Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Mental Distancing

 

It has been 12 days since the last post, but it is not for lack of effort.  There are several half-finished drafts of entries ranging from the illusion of U.S. oil independence to the inadequacy of the Hatch Act (restrictions on political activity by federal officials) to loss of another close friend.  The one thing I have made no effort to write about is the current health crisis.  Why?  Because I do not want to waste your time pontificating about something about which I know little or cannot add value to the conversation.  (Donald Trump, are you listening?)  Perhaps it is a corollary to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”

Dr. ESP’s Brevity Prayer

Grant me the time and clarity to opine on topics about which I actually know something,
the humility to step aside to make room when there are others who know more than I do,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Useful, but it did not explain my inability, for almost two weeks, to replicate the routine by which I could previously wake up, grab a mug of coffee, check the news, then sit down at the keyboard and knock out a new post in a couple of hours.  The topics were there.  What I was missing were the metaphors and connections between seemingly unrelated information that provided lucidity and insight or a different perspective on the subject du jour.

The answer came yesterday during a “just checking in” phone call to a cousin.  During the conversation, he mentioned how he had not been able to do crossword puzzles, something he would enjoy while practicing social distancing.  There it was.  Not only was the health crisis depriving us all of things we liked to do in groups, e.g. go to dinner with friends or go to concerts, it also had the capacity to rob us of the things we enjoy doing alone.  My problem was not writer’s block, it was total mental block.

In my book ImagineIt!,  I start the chapter about the physiology of creativity, titled “Your Creative Hardware,” with a quote from the late Erma Bombeck.

I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.

In hindsight, that was the case with my most recent blogging sessions.  Previously, when I was focused on the topic at hand, every keyboard stroke created an untraveled road map with many paths.  Each word or phrase was not an end, but a beginning of the next leg of a journey of discovery.  If I follow that thought, where might it take me?  What if I abide by Robert Frost’s recommendation and take the “road less traveled,” eschewing conventional wisdom for the counter-intuitive option?

It was now clear that even if the coronavirus had not infected my body, it had invaded my mind. To pick up on the road map metaphor, before I had a chance to get back on the highway, I had the urge to pull over and make sure everything else was okay.  Was there enough food in the house?  Had I contacted everyone who needed an update on a postponed activity?  Was my slight cough just the usual pollen allergy or something more serious?  As my brain overloaded, per Erma Bombeck, I stepped away from the car and never completed my quest.

But as we are more than aware from our experience with COVID-19, making the potential victims aware of the danger and expecting them to do everything they can to avoid contamination are two different things. And compared to what it takes to inoculate oneself from the mental effects of this pandemic, physical distancing is a six-feet-apart walk in the park.

On occasion in my Imagination and Entrepreneurship class at Miami University, I would ask my students to close their eyes and think about nothing for five minutes.  The goal was to get the class to leave everything else outside the room.  And as they practiced and became more proficient at the art of not thinking, the realized it was about personal control.  While they could not determine every aspect of their life, the could regulate the extent to which certain responsibilities or obligations invaded their personal time.

So, when you find yourself unable to focus on a task, even if it as inconsequential as reading a trashy novel, finishing a jigsaw puzzle or enjoying a movie, take a few minutes to check the mental distance between yourself and what’s happening around you.  Unlike social (aka physical) distancing, you are not dependent on anyone else’s cooperation.  It is solely between you and your own mind.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

A Moment in Time

 

During my final lecture at Miami University, I shared a series of moments in my life when I had a chance to interact with famous people in the fields of politics, entertainment and sports.  Each story began with the phrase, “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to…”  The point was to encourage my students to look for and act on these opportunities as they are moments in time which make life interesting.  Most are happy memories.  Talking with James Earl Jones about how he approached a particular scene in “Field of Dreams.”  Facilitating a meeting between President Bill Clinton and Anatole Tshelov, chairman of the Association of Russian Governors.  An audience with Lee Kwan Yew, founder and first prime minister of Singapore.  Interviewing Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters for my high school newspaper.

And no matter how distant in time, these events rush to the forefront of my mind when one of the principals leaves us.  You may remember my writing about my 1976 encounter with Muhammad Ali upon his passing in 2016.  Forty-three years could never erase my excitement as a free-lance photographer to literally be in the ring with Ali and Howard Cossell during the weigh-in before his championship fight with Jimmy Young.

