Bush vs. China, and himself

By Camille Paglia

Published May 11, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Your portrayal of President Bush in your last column regarding the affair with China was inaccurate and premature. Why can't critics wait for the conclusions of political events before lambasting our leaders (Republicans as well as Democrats)? I don't pretend to believe Bush is omnipotent, but surely he is not the bumbling person you suggest.

-- Bob Arnoldini

I have been impressed with President Bush so far. It is true that he may not be the actor or performer that his predecessor was, but then most actors make a living to be someone they are not. I had grown quite tired of our president as a lip-biting feeler-in-chief. I much prefer a president who gets things done and is more about us than about himself. Bush has done a very good job of bringing together a very impressive team to head his administration. I do not expect him to know all and be all. In fact, I would rather he did not. Just manage the big picture, and things will be quite fine, thank you very much.

-- Alan K. Sandersen, Sugar Land, Texas

You need to know something I learned working in the jungles of Southeast Asia during the late lamented and lost war. Just because a person can't articulate in English doesn't necessarily mean he can't out-think, out-plan and out-fight you. And that includes inarticulate presidents.

-- Anonymous

I'm of the opinion that Bush did a great job with China. We got our soldiers back and they've got an airplane that is useless to them. They've already got the hardware, the students we train in our university and then go to work for Litton or Raytheon can give them the software. It's like copying the Mona Lisa rather than making it on your own. They can't produce the metals or circuit boards for the radar and eavesdropping antenna. They've also got a problem with supporting the equipment. Very expensive and complicated. Ask any pilot -- he owes his life to his crew chief and worker bees.

-- Frank Colunga, Maryland

What was the rush to get the airplane crew back? George Bush seems to have a desire (and ability) to get bad news off the table as quickly as possible, as demonstrated by his handling of Linda Chavez, the carbon dioxide decision and other events.

-- John Jorsett

The "big rush" was appeasement of the many U.S. multinational corporations and U.S. global trade profiteers who want business relations with China to remain unobstructed and escalated. It should be clear to anyone that the Chinese could have stripped and mutilated the crew, even televised the atrocity, and there would still have been an army of Armani suits declaring the usual statements, e.g., "we must not be too hasty to punish the long journey of progress China has trudged in the last 20 years," or the Clintonian "China will become freer and more open with more and more trade and exchange."

I don't need to tell you, I am sure, how numbingly barbaric China remains, in every imaginable way. Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy for us to sustain a trade embargo against the relatively benign Cuba while rationalizing all the persecutions, enforced slavery, assembly-line abortions and genocide of women that are routine in China.

-- Dave Hickey

There is a reason the U.S. must provide arms to Taiwan and create genuine uncertainty in Chinese minds regarding the level of direct military assistance the U.S. would provide. Almost 40 percent of the world's semiconductor chips are manufactured in a massive industrial park located on the outskirts of Taipei. Strategically and economically, that park is more crucial to the world economy than any Kuwaiti oilfield. While some might see that as added incentive for the Chinese to annex Taiwan, it very nearly does require an Einstein to run a modern chip fabrication plant, or fab.

Making chips is not like making T-shirts. The air in the fabs has, on average, 100 parts per billion of contaminants per cubic foot (whereas the air in your office may well have over 5 million ppb contaminants per cubic foot). Pretty tiny particles, to be sure, but Taiwan's fabs produce chips having transistor widths 1/400th the width of a human hair. And if the Chinese had any Einsteins, they wouldn't have needed to grease Clinton and Gore for our technology in everything from satellites (remember when Bernie Schwartz, CEO of Loral Communications, and mega Clinton contributor, sold satellites illegally to China?) to supercomputers (how about IBM, Sun and HP, all contributors, pushing for Clinton/Gore to get fast-track approval for sales to China?).

