Monthly Archives: May 2008

John Updike and His “Rabbit”: Much Ado About Not Much

I have just finished – for the second time – John Updike’s classic novel (and the one that made him the literary lion he is today) Rabbit, Run. The first time I read it I was a sophomore in high school and, believe it or not, it had been assigned to the class by a young English teacher who apparently didn’t know you weren’t supposed to assign such books to sophomores. There was sex in it, and angst and boredom and adultury -and sex. He got away with it, too, because none of our parents knew what it was about much less what was in it.

At the time I was vitally impressed by the power and breadth of his language. I needed to read it with a thesaurus, a thick dictionary, and a college-level grammar book within easy reach. It was, I thought then, as close as anyone was ever going to get to a perfect blending of prose and poetry. The language and the story together were like grand opera, words and music threaded to the same theme. It almost didn’t matter what the damn thing was about. You read it like you listened to John Coltrane – not with your ears but with your heart, your soul, your “being”, whatever that was.

But now I am an official geezer with years behind me, some of them hard, all of them, as sometimes happens, at the center of the troubles. I have, in other words, learned a few things, and as it turns out Mr Updike suffers as ignorance wanes.

In my 30’s I read some of Updike’s poetry and found that it set my teeth on edge. His forte is making the mundane into the sacred, the everyday into the miraculous. Perhaps my taste for such things isn’t what it once was, but when he began comparing a suburban homeowner’s annual autumn trading of window screens for storm windows in preparation for winter with ancient rituals and the fundamental urge to outrun death, I thought he was going a little too far.

I can see now, reading Rabbit at my age, that Updike has always been about going too far. From the beginning of his career he has been using his verbal gifts to endow moderately interesting-to-downright annoying characters with sensitivities and insights  their counterparts in the real world could never have possessed in a million years.

Imagine, if you will, a high school basketball star – a man committed to life as athletics – so sensitive that he can feel the skin of a fog or compare the shudder inside his car’s steering column to the shudder of a woman’s unspoken fear. On his way to church:

He hates all the people on the street in dirty everyday clothes, advertising their belief that the earth arches over a pit, that death is final, that the wandering thread of his feelings leads nowhere. Correspondingly, he loves the ones dressed for church: the pressed business suits of portly men give substance and respectability to his furtive sensations of the invisible; the flowers in the hats of their wives seem to begin to make it visible; and their daughters are themselves whole flowers, their bodies each a single flower, in gauze and frills, a bloom of faith, so that even the plainest walk in Rabbit’s eyes glowing with beauty, the beauty of belief.

And so on.

Now, Rabbit is at this point in his late 20’s, an undistinguished young father with an undistinguished and undistinguishable job who has run away from his pregnant wife and young son because, well, he felt like it, and spent the last two months with a part-time prostitute he likes because she’s fat and his wife isn’t. Now, back with his family, he experiences, what? The insight of salvation?

Gimme une break.

Without bothering to remark that Rabbit is, in almost every way, not actually like any of the people he’s supposed to represent, let’s concentrate instead on the vicious internal dichotomy, the clashing, clanging discordance that is the dystopia of Rabbit.

To begin with (and end with, as far as I’m concerned) only a fairly selfish, insensitive clod could or would act the way Rabbit acts, say the things he says, or do the things he does. But Updike presents us with the excact psychological opposite, trying to fashion an insensitive character of enormous sensitivity, a selfish character shining with a wish for unselfishness, and a crude boob with the heart and sentiment of a Victorian poetess. To put it mildly, Rabbit makes no sense. He isn’t human. He is a literary construction, a scarecrow to hang words on instead of clothes. Long before the end of the book you are tired, annoyed, and painfully aware that you are reading about, at best, a contradictory cartoon in the guise of great literature.

You get tired, as well, not just of the lack of any fungible reality but of the dense forest of words you have to wade through to get to it. This is one thick forest, full of vines and thorns and concentrations of bush you need a machete to get through. The words are so piled on top of each other that you feel like you’re climbing a pointless mountain for weeks and weeks on rocky, untouched land only to reach the peak and be faced with another just as pointless and even higher. Now the views are pretty and the flowers along the way are breathtaking but, hey, there’s a florist shop around the corner that’s a lot easier to get to.

In short, Updike’s characters are cleverly inflated lies covered in heavy layers of self-consciously ornate language. “A sound and fury signifying…nothing.”