Image result for cokie robertsYesterday, sadly was one more occasion which brought back a rush of memories, the news that Cokie Roberts had died at age 75 of breast cancer.  So what is my connection in this case?  It begins on the evening of October 16, 1972 at Rockville (Maryland) Country Club, the venue for a rally and fundraiser for congressional candidate Joseph Anastasi.  As a member of the campaign staff, I had helped organize the event which included an appearance by former Vice-President Hubert Humphrey.

I was standing in the clubhouse entry awaiting Humphrey’s arrival when I was approached by an employee of the country club who asked me if Tommy Boggs was present as he had a phone call.  I found Tommy and showed him where he could take the call.  When Tommy finished the call, he told me he had to leave and asked me to apologize to everyone for his absence.

It was not until the next morning, we all learned the emergency which precipitated Tommy’s departure was the disappearance of a plane in Alaska carrying his father, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs and Alaska Representative Nick Begich.  The plane was never found and Boggs’ death was officially declared in December of that year.  Hale Boggs’ wife Lindy won a special election in March 1973 to replace her husband as U.S. representative from New Orleans, serving until January of 1991.

So what does this have to do with Cokie Roberts?  Cokie and Tommy were sister and brother, two of Hale and Lindy Boggs’ four children.  And as chance would have it, several years later I was scheduled to fly back to Washington, D.C. from Denver when the flight was delayed due to weather.  And in a synchronistic moment, Cokie Roberts. also on the flight, sat down across from me.  At first, I just wanted to tell her I was a fan and appreciated her reporting.  But she asked about my trip and we struck up a conversation.  It was then that I mentioned the circumstances in which I had a small part in the events surrounding her father’s disappearance.  She then informed me she had been the one to call Tommy that night.

We never crossed paths again, but each time she appeared on ABC News or I heard her reports on NPR, there was this sense of affinity, this moment in time, when two people were unexpectedly connected.  As Carl Jung reminds us, these unanticipated, random intersections occur all the time and are part of life’s narrative if only we are vigilant observers.  And they DO make life interesting.  So it is with a special sense of sadness I say farewell to Ms. Roberts but am thankful that I had the opportunity for a brief encounter with her.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Three Thoughts on the Fourth

 

Here are a few observations made during a 10-hour drive yesterday.

Salute to Ignorance

Image result for trump as three monkeys who see no evilOne of the virtues of Sirius XM is the ability to listen to one’s favorite cable news and talk shows while on the road.  However, yesterday we tuned out as much of the focus was on descriptions of Donald Trump’s “Salute to Me.”  As suggested by the above subtitle, based on a number of Trumpisms during the past week, Trump should replace his 2016 MAGA campaign slogan in 2020 with HNF-SNF-TNF (Hear no facts; see no facts, tweet no facts).  Consider the following evidence.

  • The so-called commander-in-chief bragged about the “new Sherman tanks” which would be on display around the Lincoln Memorial.  No one told him that the U.S. army has not ordered a new Sherman tank for more than a half-century much less the last ones in service were de-commissioned in 1957.  A la Dick Cheney, Trump will probably argue that you have to go to war, “Not with the army you want, nor the one you have, but with the one you had 50 years ago.”
  • Trump accused New York state attorney general Letitia James of doing Andrew Cuomo’s dirty work via politically motivated investigations of the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation.  Having been a life-long resident of New York, one would think Trump knows that the state attorney general is elected by popular vote, not appointed by the governor.  Guess he confused that situation with his selection of William Barr to be his personal consigliere.
  • In an interview with Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo last Friday, Trump stated there was no graffiti or trash on the New York City streets until two years ago.  Or maybe he just couldn’t see it from the 26th floor of his golden tower.  What is even more damning is his saying New York was a utopia until he became president. So, I guess he’s telling us it’s his fault.  Maybe if he had not de-valued New York City taxes by his assault on state and local levies in the 2017 tax legislation, NYC might have more resources for sanitation.

And this was just in one five-day period.  So, what do you call Trump statements over a 144 day span?  GROSS ignorance.

Iran, But Could Not Hide

Speaking of ignorance, it is a close race between Trump and the national news media.  Just in case you missed the administration’s latest attack on the Constitution, the Washington Post reports Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and “senior defense officials” since we still do not have a Secretary of Defense are building a legal case to justify military action against Iran.  However, reporters and journalist seemed to have missed the fact this is probably just one more move in the Russian chess match to undermine the Atlantic alliance with Trump’s complicit assistance.

Imagine a Tom Clancy novel based on the following story arc.

