August 9, 2005

Nobody Here But Us Cactus


Whether the editors planned it or not, the two stories on page A13 of yesterday’s NYT create a poignant juxtaposition. 

The Bumiller story on top sets up the Bush vacation (Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, Redefining ‘Vacation’ – link).  The story below (Of the Many Deaths in Iraq, One Mother’s Loss Becomes a Problem for the President – link) gives an account of Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war mom who has set up shop outside the Bush ranch, and is insisting on discuss her son’s death with President Bush.

As much as the President is bending over backward to emphasize it’s a working holiday, he clearly has returned to his pre-9/11 vacation schedule — if not his pre-war attention span.  In the meantime, the slow news period and the focus on Crawford has helped draw attention to Mrs. Sheehan, who would probably have been disappeared under a provision of the Patriot Act if her son Casey hadn’t been killed in Baghdad last April.

As the photos illustrate, Mrs. Sheehan finds nobody home when it comes to Presidential accountability for the Iraq war.  (Her description of a meeting with President Bush at Fort Lewis in June 2004 is also interesting.  If she is to be believed, Bush was somewhat flippant in his manner toward her and her family.)  (For my part, I just find it interesting how often and how emphatically Bush and his staff repeat how they "can’t imagine" what it’s like to lose somebody to the war.) 



If the "two microphones" photo (set up for a joint press conference between Bush and Colombian President Uribe) is something of a cheap shot, it’s seems to also touch a chord.  This shot, and the image of Mrs. Sheehan below, reflect the barren desolation that exists in the place of true presidential leadership. This sense is sharpened by the absence of growth (as well as the proximity of cactus to the left microphone) in the top shot, and the presence of orange safety cones in the absence of traffic in the bottom image. 

In the bottom shot, I also had a reaction to the camera’s proximity to the ground.  The Administration’s shifting story lines about the war; the media’s arbitrary and contradictory reporting of it; and the limited geographic distribution of the people involved in it  — makes the entire situation seem almost entirely abstract.  In contrast, the view of Mrs. Sheehan at pavement level makes it possible, at least for a moment, to consider the war on a more tangible footing.  It suggests it might even be possible to identify paths we could take that would actually lead us from here to there.

(image 1: David Lee for The New York Times; images 2 & 3: Larry Downing/Reuters.  August 8, 2005.  Page A13.  The New York Times and

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Michael Shaw
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