Column: Bush and the Pretzel

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Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio,1994 and 1997-2nd ed.). He is a columnist for HNN.

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There is a frivolous side of presidential history as the eight year reign of Bill Clinton may attest. Even in times of war, a light moment may be savored. Perhaps there is comic relief (let's hope given the satisfactory outcome) in the headlines regarding George W.'s episode of choking on a bow tie (or was it a butterfly) shaped pretzel while watching the football playoffs in the White House. Bush had the sense not to be entertaining himself alone as he was accompanied by his vigilant and trusty family dogs, Barney and Spot. He chewed but he did not swallow, or was it he swallowed but did not chew. It is a relief that we can dispel rumors that he may have started drinking again. (Rumors I have heard for at least five credible Democrat sources.) If he had exercised good judgment he certainly would have had a beer or two to make the pretzels go down his esophagus smoothly.

The recent near tragedy in the White House brings to my mind other recent episodes of presidential dangers that arose from unusual situations or places. Leaving out Bill Clinton (our memories are too fresh regarding his episodes), I would like to reflect on a few of these.

Jerry Ford was the only president who had a genuine career as an outstanding athlete. He was an All-Big Ten lineman with the University of Michigan football team in the mid 1930s. To win honors as the most valuable player on his team, he certainly had to be physically coordinated. Yet on June 1, 1975, he slipped and fell down the stairs as he was deplaning Air Force One. Then later that year on Christmas Day he fell and nearly hit a tree while skiing at Vail, Colorado. He was an accomplished skier--most of the time.

Former President Lyndon Johnson liked to suggest that Ford's rather slow and thoughtful demeanor in Question and Answer situations indicated he was dimwitted ("He played football too often without a helmet.""He couldn't count to eleven without...."). Yet it was his physical stumbles that got him into danger. Well, there was that remark in his debate with Jimmy Carter about how (in 1976) Poland was"free." That might have been the difference in the election campaign.

And then there was Jimmy Carter. Carter was a physical fitness advocate and the first of several presidents who enjoyed competitive jogging. On September 15, 1979, he was competing in a 10,000 meter road race in the Maryland mountains near Camp David. While it was a normal activity for a 55 year old man, it had dire consequences on that hot day. The president collapsed in a faint.

Ah! But when Carter really needed his physical prowess, he was up to the task, and we as a nation can give thanks for that. It was probably the highlight of his entire term. On April 20, 1979, President Carter chose to go fishing on a pond near his home in Plains, Georgia. He wanted to relax,"lay back," wiggle the worm on the hook, and just enjoy the silent afternoon--by himself. He overruled secret service objections and rowed the boat onto the pond all by himself. They could only watch in horror from the banks as the historical events unfolded. Carter was just relaxing and sensing the pleasures of the springtime breeze, when suddenly, out of nowhere appeared a killer rabbit. The rabbit swam toward the President's boat, its teeth snarling and a menacing look in its eyes. The rabbit attacked the boat, but quickly with artistic athletic acumen, our president grabbed an oar and lifted it high before striking it down on the vicious intruder. He beat the rabbit back, without tipping the boat over, and the rabbit retreated, as the secret servicemen stood helplessly with guns drawn and binoculars in hand.

To most keen observers of the presidential scene these would appear to be but isolated events never to be mentioned again outside of a parlor game of trivia. However, a pattern of explanation is available to explain why each such events occurred. The pattern may also be utilized by President Bush and his successors if they wish to avoid reoccurrences. The explanation is offered with the proverbial"grain of salt," and with a reminder that Johnny Carson always started his"Ripley Believe it or Not," segments with the admonition that Ripley did say"or NOT." My discovery of the truth behind the events began when I saw a biorhythm calculator on sale for $14.95 at Radio Shack. I made the purchase and read up on the science of biorhythms. At birth we release the beginnings of three waves or rhythms. A physical rhythm lasts 23 days, an intellectual rhythm 28 days, and an intellectual rhythm lasts 33 days. For the first part of the wave we are"high" on the factor, then we experience a dangerous or" critical" cross over day, and we are then low for the second part of the wave. Ergo, we are physically high for 11 days, have a critical cross over day, we are low for eleven days, suffer another cross-over day, then are high again, ad infinitum for a lifetime.

Explanations for the presidential crises we have witnessed: On June 1, 1975, Ford was high emotionally, but he was low intellectually, and this is the main one--he was low physically. On December 25, 1975, he was also low physically and emotionally, but he was high intellectually. So what did the All-Big Ten footballer do on his physically high days--he engages in presidential debates and says stupid things. Of course, during his debate with Carter on October 6, 1976, he was intellectually low.

Carter was at the physical bottom of his rhythms when he collapsed jogging. When he decided to go fishing alone against the wishes of the secret service he was intellectually low, and his emotionally low rhythms certainly impeded his awarness of possible danger in the pond. But, alas, at the critical moment when he successfully fought off the attacking rabbit he enjoyed an extra degree of strength from the fact that he was physically high on his biorhythm charts.

So what about George W? On January 13, 2002 he was 20,280 days old. He had experienced 614 intellectual wave cycles, but he was in the 18th day of his current cycle. He was intellectually low, having been just one day removed from his intellectually critical day. Someone else should have chosen his diet for him on that day. The choice of pretzels without beer (or even diet cola) was a very bad decision. He had experienced 724 emotional cycles, and he was on the eight day of a new cycle. Emotionally he was high, and it is good he was, as he chose to have his dogs nearby for the impending emergency. But the important explaining rhythm was the physical one. He had had 881 cycles over his fifty-five plus years, and he was on the 17th day of his latest cycle. He was low physically. His esophagus was not in top condition to handle the pretzel, especially a pretzel without a beer.

So can biorhythms be used for serious historical analysis? Why not?

On July 16, 1973 Alexander Butterfield told San Ervin's Watergate Committee that President Richard Nixon had installed voice recording machines in the Oval Office. Nixon was intellectually low that day. He did nothing. For one week he did nothing. Then On July 23, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed the tape recordings. At that moment Nixon was on an intellectually critical day. His last chance to destroy the tapes without committing a criminal offense passed him by as he could not make an office saving decision. Historians have sought to find the date that Nixon installed the tape recording devices. Until this moment they have not found the precise time. Butterfield suggested that the recorders were installed in the Spring of 1971. He was close. They were installed on March 18, 1971. On that day, Richard Milhous Nixon was 58 years and 68 days old. All of his rhythms were aligned, all were at their most critical cross over day. A triple critical day. A day one should just stay in bed and hope the ceiling doesn't fall down. It is quite possible that Nixon not only decided to install the taping devices that day, but that he probably had a"good feeling" about it, and I suspect he probably climbed the ladder himself to put the machinery into the ceiling boards. As Johnny Carson said, you can"Believe it" or NOT.

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More Comments:

Richard Smith - 1/23/2002

I know about Jimmy Carter and Jerry Ford and Bill Clinton. But I'm worried right now about the guy with his hand on the button NOW. So, how is it that we know it was an unaccompanied pretzel?

I know that the President's wife (family; admitted former enabler), his bodyguards (hand-picked-for-loyalty employees), and his doctor (military; eligible for trial-by-tribunal; dependent on the Prez for future promotions) all attest that he wasn't washing the pretzels down with anything stronger than RC Cola. I also know the Vice President (next-in-line-of-succession; incented to rat out #1) was not available to testify against his boss (being in hiding from some unknownsomething, some unknownwhere.)

So I guess we just have to trust what the big guy says in his own defense. "I forgot to chew, half swallowed a piece of hard bread, and passed-out on the floor; leaving a large rug-burn-looking scrape and several cuts on the side of my face. I should have chewed more." Right. And we're expected to chew on that.

Oh, I almost forgot. The dogs were in the room. Maybe so the President could wag them? Let's see -- Enron mess? Wag the dog. People actually complaining about the theft of their civil liberties? Wag the dog. Recession, the end of the budget surplus, finding out that the tax cuts for middle class workers weren't extra money at all but merely advances on future refunds that now need to be repaid? Wag the dog. Discovery of his deal with the Taliban for an Afghan pipeline (and you guys in the FBI and CIA can look the other way and leave that Osama Whats-his-name alone)? Ooh! Pass out on a "pretzel" and count on the dogs to be your enablers this time. And pass the ammo.