the White House, and watching what they say. But still, they feel they have to speak out.

Like so many things these days, this story began on the morning of September 11, 2001. On Forty-fifth Street in Manhattan, Mann had just been evacuated from the offices of the U.S. mission to the United Nations and was walking home to her apartment on Thirty-eighth Street -- walking south, toward the giant plume of smoke. When her cell phone rang, she picked it up immediately because her sister worked at the World Trade Center and she was frantic for word. But it wasn't her sister, it was a senior Iranian diplomat. To protect him from reprisals from the Iranian government, she doesn't want to name him, but she describes him as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair. Since early spring, they had been meeting secretly in a small conference room at the UN.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

Yes, she said, she was fine.

The attack was a terrible tragedy, he said, doubtless the work of Al Qaeda.

"I hope that we can still work together," he said.

That same day, in Washington, on the seventh floor of the State Department building, a security guard opened the door of Leverett's office and told him they were evacuating the building. Leverett was Powell's specialist on terrorist states like Syria and Libya, so he knew the world was about to go through a dramatic change. As he joined the people milling on the sidewalk, his mind was already racing.

Then he got a call summoning him back to Foggy Bottom. At the entrance to a specially fortified office, he showed his badge to the guards and passed into a windowless conference room. There were about a dozen people there, Powell's top foreign-policy planners. Powell told them that their first job was to make plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The second job was to rally allies. That meant detailed strategies for approaching other nations -- in some cases, Powell could make the approach, in others the president would have to make the call. Then Powell left them to work through the night.

At 5:30 a.m. on September 12, they walked the list to the office of the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. Powell took it straight to the White House.

Mann and Leverett didn't know each other then, but they were already traveling down parallel tracks. Months before September 11, Mann had been negotiating with the Iranian diplomat at the UN. After the attacks, the meetings continued, sometimes alone and sometimes with their Russian counterpart sitting in. Soon they traded the conference room for the Delegates' Lounge, an airy two-story bar with ashtrays for all the foreigners who were used to smoking indoors. One day, up on the second floor where the windows overlooked the East River, the diplomat told her that Iran was ready to cooperate unconditionally, a phrase that had seismic diplomatic implications. Unconditional talks are what the U.S. had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the U.S. and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement. "It was revolutionary," Mann says. "It could have changed the world."

A few weeks later, after signing on to Condoleezza Rice's staff as the new Iran expert in the National Security Council, Mann flew to Europe with Ryan Crocker -- then a deputy assistant secretary of state -- to hold talks with a team of Iranian diplomats. Meeting in a light-filled conference room at the old UN building in Geneva, they hammered out plans for Iranian help in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agreed to provide assistance if any American was shot down near their territory, agreed to let the U.S. send food in through their border, and even agreed to restrain some "really bad Afghanis," like a rabidly anti-American warlord named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, quietly putting him under house arrest in Tehran. These were significant concessions. At the same time, special envoy James Dobbins was having very public and warm discussions in Bonn with the Iranian deputy foreign minister as they worked together to set up a new government for Afghanistan. And the Iranians seemed eager to help in more tactical ways as well. They had intimate knowledge of Taliban strategic capabilities and they wanted to share it with the Americans.

One day during the U.S. bombing campaign, Mann and her Iranian counterparts were sitting around the wooden conference table speculating about the future Afghani constitution. Suddenly the Iranian who knew so much about intelligence matters started pounding on the table. "Enough of that!" he shouted, unfurling a map of Afghanistan. Here was a place the Americans needed to bomb. And here, and here, he angrily jabbed his finger at the map.

Leverett spent those days in his office at the State Department building, watching the revolution in the Middle East and coming up with plans on how to capture the lightning. Suddenly countries like Syria and Libya and Sudan and Iran were coming forward with offers of help, which raised a vital question -- should they stay on the same enemies list as North Korea and Iraq, or could there be a new slot for "friendly" sponsors of terror?

As a CIA analyst, Leverett had come to the view that Middle Eastern terrorism was more tactical than religious. Syria wanted the Golan Heights back and didn't have the military strength to put up a serious fight against Israel, so it relied on "asymmetrical methods." Accepting this idea meant that nations like Syria weren't locked in a fanatic mind-set, that they could evolve to use new methods, so Leverett told Powell to seize the moment and draw up a "road map" to peace for the problem countries of the Middle East -- expel your terrorist groups and stop trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, and we will take you off the sponsors-of-terrorism list and start a new era of cooperation.

That December, just after the triumph over Afghanistan, Powell took the idea to the White House. The occasion was the regular "deputies meeting" at the Situation Room. Gathered around the table were the deputy secretary of state, the deputy secretary of defense, the deputy director of the CIA, a representative from Vice-President Cheney's office, and also the deputy national security advisor, Stephen Hadley.

Hadley hated the idea. So did the representatives from Rumsfeld and Cheney. They thought that it was a reward for bad behavior, that the sponsors of terrorism should stop just because it's the right thing to do.

After the meeting, Hadley wrote up a brief memo that came to be known as Hadley's Rules:

If a state like Syria or Iran offers specific assistance, we will take it without offering anything in return. We will accept it without strings or promises. We won't try to build on it.

Leverett thought that was simply nutty. To strike postures of moral purity, they were throwing away a chance for real progress. But just a few days later, Condoleezza Rice called him into her office, warming him up with talk of how classical music shaped their childhoods. As he told her about the year he spent studying classical piano at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Leverett felt a real connection. Then she said she was looking for someone to take the job of senior director of Mideast affairs at the National Security Council, someone who would take a real leadership role on the Palestinian issue. Big changes were coming in 2002.

