Kipling’s words of wisdom

The full poem “If—” and background:

“If” is a huge word, though diminutive in print. It represents the fulcrum for good or ill, plus or minus, pitch and toss.

So it is with politics, governance, the economy, markets, crowds or individuals, Brits and believers, northern or southern Nevadans. “If” is the nexus of the netherworld in each of us. It is also the stuff of this potpourri column, in which we ponder possibilities.

Let’s start with Nevada, pitch and toss, and the Brit poet who made “If” a stiff upper lip guidepost for young men. One stanza in Rudyard Kipling’s poem titled “If” goes:

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings / And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, / And lose, and start again at your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss.”

Pitch-and-toss, a metaphor for risk, is like craps. Nevadans don’t find risk-reward questions unusual. Our forbearers staked Silver State fortunes on mining, later on gaming. Now risk of some new sort must be found as a cornerstone for the state economy. This requires new leadership, and 2010 is the year to find it.

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Now to what remains of Kipling’s Great Britain. On May 6, Brits can choose to stick with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, turn to Tory David Cameron or force a parliamentary coalition.

From this perspective, Brown’s ouster for a coalition of Cameron’s Tories and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats—terms are different there—would serve best. Kipling’s “If” again:

“If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; / If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, / But make allowances for their doubting too.”

Each Brit should ponder well before voting. Massive debt and a European Union in economic turmoil require new leadership in London to help coordinate the EU. The world economy needs someone other than Brown at England’s helm.

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What about the U.S. economy and the bleating from Washington, D.C.?

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker this month became point man for the Obama administration’s inevitable move—given runaway spending—toward tax talk.

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, / Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, / And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;”

Now an Obama adviser, Volcker is no stranger to dishing out pain as shown by high interest rates when he headed the Fed. He now seeks discussion of a VAT (value-added tax) to tackle the long-term dollar demise and national debt.

Conservatives want real spending cut action before any tax talk, so … good luck, Paul. But he isn’t all wrong—real debt and deficit reductions must come.

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Next we go from VAT to Vatican. “If you can meet with triumph and disaster / And treat those two imposters as the same.”

The current Pope and his Cardinals prefer the triumphant to the disastrous and can’t handle the latter with forthright candor. All believers suffer when leadership among them loses the thread of truth.

These are sad days for folks of faith, Catholics in particular.

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The common thread through all this? Governance in any realm requires truth, humility, and knowing the future of any “if” can cut various ways.

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; / If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim.”

Check out Kipling’s “If.” It is a blueprint for adulthood.