Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your President

I am touched by Michelle Obama's humility, though I think I sense some confusion of thought in her latest appeal to me. She begins by noting her admiration for her husband in his ability to balance the duties of father, husband, and President, but then adds that there are times when he needs help.

Well we should all want to give what assistance we can to the Leader of our nation, though I'm not sure just what I can do in these particular cases.

Perhaps helping the President as a dad might be the easiest. If he cares to put Malia and Sasha on Air Force One and fly them to Memphis, I'll be happy to do with them what I did with my own kids when they were that age: take them to the Dixon Gallery, one of my favorite places, make remarks about history and culture appropriate to a child's understanding, take them out into the gardens to run and play, and then perhaps to the food court at Oak Court Mall for a nice snack. That part should be easy.

As to helping him as President, well, I think Michelle needs to understand that only one person can be President at a time—a fact, come to think of it, that Dick Cheney seems never to have quite grasped, though perhaps he thought he was merely filling a vacuum left by the incumbent. In any case, there are Constitutional restrictions on what I can do as a private citizen. But wait—I've got it! If I come to Washington, I'll simply take him to meet my cousin Kelly Kirk at the PowerHouse Gym in Woodbridge, VA, who will, to put it mildly, give Barack a reality check and protect him from the temptation to be self-complacent. If neither Kelly nor I can sign a bill into law or nominate someone to a vacancy on the Supreme Court, perhaps that's the next best thing.

In the third category, helping Barack as a husband, well, delicacy forbids me to explain to a lady in detail why that must be the one area where I can't really do anything at all. (Not to mention the issue of whether her husband would find it altogether flattering to think that his wife was writing to men she hardly knew to confide such a need to them!)

Again, perhaps I can do the next best thing and offer advice. He should, above all, refrain from saying things to her like "If you've got a nice bod, well, you didn't build that." A wife likes to be appreciated, after all. We'll start the discussion at that point and see where it leads us.

But perhaps I stopped reading too soon and Michelle really meant he needed help in other areas. She used to write to me a great deal about having dinner with her and Barack, though nothing ever came of it, but if she is really intent on that, they can certainly come to Memphis, and I'll take them to Corky's Barbecue on Poplar. Come to think of it, if they use Marine 1, the Presidential helicopter, that might be a real advantage, since there is never any parking at Corky's anyway, which is one reason I only eat there once a year, even though it's only 5 minutes from where I live.

So in whatever area this lovely lady thinks I can aid her and her family, I will be happy to give whatever assistance I reasonably can. Unless her husband's poll numbers improve, the time when any help from me could really make any difference may be short!

© Michael Huggins, 2012. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Click for enlightenment

Computer games are not without value, as long as one isn't consumed by them; I enjoy online Scrabble, and if one wants to learn military strategy and tactics, it's better to play a war game than to go to war. Having said that, it's hard to know how some things can be usefully learned by gaming. I'm referring in particular to the "Walden" game I read about last night in the current issue of Harper's. Henry David Thoreau sought closeness to nature and emancipation from the conventional bonds of modern life, so he built a cottage, lived by a pond, took walks, and lived off the fruits of the land. Along the way, he had insights about the human condition.

How one could possibly impart anything useful about such an experience by designing a game around it is beyond me. If, as Samuel Johnson said, "Nothing is more hopeless than a scheme of merriment," that must be at least doubly true for a plan of enlightenment, especially in the form of a computer game. If one wants to do like Thoreau, why then, take a walk, spend a week in a rustic cottage, eat nothing but farm produce, and the like. I can hardly think of an activity less likely to achieve Thoreauvian results than to sit clicking a mouse or keyboard!

Still, this irony is apparently lost on some game developer, who forwarded a proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts requesting funds for this noble endeavor, explaining that playing the game might lead the user to "arrowhead moments" and enable progress for the gamer's "philosophical meanderings"—and some twit at NEA obliged the hapless techie with a $40K grant!

Now $40K isn't even a hiccup in today's galactically scaled federal budget, but it's the principle of the thing. Even granting the idea that the government must spend it on something, imagine how many meals for the homeless, textbooks for vocational training for dropouts, weeks at summer camp for poor kids—or, for that matter, copies of Walden (the original book, not the game!) might have been purchased for the same amount.

If anyone wants to grasp the existential roots of Tea Party rage, he could do worse than to consider this instance. There is an angry corps of voters that suspects, deep down, that large segments of government funds are at the disposal of clueless twits who can't change a tire, replace storm windows, or chop a load of firewood, who continually resort to precious and obscure circumlocutions that express no genuine feeling that any real person ever had--and who think it a fitting investment of National Endowment for the Arts funds to spend $40,000 on a computer game called "Walden."

© Michael Huggins, 2012. All rights reserved.