He repeated his firm belief that the White House had to draw up a road map with real solutions to the division of Jerusalem and the problem of refugees, something with final borders. That was the only remedy to the crisis in the Middle East.

Just after the New Year, Rice called and offered him the job.

The bowl of grapes is empty and the plate of cheese moves to the center of the table. Leverett's teenage son comes in with questions about a teacher. Periodically, Mann interrupts herself. "This is off the record," she says. "This is going to have to be on background."

She's not allowed to talk about confidential documents or intelligence matters, but the topic of her negotiations with the Iranians is especially touchy.

"As far as they're concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn't even be talking about," she says.

All ranks and ranking are out. "They don't want there to be anything about the level of the talks or who was involved."

"They won't even let us say something like 'senior' or 'important,' 'high-ranking,' or 'high-level,' " Leverett says.

But the important thing is that the Iranians agreed to talk unconditionally, Mann says. "They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the U.S., and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in twenty-five years."

She believed them.

But while Leverett was still moving into the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, Mann was wrapped up in the crisis over a ship called the Karin A that left Iran loaded with fifty tons of weapons. According to the Israeli navy, which intercepted the Karin A in the Red Sea, it was headed for the PLO. In staff meetings at the White House, Mann argued for caution. The Iranian government probably didn't even know about the arms shipments. It was issuing official denials in the most passionate way, even sending its deputy foreign minister onto Fox News to say "categorically" that "all segments of the Iranian government" had nothing to do with the arms shipment, which meant the "total government, not simply President Khatami's administration."

Bush waited. Three weeks later, it was time for his 2002 State of the Union address. Mann spent the morning in a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and the new president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who kept asking Rice for an expanded international peacekeeping force. Rice kept saying that the Afghans would have to solve their own problems. Then they went off to join the president's motorcade and Mann headed back to her office to watch the speech on TV.

That was the speech in which Bush linked Iran to Iraq and North Korea with a memorable phrase:

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

The Iranians had been engaging in high-level diplomacy with the American government for more than a year, so the phrase was shocking and profound.

After that, the Iranian diplomats skipped the monthly meeting in Geneva. But they came again in March. And so did Mann. "They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives," Mann says.

The secret negotiations with Iran continued, every month for another year.

Leverett plunged right into a dramatic new peace proposal floated by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Calling for "full normalization" in exchange for "full withdrawal" from the occupied territories, Abdullah promised to rally all the Arab nations to a final settlement with Israel. In his brand-new third-floor office at the Old Executive Office Building, a tiny room with a very high ceiling, Leverett began hammering out the details with Abdullah's foreign-policy advisor, Adel Al-Jubeir. When Ariel Sharon said that a return to the '67 borders was unacceptable, Al-Jubeir said the Saudis didn't want to be in the "real estate business" -- if the Palestinians agreed to border modifications, the Saudis could hardly refuse them. Al-Jubeir believed he had something that might actually work.

But the White House wasn't interested. Sharon already rejected it, Rice told Leverett.

At the Arab League meeting, Abdullah got every Arab state to sign his proposal in a unanimous vote.

The White House still wasn't interested.

Then violence in the Palestinian territories began to increase, climaxing in an Israeli siege of Arafat's compound. In April, Leverett accompanied Colin Powell on a tour that took them from Morocco to Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon and finally Israel. Twice they crossed the Israeli-army lines to visit Arafat under siege. Powell seemed to think he had authorization from the White House to explore what everyone was calling "political horizons," the safely vague shorthand for a peaceful future, so on the final day Leverett holed up in a suite at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem with a group of senior American officials -- the U. . ambassador to Israel, the U. S. consul general to Jerusalem, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs Bill Burns -- trying to hammer out Powell's last speech.

Then the phone rang. It was Stephen Hadley on the phone from the White House. "Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon," he said. "Those are formal instructions."

"This is a bad idea," Leverett remembers saying. "It's bad policy and it's also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last ten days."

"It doesn't matter," Hadley said. "There's too much resistance from Rumsfeld and the VP. Those are the instructions."

So Leverett went back into the suite and asked Powell to step aside.

Powell was furious, Leverett remembers. "What is it they're afraid of?" he demanded. "Who the hell are they afraid of?"

"I don't know sir," Leverett said.

In the spring, Crown Prince Abdullah flew to Texas to meet Bush at his ranch. The way Leverett remembers the story, Abdullah sat down and told Bush he was going to ask a direct question and wanted a direct answer. Are you going to do anything about the Palestinian issue? If you tell me no, if it's too difficult, if you're not going to give it that kind of priority, just tell me. I will understand and I will never say anything critical of you or your leadership in public, but I'm going to need to make my own judgments and my own decisions about Saudi interests.

Bush tried to stall, saying he understood his concerns and would see what he could do.

Abdullah stood up. "That's it. This meeting is over."

No Arab leader had ever spoken to Bush like that before, Leverett says. But Saudi Arabia was a key ally in the war on terror, vital to the continued U.S. oil supply, so Bush and Rice and Powell excused themselves into another room for a quick huddle.

When he came back, Bush gave Abdullah his word that he would deal seriously with the Palestinian issue.

"Okay," Abdullah said. "The president of the United States has given me his word."

So the meeting continued, ending with a famous series of photographs of Bush and Abdullah riding around the ranch in Bush's pickup.

In a meeting at the White House a few days later, Leverett saw Powell shaking his head over Abdullah's threat. He called it "the near-death experience."

Bush rolled his eyes. "We sure don't want to go through anything like that again."