Why do the Chinese care whether we get our chips? Because many of the chips made in Taiwan are shipped to China for use in the consumer electronics that constitute a good bit of China's trade with the world. The Chinese must have that cash flow to have any chance of staying in the race with us. Thus the only rationale supporting a Chinese invasion is: "We've been here 5,000 years. What's a little world economic depression to us?" All that adds up to a lot of heated gibberish from Beijing, but no invasion of Taiwan.

-- Daniel Burns

I moved to Texas about 15 years ago, and I think your problem with W (speaking style, demeanor, etc.) is similar to my experience with Texans when I first got here. They all sounded dumb, slow, good ol' boy and used way too many frontier clichés -- my favorite being "all hat and no cattle." After a few years in this state I came to understand the lingo and the manner, allowing me to see the intellect behind the manner. We are used to soaring rhetoric sharpened inside the Beltway used to rally support for morally questionable policy. W's message is a simple one; simple messages don't require earth-shaking oratory -- something his predecessor wasted on every unimportant issue. Bush hits home runs when he steps up to the plate on his issues. Does it really matter what he does when he steps up to the microphone?

-- Michael D. Contant

From someone with a Ph.D. in rhetoric who also voted for Bush: You are, sadly, dead right when it comes to his communication skills. Your analysis of his apparent inability to rise to anything more than pedestrian mumbling is proving to be horrifically true. Any one of a thousand forensics coaches nationwide could teach him the basics. I couldn't abide the Clinton/Gore glibness. But I am no more comfortable watching Bush on the news. One almost wishes for the days when Thomas Jefferson could get away with mailing his speeches to the Congress. Bush can always hire a good writer. He just can't deliver the lines.

-- J.M. Melton

Bush IS a racist. There is abundant proof of this, despite his window-dressing Cabinet. Sexist, too. Have you noticed how blithely he shoots the knees out of Colin Powell and Christie Whitman whenever they dare speak on their own and not as automatons? A glaring example -- his flippant reply to a question last week about voting rights for the citizens of the District of Columbia: He's "against the Senators." They don't have senators, and their one lonely representative in the House doesn't even have voting rights. The D.C. citizens pay taxes but can't vote for President. The majority of residents in D.C. are black. Of course they would vote Democratic. I really wish that Clinton had fought for this cause, but he was too self-absorbed. The fact remains: W is for taxation without representation if you are black.

-- Nancy Wiebe, Ferndale, Wash.

Regarding the forced retirement of Commander Scott Waddle, I was extremely disappointed. Having been a naval officer myself, I can attest to the fact that naval law and tradition dictate that the commanding officer is ultimately responsible for any mistakes committed by either himself or his crew. If a collision at sea occurs, the final responsibility belongs to one man, the commanding officer. This idea is drilled into you from your earliest days as a midshipman. Unfortunately in actual practice, expediency and PR trump any sense of duty, honor or responsibility. The Navy needed to get this story off the front page. They are having a hard enough time keeping people in uniform much less signing up new recruits; a long trial would only make that job more difficult. So Commander Waddle will retire with full pension, never really having paid any price for his failure to lead, and the Japanese families will be left with only their memories and grief.

-- Kevin Ryan, Phoenix, Ariz.

You are correct about Scott Waddle. Responsibility for his wrongs lay at my feet too, because I was an instructor of seamanship and navigation at the United States Naval Academy in the late '70s and early '80s. I don't remember Waddle, but he could have been one of my students. The USNA recruits technocrats to be midshipmen, people fascinated by electromechanical gadgets. They place more faith in electronic sensors than their own eyes. Without an appreciation for the power of human senses, no one learns to focus the attention on the environment in which a seaman's vessel actually exists.

Seamanship is not given a high priority in the U.S. Navy. I have personally observed this failing many times. On dark nights while conducting offshore sail training operations, I used to turn off all the electronics and require midshipmen to steer using the wind on their faces, the stars and the sea. They nearly always resented this exercise. They would say it was useless and saw no purpose in being deprived of modern electronic devices. They rarely understood their instructor's intentions of honing their ability to focus on details and concentrate on learning to understand the real life existence of their vessel in its environment. Modern American naval officers perceive themselves in the abstract, as if they were controlling their ships over the Internet.

