A Hillary Landslide

I am the most optimistic I have been in years. I am sensing the possibility of a Hillary landslide.

It’s reminiscent of the showdown in 1964 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Barry Goldwater. That was the first national campaign that I participated in independently as a high school student. I suppose I acquired an interest in retail politics from my father, having participated in his campaigns and in many discussions at home and among friends at school about government and varying policies. There was no question for any of us at the time that elections matter – some matter greatly – governance is no joke.

Personally, I don’t care if Hillary robbed banks as a teenager and every other word she utters is a dodge. I do not care if she is as dry and lifeless a speaker as stale white bread. I do care greatly about experience under fire, knowledge of governance, and a goal of seeking the best workable solutions for pressing national problems.

Obama gently put whitey in his place with grace and restored careful honor to the White House. Hillary may be just the tonic needed by the shrinking American male who thinks that cheap put-down jokes, fabricating “facts” and shooting holes in a paper image of a human are essential survival skills in our world. Hillary, as Obama, does not see a world of enemies but a world of potential partners.

No matter what happens in Iowa and first-tier wacky primary votes, I think Hillary could sweep the primaries, and she could deliver a fatal blow to political extremism in this country. She could bring a reasonable majority to the US Senate and House.

You don’t have to like your medicine, you just have to take the right one to get better. Liking candidates, or their spouses and relatives, is pointless. You just have to choose the best available leader and join the civil debate.

What had looked like total madness weeks ago, now looks like a gift from God. Fight the fight to continue momentum, but please don’t waste a vote. Genuine charm and absolutist ideas may appear attractive as human attributes, but they may work less effectively in governing.

Complementary Principles

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With an upcoming presidential election there will be much rancor and little agreement. During the process, I declare my unwillingness to sacrifice a single guiding principle in order to achieve absolute simplicity or popularity. I will not wallow in self-righteous indignation, though dismay fuels my mind. I have been much alarmed by the disrespect afforded our current president. Disrespect is a prelude to wanton waste and self-destructive division – and a sign of weakness. It is also wrong – not just morally, ethically, and politically – but the wrong way to achieve practical self-interests.

In October 2015 I revisited the miniseries John Adams. [1] It reminded me of why citing the Founding Fathers as if they spoke with one voice, which was meant to stand supreme against all comers, is ridiculous and untrue. The Founding Fathers gave us independence from Britain and an outline of a process for self-governing in the face of constant disagreement and existential challenges. That is enough. As for their principles, they were and are at war, but always seeking accommodation and concrete results that are workable, if not satisfactory, for the majority, including, and especially, measures to protect the civil rights of minorities.

In the HBO production, Thomas Jefferson is a playful, theatrical provocateur. He certainly does not believe in revolution every 20 years in the sense that his affection for the French suggests. Hamilton is the real revolutionary of his time. We needed all the elements of the periodic table at the formation of our nation – all the principles and psychological types to build a new kind of body politic.

Today a common refrain from the extreme right and left wings of the political spectrum is, “I will not compromise my principles!” The problem is that every thinking and feeling man, woman, and child should embody a wide range of principles that constantly compete internally for a practical balance. Then no one compromises their principles: they compromise their solutions based on a common pool of viable values and shared information.

As the Steve Jobs character in the movie Steve Jobs reportedly says of his role at Apple, as a breathing, adapting nation, we “play the orchestra.” For maximum enjoyment, understanding, and forward-moving results, we play the full breadth of instruments and styles – principles – for maximum effectiveness in the real world.

To combat the movement toward more guns and more violence, toward more political inaction, I propose a stun device – let’s call it “respectful reason” – that will temporarily stop an attacking principle, seeking supremacy, long enough for the civil society of men and women to steady the attacker and return him toward our shared principles and shared problems – all of them – the whole enchilada. The trouble with big-mouth politicians and terrorists is their single-mindedness. The delicate art in liberal society is our tolerance of dimwitted, even dangerous, talk. The media is not guiltless in this obsession with the phantasmagoric squalor of political operators willing to seek the limelight at any price. OFF is a powerful feature of modern electronics; it is much easier to execute and is just as effective at separating lunatic heads from extended necks before a one-note mob arises.

FOOTNOTE:

1. John Adams aired on HBO in 2008.

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Shame on the P.O.

One hopes for a little protection for vulnerable people in an advanced society. But smart A’s will say that gullible people get what they deserve.

The elderly in the United States are scammed every which way every day of the week. An honored elder should be protected. People who do not protect their elderly will reap the same when their time comes.

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Mid-America Crossroads

Passage to Memphis

Dear friends, we miss you and think about you. I want to account for our not seeing you and for our not hearing from one another in recent months. Public transportation, or the lack thereof, has frustrated me since I returned from Europe in 1972 with an intensified love of train travel. As I get older, and my friends and family get older too, the problem of safely and conveniently traversing Tennessee highways, amid a growing number of rude, dangerous-driving commercial truck drivers and an Interstate 40 strewn with large truck-tire fragments, has resurrected my dismay over the absence of public transportation. I see no good reason why there is no rail or quality bus travel between Tennessee’s major cities that comes close to what is available in northeastern states. But then again, given our politics of me first and let’s go it alone, I do understand why. Still I quietly rage against our fate and the status quo. I want to come to Memphis more often and more comfortably.

Yes, members of my aging circle still think of joints, rhythm, frustration, miscommunication, and alienation. But usually it is in the context of bodily and social-service malfunctions. Parental oversight, pop festivals, literary discussions, and idealistic political activism have been supplanted by power of attorney, hearing defects, healthcare plans, assorted pains, and lowly immediate topics, such as chronic funk and creeping forgetfulness.

This is the preface for a story that sets the stage for a few more stories about rail travel. My passion for trains goes way back and has not diminished, though realism has hardened and practicalized my life in many ways. This first history-laced story focuses on Memphis as a transportation hub. Others highlight personal experiences with train travel – life-altering experiences that I could not have had any other way nor done without.

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Raid on Palau

Having known R. W. Hulme (Bob) forty years, I can, without reservation, attest that I believe every single word of his stories. It is a wonder that he came to write his stories and that we should hear and like them so much.

I like the excitement and cool detachment; the brevity, clarity, and detail; his determination to get it done; the humility and the humor. But most of all I like the unmistakable humanity – the “one” and the “we” working it out on the fly.

Bob was drafted into the Army on his twenty-second birthday in September, 1941. That fact is completely consistent with the tone of his stories. He was no daring-do cowboy. He moved by force of persistence, against significant odds, into flying. Once there, he took charge without bravado.

Essentially, over time, Bob did not alter, except where a house full of lovely, intelligent, honorable women helps a man adjust admirably. It is noteworthy that his telling of this story comes in 1992. After Ross Perot, Bob privately struggled, for 19 more years, to negotiate the new world order. He adapted in increments like the self-taught, well-read, hard-working, experienced gentleman that he was.

Despite what they claim in fiction and history, great things happen in increments. Bob’s stories – and life – show us that great feats happen in short steps. The context of those steps is often out of control – as are the guiding instruments – but it is how one handles the stick that substantially determines when, where, how, and if one lands.

The new world order was more ambiguous and less trustworthy for a man such as Bob. He respected learning, loyalty, common sense, and work, but he clearly objected to the way things were headed.

After seeing the television series “The Pacific,” I am heartily grateful that Bob was in the air. His is the war that we know through his stories. He and they allow us to suspend judgment about the time, and all that preceded and followed it, in the suspense of how our loved one managed to survive intact. Not just survive, but thrive as the same man we read about now and knew around the kitchen table.