Then the king of Jordan came to Washington to see Bush. There had to be a road map for peace in Palestine, the king said. Despite the previous experience with Abdullah in Crawford, Bush seemed taken by surprise, Leverett remembers, but he listened and said that the idea of a road map seemed pretty reasonable.

So suddenly they were working on a road map. For moderate Arab states, the hope of a two-state solution would offer some political cover before Washington embarked on any invasion of Iraq. In a meeting with the king of Jordan, Leverett made a personal promise that it would be out by the end of 2002.

But nothing happened. In Cheney's and Rumsfeld's offices, opposition came from men like John Hannah, Doug Feith, and Scooter Libby. In Rice's office, there was Elliott Abrams. Again they said that negotiation was just a reward for bad behavior. First the Palestinians had to reject terrorism and practice democracy.

Finally, it was a bitter-cold day just after Thanksgiving and Leverett was on a family trip to the Washington Zoo, standing in front of the giraffe enclosure. The White House patched through a call from the foreign minister of Jordan, Marwan Muasher, who said that Rice had just told him the road map was off. "Do you have any idea how this has pulled the rug out from under us, from under me?" Muasher said. "I'm the one that has to go into Arab League meetings and get beat up and say, 'No, there's going to be a plan out by the end of the year.' How can we ever trust you again?"

On Monday, Leverett went straight to Rice's office for an explanation. She told him that Ariel Sharon had called early elections in Israel and asked Bush to shelve any Palestinian plan. This time Leverett couldn't hide his exasperation. "You told the whole world you were going to put this out before Christmas," he said. "Because one Israeli politician told you it's going to make things politically difficult for him, you don't put it out? Do you realize how hard that makes things for all our Arab partners?"

Rice sat impassively behind her broad desk. "If we put the road map out," she said, "it will interfere with Israeli elections."

"You are interfering with Israeli elections, just in another way."

"Flynt, the decision has already been made," Rice said.

There was also an awkward scene with the secretary of defense. They were in the Situation Room and Leverett was sitting behind Rice taking notes when suddenly Rumsfeld addressed him directly. "Why are you laughing? Did I say something funny?"

The room went silent, and Rumsfeld asked it again.

"Why are you laughing? Did I say something funny?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Secretary, I don't think I know what you're talking about."

"It looks to me like you were laughing," Rumsfeld said.

"No sir. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I was just listening to the meeting and taking notes. Didn't mean to disturb you."

The meeting continued, message received.

By that time, Leverett and Mann had met and fallen in love. They got married in February 2003, went to Florida on their honeymoon, and got back just in time for the Shock and Awe bombing campaign. Leverett quit his NSC job in disgust. Mann rotated back to the State Department.

Then came the moment that would lead to an extraordinary battle with the Bush administration. It was an average morning in April, about four weeks into the war. Mann picked up her daily folder and sat down at her desk, glancing at a fax cover page. The fax was from the Swiss ambassador to Iran, which wasn't unusual -- since the U.S. had no formal relationship with Iran, the Swiss ambassador represented American interests there and often faxed over updates on what he was doing. This time he'd met with Sa-deq Kharrazi, a well-connected Iranian who was the nephew of the foreign minister and son-in-law to the supreme leader. Amazingly, Kharrazi had presented the ambassador with a detailed proposal for peace in the Middle East, approved at the highest levels in Tehran.

A two-page summary was attached. Scanning it, Mann was startled by one dramatic concession after another -- "decisive action" against all terrorists in Iran, an end of support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, a promise to cease its nuclear program, and also an agreement to recognize Israel.

This was huge. Mann sat down and drafted a quick memo to her boss, Richard Haass. It was important to send a swift and positive response.

Then she heard that the White House had already made up its mind -- it was going to ignore the offer. Its only response was to lodge a formal complaint with the Swiss government about their ambassador's meddling.

A few days after that, a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia killed thirty-four people, including eight Americans, and an intelligence report said the bombers had been in phone contact with Al Qaeda members in Iran. Although it was unknown whether Tehran had anything to do with the bombing or if the terrorists were hiding out in the lawless areas near the border, Rumsfeld set the tone for the administration's response at his next press conference. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy."

Colin Powell saw Mann's memo. A couple weeks later he approached her at a State Department reception and said, "It was a very good memo. I couldn't sell it at the White House."

In response to questions from Esquire, Colin Powell called Leverett "very able" and confirms much of what he says. Leverett's account of the clash between Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah was accurate, he said. "It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing." The same goes for the story about his speech in Israel in 2002. "I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say."

On the subject of the peace offer, though, Powell was defensive. "I talked to all of my key assistants since Flynt started talking about an Iranian grand bargain, but none of us recall seeing this initiative as a grand bargain."

On the general subject of negotiations with Iran, he responded with pointed politesse. "We talked to the Iranians quietly up until 2003. The president chose not to continue that channel."

That is putting it mildly. In May of 2003, when the U.S. was still in the triumphant "mission accomplished" phase of the Iraq war, word started filtering out of the White House about an aggressive new Iran policy that would include efforts to destabilize the Iranian government and even to promote a popular uprising. In his first public statement on Iran policy since leaving the NSC, Leverett told The Washington Post he thought the White House was making a dangerous mistake. "What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States."

