Maureen Dowd / Pictures of George Bush in the shower
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I spent a long time looking at W.'s sprezzatura in the shower, the play of light and shadow on his muscular back, and his face winsomely reflected in the shaving mirror. I gazed at the former president's legs and toes in the bathtub, overcome with relief that W. was now under the influence of Lucian Freud rather than Dick Cheney.
Images of W.'s tasteful nude self-portraits went viral after being published on the Smoking Gun website Thursday; they were stolen from his sister Doro's email account by a hacker called Guccifer, who is now being investigated by the Secret Service for pillaging three years of Bush family email.
Congress and the news media are engaged in a febrile debate about the way America has used torture and drones, trying to figure out if the war on terror launched by W. got out of control and warped our sense of right and wrong. In the midst of this cacophony on morality, W. himself seems to have escaped to a simpler, more solipsistic landscape, making illustrations of his illustrious torso.
We are not talking Bonnard-level nude bath paintings. But, like W.'s charming oil portrait of Barney, signed "43," which he released himself when his dog died recently, the pictures were surprisingly interesting and humanizing. The way the artist uses light on surfaces, the sun coming through a fabric shade and hitting the water in the bathtub, is quite deft, as are his brush strokes and his use of a "Rokeby Venus"-style face in the mirror.
The man can handle a brush. And we thought he could only clear brush. The president who came across as a paint-by-numbers executive in public life can actually paint in private life.
It's weird because W.'s presidency was not a reality-based undertaking; it did not look carefully at the world. And yet his paintings reflect meticulous optical observation. As president (where he also showed sprezza- tura), W. was led by Cheney and Rummy. But as a painter, he savors his own perspective.
The Smoking Gun reported that Guccifer infiltrated the email of Doro Bush and several family friends, collecting cellphone numbers, security codes, photos -- including ones of the paintings and another of the first President Bush in the hospital -- and emails, including one by Jeb Bush about how his father helped restore Bill Clinton's "sordid reputation."
It was a week for worrying about the dark side of our cool, fast, exciting, heedless new technologies. We are so dizzy and intoxicated by our new toys -- from iPhones to drones -- that we are hopelessly addicted to them before we fully understand the downsides.
The instant gratification they offer makes us shortsighted in an unprecedented way. It's insane how vulnerable we've made ourselves, like drunks failing to look around as they walk into traffic. Hackers could shut down the way we live, and if they hacked into drones or nuclear codes, determine the way we die. If you think it through, which most of us avoid, the prospect of Techmaggedon is terrifying.
On Thursday, at John Brennan's confirmation hearing to be CIA director, some senators took a stab at thinking it through on the smart, sleek, robotic machine that dominates our political debate. (Drones, not Barack Obama.)
Those who battled Cheney's nefarious efforts to obliterate constitutional checks and balances and practice pre-emption can't look the other way when a Democratic president is caught up in the narcotic allure of drones and pre-emption. You sell a little bit of the democratic soul when you start zapping people with no due process.
The Chinese, who have already broken into the White House computer network, recently pilfered oceans of emails from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Now they can trounce us. They can simply threaten to release e-bombs about our bosses, spouses, dates, friends and crushes. We'll all lose our jobs, but everyone else will, too, so we can just reboot and change places.
It's already too late to stop sending embarrassing e-missives, with a decade worth of hand grenades out there rolling around. Just as President Obama knows in his heart that, while seductive, drones need limits, so we know that, while seductive, emails need limits -- because sooner or later, the Chinese or some bitter hacker in his basement or some 10-year-old kid is going to make all our titillating emails public.
The rule in Washington used to be: Don't do anything that you wouldn't want to see printed on the front page of The New York Times. The new rule is: Don't send an email you wouldn't want to see printed on the front page of The New York Times. (Especially if you work here.)
First Published February 11, 2013 12:00 am