As he makes abundantly clear, Bob was one of many, a leader who wanted to get the hell out and get his comrades out, too, while doing his assigned task in a way that, though not exactly by the book, gets it done and wins peace in which a new world could emerge. Big men yield. But when they succumb to age and change, they leave gaping holes.

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Stories in TennesseeSoul by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
(ordered by date of war event)

Black Sunday
Raid on Palau
The Big One
Clark Field
The One

Nyet & Yahoo

One hardly needs to comment on the lunacy and error of Republicans in the U.S. Congress. It seems cruel and redundant to do so. They veer from logic and history with the abandon of drunken teenagers. Obama’s presidency is a perpetual wound in their muddled brains and tiny souls.

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Senators declined to participate in the folly. For that I am most grateful. These two experienced exceptions prove the others wildly and dangerously wrong.

I cannot thank the other Congressional Republicans for confirming our studied and feared suspicions. None of us wants to witness, in the “loyal” opposition, such craven and treacherous behavior, laced as it is with dark cynicism, screeching spite, and flatfooted foolishness.

To be sure, they will top even this one. Pray, pray, pray – work, work, work – so that they don’t – so that we are delivered from this gangland blight on governance.

Jeb and Hillary have their faults. But none compare to the loathsome flaws to be found in Republican affiliates in the U.S. Congress. At least at top levels, Tennessee’s state-wide elected officials seem to have not sipped the acid-laced cocktails served at so-called “conservative” conclaves.

Our Ebola

There is indeed an insidious disease threatening our country, its people, and its culture. It oozes isolationism, spite, protectionism, racism, sexism, defeatism, dread, and panic. It drains the humanity from its victims, who continue to stagger among us.

I am reminded every day of life as an immigrant in a precarious world. Descended from Scotch-Irish who immigrated to this country a couple of centuries ago, I still sense enduring health vulnerabilities, social incomprehension, separation, and hardship, even in my native land. And I am considered a full-fledged established member in good standing. It is not just that I work around exemplary students, academics, medical personnel, and patients of foreign descent on a daily basis. When I go to restaurants in New York City, I sit at tables surrounded by people who are not speaking English. The same applies when I infrequently visit a restaurant in Nashville; though others speak English, or some mutant form of American dialect, many obviously are visitors from other countries or recent immigrants. This mixing both socially and genetically, this constant negotiation with novel elements, is very good for us; it makes our country better prepared to cooperate and do business with the rest of the world. It deals us a superior hand for future play and worthy survival.

Thinking I had witnessed the lowest of the low in recent years in terms of political chicanery, I see new depths in the employment of a few Ebola cases as an explosive diversion a few weeks before a mid-term election. It is a horrible sight – and I don’t just mean the suffering in West Africa. Perhaps the panic is mainly a flash-in-the-pan circus of frenetic journalism and loose tongues and not penetrating or prevalent – which is the consoling assessment that my seasoned opinion favors.

Our narrow-minded, short-sighted, self-centered, and greedy Ebola is in part the by-product of our heritage, stretching back to Europe and beyond. But we do participate in effectively spreading it around the world. Perhaps ISIS is not genuinely grounded in a religious backlash against Western values and products, but Western exploitations and myopia in the past have certainly fed its fever. No place has been abused and spoiled more than Africa.

Now we should be thinking about how to help West Africans, not about how to wall them off. Panic sickens the soul and issues very poor, self-defeating results.

Despite radical conservatism’s posturing against science, its adherents – consistently inconsistent – run to the medicine cabinet of research whenever confronted with actual personal challenges in modern life. Science can combat the other Ebola, but please, God, strengthen our gift of humanism to help us overcome our mindless and spiritless strain of excessive poisonous excretions. Somebody please wake this patient up and fortify its backbone. Serious no-drama purpose, thinking, and method will best resolve our crises large and small.

Born Again

With some frequency, I have mentioned that I once returned to college many years after leaving it. I never deliberately dropped out: eventually, after more than four years of hard study there, I was excreted.

The first time I left, though, I was propelled from college. Something was happening to me which I did not understand. Friendships were dissolving, personalities were shape-shifting, my body was bloating, the world was gnawing. And it was spring. But more significantly, I had hit a wall. I enrolled in a course on Renaissance Europe at Memphis State University. I had taken four very good required survey history courses prior to this particular course but had mainly taken courses in business and psychology. More inclined toward the latter – and seeing the former, based in no small part on the other people pursuing it, as a misfit for my temperament, principles, and evolving interests – I sought out new study paths late in my junior year.

The readings for the Renaissance course were complex and overwhelming on many levels. Though my professor was a spellbinding storyteller, I felt lost in material that I could neither digest nor piece together. I was captivated by images and tales of men and women who made my own life seem under-lived and completely uninteresting; I encountered ideas that made those surrounding me and my time appear clearly insufficient. Yet, I felt the time speak to me – call to me. Having read and attended with all my ability, I went to my professor and told him of my decision to withdraw from school. I told him that I would risk all, even risk being drafted for duty in Vietnam, to see the world and find my place in it. This man, who seemed to hold the world in his large hands, his imposing stature, and his deep, authoritative voice – a true believer in the power and fundamental necessity of education – did not attempt to dissuade me. He was genuinely supportive of the reasoning upon which I based my move outward.

I will be honest. I left school in pursuit of craft. The very word loomed noble and superior to bland consumption. Emphatically, I did not leave for humanism. I never would have dreamed that humanism could, through the twisted witchcraft of modern-day religion, be cast in popular American culture as the most wicked scourge ever to plague mankind. I was humanism through and through. I did not need to pursue it. And there was nothing that could drive it from me. It was the grand gift that had seeped into my pores from the moment that I was born. It was the alpha and omega of my education. It was the beginning and sustenance of my values. And nothing solidified humanism’s hold on me like the benevolent Protestant upbringing in my household that surrounded me since birth. To me, Jesus was humanism writ large. He would not stand so pervasively and personally approachable without the ideals, contributions, and sacrifices of humanism, and humanism would not thrive without the model and teachings of Jesus.

Consistent with my practice of posting manuscripts related to the Middle Ages, I have attached essays pertaining to my exploration of the Renaissance.

The mighty figures and events of the Renaissance would mock our petty conceits. And we justly deride many of theirs. But we easily see ourselves among them. We find their assumptions familiar. Their excesses are recognizably human in our eyes.

The Renaissance in History
Lawyers and Statecraft
Michelangelo
Letter About Machiavelli’s The Prince
Review of Renaissance Letters

(Refer to the key offered in the previous post on dooms to view these learning journals. Read them or ignore them at will.)

End of the Middle

Although we all think we know what differentiates dark from light, there are gradations across the middle that confound easy dismissal and categorization. Such questions hardly matter to most people nowadays, but they are the most fascinating questions to me. They are rich and complex, without definitive answers.

The more I studied, the more the questions. I thought that I studied for answers, but answers aren’t the half of it.

I can gaze out of my study window at a steep hill of green trees, or at the backs of my eyelids into black in the very early morning, and I see another version of our world, another time. It is just as alive as the day by day one in town or country.

Such experiences are not things of common social status and honorifics. They are not the source of livelihood and wealth. They are an internal eternity that can only be separated or ended by neglect, illness, injury, or death.

I have linked a number of manuscripts that I assembled while doing my most intensive study of history. I offer them not as examples of outstanding scholarship or creativity or party conversation, but as a record of the pageant that has been gifted to me by my life of observing, being taught, and questioning.

The complexity of the Middles Ages, and economic necessity, brought me back to studies in 1988 and riveted the focus of my mind. The Middle Ages are our alternate reality. The essence of the age is what we get if we are very very foolish or very imaginative. They are the default that hangs in air; they are the ways embedded in our DNA. They wait for awakening.

