Archive for June, 2017

PRESIDENTIAL LEGACIES

During this season’s “House of Cards” (Netflix), the wife of the presidential candidate challenging the evil incumbent Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) says of her husband: “He has a chance to be a fine president. A great president.” Maybe. But presidents don’t create legacies, and those who think they do subject the nation to great and unnecessary risks.

We hear much about the Affordable Care Act being Barack Obama’s legacy. Obamacare represented just a step forward. American healthcare has a long way to go. Moreover, President Trump and Republicans vowed to “repeal and replace.” Will they? We’ll see. But I suspect Mr. Obama’s legacy will reflect not what he set out to do but what he had to do. (More later.)

I doubt George Washington took office thinking about his legacy rather than the job at hand. He had to react to the creation of a new form of government under the Constitution. During his eight years in office, Washington had to shape the executive branch from scratch. He also had to contend with the pioneering efforts of a newly devised Congress, Supreme Court and thirteen states. All had their own Constitutional visions. Washington’s legacy consists of navigating unchartered waters successfully.

Abraham Lincoln assumed office with the nation on the brink of splitting. Shortly after his inauguration, the nation toppled over the brink. Lincoln’s greatness lay not in promoting grand plans by which history would hail him but in meeting this daunting challenge—leading in ways about which he may never have given prior thought.

Yes, some presidents see opportunities. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark across the west and spearheaded the Louisiana Purchase. But he did so in response to Napoleon and European geopolitics. Jefferson earned good grades. To assure peace after “the war to end all wars,” Woodrow Wilson pushed the establishment of the League of Nations following World War One, which America entered well into his prsidency. Congress balked. Ultimately, the League failed. Wilson’s reputation is spotty. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office during the Depression and did much to provide a safety net for Americans while pushing the economy towards recovery. FDR made mistakes along the way, but he’s idolized by many.

George H.W. Bush, with no legacy in mind, responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and ousted Iraqi forces in a 100-hour war. Then he withdrew American troops. His son George W. Bush responded to 9/11 with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The younger Mr. Bush, with little knowledge of the region, decided to remake the Middle East. History will not be kind.

Back to Barack Obama. Whatever he thought he might accomplish—health care reform being a massive item on his agenda—he entered the White House with the American economy unraveling. He responded by rescuing financial institutions “too big to fail.” For that, he’s been lauded and vilified. While time will offer new perspectives, I think his actions will establish a very positive legacy if one unplanned.

I’m baffled by people who believe that a president’s first concern should be his (and someday, her) legacy. All presidents can do is shoulder their burdens and meet challenges with their best efforts. The world mocks our plans, and history exercises its own judgement.

Have a great Fourth. And remember, you can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

WARRIORS AND WARRIORS

I have nothing against athletes making upwards of thirty million dollars a year—or more. The NBA champion Golden State Warriors’ payroll (equivalent to 15 full-season players) came to $101 million. I don’t mind fans idolizing players. But I’m uncomfortable when people see athletes as heroes, and especially when athletes call each other “warriors.” Where does this leave the men and women in America’s armed forces?

Let’s start with money. A marginal NBA player can put away serious cash towards his future. Next year, the minimum salary for rookies (first-year players) will be $815,000. An Army staff sergeant (E6) with 10 or 11 years of service makes $41,000. In our voluntary military, pay is better than it used to be. In 1966, I made $94 a month during basic and advanced infantry training. When I entered officer candidate school at Fort Benning, my E5 pay shot up to $200 a month.

NBA players fly on chartered jets with plentiful food and drinks. Military personnel head to the Middle East on transports with no amenities. Buses take NBA players from hotel to arena and back. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan leave their operating bases to go outside the wire in armored vehicles targeted by improvised explosive devices and other weapons.

NBA players stay in five-star hotels. Many of our troops in combat and combat-support areas live in shipping containers. During the Vietnam, Korean and Second World Wars, they slept in pup tents, hammocks or foxholes they dug themselves. If they got to sleep.

On the road, NBA players receive $106 a day for meals. That’s on top of their salaries. Today’s troops in the Middle East take what they can with them outside the wire and are thrilled to dine at a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut when they return to base.

After an NBA team wins a championship, it’s feted with a parade and usually—this year may prove an exception; Golden State players and coaches are not fans of the president—an invitation to the White House. Our troops return to the U.S. to be met by their families and maybe a military band. Many are rushed immediately to hospitals and VA centers.

I’m not calling on Americans to boycott the NBA or other professional sports. I enjoy sports, too. But most Americans—including all of America’s NBA players—have never served in the military. They don’t relate to the risks our troops take and the horrific personal consequences of bad government decisions, like invading Iraq. What can we do?

First, urge professional athletes, coaches, the media and fans to stop calling ballplayers warriors. Let’s save that terminology for people who train for or go into combat and dangerous combat-support roles. Second, let’s support our troops beyond wearing cammies to the ballgame or the mall, and posting photos of military and military-style weapons on Facebook as if combat is just another video game.

Today, I made another contribution to Fisher House, which helps families of military members live for a while at no cost near the hospitals which house their recuperating loved ones. Find out more at fisherhouse.org.

Let’s get real. NBA “warriors” face no risk of losing life or limb save from a freak accident. The warriors who protect us face risks daily. They too deserve love.

You can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

 

LANGUAGE AND MEANING

Most people recognize the first verse of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Clear? Not really. Commentators and scholars translate the Hebrew word B’reishit—“In the beginning”—in several ways. This gives rise to multiple insights into God’s actions. Language—in translation or out—often fails to accurately convey meaning. We might apply this principle to the June 8 testimony of former FBI director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Re Genesis, the Soncino Press (1993) translation stays with “In the beginning.” The Stone Chumash (printed Torah) offers: “In the beginning of God’s creating…” The Jewish Publication Society (1999) and the scholar Robert Alter prefer “When God began to create…”. Everett Fox chooses “At the beginning…” As Nahum Sarna notes, “The mystery of divine creativity is, of course, ultimately unknowable.”

Congress and the American people face another mystery—the meaning in President Trump’s words regarding an investigation into General Michael Flynn, Trump’s fired national security advisor. Former FBI director James Comey, also fired by Trump, testified that Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Because Comey said he met in private with Trump, liberal commentators and Democrats exclaim, “Obstruction of justice!” Conservative commentators and Republicans respond, “No way!”

During Comey’s testimony, Senator Jim Risch (R–Idaho), skeptical that Trump did anything wrong, focused on the word hope. Risch asked Comey if was aware of any successful prosecution of someone who hoped something illegal was done. Comey said no. But that, despite Risch’s efforts, hardly ends the matter.

Read Comey’s words, and important details of his conversation with the President go missing. Hope, Risch suggested, represents wishful thinking. Trump, in private, simply shared his yearning that Flynn, “a good guy,” not face prosecution. But which word follows hope? You. If Trump uttered these words, he spoke not to himself but directly to Comey. “I hope you can see your way clear…” It’s hardly a stretch to interpret this as Trump telling Comey to drop the investigation without saying the precise words, “You drop the investigation.” Personally, I’ve never said, “I hope you can…” to anyone without expressing a clear intent that they do what I for all intents and purposes asked. In this context, I hope creates an expectation.

I mentioned missing details. Whatever words Mr. Trump uttered, we lack a recording, which Trump hinted at having, although he may not. What tone of voice did he use? We don’t know. Intonation colors any word or set of words. Trump’s tone could indeed have indicated wishful thinking. Or it could have projected a presidential order. We also lack an eye on such critical factors as Trump’s facial expression and body language. All these help make us understood. For that matter, we can’t see Comey’s physical response.

Will Comey’s memo regarding Trump’s hope be accepted by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special investigator, as proof of wrongdoing? We’ll see. Will President Trump testify before the Senate subcommittee? We’ll see about that, too. But I doubt we’ll see a smoking gun.

Still, a pattern seems to be emerging. Each day, it becomes more disturbing. And when I write disturbing, let there be no doubt about what I mean.

Purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

GLOWING IN THE DARK

In my April 7 post, “What I Have and What I Don’t,” I wrote that I have prostate cancer. My urologist provided several options. To minimize side effects, I chose hormone therapy and radiation—45 precision zappings over nine weeks. I’ve begun both. Interesting changes are taking place.

In April, I took the first of six quarterly shots of Lupron to suppress my testosterone. Ordinary men may quake, but as everyone knows, I had so much testosterone that even eliminating it will not make me any less of a sex symbol than I am in my own mind. My exploits are legend. Which Carolyn translates as fantasy. But a boy can dream. Which Carolyn translates as hallucinate.

Fortunately, the decrease in testosterone has barely impacted my life. Yes, I’ve taken up needlepoint, but my mother did that, so it’s probably genetic. Besides, the (truly) legendary New York football Giants lineman Roosevelt Grier did needlepoint. He also became a successful actor. I might start knitting.

Admittedly, I experience hot flashes throughout the day. And night. It’s a great way to keep warm in winter. Is it winter yet? It is in Australia and Argentina, but it doesn’t get particularly cold there. In fact, San Francisco winters don’t get all that cold. Maybe Carolyn and I will go to New York in January if temperatures approach zero.

My radiation treatments are simple. I lie down and a huge machine revolves around me and pinpoints radiation at my tumors. The day before a treatment, I can’t eat gas-inducing foods. No spicy stuff. No beans. No raw vegetables. Carolyn helped me work out a diet for the next two months. Still, I continue to release gas at interesting moments. The technical word rhymes with fart. Wait! That is the word.

On the bright side, I glow in the dark. The other night, I got up to go to the bathroom and didn’t have to stumble around the bed. In fact, Carolyn called out that I should turn off the damn light. The bedroom was pitch dark.

The only problem with glowing is, I can’t choose a color to match, say, a shirt I’m wearing. I’ve taken up biofeedback, hoping that when the mood strikes, I can change purple to green or orange to blue. Not easy. Oh, and when I’m out at night, I attract moths.

Still, life goes on. I can work on my next novel. It may take three or four years to complete. I also can promote my new novel, The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’m doing that in this post. Are you ready to buy a copy? I hope so. Not that I’m trying to guilt-trip anyone, although my friends will disagree. It’s just that I have copies left which I’d love to sell and sign. Or have Amazon sell, so I can receive a royalty on each that won’t buy coffee at Starbucks.

Look, I’m only human and therefore self-interested. So, if half the people who say, “Oh, how exciting that you have a new novel out” buy a copy, I’ll probably be featured in The New York Times. Or maybe in my synagogue’s newsletter. Either achievement would be as using my radioactive brain to glow the blue of Adonis’ eyes.

Unashamed reminder: You can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

THE CLASH OF CULTURES

I often refer to Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Huntington posited that the world is divided into religious and national entities that would be at odds with each other given the Soviet Union’s fall. The book has been criticized, but I believe it to be correct. In a parallel vein, it’s certainly apt to say that in 2017, America is riven by a clash of cultures.

The 2016 presidential election pitted blue coastal elites against red heartland Americans. Cultural differences played a major role. Many voters took opposite positions less on the economy and foreign relations than on guns, global warming, abortion, and a multi-gender, multi-ethnic America.

If you’ve traveled or lived in a region not your own color, you understand. Differences in culture and perception are a fact of life. This becomes a problem only when two critical factors go ignored. First, being immersed in a culture not your own is perfectly acceptable—if those “opposites” don’t force their preferences on others. Second, Americans share a common culture in many ways. Red and blue, we (if not everyone) love sports. We go to movies and watch TV in all its broadcast forms. We gobble pizza, barbecue on holidays, go to the seashore or lake, hike and bike, honor our troops and take Mom out for Mother’s Day brunch. Conservatives, like liberals, drink wine. Liberals, like conservatives, drink beer. Christians of all political persuasions decorate Christmas trees.

Sadly, red folks and blue folks come into little contact, since the nation lacks a military draft or mandated national service. So, Americans often see only stereotypes. Many adopt a philosophy undercutting the nation’s core beliefs as a democracy. They define different as bad. They consider illegitimate people with cultural preferences not matching their own. The cultural divide leads to a political divide increasingly wide and bitter. Everyone shouts. No one listens.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned the Book of Leviticus. We’re now in the Book of Numbers, but Leviticus remains on my mind. Leviticus 19:18 commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Both red and blue types pay lip service to this verse. It demands more.

  • LOVE: Actions, not just words, prove the real measure of our intentions and integrity.
  • YOUR: The neighbor to whom Leviticus refers is ours, not someone else’s
  • NEIGHBOR: In a world grown more interconnected, we must expand our definition of neighbor from those nearest us to those at some distance. We can’t come to the rescue for everyone, but we can respect all people’s inherent worth.
  • AS YOURSELF: We cannot complain of prejudice and violence inflicted on us if we devalue, hate or persecute anyone else.

 

Democrats often vilify conservatives, as Hillary Clinton did in her sorrowful reference to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” Republicans eagerly point to liberals as “fake Americans” who control “fake news.” Yet most conservatives and liberals want the same things: good jobs, healthcare and education for their families, safety and peace. Because these issues cross cultural lines, good will and effort can help us find a measure of political common ground.

Yes, red and blue states—or communities—will continue to follow diverse cultural imperatives. But a closer look reveals that we’re all different just the same.

You can purchase my novel THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.