In the years that followed, he spoke out in dozens of newspaper editorials and a book, all making variations on the same argument -- America's approach to rogue nations was all sticks and no carrots, all economic sanctions and threats of war without any dialogue. "To bring about real change," he argued, "we must also offer concrete benefits." Of course states like Iran and Syria messed around in Iraq, he said. Iran was supporting the Iraqi opposition when the U.S. was still supporting Saddam Hussein. It was insane to expect them to stop when the goal of a Shiite Iraq was finally in reach. The only way to solve the underlying issues was to offer Iran a "grand bargain" that would recognize the legitimacy of Iran's government and its right to a role in the region.

But that was an unthinkable thought. The White House ignored him. Democrats ignored him. The Brookings Institution declined to renew his contract.

Then he started talking about the peace offer. By then it was 2006 and the war wasn't going well and suddenly people started to respond: You mean Iran isn't evil? They helped fight the Taliban? They wanted to make peace? He summed it all up in a long paper for a Washington think tank that happened to be scheduled for publication last November, a vulnerable time for the White House, just after the Democrats swept the midterm elections and the Iraq Study Group released its report calling for negotiations with Syria and Iran. When he submitted the paper to the CIA for a routine review, they told him the CIA had no problem with it but someone from the NSC called to complain. "You shouldn't have cleared this without letting the White House take a look at it," the official said.
Leverett told them he wasn't going to let White House operatives judge his criticisms of White House operatives and distilled his argument into an op-ed piece for The New York Times. This time he shared a byline with his wife, who had experienced the peace offer up close. They submitted their first draft to the CIA and the State Department on a Sunday in early December, expecting to hear back the next day.

The next morning, Leverett gave a blistering talk on Bush's Iran policy to the influential conservatives at the Cato Institute. The speech was carried live on C-SPAN. Later that day, he flew to New York and made the same arguments at a private dinner with the UN ambassadors of Russia and Britain. He was starting to have an impact.

By Tuesday, he still hadn't heard from the CIA review board.

They called on Wednesday and told him that there was nothing classified in the piece as far as the agency was concerned, but someone in the West Wing wasn't happy with it and would be redacting large sections.

"You're the clearing agency," Leverett said. "You're the people named in my agreement."

They said their hands were tied.

After consulting a lawyer, Leverett and Mann and a researcher worked through the night to assemble a list of public sources where the blacked-out material had already been published. They also took out one line that might have been based on a classified document.

But the White House wouldn't budge. It was a First Amendment showdown.

On Thursday, Leverett and Mann decided to publish the piece with large sections of type blacked out, 168 words in all. Since the piece had been rendered pretty much incomprehensible, they included a list of public sources. "To make sense of our op-ed article, readers will have to look up the citations themselves."

As they tell their story, Mann rushes off to pick up one of their sons from a play date and Leverett takes over, telling what happened over the following months:

Bush sent a second carrier group to the Persian Gulf.

U.S. troops started to arrest Iranians living in Baghdad, accusing them of working with insurgents.

Bush accused Iran of "providing material support" for attacks on U.S. forces, a formulation that suggested a legal justification for a preemptive attack.

Senator Jim Webb of Virginia pushed through an amendment requiring Bush to get congressional authorization for an attack.

Colin Powell broke his long silence with a pointed warning. "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.' "

Even Henry Kissinger started giving interviews on the need to "exhaust every possibility to come to an understanding with Iran."

From inside the White House, Leverett was hearing a scary scenario: The Russians were scheduled to ship fuel rods to the Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr, which meant the reactor would become operational by this November, at which point it would be impossible to bomb -- the fallout alone would turn the city into an urban Chernobyl. The White House was seriously considering a preemptive attack when the Russians cooled things down by saying Iran hadn't paid its bills, so they would hold back the Bushehr fuel rods for a while.

That put things into a summer lull. But by August, tensions were rising again. U.S. troops in Baghdad arrested an official delegation of Iranian energy experts, leading them out of a hotel in blindfolds and handcuffs. Then Iran said that it had paid its bills and that the Russians were ready to deliver the Bushehr shipment. In Time magazine, former CIA officer and author Robert Baer quoted a highly placed White House official:

"IEDs are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran."

Mann steps back out on the deck and starts collecting the scattered toys to prepare the house for a dinner party, the typical modern American mother multitasking her way through a busy day. "The reason I have to be so careful now is that I'm legally on notice and they will prosecute things that I say or do," she says, picking up a plastic truck.

"Because of that one article?"


Outside, it's getting warmer. There's a heavy haze and floating bugs and for a moment it feels a bit ominous, a gathering silence, one of those moments when giant pods start to sprout in local basements.

"We're tired," Mann says. "Nobody listens."

It seems inconceivable to her that once again a war could be coming, and once again no one is listening. Another pair of lawn mowers joins the chorus and the spell breaks. A cab pulls in the driveway. The caterer comes to prepare for the dinner guests.

I HAVEN'T POSTED MUCH LATELY and have been woefully behind in catching up with emails, for two reasons: my mother was here for ten days, which is more than enough to wreck havoc witht he most precise schedule, AND the Red Sox. We've had a plethora of family events the past week (my brother Mike's 40th, my nephew Will Malachy's 2nd) but now the dust has settled, the visitors have flown back south, and we can concentrate on the business at hand, the Red Sox and their march to the World Series for the second time in four years.

Baseball is like bagpipes in that either you love it or, well, you don't. While I will be happy to go on and on for hours about the corporatization of sports, the overemphasis of sports in our culture and in our schools (to the detriment of reality, and, in the schools, to the arts-- when was the last time you heard of high school seniors getting scholarships for kicking ass in their portraits or violin class?) as well as the absolutely horrible onslaught of commericalization, the insulting and sexist ads that one must sit through, etc etc-- all of this goes by the boards when the Red Sox (as well as the Patriots) make the playoffs. I see everything that makes great drama in these encounters: shame and redemption, scapegoats and heroes, injustice and revenge, etc. I had a feeling the Sox would come back against Cleveland-- and did they ever, outscoring them 30-5 over the last three games-- but we cannot move on to the Colorado Rockies yet without an observation about Asdrubal Cabrera, he of the fascinating name, the second baseman for the Tribe. What is up with that moniker? I really love it-- but what does it mean? It sounds like a strange Medievel poison, bitter and acrid; or some ingredient that Professor Snape would mix into a magic potion at Hogwarts-- I can almost hear Alan Rickman intoning, "Two drops of Tincture of Asdrubal..."

Anyway me and my family share this Red Sox enthralldom, my sisters to a slightly lesser extent, my mother least of all-- the latter will go to bed in the middle of a ninth-inning, come-from-behind rally-- as if it meant nothing!-- and ergo my brothers and I will frequently conference call during games, comparing notes, bemoaning failed rallies, whooping up sudden thunderbolts of surprise (like J.D. Drew's grand slam the other night-- I think I've watched that 200 times over the past few days on You Tube-- see, I told you I've been flat out!)The latter's heroics were especially gratifying as he has been the quintessential scapegrace all year, the fifteen million dollar man who has done-- well, nothing really, except hit into double plays whenever men have been in scoring position. You could hear a collective groan go through the ballpark Saturday night when he stepped up to the plate Saturday night with the bases loaded and two outs. And then....that swing-- that perfect swing...the ball rockets out into the October night-- the center fielder drifts back...back...the crowd jumps to its feet, straining, holding its breath...could it be? Could it be? If only....YES!!!! GRAND SLAM!!!!!!!! Here is how one fan saw the moment:

while here is how it was recorded and reported by The Network That Must Not Be Named, (i.e., Fox) which is doing the playoffs this year:

My brothers and I have this theory that my late father (who played for the Boston Braves and was, of course, a rabid member of Red Sox Nation) goes to every Sox game at Fenway and can be spotted in the crowd-- usually in disguise. The photo above shows what might be my Dad, in disguise, enjoying Sunday night's game.

So tonight begins the Big Enchilada (why is it that sports calls up the most hackneyed cliches?). Let the fun begin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turkeys on the March

THE STORY BELOW is from today's Boston Globe. It was three years ago this fall when I first saw wild turkeys in my own backyard-- a group of five. When I pulled into the driveway they were gathered together in a cluster, and for just one second I thought they were aliens-- I had no frame of reference to compare them with anything I knew. Then I was struck with wonder and admiration. The following spring, one of them, a female, appeared in my yard with eleven tiny poults (babies) about the size of pigeons, hobbling after Momma for all they were worth. That group eventually became quite familiar to me, and I would often come out when I saw them to feed them cracked corn and anything else I had to hand. The spring after that, they dispersed. This spring we had another group, just five this time, but I've only seen them about three or four times-- they're much more skittish and reticent.

Turkeys take to cities, towns
By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff | October 23, 2007

BROOKLINE - On a recent afternoon, Kettly Jean-Felix parked her car on Beacon Street in Brookline, fed the parking meter, wheeled around to go to the optician and came face to face with a wild turkey.

The turkey eyed Jean-Felix. Jean-Felix eyed the turkey. It gobbled. She gasped. Then the turkey proceeded to follow the Dorchester woman over the Green Line train tracks, across the street, through traffic, and all the way down the block, pecking at her backside as she went.

"This is so scary," Jean-Felix said, finally taking refuge inside Cambridge Eye Doctors in Brookline's bustling Washington Square. "I cannot explain it."

Notify the neighbors: The turkeys are spreading through suburbia. Wild turkeys, once eliminated in Massachusetts, are flourishing from Plymouth to Concord and - to the surprise of some wildlife officials - making forays into densely populated suburban and urban areas, including parts of Boston, Cambridge and, most recently, Brookline.

Some Brookline residents have welcomed the birds, happy to see wildlife strolling amid the nannies with $300 strollers and Trader Joe's shoppers. But many others worry what the keen-eyed, sometimes ornery birds might do, prompting as many as a dozen calls to the police department every day.

"Some people are getting very upset," said Brookline police animal control officer Pierre Verrier. "One of the biggest things is, they're afraid. They don't want the turkeys to get hurt. And the other thing is, they're afraid of the turkeys around their children. They don't know what they'll do."

As such, Brookline police issued a statement last month, telling residents what they should - or should not - do if they meet a wild turkey in town. The basic advice: stay away from the turkeys. But still, people keep calling police headquarters to report the strangest sight: Turkeys in downtown Brookline.

* * *

July 20, 9:31 a.m., Rawson Road: Caller reports 18 turkeys in her backyard. "Something must be done," caller says. "It's just not right." Requests animal control officer.

* * *

Wild turkeys - the official game bird of Massachusetts - are impressive animals that can grow to be roughly 20 pounds and 4 feet tall. By 1851, they had been eliminated from Massachusetts, a victim of hunting.

"We were turkey-less for many years," said Wayne Petersen, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society's Important Birds Area Program. "And then we decided it would be quite nice to get them back on the landscape."

Efforts to revitalize the state's turkey population between 1911 and 1967 failed. Then, in 1972 and 1973, the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife released 37 turkeys in the Berkshires. These turkeys survived and bred. And between 1979 and 1996, wildlife officials trapped more than 500 turkeys in the Berkshires and released them elsewhere in the state.

Biologists were pleased; today's turkey population in Massachusetts lingers around 20,000. But Marion Larson, an information and education biologist at MassWildlife, said officials had not counted on the turkey's appetite for suburban - and even urban - living.

"That was something that surprised us," Larson said. "Who knew? The last time there were turkeys in Massachusetts there weren't a whole heck of a lot of suburbs."

This time around, of course, that is not the case, and turkeys have proven especially adaptable to residential living. By his last count, Verrier said, there are at least two dozen wild turkeys living in Brookline, feeding off everything from bird seed to gutter trash and, sometimes, scaring the wits out of the townspeople.

* * *

September 4, 11:01 a.m., Chatham Circle and Chatham Street: Caller - who had gone under some beech trees to take a picture of turkeys - reports four turkeys chasing him. Requests animal control officer.

* * *

The problem, according to some Brookline residents, is that the turkeys can be aggressive at times. Dr. Ruth Smith, an internist from New York City, was staying with a cousin in Brookline a couple of weeks ago when she was stalked by what she describes as a 3-foot-tall turkey.

"He came at me and, at first, I tried to shoo him away," Smith recalled. "I figured I'd just go 'Shoo!' and he'd go. But he was very aggressive."

Smith said she escaped by ducking into the Dunkin' Donuts on Beacon Street. But some of the hounded do not have the luxury of going inside. Brookline postal carrier Rosanne Lane said she has skipped houses on her mail route because turkeys dissuaded her from approaching.

"They make a lot of noise and I just take off," said Lane.

Under state law, an animal control officer can kill a turkey if it creates a public safety threat. In 2005, for example, Canton police killed three. But for now in Brookline, it has not come to that, said Verrier. When dispatched to the scene of a turkey, Verrier offers advice instead.

He tells people not to feed them, not to be intimidated by them, and to keep their distance. Still, some people cannot help themselves. They need to be near the turkeys.

* * *

September 7, 7:39 a.m., Druce Street: Two packs of turkeys (15) in the road . . . Two not getting along.

* * *

Over an eight-hour stretch last week in Brookline, a lone turkey walked Beacon Street, strutting at times, preening at others, and napping every now and again in the landscaping near the sidewalk.

Most people did not even notice. And those who did simply edged a few feet away from him and kept right on walking.

But as afternoon turned to dusk - and the turkey, a male, moved down Beacon Street into the heart of Washington Square - a crowd began to gather.

Some, like Jessica Dolber, snapped pictures. Others, like Kelly Stearn, called police.

But not Kettly Jean-Felix, the woman who had been followed by the turkey earlier that afternoon.

When she finally left the optician's office on the corner just an hour after being stalked by the turkey, she headed straight for her car. And this time the bird did not notice Jean-Felix. He was too busy eating peanut shells in front of the 7-Eleven and gobbling to the delight of the crowd.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gay Stuff

This is from Today's Globe:

J.K. Rowling outs Hogwarts character
By Hillel Italie, AP National Writer | October 20, 2007

NEW YORK --Harry Potter fans, the rumors are true: Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. J.K. Rowling, author of the mega-selling fantasy series that ended last summer, outed the beloved character Friday night while appearing before a full house at Carnegie Hall.

After reading briefly from the final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," she took questions from audience members.

She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds "true love."

"Dumbledore is gay," the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."

"Oh, my god," Rowling concluded with a laugh, "the fan fiction."

Potter readers on fan sites and elsewhere on the Internet have speculated on the sexuality of Dumbledore, noting that he has no close relationship with women and a mysterious, troubled past. And explicit scenes with Dumbledore already have appeared in fan fiction.

Rowling told the audience that while working on the planned sixth Potter film, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," she spotted a reference in the script to a girl who once was of interest to Dumbledore. A note was duly passed to director David Yates, revealing the truth about her character.

Rowling, finishing a brief "Open Book Tour" of the United States, her first tour here since 2000, also said that she regarded her Potter books as a "prolonged argument for tolerance" and urged her fans to "question authority."

Not everyone likes her work, Rowling said, likely referring to Christian groups that have alleged the books promote witchcraft. Her news about Dumbledore, she said, will give them one more reason.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Of Mice and Gods

I WAS INVITED to give a presentation today at the Cambridge Center, which sponsors a monthly lecture for its Organization for Older Students. It's a great group (I've been there before)-- they are very engaged, and ask fearless questions. We had a full house today and the topic was Stories and Their Power. I brought my drum too, though we ran out of time before I could play it. There was a bit of a rush to the stage afetrwards, and so often at this moment people will blurt their truths at me, regardless of the topic, for whatever reason-- and so it happened today. This older woman came up to me and told me that she really enjoyed the program; then she clutched me by my forearm, gave me a searing look, and pronounced, as if this were a central and profound truth in her life now (as indeed it probably is), "But you should know that praying doesn't work. I've given up on praying, it doesn't work."

Her voice rang with conviction. Her words seemed odd, for I had never mentioned prayer, or God, at all during my presentation; but apparently something in me spoke to something in her on a subconcsious level, and communicated that I do in fact pray-- I guess anyone who's read Map would know that, for it is, among other things, a spiritual book, or at least it's meant to be.