No more need be said. This is the end of the middle.

Delineating the Middle Ages

Evolution of English Law

Mediaeval Knights

Gothic Architecture

(Refer to the key offered in the previous post to view these essays. Pick any paragraph to start with and see where it takes you.)

Return To Dooms

It was 1988. I was entering my late thirties. And I returned to college as an undergraduate. I did not want to – I had to.

After dropping out of college at the end of 1971, I needed recurrent jolts of fresh ideas and new perspectives. The public library history section supplied both. It was history learned from self-directed reading. Sometimes the titles came from lists of recommended readings acquired from my earlier four years as an undergraduate.

Having discovered him in the 1970s in the musty history section of the main library on Peabody Avenue in Memphis, I claimed Frederic Maitland as mine. The subject and style of Maitland’s two-volume History of English Law before the Time of Edward I were magnetic. (I searched for over a decade for copies for myself and found them.) My pursuit of academic learning was occasionally rekindled by his likes, masters hidden in obscure out-of-print books.

I still hold Maitland in the highest regard. He did what I might have dreamed of doing in another life.

* * *

The rediscovery of the manuscript linked herein (below), for which these words are an introduction, has convinced me that if one is under forty and has a passion, one should go for it – personal responsibilities permitting. I can recall the mind that wrote this manuscript and I can even understand most of it now. But I am still thoroughly amazed … by the steep decline of my mental faculties over twenty-five years.

I am obliged to – I am overjoyed to – thank my wife (and to a much lesser extent our, at the time, young son) for letting me indulge my passion before it was too late; for letting me immerse myself in a world that had beckoned me for seventeen years; for letting me reconnect with an old professor and the Middle Ages and lose myself in imagination, pondering a world thought long dead. Only as I jogged a country road, early one gray morning in 1988, did I realize that the world of the Middle Ages was not dead at all but rather lived on in life in the present just beyond the deceptive veil of modernity. It was a life I had relentlessly sought out and found through reading with persistence, intensity, and seriousness. But it was not the reading alone that revealed the past to me, it was the thinking about the reading so as to capture it in a few pages of epistolary summary and commentary for my professor. I was blessed with the rarest tutorial-style learning experience, as if a student at Oxford or Cambridge in the sepia-tone years of intellectual ferment and high pretension. It was to be the last time my esteemed professor taught either of his two signature courses on old Europe. I was just in time to light my torch to guide my way down my evolutionary path.

I will not let my acknowledgement of my wife’s contribution to this effort rest condensed in one passing sentence. She worked full time as an elementary-school teacher. She traveled many miles to work every day and worked at night, on weekends, and during the summer for her charges and for her family. We had a young child in a private Catholic school; my work for the company that I owned was shriveling in an economic downturn that badly affected construction in Middle Tennessee. Never once did she express doubt or frown upon my enterprise and effort, even though the level of study in history in which I was engaged was hardly fit for any practical application – except maybe for a life of method and observation and thought and understanding and tolerance in a complex world – and maybe a new job. She believed in the power of education. She had faith that it was the thing to do for us. So once the decision was made, we plowed on despite the low income and the many, many hours of separation that comes when one is allowed to dive deep and swim slowly in the darkest underwater caves of history.

The countless individual monastic scribes of the Middle Ages are not known to us by name. They were not altogether practically necessary – except that they preserved and spread learning for centuries without benefit of the printing press or the Internet. But I have no doubt at all that they relished the work even when barely innovative and hardly noticed.

So my marvel now at this manuscript is not due to its style, its correctness, or its originality. Rather, I marvel that is was ever able to exist at all.

Click here to read it. [1] [NOTE: The key to this box, and all like it, is JerryMurley. Whether you do or don't get this clue, welcome to the mystical study of the Middle Ages.]

FOOTNOTE:

1. Notes and commentary on Frederic Maitland’s Domesday Book and Beyond by Jerry Murley in spring 1988.