The Bush Library (7): The Legal Battle

With Bishop Jones fronting for the Bush family and scorning the wishes and feelings of his own church membership, the effort to stop the Bush Propaganda Center is moving toward the courtroom. Bush’s insistence on siting the Propaganda Center at SMU despite the vote of the UMC’s GC rejecting it has created a legal problem for the Methodist Church. Andrew Weaver explains (from an email).

Our legal team tells us that we need to go to court to give us the best chance to protect the property rights and voting rights of the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates who are the elected representatives of the property owners, i.e., the 1.83 million UMC members of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ).

Unfortunately, the legal effort needs a member of the SCJ to come forward and act as the plaintiff. That hasn’t happened. Why?

Many fear the consequences to their future ministry if they appear to challenge their bishop, while others fear being countersued by the Bush Foundation.

With the Mafia-like scare tactics and intimidation typical of the Bush family’s dealings since Grandaddy Prentiss played kissy-kiss with the Nazis, George W and Karl Rove have effectively squashed the threat that for once they might have to obey an inconvenient law. With a tame bishop in their pockets and an on-retainer legal team, each ready to punish any Methodist who dares listen to his/her conscience instead of George W Bush, it seems that the Bush family will get away with flouting the law – this time church law – yet again.

Jim Hightower reported last month that Bush has ex-campaign shyster and all-round political hardman Karl Rove setting up the Library/Propaganda Center.

The Bushites have cut a deal with SMU executives to locate his presidential library on this private campus in one of Dallas’s wealthiest neighborhoods. They’ve targeted some Arab oil kingdoms, corporate chieftains, and wealthy heiresses to be the “megadonors” they need to raise half-a-billion bucks to establish George’s ex-presidential palace.

This one is to be markedly different than the usual complex of library, museum, and policy institute that other presidents have built. First (and unsurprisingly), rather than placing the full archive of the administration’s papers in the SMU complex so historians and others have access, Bush is to have a heavily-censored, anti-academic library. None other that Karl Rove will help with the censoring, making sure that historians only peruse documents that cast the Bush-Cheney regime in a glowing light.

(emphasis added)

Rev Weaver notes:

The majority of the delegates feel they can live with the library, even with its current limitation — censorship by the president and his heirs in perpetuity through his Executive Order 13233, signed soon after 9/11.  What many delegates are disturbed by and will vote against is the partisan think-tank to honor George Bush, which is being organized by Karl Rove.  Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the partisan institute, and that deeply troubles many. 

So Karl Rove, as we reported some time ago, is going to be the connecting link between the so-called “library” and the Propaganda Center, making sure, in effect, that the library ignores scholarship for Bush worship and the “institute/think tank” ignores thinking for mindlessly pimping W’s policies and ideology. Which includes, Weaver reminds us, his ceaseless support for torture. Weaver makes the argument, as guest blogger at Wallwritings, that “Torture Is Not a Methodist Family Value“. After a short history of Bush’s advocacy of torture and Methodist founder John Wesley’s condemnation of it, Weaver writes:

President Bush refers to himself a “proud Methodist”, but he has shown little sign of contrition, regret or repentance for his personal behavior which violates Methodist standards set long ago by John Wesley. Instead, Bush attempts to justify himself and place a shield of protection around government officials who use torture. 

W may identify himself as a “proud Methodist”, but as investigative reporter Joe Esterhaz proved in his book American Rhapsody and others have confirmed, George W Bush doesn’t attend a Methodist Church and hasn’t since he became born-again under the tutelage of theatrical fundie Arthur Blessit.

Whenever Bush got into trouble, it wasn’t Billy Graham or Methodist preachers he ran to for solace and counsel, it was Pat Robertson and Bob Jones. I began to suspect that Bush’s Methodism was part of Karl Rove’s For Campaign Purposes Only “compassionate conservative” illusion and that he was really a fundamentalist in disguise, a far-right-winger playing to the center. Then, when Graham himself debunked Bush’s account after the publication of W’s campaign biography, ghost-written by a sports writer named Mickey Herskowitz, I knew it.

The idea that the Bush family itself is Methodist in any legitimate sense must of necessity be questioned when we consider, say, Poppy’s unusually close relationship with whacko fundie Rev Moon. A relationship so close that he hosted Moon at his presidential library in (where else?) Texas after Moonie “interests” donated $$1M$$ to said library.

The fiction that any member of the Bush family is actually and in reality Methodist has persisted right to the present day even though there isn’t an iota of evidence to support the proposition from any quarter. Poppy and Barb are Moonies, and W is a born-again fundie evangelist whose chief spiritual advisor is the guy who thinks hurricanes are caused by homosexuality.

Given that his Methodism is now a busted myth, why all the determination to make sure the library gets sited at a Methodist university? The answer is simple, especially if you’ve ever studied the way Bush and Rove do things: it’s cover.

Rove helped Bush to run the most secretive presidency in US history because he knew bloody well that if the public caught on to the real Bush agenda, we’d throw them out on their asses. So it was common for Rove to provide cover to distract or hide their real policies: Orwellian names (“Healthy Forest” for a bill opening public lands to commercial logging), foxes in charge of henhouses (a corporate lawyer who specialized in breaking unions appointed to head the Labor Dept), and the standard Bush bait-and-switch (promising to increase funding for Pell Grants days before he cut them out of his budget). This is simply another cover.

Rove and Bush both know that if the Methodists knew what was actually going to go on at the Propaganda Center, they’d revolt. But Bush needs the reputation of the Methodists as centrists and mainstream religious bi-partisans in order to provide his radically ideological “institute” with a patina of legitimacy. “We can’t be cranks, we’re part of a Methodist university.”

IOW, the Methodist Church is being used by the Bushes. It is to be the sheep’s-clothing under which the wolf hides so unsuspecting prey will think they’re safe and wander close enough to be eaten. Is that the role the UMC wants to play? Clearly not, but Bush is in an apparent position to force them to be his “beard” whether they like it or not.

Not that the opposition is giving up. They have an alternate plan.

Over the past several months we have systematically analyzed the 290 delegates of the SCJ with the help of delegates or clergy from each annual conference.  I have personally spoken with over 40 delegates.  We identified about 130 progressives, 100 conservatives and 60 moderates in the 11 annual conferences.   We need 146 votes to win.  If we can educate the delegates about the dangers of the Bush partisan think thank to the academic integrity of SMU and the good name of our church, we can win the vote.  Most United Methodists, including most bishops, are people who seek to do what is right and good.

I wish them luck.

The Bush Library: A Done Deal According to…Rev Moon

One post at Talk to Action raises two interesting questions.

The first is: Is the Library/Propaganda Institute a done deal or not? John Gorenfeld seems to think so. He reports that the Rev Sung Myung Moon was recently feted at “the Bush presidential library in College Station, TX.” Um, that’s SMU, where, as we reported 3 days ago, the General Council of the United Methodist Church decisively rejected the siting of the library.

So the Bushes are going right ahead as if the siting is a done deal despite the UMC GC’s action? Apparently. And so is UMC Bishop Scott Jones, according to a press release from leader of the opposition Rev Andrew Weaver.

“The General Conference of the United Methodist Church did receive a petition asking it to block SMU’s decision to lease land for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Center.  Its decision was only to refer it to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.  In no way did it reject the decision already made by the South Central Jurisdiction’s Mission Council.  The action was merely procedural because the General Conference said the decision belonged at the Jurisdictional level.  The overwhelming nature of the vote was due to the fact that it, along with 11 other petitions, was on a consent calendar….” (1).  Scott J. Jones, Bishop, Kansas Area of the United Methodist Church. (Press Statement, May 3, 2008)


United Methodist Bishop Scott J. Jones of Kansas has been an outspoken advocate for locating the Bush library and partisan institute at Southern Methodist University (SMU) (2-3). He has also told the press that the right of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) delegates to vote on the use of their church property at SMU will not be honored, although it is clearly stated in church law that a vote is mandated (4-5).

This appears to continue to be Jones’ position even after an 844-20 vote on a petition calling for the rejection of the Bush project was referred to the SCJ by the highest authority in the UMC – its General Conference. 


Bishop Jones, taking a leaf apparently from the Bush Arrogance Book, has decided that he doesn’t need to obey the UMC GC’s decision and that in his position as an SMU Trustee, backing the Bushes is more important than following the laws of his church.

Bishop Jones told the Dallas Morning News in 2007 that the thousands of fellow United Methodists and SMU alumni who signed a petition ( objecting to Bush partisan think tank “would have no influence” on him as an SMU trustee.  Moreover, he declared that SMU “trustees — not the United Methodist Church — have the final say on decisions that SMU makes about the library” (6).  Bishop Jones made this statement despite the fact that the UMC founded and owns SMU, and the trustees are appointed under the authority of the church.

One would call the Bishop’s attitude “astounding” if one hadn’t become inured over the past 7 years to all kinds people jettisoning all kinds of laws for the Bushes that they’d never in a million years disregard for anybody else. It has become almost routine for everyone around these would-be aristocrats to act as if the laws, traditions, and values of our nation don’t apply to the Georges.

If Bishop Jones is allowed to thumb his nose at his own church, its by-laws, and its legally-constituted bodies in order to ram the Bush Propaganda Institute down the throats of a religious group wholly opposed to an alliance with and on behalf of the man who began an illegal war, trashed the Constitution to spy on his own citizens, and vigorously supports torturing prisoners, if Bishop Jones is allowed to do all that without any consequences whatever, then before so much as a brick has been laid for this unconscionable library, the Methodist Church will have given up any and all chance for respect.

Clearly Bishop Jones is doing the Bidding of the Bushes. Having tried to stop the vote from taking place, now that Bush has lost it he has ordered his tame bishop to ignore the vote. The Bishop should be removed immediately. He has put the wishes of a powerful constituent over the wishes of his own legal church body. That is simply NOT acceptable anywhere else.

Worse, perhaps, is that George HW Bush – Poppy – decided to celebrate the UMC GC’s decision to reject the library by having a “do” for the Rev Moon on property they labeled as “the presidential library” for gullible members of the press. Gorenfeld is a smart guy, but even he didn’t seem to realize he was being had: the Library doesn’t yet exist. So where was this “event”?

And what’s with inviting Moon to be the first guest so honored? I quote Gorenfeld:

Moon is on record as opposing constitutional government; according to his church, he told the folks at the Bush library that he envisioned a world [emphasis mine]

where some of the weaknesses of democracy, and in particular the wasted efforts of extreme partisanship, can be relieved by the involvement of elder statesmen as senior advisors.



According to a reliable source within the Moon organization who provided me with password-guarded HTML files, the Reverend elaborated on his fantasies last year in a sermon so shocking, it was not released to the public (unlike thousands of others available online.)

All the irrelevant books in the world should be burned away. I cannot tolerate books that belong under the leftist ideology. Do you understand?

And that is, of course, the very tippity-tip of the Moonie iceberg.

So let’s recap:

The president’s Poppy invited well-known religious fruitcake/fanatic Rev Moon to the very first event publicized as taking place at the new George W Bush Library, which doesn’t yet exist and which has been rejected by the legal church body controlling the site whom the local Bishop (a Bush Buddy and a member of SMU’s Board of Trustees) claims has no jurisdiction over either the site or his decision to support it, defying the legal decision of the UMC as a whole.

Is this a Bush Production or what?

Bush Library Rejected by Methodist Church

Via email from the Rev Andrew Weaver comes the interesting news that against all odds the opponents of the Bush Library and Propaganda Farm have won a major victory.

At the United Methodist General Conference Meeting in Fort Worth, TX, an overwhelming majority of the membership (844-20) rejected the idea of siting the Bush Library on the grounds of a Methodist university (SMU).

In other words, just to be clear about this: the President of the United States was just told in no uncertain terms by the legal body of his own supposed church that he can’t put his library where he wants to put it.

I can only speculate as to what arguments pushed the members to this decision but it’s a not-unreasonable guess that the meritorius objections of its opponents, the standard Bush/Cheney heavy-handed bullying, and the standard Bush corruption scenario probably combined to give the membership a sour taste of what the future could hold if their church becomes permanently associated with the Bush Propaganda Institute.

Amswering his email, I asked Rev Weaver what this meant and what the next step was. He replied that it forces a vote in July at Dallas by the United Methodist Church (UMC) Regional board that owns SMU.

smu has been claiming they signed a lease with gwb foundation and that was the end of it–this vote says a vote is required and the 11.5 million umc folk are not happy with the association

Guess not. This rolls the project back further than Square One. The Bushies, by trying to use their political clout in Texas to sidestep the national UMC membership in effect and if for no other reason, pissed them off. The General Conference has the power to reject the project, and they just have.

You know what? The Good Guys just won a Big One. Stay tuned for further developments.