My spirituality is a very esoteric and unique thing, as I think all spirituality needs to be on some level; and it's always struck me as odd, that in this day and age, when generally anything goes as far as topics of conversation, and fodder for print and electronic media, and often the more salacious the better-- that we never discuss spirituality. Spirituality in fact is something we hardly ever discuss, publicly or privately. It strikes me as odd because all the larger questions of life-- why we are here, what meaning are we to take from life, what happens to us when we die, is there any rhyme and reason to our existence, where does the source of life come from, etc-- all seem to be mostly spiritual questions, and the answers we provide for ourselves to these questions-- or don't-- inform a huge part of who we are. But as I say, this Cantabridgian crowd has proved fearless in the past, and will pretty much ask anything. Somehow when the woman told me what she told me, it was understood by both of us that I prayed. I didn't take her statement as a challenge to me, or as something that needed a defensive explanation or apologia on my part-- and if pressed to justify this behavior, I really wouldn't know where to begin, or what to say, other than God is the Rain or something. (Which I really do believe.) To me, the wildest religious beliefs don't seem half as outrageous as the existence of, say, giraffes, or the first day of spring in Happy Land. But as I say that wasn't the point. I took her statement to actually be communicating: "I've lost whatever faith I've had because my prayers have gone unanswered, and I feel very troubled and confused by that."

I wanted to tell her that, often, the loss of faith can be a good thing, and can mean we've shed a skin that we don't need anymore, or beliefs that may not be our own, which no longer serve us; and after this we're ready for something more mature and meaty. But instead I told her this story-- since that was the topic of that day, after all-- and I wish I remember where I first heard it or read it, so I could give proper attribution:

There was, one day, a group of cats sitting around in a field, earnestly discussing religion, and their conviction that there was no God. Unbeknownst to them, a hungry tiger was stalking them, thinking what a fine meal they would all make. As he was about to pounce, an angel of God, taking compassion upon the cats, whispered into the tiger's ear. "They're so scrawny," the angel said. "And before you eat them, their sharps claws will scratch your face. They're not worth it." And so the tiger moved on. In the meantime, the cats were continuing their discussion. "Yes," said one of them, "surely there is no God, for if there were, he would have heard our prayers, that it should rain mice today." And as the cats looked skyward and saw nothing, the tiger stalked off through the grass.

I hope she didn't think I was being a wise-ass. I have certainly prayed for certain intentions in my life, and seen them come to pass-- and other times I've prayed for things, and seen them not come to pass. But regardless of the 'result,' I've found that the process itself benefits me-- and the most satisfactory 'result,' and not by any means a consistent result, is to feel at the end of prayer more closely united with the benign power of creation in the universe-- "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower," as the poet Dylan Thomas so beautifully expressed it.

I'm happy to talk about my spirituality with anyone, except perhaps for the Absolutely Certain-- although again, I hardly know where to begin-- or where to leave off. "(If you want to know God)...sell your wisdom and buy bewilderment," as Rumi says. If I had to corral my beliefs, as it were, and align them with something, I would say they feel most comfortable under a tent that is a hybrid smattering of Native American tradition, Quakerism, and old (pre Council of Whitby) Celtic Christianity; though there is certainly much to admire in every tradition. How can anyone-- by which I mean any ONE-- claim to speak with the voice of God, if there is one? And yet, don't we all have a spark of the divine within us?

I like Christianity (in its original form!) because of its radical absurdity-- and how it was even more absurd 2000 years ago-- and yet it seems to me this is the only antidote for the madness of war, and poverty, and starvation, and injustice. There is no problem to which love is not the answer, as the saying goes-- and if we did cultivate a love for one another, a turning of the cheek, a rejection of violence, a thirst for justice, a true forgiveness toward those we deem our enemies, a caring and advocacy for the most marginalized around us-- what a world this could be. Impossible, some people say-- this goes against human nature. Well, certainly we all have some darkness within us-- selfishness, revenge, anger, resentment, prejudice-- but to me the most hopeful thing about humans is that we are always at choice-- we are the only species I know that can make deliberate choices, whether to be informed by the light within us, our better instincts, or the darkness.

I think of the Native Americans (God is in the Rain) who have and had such a deep and profound loving relationship with the beauty of the created world that, after thousands and thousands of years here, the Americas were still more or less as pristine as when they first came here, wonderstruck by beauty and bounty-- and we, after only 450 years, have done our best to turn this land into a seething dump, all in the name of Profit. Who were the savages, and who the enlightened ones? Why did my town's elected officials recently approve the erection of a vast Home Depot on the very edge of Happy Land, with the former's acres and acres of asphalt parking, its sweat-shop goods, its soul-stealing ugliness, its minimum-wage jobs, the massive traffic tie-ups it will inevitably bring, the stink of diesel, the increase in wildlife roadkill and displacement, and the closure of local business (two hardware stores among them) that will inevitably result? "Because it's good for the tax base," they say. Money trumps all in our culture.

There are many people I know who utterly reject religion, and all spirituality with it, as being a bane of mankind, and the cause of so much horror, prejudice, and war over the millennia. I can certainly understand this. But to me that seems like disavowing warmth and cooked food forever, after one's house has inadvertently burned down. People with ill-minded agendas will use whatever is in their power to achieve their ends, religion included.

I'm reading a great book right now. It's called 'Literature from the Axis of Evil,' an (ironic) borrowing of that most unfortunate and polarizing phrase from Bush. It's a sampling of poetry, short stories, and novels from those countries this administration has deeemd 'enemy nations'-- as if all the people in these countries, living their wildly individual and unique lives, could all be painted with one brush! But that's what must happen, according to Joseph Campbell, for one people to make war upon another-- the 'thou' must be turned into an 'other.' It is our natural inclination, provided we have a smattering of what we may call goodness, to realize that we humans are all pretty much the same-- we cry when we are hurt; we want to love, and be loved; we want to provide for ourselves and our families; we bleed when we are shot. Thus, we see all people as basically the same as us-- a 'Thou.' The goal of progranda, and those it serves, is to distort this natural inclination and vilify a people, paint them with one stripe, and demonize them-- usually because the powers that be want their natural resources-- and make them 'other.' Thus before the current war we weren't hearing about Iraq being the ancient Cradle of Civilization, or how half its 35 million citizens were under the age of 15; nor were the media presenting us with the poetry of Iraq, or its music, or its history, or the fears and feelings of its people.

Instead 'they' were deemed 'terrorists,' 'radicals,' 'Islamofascists,' and 'Towelheads;' or Iraq was presented as if it only had one resident, Saddam Huessein. In other words, the Iraqi people were transformed into 'Other.' Therefore we could pray for OUR troops, while almost a million (at last count, by some estimates) Iraqis were killed. Creating, of course, tomorrow's 'terrorists' today. (But the Minutemen who fired at Redcoats from behind the stone walls of Concord and Lexington were terrorists-- to the British. It's all relative, as Einstein pointed out.) One million is certainly, to put it mildly, a sobering number-- it's a genocide. And I find it breathtakingly ironic that Congress is currently debating what to call the slaughter of 1-2 million Armenians a century ago at the hand of the Turks-- when we are perpertrating the same thing right now. Will someone 100 years from now mourn the Iraqi Genocide of 2003 to whenever?

The administration is currently planning an attack upon Iran. It would have happened already, some reports tell us, did they think they had the public support for it. It may still happen, support or not. And I can think of nothing better in light of that, than to close this blog with a few words from Hafez, the most immortal of Iranian/Persian poets:

Though I be old, clasp me one night to thy breast,
And I, when the dawn shall come to awaken me,
With the flush of youth on my cheek from thy bosom will rise

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Dog Adopts Cat

I LOVE STORIES LIKE THIS, and one hears about them quite a bit. I recently read a story, and saw the accompanying pictures, of a mother dog who had adopted a tiny fawn whose mother had been killed. The mother continued to nurse and care for the 'baby' even when it grew to be twice as tall as her. Can't beat that mothering instinct, eh? This is from today's Globe, off the wire services:

Golden retriever nurses stray kittenOctober 8, 2007

STEPHENS CITY, Va. --A stray kitten has found a new mother in a golden retriever, who began producing milk for the gray tabby after hearing its cries.

The hungry kitten, found in an old tire at a concrete plant, refused to drink from a bottle and her rescuers feared she would die. That's when Honey, the family dog who hadn't given birth in 18 months, stepped in with her motherly instincts.

"She started licking her and loving her. Within a couple of days, Honey started naturally lactating," said Kathy Martin, whose husband, Jimmy, brought the kitten home six weeks ago. "The kitten took right to her."

Initially, the family worried such a big dog would be too rough for the tiny feline named Precious. But Honey showed her elation at Precious' presence, wagging her tail and prancing all over the house.

Precious now sometimes plays with dog bones, and Honey lets the kitten gnaw on her like a puppy.

"She thinks she's a dog," Kathy Martin said. "She's really fit right in."

In other news, my irish class went on a little mini-field trip last night to Club Passim in Haravrd Square, which was hosting a 'BCMFest' Night. BCMFest is the Boston Celtic Music Festival, held the second weekend of January in Cambridge, which brings together Boston-area musicians from three strong traditions: Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton, all of which are very well represented here in Boston. They also host sporadic concerts during the year, and last night's was one of them. Appearing were my dear friends Matt and Shannon Heaton and their musical guests, including two memebrs of the wonderful Vermont-based group 'Nightingale.' A good time was had by all. Of course several breaks had to be taken on my part to surreptiously check in with friends and family to see how the Stankees were faring-- and I am happy to say, they're out and gone!!! Ding-Dong the witch is dead! Now the Sox will be playing Cleveland, beginning this Friday evening (if we don't get the big coastal storm that's supposed to ravage us.) Speaking of which, there was/is an old tradition here in New England, and in mnay other parts of the world as well, which speaks of a 'line storm,' happening every year at the time of the autumnal equinox, when the sun crosses the line of the equator. That never happened this year (and it's amazing to recall how often it has) but now it may come this weekend, three weeks late. And the weather has been amazingly warm for September and October-- there were several days last week where we were close to 90, and even as we speak, they are setting heat records just south of us in CT and NY and Western New England, while here in eastern New England we're having a bit of a respite and a return to more normal temperatures. At the same time polar ice is melting at a record pace-- and have you heard about the walrus that are not going north this year, for the first time since record-keeping began, because the ice isn't thick enough?
Can anyone say, Gore for president?
I am afraid to say that it will take some kind of cataclysmic event to knock most people out of our complacency; though I can't think of much that will end greed, corporate and otherwise. It still amazes me that, at a time when we should be building smaller houses and cars, they're still getting bigger. Once one has the bigger house, one of course has to fill it with more things, which means more trees cut down, less habitat for wildlife, and more things transported across the world via fossil fuels. The more we go on in this dizzying consumer culture, the more Thoreau's simple words of a century and a half ago ring true: "A man is rich in proportion to the amount of things he can leave alone." We have been so brainwashed into thinking that things will make us happier, by the radiation-like daily onslaught of commercial messages, that we seldom stop to realize that the vast majority of information we receive is from people trying to sell us something. We can't see that frequently our possessions are balls and chains that we must drag around and worry about and care for-- at too high a price for the world and its people. When I think back on the things that have brought me happiness, and joy, and serenity in my life, those moments involve people, relationships, and the moments I have spent in nature, or in the arts. The point is, there is much to be learned from animals, and I think the setter in the story above has the right idea.