THE PRESIDENTIAL SIDE STEP

It’s a new dance craze—with craze definitely being the operative word—that is sweeping the nation, indeed, the world.  It’s called the “Presidential Side Step,” and it is a dance of evasion and irresponsibility.  It is that political dance where the President says and does one thing . . . and the rest of our governmental and public institutions do quite the opposite.

There was a hoary old joke back in the mid-sixties.  Went like this:  We learned from Roosevelt that the Presidency can be a life-time job, from Truman that anyone can be President, from Eisenhower that we don’t really need a President, and from Kennedy (this was at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis) that it can be dangerous to have a President.  (A later addendum was that, from Carter, we learned that a man can be too smart to be President.)

Well, the last seven months seem like a lifetime, the President is truly “anyone,” and it certainly seems the most dangerous of times.  But what if it’s the third part of the original joke that’s really in play here?  What if we don’t really need a President?

We pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement . . . and individuals and corporations and governors are stepping up to the fill the Presidential slack.  He tried to kill the Affordable Care Act . . . and companies and states are stepping in to fill the vacuum left by vacuous leadership in the White House.  Non-Executive leaders are working the diplomatic channels to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

A guiding quote on leadership surfaced again last week in the wake of the scurrilous non-fact about killing Muslim dissidents with pig-blood-tainted bullets in the Philippines nearly a century ago.  This from General John Pershing:  “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.”

The “best of troops,” those corporate leaders who had signed on to help guide the President, have abandoned our ship of state.  They have executed the Presidential Side Step, returning to private practice where they can, once again, provide effective leadership.  Perhaps this will become the most useful dance step in our history.  All together now:  A one, and a two, and a . . .

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

SOMETHING TO RUB UP AGAINST

It is an invariable law of Nature that we need something to rub up against to create something new, something interesting, something challenging.  I was reminded of that the other day whilst reading a seeming throwaway line in a John McPhee book.  He was talking about a paragraph added to the film “The Third Man.”  Neither in Graham Greene’s book nor in the written script, the following paragraph was added extemporaneously, as an ad lib, by Orson Welles.  It appears just after the famous Ferris wheel scene, back on the ground.  Welles, as Harry Lime, is the acerbic speaker:

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce?  The cuckoo clock.”

Cynical?  Certainly.  True?  Just as surely.  Because creativity and advancement always come when push and shove are introduced to the mix.  You have to have something to rub up against.  It’s what I refer to as the “dynamic tension” that sparks and fuels the creative animus.  If there’s no pushback, if there’s no resistance, then what is there to measure forward progress?  Anyone can throw a football downfield to a sprinting receiver . . . if there’s no cornerback to challenge the toss.  It has no significance without a defensive, push-back presence.

That’s where happiness transmogrifies into the deeper sense of fulfillment.  Fulfillment is where something simple becomes existential.  It is the essence of what theologian Paul Tillich meant when he said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

We’ve all heard the hoary story of the school janitor who vowed to become the best janitor ever and, in so doing, heightened mere mundane to craft.  His dedication, his discipline, his fastidiousness, his willingness to get down-and-dirty raised the routine of “job” to something worthy of respect and admiration.

It’s right there in black-and-white in the old Melanie song (“The Nickel Song”):  “They’re only putting in a nickel and they want a dollar song.  They’re only putting in a little to get rid of a lot that’s wrong.”

Happiness, in the end, is short term.  Like a candy bar, it fills a small hole, but not the whole hole.  Fulfillment, on the other hand, is something so deep, so lasting a satisfaction, that it can last a lifetime and, if broadly and widely inculcated with joy and earnestness . . . perhaps well beyond our own meagre lives.  The noted woodworker Peter Korn, writing in Why We Make Things, says, “. . . creative work is an experiment through which the worker seeks new ways to envision human potential, using himself as the laboratory.”

When we have something to rub up against—be it our own previous achievement, someone else’s, or simply the void—we might make something that has never existed before.  How wonderful a legacy might that be?  Just as I write to find out who I am and what it is that I truly believe, so too do others rub up against the world to find some new way of thinking, some new way of being.  It is within the crucible of creation that we discover our true dimensions, our real depths.  Creativity, you see, is the expansion of awareness and being, where we draw order and understanding out of chaos.  Meaning and usefulness.  Kinda cool, huh?  Oh, yeah.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

IN THE SHADOWS

I think I’ve got it now.  The President says what he wants to say . . . and the government goes on without him, as if what he said has no credibility and everyone knows it.

It is as if we are living in a monarchy.  He is the “face” of government.  Or the “hair” of government.  He only hears the “bully” part of Teddy Roosevelt’s “bully pulpit, and plays out his favorite meme:  My dick is bigger than your dick.  It is insecurity writ LARGE.   Meantime, in the shadows, government flunkies are quietly carrying out the actual workings of government.

Thus, despite the fact that our State Department is being gutted, there are folks out there doing the diplomatic on our behalf, work, one hopes, that will sidetrack the nuclear war that our Big Dick and their Big Dick delight in fantasizing.  Would it be better if we had more statesmen and stateswomen out there laying oil on troubled waters?  Of course it would.  But you can only play the cards you are dealt.

In the meantime, activism is the word of the day.  Communicate with your reps; that’s the way government works.  Have your say, LOUDLY.  Information is the currency of the day.  Accurate information.  Do not settle for an angry horde trying to poke the hornet’s nest.  They do not represent us.  As Roger Simon pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the other day, at their peak in the 1920s the KKK, with four million members, represented nearly four percent of our citizens.  Today, 100,000 white supremacists (at the most generous of estimates) represent a mere 0.0003 percent of Americans.  Do the math.  That’s pathetic.  (That would mean that in my city of 160,000 there would be . . . 49 neo-Nazis in residence.  I think we can deal with less than fifty guys with bad haircuts.  Okay, gals, too.)

Having a leader as ego-centric as ours and North Korea’s is as outmoded as living in an earth-centric universe.  The science is all against the model.  It flies in the face of fact.  Oh, right.  That’s our guy.  That’s their guy.  Facts do not fly in their universes.

Meantime, let’s hope that the folks in the shadows, the real government operatives, are doing their jobs artfully and well.  I’d sleep better at night knowing that.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

WHERE TO GO

This was the D.H. Lawrence paraphrase (from author Rachel Cusk) that caught my eye the other day:  “Some people have a lot father to go from where they begin to get where they want to be—a long way up the mountain, and that is how it has been for me.  I don’t feel I am getting older; I feel I am getting closer.”

Delicious, eh?  It is, on the one hand, a reminder of the quandary of whether to focus on the journey or the goal.  It is also, of course, a push to ask of ourselves the most basic of questions.  Who are we?  Why are we here?  What do we hope to achieve?  What are the core values that are to determine the nature and course of our quest?

For me, most basic guide is the word truth.  If we are not authentic at the outset (or, at least, at some point along the trail), everything else falls to the wayside, useless and impotent.  There is no worse feeling than standing along our chosen path not knowing where we’ve been and where we are headed.  That is frustration compounded by misery.

When self-evaluating, I always begin by looking for a balance of opposites.  It is a yin-yang approach.  What grounds me is to know that I am neither the center of the universe nor a single grain of sand on an endless beach.  What gets me going, actually, is using each of those in dynamic tension to get the ball rolling.  If we have the ego of the first to kick-start things, and the humility of the latter to keep that ego in check just a little . . . well, that’s when things get interesting.  That’s when we have the motivation to employ a balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm, moderated by some sense of balance and equilibrium.

So the trick, moving forward, is to live this day as if it were your last, and, to live it as if it were merely the first of another twenty or thirty years.  Again with the balancing act.

The point of this balancing act is that each extreme is, standing alone, a bit of a caricature.  It is incomplete.  It is exposed in its extreme.  But, as such, it is useful as a sort of end-point anchor.  A point of departure, as it were.  You don’t want to be stuck there, because it is so outrageous as to be virtually useless.  But you do want its existence to mark one end of life’s pendulum swing.  It’s there to define the outré, the non-useful-by-itself boundary.

As we move forward, it is essential to dig into each individual moment as if it were the only existence we were to ever have.  As the French novelist Milan Kundera reminded, “There would be nothing more obvious, more tangible, than the present moment.  And yet it eludes us completely.  All the sadness of life lies in that fact.”

So, to avoid that sadness, I am going to go forward trying to find the equity and the equilibrium between the “one day (this moment)” and the “decades to come,” all the while trying to adhere to author Emil Zola’s hearty, enabling and ennobling dicta, “I am here to live out loud.”  So, yes, I’m going to try and live all that I’ve got left with enthusiasm, with noise and with all the confidence I can muster.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

MORAL AUTHORITY

Someone’s directional sensors are mis-calibrated.  If we are to accept the premise that America was once great and can be great again, it only makes sense that we would be aiming for and climbing toward a return to civility and to the moral high ground.

Instead, we are being led (pushed roughly, really) toward the swamp of misogyny, xenophobia and the curtailing of basic human rights—for the non-traditionally-gendered, for non-whites, for those with health problems, for those with marginally-paying jobs.  We are told—by their actions (in sharp contrast with their campaign words)—that the weak are the fair prey of the strong.  We are reverting to the wild, where sharp tongues and sharper teeth are exalted and the weak and underrepresented are, well, toast.

The oddity, the striking visual disconnect, of course, is that the Republicans purport to be the party of family values and conservative memes like civility, morality and compassion for the weak, the poor.  David Remnick, writing in the New Yorker last week:  “The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.”

As a child, the country I was introduced to in text books and history books and civics lessons was an open and wonderful place, a place that bears no resemblance to what I am witnessing now.  A simple chart comparing Denmark to our United States shows a blatant, shattering disparity between their “Socialist” (bad) model and our capitalist (good) existence.  The minimum wage there is twice ours.  Such employees are entitled to five weeks of paid vacation, while ours receive none.  There is universal health care and a pension.  None here.  In Demark, those who earn minimum wage “get by.”

Not the case here, in the wealthiest nation on earth, where wealth is increasingly sequestered by the already rich.  Set aside the morality (weak argument).  Is this an economically sustainable model?  Let’s see, how has that model worked so far in third world countries that have assayed it?  Revolution, unrest, instability and tyranny by all accounts.  The present circumstance—where eight individuals control the same wealth as half of all humanity—is not something you’d want to bet your future on.

Nor is the perpetual separatist demonization of isolated segments of our population (Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community, Asians, women—a powerful voting bloc if joined by their shared interests!).  The editor/publisher of our local bilingual paper La Voz (The Voice), Ani Weaver, recently visited Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.  “Touring the sites of the Holocaust, we learned that the Nazis were able to carry out the best-organized mass killing in history because centuries of European anti-Semitism paved the way.”  She suggests, strongly, that Trump’s seemingly off-handed slights fit the profile.  Dangerously.

American exceptionalism has always rested on the bulwark of honest and lasting values.  Among those we include a free press (first and foremost), an education open and available to all, equality in the right to vote and the right to speak openly, civility, and fairness.  Those are not easy values to sustain and uphold.  They are constantly vulnerable to economically-driven venality.  But they are worth earnestly fighting for.  American has always been the shining light of vision, of ideals.  Wouldn’t be something if we could actually achieve capital-A America?

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

TO THE MOON, ALICE

Question:  If NASA offered you a seat on a moon launch, leaving Cape Canaveral tomorrow, would you take it?  My answer would be a thunderous and resounding “Yes!”  In a second.  In a heartbeat.  Would not require a split second of thought process.  Let’s go!

Can you imagine standing on the dusty moon’s surface, with the expanse of our little blue marble virtually filling your entire field of vision?  Oh, my.  Think of the perspective that would give you on our place in the universe, our place in the totality of things.  My skin is galvanically shivering at the mere idea of such an experience.

Those few who have done so returned to earth changed, philosophically, spiritually, religiously.  A fair reason for thinking that we ought to go back.

Though NASA is dragging its budget-impaired feet, independent entrepreneurs—spurred by the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize—are actively on the case of returning to our lunar neighbor, first with small, super-efficient rovers, later with our brethren.  There are now five finalist teams—from the U.S. (2), Japan, India and Israel—vying for the prize money.  All they have to do is launch (from earth) prior to the end of this year, land their craft on the moon, have that craft travel at least 500 meters (one-third of a mile) and transmit video data back to earth.  A reboot, as it were, of the Orteig Prize that spurred Charles Lindbergh to fly the Atlantic Ocean nonstop, solo in 1927.  (There are additional prizes—up to $16 million—for visiting and transmitting from an historic lunar site, traveling five kilometers, lasting two days on the moon, and providing proof of the presence of water there.)

The companies are, as you might well imagine, international in flavor.  All the better, for it is competition that raises the bar of excellence and efficiency.  And the reason for all of this energy and excitement?  “We choose to go to the moon,” says Bob Richards (founder/CEO of Moon Express, one American team), “because it is profitable.”

Eventually.  The costs of this exercise are expected to be a least three times the $20 million prize money.  But no less than Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Blue Origin) are already planning to ferry folks into space or to the moon . . . for profit.  These are not entrepreneurs you would bet against.

The thinking is one, that the moon is going to be the travel hub for future and further space travel and exploration, and two, that the moon itself will be mined for helium-3, rare on earth but plentiful on the moon.  Then there are asteroids, which may supply us with gold, silver, platinum, titanium and other rare elements.  There will also be amazing advances in technology and miniaturization . . . that people will be willing to pay good money for.

How do we sustain life on the moon?  Same as here, it turns out:  water.  “Water,” writes Sam Howe Verhovek in the August National Geographic, “now locked in the form of ice at the lunar poles, would be both lifeblood and fuel source: water to drink, water to irrigate crops, and water to be split into oxygen and hydrogen, the former for us to breathe and the latter to power our spacecraft beyond this lunar base.”

We are curious creatures, we humans.  Now that most of our own planet has been exposed to the microscope, the moon, Mars, and outer space are our next horizons.  Wouldn’t you take a ride on the next moon shuttle?  Why the hell not?

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle

[P.S.  “To the moon, Alice,” for those of you not of a certain age, was the tag line of Jackie Gleason’s famed television character Ralph Kramden on “The Honeymooners.”  It was his feeble response whenever his wife bravely and curtly called him to account for one shortcoming or another.  There were, of course, many such failures on his account.  Good comedy demanded them.]

WHAT THE HELL ELSE?

The other day someone asked me what I needed that I didn’t have.  I’d like to have an airplane again, but I don’t need one.  A Tesla would be nice.  I like the idea of an electric car that’s quick and cool—and we have a non-controlling interest in the company—but I don’t really need one.

No, what that offhanded question really brought home to me was this:  I’ve already got all that I truly need in this life.  What the hell else is there?  Really.  What the hell else is there?

On the social side, I’ve got a terrific person to love and to share my life with and, wonder of wonders, she loves me back!  Our kids are healthy, they have decent jobs and they too are in fulfilling personal relationships.  One of the delights of my life is listening to my daughter and her husband settle in to chat at the end of their work days.  They giggle and they coo and they take care of each other.  What more could a parent ask for?

On the mental side, I have a creative outlet—this semi-educated rant you are reading—that satisfies me so immensely that I can barely express how grateful I am to be able to think and posit and vent and just share my thoughts and feelings and, with some small grace, perhaps influence others to their benefit.

On the physical side, I get to play basketball with forty or fifty of my closest acquaintances three days a week at the local YMCA.  I get there on a recumbent bicycle that gets me warmed up for the games and saves our environment in some small but measurable manner.  There’s assaying baseball on Sunday’s during the season and hikes with my wife and friends that are equally beneficial to our physical and social and spiritual selves.

My spiritual self is succored by playing and writing music and singing for residents of various convalescent homes a friend of mine works at.  I am more than a little ADD.  One instrument is not quite enough, so I fiddle around with the guitar, the piano, the saxophone and, yes, the . . . violin (you thought I was going to say fiddle?).  Making music is as warm and fuzzy as warm and fuzzy gets.

We have sufficient funds—a non-controlling interest in Tesla, remember—to allow us to travel a bit (we’re getting close to having visited all thirty Major League baseball parks—only two more to go)m/ and help our kids out when it is needed.  The house is paid for and, as I’ve suggested above, t

here are no real material needs that need be requited.

So, what the hell else is there?  Nothing that I can think of.  I submit to you that that is a rather pleasant place to be.

©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle