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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Small Local Efforts at Diversity

It may not be a good idea to editorialize about a magazine article that is editorializing about other editorializing. But here I go again.

Somehow in mid-July I ran out of New Yorker stories to read. Desperate on a hot day for something to read at the table over lunch, I rifled through old issues. I discovered an oddly titled piece from April 6, 2015, that I had somehow missed.

I will admit that my prejudices led me to start the story entitled “Carbon Capture.” [1] But soon I realized that I had stumbled across a piece that was different; an argument that would give me the intellectual twist and challenge that I desired.

In my humble opinion, this is a significant piece. It borders on political philosophy. By the end, I was thinking back 40 years to the blockbuster book “Small is Beautiful” and thinking the small, the local, and the diverse retained the strength, clarity, and utility that I had once thought they did.

This represents my mindset fairly: take nothing for granted, keep changing perspectives, focus on the small and the local and the naturally diverse. By this path, we will live better and end nobler.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The subtitle of Jonathan Franzen’s article “Carbon Capture” in The New Yorker on April 6, 2015, focuses the mind: “Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?” He gets to the point early and holds fast to it: “As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as ‘Markets are efficient.’ The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re f~~ked.”

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

Painting A Way

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The piece associated with this introduction was not written as a story or article. It is a how-to letter to a friend. But I find it very interesting and share-worthy. I asked Gail if I could put it in TennesseeSoul and she relented.

The aim of TennesseeSoul, or one of the main aims, is to share the ordinary about a small community of people who try their best to survive by keeping productive and endeavoring to discover new things about their world on a daily basis. It is not intended to be showy or prissy professional in the top-drawer sense favored by snobs and academics.

When I read this letter, I wanted to paint. Gail makes it seem very doable. She makes painting a way of life.

I completely revolt against anyone telling anyone else they should not pursue a process that may make them happy, especially when that activity is harmless and more than likely will enrich the practitioner and, perhaps, an audience, no matter how small.

I want my epitaph to read: “TennesseeSoul: He tried.” Some wiseacres quip that life is eighty percent showing up. It’s not quite as easy as that; if it is, get a life. I believe life is at least half trying for even a mediocre existence in sustainable harmony with our world. And mediocre life is pretty good life indeed when you look around at many of the alternatives.

Gail’s simple letter about painting is about far more than painting. The act of painting leads a way to discovery and sustained harmony.

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He So Loves the World

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Concepts describe and augment reality. They become part of reality.

Thinking so, I come to a key proposition: Believing makes it so. This proposition is the vague plasma that connects loose components of a life, a culture, a civilization.

One of the best passages in Catch 22, a dialogue that takes the concept of the Catch-22 to its next level, has Yossarian discussing the God not believed in. In the conversation, it is clear that not believing requires a concept, too. When not believing becomes a integral part of a personal system, it becomes a belief.

Belief (and theories more meticulously built on empirical evidence and rational proof) guides perceptions and behavior. In a constant and consistent expression, they feed virtuous or vicious cycles.

I believe in trust. I believe that trust creates trust, that low trust generates inefficient interactions that impede productivity and growth. But on the other hand, I believe in questioning: trusting relationships concede the requirement to clarify and reconcile ends and means among members.

Recently I heard on NPR (what could be named Radio Trust) that the Huggington Post – formerly and officially called The Huffington Post – plans to focus only on stories about things that work. (There may be many fewer stories about Congress and radical political parties and their partisans.) The theory here is that less news about evil and failure, and more about cooperation, construction and success, will breed more success and diminish evil action and failure.

We can belabor this argument with A is B and B is C and so on to Z. We know that lengthy and time-consuming contests such as that, repeated over and over again, don’t convince or change radical views. With trust, we are able to jump straight from A to Z more efficiently.

Jumping from A to Z, we venture to the story of which this rumination is a prologue – a prologue of which the attached story is a proof. Thus we tie together these fragments of thought in an actual life, a life tied to many lives, a life of cooperation, construction, and delight. This is the small beginning of a story about the contagion of love.

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Vote’s Over – And Liberals Shrug

If anyone noticed, on November 4, 2014, Republicans won a majority in the U.S. Senate. I could have run out the next day and stocked up on guns and ammo, but the thought didn’t cross my mind. Nor did I start digging a moat around my house to ward off foreign influences and African diseases.

Liberals, and good citizens of all stripes, don’t respond to electoral defeat by abuse, violence, rebellion, shouting, whining, and panic. Life goes on. There will be another election.

The problem with American poitics today is that one’s group has to stay revved and outraged and constantly plotting and campaigning to win a prominent place in governance. Liberals, and other normal folk, just want to live and aspire and not be burdened by harmful or neglectful government. Government is supposed to be a positive, helping, protecting force in society. Democracy is one principle, among many, guiding the way. Elections, among many others, are a method for traveling together on that path rather than the end all and be all of social existence. Radicals of every variety make a fetish of power; it is a degrading obsession like addictions to chemical intoxication, perpetual buying and gambling, and lazy sponging off of the kindness and generosity of others.

Though I doubt that the radical right will stop raging, and the Republican center will start governing in a spirit of constructive civic compromise, I still hope and believe that there is room yet for open, civil society without recourse to wanton aggression toward the peaceful among us who are young, infirm, ignorant, powerless, endangered, different, or just independent.

There were setbacks for liberal notions last week. They make liberal ideas and liberal society more difficult to attain. But the obstacles can be, and I believe will be, overcome – if next time those who shrugged before the vote actually pay attention and make the effort to cast a simple, informed ballot. We got what we deserved as a complacent people: if not an indifferent then an obstructive government that will not build or repair bridges without pitching a holy fit first.

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.)

Gray Claws

No thing reveals the fate of a nation more than the plight of its old. In America, at the dawn of the 21st century, people who sought expansion of personal horizons and independence are suddenly finding themselves confined and utterly dependent.

Doubling the trouble is the tendency of the utterly feeble to rely on the decrepit twin highwaymen of our political system – to wit, the Republican Party and its bastard sibling, the Tea Party – to cling to privilege and to restore a lost golden age that never was. This is not to say that the Democratic Party lacks its own deficiencies. But at least the Democratic Party contains the diversity of microbes necessary to digest change and excrete failure through the natural family processes of internal bickering, back-stabbing, inheritance hunting, and deathbed watching.

Through all the bitterness over the Affordable Care Act, I was guilty of not being sufficiently livid at the obstructionists who spent untold effort trying to prevent, overturn, repeal, slander, and otherwise block implementation of health reform. That is until I witnessed first-hand the desperation of the old and uninsured who need good information and more rational and fair health insurance coverage. To the dimwits who fought the Affordable Care Act tooth and nail with every underhanded deceit known to man, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for calling it Obamacare. You have insured that one of the most significant advancements in health services in this country will be forever linked with the president whom you refused to give a chance and the Democratic Party, which sacrificed much to hold the tiller firmly during a gale of lies, whining, privilege-seeking, and self-indulgence. May you not suffer in your old age as you would have others suffer.

The old – and that bracket includes baby boomers – don’t have much to fall back on in terms of the children next in line: many of our children are lost in cyberspace and consumed by their own selfish concerns and presumptions of superiority. And, too, progeny in every developed country are but one Internet or electrical-grid failure away from complete helplessness themselves.

It is assumed by those who wish it so that the old will whimper, rollover, and die. An alternative plan on the political right and left is for the old to claw back in elder rage and irrationality that further dooms the long view and the arduous climb out of the hole we have dug for ourselves.

There is another way, as usual. The old can accept their duty to mentor and pass the baton responsibly to another generation. They might delay retirement but be ready to step aside and let jobs go to the young who need to start their overdue careers. They might vote and speak as if they acquired common sense over their many years of prosperous existence. The young can accept greater responsibility and maintain sensible engagement in politics and the lives of the old.

Never has it been so apparent how maturing Americans have inched themselves, and our society, out on a flimsy limb far away from practical community. It is not the fault of this generation of elderly or the past one. It is not the fault of evolving youth culture, either. That is except where the habits and culture of each generation have fused seamlessly and energetically with the unbridled consumerism of the past century and a half and neglected the future.

The most giving and creative society can indeed simultaneously be the most selfish and shortsighted. Too tired to try, the old fall back on bitching and recliners. Though high time for generational change, few new friends of mankind stand out: no figure, no group, no ideology, no method leaps to mind to make our evolutionary path easier or surer.

One cannot hear the sounds of the environment with embedded ear buds. One cannot see one’s surroundings in the illumination of a hand-held device. One cannot connect when constantly plugged in and tuned out. Neither can the old hear, see, or connect from the cave of their dens, strangers to the Internet, immobile, and steeped in denial until it is too late.

No external solutions exist, only the basic everyday ones. The momentum is with each household and tribe pursuing its daily survival. That is how we have gotten by for centuries. That is how we will rise or fail together – one by one.

Precipitously, our old fall off the playing field. Nothing changes – except that the wisdom of the ages is diminished in a steady dribble. Forgetting is what we do best. It is what we do worst. The brittle gray claws of the old crumble and break. And the spaces left when they decamp are beyond filling.