  • Under the previous administration NATO negotiates an agreement that limits Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons for a minimum of 15 years in return for sanctions relief and the unfreezing of Iranian assets in foreign banks.
  • Russia, upset with what appears to be the beginning of detente between Iran and the West, decides this is one more opportunity to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe.
  • Russia assists in the election of a new president who campaigns on leaving the agreement much to the displeasure of the European signatories.
  • But that is not enough.  Russia then encourages Iran to give its American puppet more reason to break from the NATO position.  Maybe have Iran attack a couple of oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz or even shoot down a U.S. drone.
  • Neo-conservative advisors to the American president, who Russian knows are anxious to start a war with Iran, now have more ammunition to convince their boss they are right.
  • European allies refuse to join the conflict and American once again takes unilateral action with limited assistance from second-tier nations who are promised financial rewards if they support the U.S. position.  Call it “the alliance of the bribed.”
  • Back home.  The Russian president is heralded as a genius.  Not only has he achieved his initial goal of undermining NATO, he has created more discord within the United States by tricking the president into committing more lives and resources to another unpopular Middle East conflict.

Oh, wait!  No need to wait for the novel.  It is already a television mini-series running on the nightly news.

Captain Jesus Luc Placard

When you drive through America’s bible belt, you cannot help but notice the billboards which ask “Who is Jesus?”  Having attended a AAA minor league baseball game in Norfolk, Virginia on Monday night, my first instinct was to reply, “I know. They must be referring to Jesus Sucre, the Tidewater Tides catcher and designated hitter.”

Any effort at humor was quickly replaced by more serious reflection on reports out of Clint and El Paso, Texas as well as Homestead, Florida concerning the treatment of infants and children in border patrol detention centers.  Who is Jesus?  Whether you believe in his divinity or not, such a thoughtful and compassionate teacher certainly is not someone who would approve of his followers turning a blind eye to the suffering of children.  Or to those who seek asylum (equivalent to the church’s honored tradition of “sanctuary”) and a better life for their families.

What’s more, I began to think about my experience driving through Europe in 2005 and Italy in 2010.  There were no billboards.  Yes, there were majestic cathedrals, modest village churches and religious icons everywhere, but those were not directed at me, the non-believer.  They were there as constant reminders to the flock of their shepherd’s values and their own responsibility to follow in his footsteps.

A better use of the money spent on trying to convince me there is only one path to salvation would have been to purchase soap and other hygiene products for the innocent infants and children incarcerated in wire cages.  Or even a billboard with a picture of the 7-year-old who died of a bacterial infection last December while in U.S. custody with the tag line, “Who is Jakelin Caal Maquin?” Or 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramirez Vasquez.  Or 16-year-old Juan de Leon Gutiérrez.  Or 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo.  Then, instead of “Who is Jesus?” hopefully everyone, especially many in the white evangelical community who refuse to speak out against the policies which precipitated these tragedies, will realize the more important question is, “What would Jesus do?”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Random Thoughts June 21, 2019

Sunni or Later

Final Jeopardy Question:  So the president cannot be cornered.
Final Jeopardy Answer:  Why is the Oval Office an oval?

My observation this past week.  I hope the Ayatollah also has an oval office.  Too many times we’ve learned that a cornered animal is the most dangerous.  And history tells us, the resolution of a precarious situation is more likely when both parties come away with something.

Even when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war, John Kennedy understood this.  While many believe the eventual agreement between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev was one-sided in favor of the American demands, the Soviet leader was given an opportunity to save face.  First, Kennedy assured Khrushchev the U.S. would not invade Cuba.  Second, the U.S. agreed to dismantle nuclear missiles in Turkey which were part of the NATO defense against Soviet aggression.  Some military historians suggest Kennedy would have removed these weapons without the Cuban crisis as they were obsolete and too costly to maintain.

This morning, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson raised what should be the critical question based on previous Trump approaches to foreign policy and his decision last night to call off a limited military strike in response to the downing of a U.S. drone.  Following the North Korea model of diplomacy:  Act I is belligerence.  Act II is an offer to meet.  What is Act III?

On their ESPN talk show Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon have a segment called “Who would you rather be?”  In this case, I believe the Iranians have the easiest path to solving the stand-off and giving Trump an opportunity to save face.

