What I Think of George W Bush

Bush Sad ClownAfter mistakenly believing that George Bush Jr had created prettified versions of the Abu Ghraib torture photos, I have reflected on why I could believe that he would do such things. Part of it is that I have a very low opinion of Bush. He’s a trust fund kid who skated through life into the White House. And the world is a far worse place for it. But that’s not really the main issue. I wouldn’t, for example, think the same thing of Dick Cheney who I dislike even more.

In my mind, if not in reality, Bush is still the cheerleader at Yale—a deeply unserious guy. Look at his paintings: he signs them “43.” To me this says that being president wasn’t about much other than the title. It reminds me of Primary Colors where Jack Stanton says, “You know as well as I do, that plenty of people playing this game, they don’t think that way. They’re willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to people, divide them, play on their worst fears for nothing! Just for the prize.” That’s Bush. But of course, he didn’t have to crawl through the sewers.

Throughout the time that he was in office, he seemed to think it was all a joke. When he was serious, it was more like he was playing the part of the serious president—although maybe that’s all that any of them do. There was his response to the famous presidential daily briefing, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” There was his golf course moment, “I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.” There was, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” But most of all, he was cavalier about the job generally.

So it wasn’t (and really still isn’t) that hard to imagine him approaching the history of his presidency with what he would think of as a rye sense of humor. The pictures from Abu Ghraib really are beyond the pale. At least in retrospect. But sad clown faces on Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden? That’s entirely in keeping with what we know about George Bush’s sense of humor. And I think that’s the core of why I found the fakes believable.

The whole thing started with a gallery of a dozen or so George Bush paintings. (I can’t find the link.) It contained a number of authentic Bush paintings, and most or even all of these fake ones. None of them were distinguished. I eventually traced the source back to the original Vanity Fair article. And I found many other references to the paintings, none of which clearly indicated parody. In fact, the Vanity Fair article was completely straight except for the final paragraph. Of course, I should have noticed the headline, “Fauxsclusive…” But alas, I am clueless at times.

There you have it. In the end, embarrassment aside, I’m glad that George Bush has not taken to apologetics in his paintings. And on a more fundamental level, maybe thinking that he would was giving him more credit than than was due. He’s still more a cheerleader than a sad clown. Go team!

Thanks to Andrea for doing the image!

Freedom and John Dewey

John DeweyOn this day in the distant past, two great painters were born. The Dutch Golden Age painter Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620. Mostly, he was a landscape painter. He does amazing things with skies: light, not the way it is, but the way it ought to be. The French portrait painter Nicolas de Largilliere was born in 1656. I don’t think that he is as good, but his work is still amazing.

The great composer Charles Ives was born in 1874. Here is Central Park in the Dark, which is one of the most important classical works of the 20th century. He wrote it in 1906, but it wasn’t performed for another four decades. And that is probably for the best. Today it sounds fine: dissonant, but fine. In fact, it reminds me of the Howard Shore’s title music for the film Existenz. But it likely would have caused riots in 1906. It is hauntingly beautiful.

Two great actors were born on this day in 1882. First there is Bela Lugosi. I’ll be honest, although I really enjoy him in Dracula and White Zombie, I much prefer Boris Karloff. The second actor is the wonderful Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s foil in many Marx Brothers’ films. She was perfect as the representative of the establishment that the brothers rebelled against. Without her, Groucho especially wouldn’t be as much fun.

Other birthdays: pianist Jelly Roll Morton (1885); discoverer of the neutron James Chadwick (1891); film director Jean-Pierre Melville (1917); baseball player Mickey Mantle (1931); actor William Christopher (81); musician Tom Petty (63); film director Danny Boyle (57); actor Viggo Mortensen (55); and musician Snoop Dogg (42).

The day, however, belongs to the great philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey who was born in 1859. Below is a nice, brief, discussion of his influence by A.G. Rud. I like that he mentions that Dewey would be skeptical of our modern focus on testing standards. What real educational reformer is not? Our modern treatment of students as though they are widgets on an assembly line really bugs me. It reminds me of a very Soviet approach to education. The approach is all about turning children into adults who will be useful to the business community. It should be about maturing children into good citizens in all the glorious diversity that the word ought to suggest.

Happy birthday John Dewey!

Second Guessing the Falsely Accused

The SuspectLast week, This American Life produced an episode Confessions. The show primarily consists of two stories. The first is about a detective who learns that he had unintentionally created a false confession. The second is about Jeffrey Womack, whose life was haunted by a murder allegation that he refused to talk to the police about. What is interesting in both cases is the reactions of other people and how they second guess what happened. It is the ultimate example of blaming the victim.

In the false confession case, the officer is so convinced that the suspect did the crime that he feeds her details to parrot back. The case falls apart after the defendant recants and the physical evidence falls apart. But of course, the officer is sure that she was somehow involved. It is only ten years later when he looks back on the “confession” tape that he sees the problem. He says to her, “Let me refresh your memory.” And then he gives her credit card receipts that allow her to know basically all of the details of the case.

What’s most interesting here is that the officer now lectures to other police officers. But he says that he can’t give a lecture on preventing false confessions because no one will show up. So he has to lecture on interrogation tactics and then just throw in a bit about false confessions at the end. As he points out, there is nothing that the police believe as strongly as the fact that innocent people will not confess to a crime they did not commit. This is despite the fact that there are many notable cases like the Central Park 5.

Police work ought to be like science, and under the best of circumstances I’m sure that it is. The evidence should lead the detective to a conclusion. But most cases are obvious. As Verbal says in The Usual Suspects, “To a cop the explanation is never that complicated. It’s always simple. There’s no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you got a dead body and you think his brother did it, you’re gonna find out you’re right.” But that leads to detectives filtering out exonerating evidence. For example, in this case, the woman under investigation was in a homeless shelter during the crime, but the officer didn’t even check until months later after she had recanted her confession.

The second case is one where the police went after a teenager, Jeffrey Womack, for a rape and murder. His lawyer told him not to talk to the police or the media. Again, the case against the kid fell apart because he wasn’t guilty and he had a decent lawyer. But for 30 years, until the actually killer was convicted, he lived under a shadow. Everyone just knew that he did it. But now that there is no doubt of his innocence, no one in the police department thinks they were wrong to harass him. They all think the same thing, “None of this would have happened if he had just talked to us!” Most people in the area think the same thing.

The story interviewed a reporter who said more or less, “I just don’t understand it; if it had been me, I would have been shouting my innocence from the rooftops!” You get that? Because this guy was not behaving the way she thought she would have, it must mean that he’s guilty. I noted this some months ago about the coverage of Debra Milke. Long before people are convicted in court, they are convicted by the media, using the same snap judgments that usually are correct. But “usually” really isn’t good enough. I wouldn’t want to be convicted of murder because a reporter or a police officer thinks I did it and is usually right about such thing.

What is fascinating about these two cases is how the victim is always wrong in the eyes of outsiders. In the first case, people think that the young woman should not have trusted the police; she should have just remained silent and nothing bad would have happened. (To be fair, the detective does not make this argument.) In the second case, people think the young man should have trusted the police. In the first case, I don’t think things would have been much different, except that she might have spent slightly less time in jail. In the second case, I suspect the young man would have spent a lot of time in jail and might have even been convicted. The fault is not with these victims but with the system itself.


I think it is interesting that the false confession detective has made a whole career out of it. The victim’s life was destroyed.