It was very bad luck for the Greeneville to hit a school ship in the vastness of the ocean. Few will understand this accident as a symptom of a Navy poorly prepared for war.

-- John DeShazo, Captain, USNR (retired)

The truly horrifying thing about the honorable removal of Mr. Waddle was that he continues to be considered honorable after trying to blackmail the U.S. Navy into giving him a free ride through witness indemnity before he agreed to tell the Navy anything about what happened on that unfortunate day. His public bowing and scraping and expressions of remorse thereafter stood no chance of seeming sincere. If he does in fact go to Japan to apologize, it will be interesting to see who pays for his ticket, hotel accommodation, etc. Little reason to expect it will be he.

-- Paul Kunino Lynch, Kings Cross, Australia

I think the thing that bothered me the most about the USS Greeneville accident was the invisibility of the victims. They had no names, no faces, no sex, no families, no bios -- just the "students." The American press ignored them completely -- pretty sad. Of course they overlooked the identities of the so-called "guests," but that was to be expected.

-- Doug Hufnagel, Belfast, Maine

The whimpering sub skipper turned my stomach. His incompetence as a leader led to the deaths of several Japanese and the sinking of a civilian craft. It reminded me of an article by the female fighter pilot Kelly Flynn, who wrote that she cried a lot because of the stress of being a fighter jock. It even reminds me of the discussion about Bob Kerrey. I don't think we should be concerned about Kerrey's feelings, or give him a pass on possibly committing a war crime in Vietnam simply because he was there, and most of us weren't.

As a Texas A&M graduate, I was an airborne qualified field artillery officer in the National Guard. That means I am no war hero, but I do understand the military and the demands of a military culture. This whimpering confessional approach to the military is out of place.

-- Doug Graham

As a conservative and as a military retiree, I can only say how right you are. You have no idea of the depths of ineptitude at the highest levels in the U.S. military today. The rank-and-file military members neither respect nor trust their superiors. Indeed, today's military (at the highest levels) fosters an endemic culture of ineptitude, obsequious spinelessness and political correctness to a degree that I believe you would find nauseating. And I see Donald Rumsfeld doing little to nothing to reverse it.

Today's military leaders have none of the guts or character of a T.R. or a Pershing, or a MacArthur. Look at the competence level of generals at the outset of every war since the War Between the States through WWII. The peacetime generals, as a rule, proved themselves inept at conducting war. I'm afraid our military is in for some serious losses.

-- M.R. O'Donnell, San Antonio, Texas

I am a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, with extensive command and field experience. You said that problems within the military did not have anything to do with Clinton's leadership but more to do with senior military leadership. You are spot on! The best military in the world is led by generally overly cautious men and women skilled in the tactics of blame avoidance and damage control -- who share a common lack of the moral courage to make decisions and take responsibility when something goes wrong. Where are the Billy Mitchells, the Merritt Edsons and James Webbs of today?

-- Colonel Fred "Bomber" Hudson, USMC

I'm steamed about how the Kosher Nostra which runs HBO uses "The Sopranos" to once again smear Italians. If the Kosher Nostra were to be shown as a menacing group which sets about to control big media, big banks, Wall Street and Hollywood, the sharks of the ACLU, ADL, Southern Poverty Law Center and Mossad agents ensconced in B'nai B'rith safe harbors would be set loose in the media and in the courts to stop it. TV viewers need a comprehensive look inside the Kosher Nostra. Let's have a program that exposes it.

-- Joe Melosi

In the battle against crude Italian stereotyping I offer the following example. As a CPA I would like to point out that you Italians developed double entry bookkeeping during the Middle Ages. This was the "secret weapon" of Florentine merchants who became rich by keeping their accounts in order. This system was codified in 1494 in the work of Franciscan monk Fra Luca Pacioli (a friend of Leonardo da Vinci) who is rightfully regarded as the father of modern accounting.