  1. Demand the U.S. rejoin the nuclear agreement and lift any sanctions imposed following withdrawal from the pact.
  2. In return, Iran agrees to engage in discussion with the U.S. to extend the terms of the nuclear agreement beyond the initial 15 years and possibly include missile testing in the expanded accord.
  3. U.S cancels arm sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
  4. In return Iran agrees to join multi-national talks among Arab nations to resolve civil wars in Syria, Yemen, etc.
  5. Trump proposes bilateral trade talks (“See, I’m a great deal-maker.”) with Iran pending verification of Iranian commitments to non-proliferation and stabilization of Middle East conflicts.

I know, it takes rational people to think rationally.  But sometimes you can make a offer even irrational people cannot refuse.  Equally important, we may finally learn who in the White House is making Middle East policy.

An Undying Wish

When a friend of mine passed away 18 months ago, I honored his family’s request that in lieu of flowers, people should donate to a designated charity.  Which I did, accompanied by a letter which indicated:

  1. I was making this donation in memory of my late friend at his family’s request.
  2. This is not a charity which I regularly give to and do not plan to make additional donations in the future.
  3. Please honor my friend by using this donation for your primary mission, not to raise additional funds.

As you may have guessed, that letter was a waste of time, energy and paper.  For the past year and a half, I have received solicitations from this organization, often on a weekly basis.  And while I’ve not tracked the cost of these appeals, I am pretty sure it has come close to if not exceeded my donation.

This is a nationally known service organization and one could assume it was not one of those fly-by-night efforts where the a third-party fundraising agent makes more money than the charity ever sees.  However, I decided to check its statistics on Charity Navigator, only to find, because its primary funding comes from a single source (a family trust), it is listed as a private foundation and is unrated.

Lesson learned?  While my friend is no longer with us, fundraising based on his passing has eternal life.

Fake Math

Our local paper occasionally carries an op-ed column by a Pittsburgh writer Phil Purcell.  Today, Purcell, an admitted English major in college, decided to tutor us about the national debt.  A long time proponent of the Trump tax cuts, he ‘splained that the rising deficit was due to spending.  After all, “The economy is doing well, causing tax revenues to swell.”  Yeah, at the same rate as Trump’s inauguration crowd.

For those Republican senators and congressmen suffering from amnesia, let me remind you that you bought into the hooey that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would generate $1.8 trillion in new revenue, more than covering the $1.5 trillion cost.  And don’t forget the cuts you made to domestic spending to ensure the tax cuts would be within the 10-year budget resolution deficit targets. How did that actually play out?

In FY 2018, the first year in which the tax cuts would impact federal revenues, that figure rose to $3.33 trillion from (drum roll) $3.32 trillion in FY 2017.  In other words, Republicans added $180 billion to the deficit (call it their investment to grow the economy) and got $10 billion back in revenues (call that the present value).  Now just imagine, at the beginning of any year, you or I invested $1,800 in a venture, and at the end of the year, we had $100 to show for it.  The last thing we would do is brag about our financial acumen.  In fact, we would never mention it to anyone.

Perhaps that’s why Republicans did not run on the tax cuts during the 2018 mid-terms and only the delusional will run on them in 2020.  When someone suggests imaginary invasions by brown people are an easier sell than cash gifts, it’s a good sign they know the electorate is not as stupid as they might hope.  Sadly, Phil Purcell has not come to that conclusion about his readership.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Random Thoughts on June 6, 2019

There are two “high holidays” in American history, the Fourth of July and D-Day.  One marks the emergence of the United States as a sovereign nation  The other as leader of the free world.  And sadly, the observance of these occasions fades over the years with one exception.  Just as there are milestones of age, e.g. 21st birthdays, or wedding vows, silver and gold anniversaries, we gather on the 25th, 50th or 100th anniversary of these national  wayposts in the annuls of the American narrative to give them the attention they deserve.

These moments are also times for reflection.  Consideration of those famous and those largely unknown who contributed and sacrificed in the pursuit of an ideal or preservation of a way of life.  As I watched the ceremonies yesterday from Portsmouth, England where the invasion to liberate Europe was launched and this morning’s events at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach, as always, I was looking for the angle no one was covering.  What was that one counter-intuitive thing that was right under our nose but slipped our attention?

Today, I tip my hat to presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin who suggested it is easy to celebrate D-Day with the hindsight of the eventual outcome.  And while we have vivid images of the invasion itself from newsreels and movies such as “Saving Private Ryan,” there is no visual documentation of June 5, 1944, which may have been more fateful than the invasion itself.  That night, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and the rest of the military planners awaited the impact of their actions unsure whether they would succeed or fail.  As Goodwin recalled on MSNBC yesterday morning.

What strikes me is that we are on the eve, the day before that fascinates me.  We know now from history that D-Day worked.  But all those people, on this day, 75 years ago were living in a sense of dread.  Eleanor Roosevelt said she felt she had a sword hanging over her head.  Winston Churchill, when he was going to sleep on this night, said to his wife, tomorrow morning 20,000 of our men may be dead.  Franklin Roosevelt was so tense that he couldn’t go to sleep…History knows the end but that’s not the moment that really fascinates me.

There it was, the angle I was looking for, not just in 1944, but throughout history.  Did Franklin, Adams and Jefferson toss and turn in their beds the night of July 3, 1776.  If he had lived, would John F. Kennedy have slept the night before Apollo 11 took off from Cape Canaveral on a mission he had set in motion seven years earlier.  Should we be better students, not of history, but of the eve of history?

Which brings me back to the topic du jour, what is the most appropriate way to address Donald Trump’s alleged crimes, abuse of power and violation of his oath of office?  Is Nancy Pelosi currently presiding over the eve of history?  Does the decision to authorize impeachment proceedings keep her up at night, not knowing whether such actions will result in Trump’s removal from office or his re-election in 2020?  Are there lessons from D-Day which could make her decision easier?

Consider the following.  Just as many are anxious to rev up the engine of impeachment sooner rather than later, I am sure there were those who felt any delay in the Normandy invasion was to Hitler’s advantage.  But the political and military leader wanted to make sure they had the army they NEEDED, not as Dick Cheney suggested in the run-up to the second Iraq War, you go with the army you HAVE.  And they picked a day and hour when they believed the weather conditions, though chilly and rain, were best suited for the mission.  Perhaps Pelosi is doing the same, waiting until she has the conditions and the army she needs before launching the inquiry.  If and when she gives a green light to Judiciary Chairman Gerald Nadler and her caucus, should we, like Doris Kearns Goodwin, be more fascinated by what happened on the eve of Nadler’s gaveling the committee to order to begin impeachment hearings or the hearings themselves?

Two more thoughts related to June 6, 1944.  Imagine if cinema depictions of D-Day had ended like the “Sopranos.”  Just as Henry Grace, who played Eisenhower in the 1962 epic “The Longest Day,” announces the forces have reached the French shoreline, the screen fades to black.  The audience let’s out a collective, “NOOOOOO!”  They feel cheated.  I too felt cheated, as this week I began reading the Mueller Report.  Here are just a few examples.

The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked materials through the summer and fall of 2016.  (four redacted paragraphs including one under the heading “b. Contacts with the Campaign about WikiLeaks”)

Michael Cohen, former executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald J. Trump, told the (Special Counsel’s) Office that he recalled an incident in which he was in candidate Trump’s office in Trump Tower (redacted).  Cohen further told the Office that, after WikiLeaks’ subsequent release of stolen DNC emails in July 2016, candidate Trump said to Cohen something to the effect of, (redacted).

(In reference to the Trump Tower meeting) The Office spoke to every participant except Veselnitskaya and Trump, Jr., the later of whom declined to be voluntarily interviewed by the Office (redacted).

NOOOOOO!  Don’t leave us hanging.  How did the Campaign show interest in WikiLeaks?  What did Trump say to Cohen? What do you mean Junior declined to be interviewed? Was he subpoenaed?  Did Rod Rosenstein, Matt Whittaker or William Barr at the Department of Justice prohibit Mueller from issuing a subpoena?  Did he issue one and Junior took the Fifth (even though his father proclaimed during the 2016 campaign, “Only guilty people take the Fifth”?

And finally, a word about Trump’s attendance at the commemorative events this morning in France.  To his credit, he stayed on script and the speechwriter should be thanked for the tone and content of his remarks.  But there is a certain irony that not just Trump, but any Republican president would have this honor.  While the GOP claims to be the party of national security, it was Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman who oversaw the successful preparation and conduct of U.S. participation in World War II.  And to some extent, I had a similar response watching Richard Nixon welcome back the Apollo 11 astronauts instead of Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson.

Perhaps, on such occasions, history would be better served to have the principals or their decedents participate in the ceremonies.  That is why the image of Queen Elizabeth, who volunteered as a mechanic in World War II, was the most compelling figure over the last two days.  She did not need a history book or a speechwriter.  She was there.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP