The Last Resort

Iraq is rocked, but our desert rocks

There was engrossing hiking in nearby Palm Canyon, which terminates at a lush ancient palm oasis in the canyon. On the hike up, as we were rounding a corner on the trail, a woman just ahead of us let out a bloodcurdling scream, which saved me the trouble because there was a damn rattlesnake right there in the path! The woman's nine-year-old son—let's call him George—was intent on capturing the snake, whose rattles made a little sound like "saddam . . . saddam," while his mother—let's call her Reason—was trying with all her heart to convince the kid that the snake was going to bite if he went after him, while I—let's call me Goliath—was saying, "I don't know, Georgey. I don't think Jesus would pick up that snake." After a minute, it slithered into the bushes.

* * *

We did not put the TV on in our room, not once. Instead, for probably the first time in my life, I read a copy of the New Yorker from cover to cover. Granted, that was a Seymour Hersh article questioning how our president and intelligence agencies passed off blatantly forged documents as evidence that Iraq was trying to buy fissionable materials from Sudan, evidence that helped convince Congress to give Bush his war powers. Then there was Jon Lee Anderson's "Letter From Iraq," with its vignettes of tenuous everyday life in wartime Baghdad. And there was a fine profile on Noam Chomsky, with his thoughts on the war, and the Talk of the Town bits were about war, war, war.

But there also was the star-filled sky, the desert smells of day, the wildflowers and succulents, the date palms and the stark mountains, in the company of which even a mushroom cloud would have a dramatic beauty. The desert rocks!

But it is only a short drive and slice of Julian apple pie until one is home again, the TV back on, where we're now warning Syria in the tones we reserved for Iraq a few weeks ago, promising dire consequences if they continued supplying Iraq with night-vision scopes, making one wonder if we're going to war with Sharper Image next.

Meanwhile, the guy we've picked to administer postwar Iraq, retired General Jay Garner, is a vocal supporter of Israel's violent occupation and reprisals in the Palestinian territories, which should send a heartwarming message to every Arab in the region; while experts say the Bush administration's claim that Iraq's oil riches can help rebuild that country are a debt-ridden fiction; while our bombs keep pounding and there are uncounted thousands of uniformed dead who probably would have preferred to be neither uniformed nor dead; and conservatives in the Oregon legislature are trying to pass a law classifying civil disobedience protests (such as blocking a sidewalk) as a terrorist act punishable by 25 years in prison. I need a vacation.

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