What a gift to the world! Accounting, the language of money and commerce. Without this rational business system in place our modern commercial world would collapse. So when I think of Italians I think of Medici bankers, Florentine merchant princes and the Renaissance artists who depended on their financial support. And of course Fra Pacioli the obscure Franciscan. But not Tony Soprano.

-- David Bauch, CPA, Edgewood, Wash.

Thank you for drawing attention to our American school system. As a mother of three, I can tell you it's hell out here in the trenches. These institutions have too much power, intrude on family life and are accountable to no one. If you dare complain, they will manipulate the facts and twist the truth to escape responsibility, and conceal any culpability on their part. It's no surprise to me this autocratic, insufferable attitude extends to "book learnin'" as well, creating these insular cultural wastelands we're required by law to send our children to. We need to re-examine the hierarchy of the American school system. The harried parents who have given their power to and put their faith in these institutions need to reclaim their rights and take responsibility for their children's education.

-- Jeanne Mulhausen, Tulsa, Okla.

Cutting funding not only affects the bloated bureaucracy at the Board of Education but the classroom as well. As a 10-year veteran in the New York City Public School System, I can honestly say that I've hardly met a teacher interested in social engineering. We're too busy trying to get our students to read on grade level to spend much time preparing for a utopian society.

We do occasionally have to suffer through staff development workshops where the social engineers -- with their frighteningly vacuous smiles -- share their latest bright ideas. But, these are nothing more than minor nuisances. You pretend to listen, you pass funny notes to your neighbors and then you leave.

We have children who go to school without the slightest amount of support from home, we have second-rate teachers because there's not enough status or salary to draw better people into the profession and we have witless drones as principals who know they're only as good as their school's latest test scores.

Blowing up the Board may be satisfying (I certainly would like a more decentralized system), but it will do nothing to solve any of the above problems. I advocate restructuring the entire teaching profession so that the individual classroom teacher has a great deal more authority, responsibility and accountability.

-- Craig Fishbane, New York

It's refreshing to have someone in academia speak her mind openly without fear of reprisal. In an environment where opinions should be openly expressed and fiercely defended, I find the lack of willingness on the part of most professors to challenge assumptions to be scary. Even more scary is the fact that students don't challenge their professors' statements, whether because they fear losing their grade or because they simply don't care about the topic they're taking. It seems to me that there is an overall lack of passion for ideas in academia today. My ultimate goal is to teach medieval literature and I fear that one of my main reasons -- to discuss great works and be challenged in my assumptions -- is never going to happen with the spark for learning beaten out of undergraduates (and some graduates) before they ever get to college.

-- Matt Davis

I like the idea of having guilds to teach young people a trade. However, here is why that is a dead-end option: Megacorps now ship manufacturing jobs overseas, abolishing craftsmanship and replacing it with dead-common neon plastic tripe. Any craft involving physical assembly -- now including cellphone and computer manufacturing -- is doomed to disappear to a lower-wage land (and there will always be a lower wage wherever there is a weaker currency). Only unions have protected the few remaining bastions of physical assembly, such as autos. The problem with a "higher education" involving heavy math, deep science and serious philosophy is that these jobs, too, are being shipped overseas by software and tech-happy megacorps like Intel, Microsoft, Motorola and IBM.

-- Tom Nadeau

Please explain why middle schools in suburban Virginia are using tapes of 1970s cartoon commercials ("Schoolhouse Rock" series) to teach students history. My niece can now sing the preamble to the Constitution but she states she isn't required to know what it means.

-- Jeff Gilmartin, Stafford, Va.

I am a high school English and drama teacher at a very prestigious, wealthy independent school in the Los Angeles area. Prior to that, I taught in the inner city (Watts) and in a very socially and economically mixed community in Santa Monica. Far too often the basics (irrespective of which institution) are grossly compromised in favor of socially popular programs. Far too often are my classes interrupted for schoolwide programs of questionable merit. Far too often are students granted early (often encompassing 75 percent) release from classes for athletic events and various other activities designed for their self-edification.

Even parents who have no business thinking that a four-year university is the right choice for their academically mundane and now apathetic child have been duped into believing that they must keep these bewildered students on a gerbil's spinning wheel as somehow they will be granted passage to that Valhalla of American culture and will be guaranteed wealth and social acceptance, thus finding the happiness they themselves didn't have time to provide their own child. The fact is, their kids wouldn't know an original idea (much less how to synthesize or articulate it) if it came up and bit them in the ass.

So, I plod on, teaching (we still call it that anyway) those kids who haven't departed for the field trip to the Museum of Tolerance for the fifth time this year; those who are so unfortunate as to not possess enough athletic prowess to be included on any of the pep teams even; those who have not already fallen asleep because they were at rehearsal, recital, practice, a meeting, a movie, the spa or their SAT tutor's until 11 p.m. the night before.

-- Mike Reilly

Since 1987, California public schools have used your ideal history-social science curriculum. K-12 coursework in history approaches the subject chronologically, presenting it as "A tale well told." This statewide program uses primary sources -- great literature, art, architecture and the visual and performing arts. These, rather than textbooks, are the vehicle by which content is presented. Religion, including at least 14 Bible stories, is studied in all grades. "Students must become familiar with the basic ideas of major religions and the ethical traditions of each time and place," according to the History-Social Science Framework that outlines the study of history in California schools.

Currently, this splendid, academically challenging program is being crushed out of existence by the so-called "Education Reform" movement. Under the guise of "core courses," the humanities are being replaced by test preparation classes. I can honestly say that my seventh grade history program is more academically rigorous than most humanities/history classes in local universities thanks to the state guidelines.

-- Irene Groot, seventh grade history teacher, Ley Va Middle School, San Jose, Calif.

The decline and degeneracy of the American public education system (as well as the media culture) is, for all practical purposes, a conspiracy to reduce the American people to a state of neo-serfdom. The broadcast and dissemination of virtually all information is carried on the various channels of mass media. Today's elite of cynical, smirking, ahistorical, glib but oh-so-ignorant, deracinated "symbolic analysts" couldn't give a fig for the travails of the American working men, women and children. They have more in common with their counterparts in London, Rio, Brussels, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo and yes, even Beijing, than they do with those whom they regard as mere rednecks, religious fanatics and boobish simpletons.

Today's models for human behavior are whatever images happen to be constantly a-flicker on their TV screens. Americans are being shown only one image to which most people must instinctively conform -- an image of childishness, weakness, subservience, frivolity, anti-intellectualism, sensualism and hedonism, consumerism and the notion that one is engaged in a noble and exciting "rebellion" when one rejects all that is good from the traditions of one's civilization.

-- Kevin Riley O'Keeffe

There are many who could be leading healthy productive lives as plumbers or electricians but have instead been sent off to p.c. romper room universities to have their heads filled with pap. After some brainwashing, they leave these leftist thought factories understandably confused about their role in life. With inflated egos and insecure identities, they've demanded that anyone who points out some of their absurdities be silenced under the rubric of "diversity." By silencing their critics and replacing reason with ideology, they've succeeded in seriously undermining this country's culture, politics and future. On a more practical level, it is now very difficult to find someone who can fix your toilet or your toaster. So few, in fact, that we have had to throw open our borders to bring in people to perform these services for us. So even if you can find a competent tradesman, chances are he won't speak English.

This constant desire to force reason to conform to ideology is a manifestation of a deep-seated sense of inadequacy on the part of the ideologue or "activist" who should've been a plumber. He knows he is pretty useless in the real world, so he wants to make the rest of us conform to the dictates of his dreamland.

-- Dan McGuire

University students today are constantly fed a diet of passionless, left-wing tripe. As an art student, I have sat through numerous art history classes in which not only is membership in the art historical canon debated (which is good, I have no problem with that) but totally revised on the basis of gender and racial discrimination. Only this time they omit all the "dead white guys." Thank you for being an advocate for all of us who are sick of hypocritical university professors teaching us morals like "respect everyone's differences" (except for differences in thought), even though we went to college to develop higher-level reasoning abilities, not to hear sermons.

-- Suzanne

I agree with you that the American system of primary and secondary education, a descendant of the noble 19th century effort to provide social mobility and equality to a sprawling agrarian nation, is extremely ill-suited to America in the 21st century. Kids, particularly those in high school, are trapped in an environment that expects many of them to be what they are not, and socially and emotionally punishes them when they do not conform to expectations.

The trades and guilds are not dead in Germany. Young adolescents there choose (by a combination of preference and academic achievement) different tracks in secondary education. These choices are not irreversible, but they set the youngster off on a path more in line with his or her interests and abilities. There is a vocational track, wherein the students begin apprenticeships at relatively young ages. There is a science/math/engineering track, and a sort-of liberal arts college prep track.

There, schools are for learning and for preparing for one's "beruf," loosely translated as profession or trade. Schools are not seen as a tool for well-intentioned but ham-handed bureaucrats to fashion a more correct society. Nor are they a simple vessel for ill-educated athletes. The schools in Germany are successful because they stick to the basics, and do so in a way that recognizes that the proper basics vary from student to student.

-- Steve Albertson, Washington state

I am a junior German major at SUNY Binghamton, and I am planning on pursuing an MAT degree and working in secondary schools. I'm trying to maintain enough youthful idealism to convince myself I'll be able to fight through the bureaucracy and actually teach, rather than force-feeding facts. Tests have gone from a form of evaluation to being treated as a task directly from God. It doesn't matter if you "understand" the material, just as long as you can spout it well enough for the test.

The amount of pressure being put on these students is outrageous. Schools have become political battlefields, financial burdens, even life-threatening, should you be one of those unfortunates to witness a shooting. I remember my mother explaining the concept of school to me as "the place where you go to learn all different kinds of things." Well, now we learn how to cheat to pass the test. How to suck up to the teacher to get a good recommendation. How to do well no matter what the cost. How to duck the bullet that just might come spinning through the cafeteria. How to head down to the nurse's office for the Prozac. Is it any wonder half the kids in America can't do math? Nobody wants to admit that what we have isn't working right.

-- Abigail Tilden

We are a culture that has a lot of leisure time, but persons under the age of 21 are not encouraged to enjoy it. I find it absurd that in most places one must be 21 to go dancing. The age of entrance to nightclubs ought to be lowered to 16. Teenagers are the ones who can really appreciate dance clubs the best, and for some reason they are shut out of them.

Also, the lack of public transportation in most U.S. cities is deplorable. Since younger teens can't drive, they can't go to places where they might have fun, unless their parents drive them. They are forced to stay at home, or go to nearby places, where there isn't really much to do. Of course they get depressed and do drugs! We live in a culture of prolonged childhood, where people past puberty are still entirely dependent on their parents for everything from food to mobility.

Some teenagers will find other ways to entertain themselves. I liked to light candles and dance naked in my backyard while singing to moon-goddesses. The neighbors complained once or twice, and my parents thought I was weird, but hey, at least I wasn't doing tons of drugs. When it comes to drugs, there is also the glamour of the forbidden. Those of us who were permitted to have a little wine occasionally when we were children learned to use alcohol more responsibly than those whose parents forbade it to them.

-- Nicole

Having gotten my doctorate in English in 1968, I have always cherished Maynard Mack, though I knew him only from his writings. You forgot to mention a salient fact about his work: It was readable. Much contemporary criticism is couched in an impenetrable jargon, a mercy if you think about it. Its demise is guaranteed. By contrast, Mack's "Muse of Satire" could still be read appreciatively by any literate adult. He belonged to a generation of scholars that knew not only what literature was but what it was for (and it was not to support ideological agendas and promulgate pleasing fictions about some people's ethnic heritage). I was pleased by your testimonial and delighted to learn that Prof. Mack lived to be 90.

-- Scott Rice, professor of English, San Jose State University

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