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.”

Lady With A Weather Station

MY BEAUTIFUL COCOON

I suppose I should claim to have left the child in me behind. In truth, I cannot do so. While some my age feel like dancing, I often feel like napping.

A cold winter cuts deep with age. I dread walking out of doors on particularly cold days. My wife and I study weather signs and predictions assiduously – my wife much more than I.

But there is a flip side to the dread of cold air. I confess adoration of my cocoon – or my many cocoons. First and foremost is my lovely bed. In winter I wear a white cotton skull cap or, my current favorite, I loosely wrap my head in an empty pillowcase, lightly binding my ears and covering my forehead as if wearing an Egyptian headdress. My heavy gray wool blanket lies folded but tightly pressed against the left length of my body. My top sheet and blankets rest upon me, tucked tightly at the edges around my chest. A large fluffy pillow is wedged to the right of my head to keep it from moving, to give me the sensation of sleeping on my right side when in fact I am flat on my back, lying diagonally across a double bed that I built of yellow pine forty years ago. My head rests softly embedded in between two small down travel pillows put inside a cotton pillowcase. My jury-rigged pillow puts me very close to lying flat with no pillow at all; this aids nighttime breathing, protects my back, and prevents reflux from unsettling my nighttime wanders.

This is but one place where I spend a blissful eternity in imaginary adventure. There is my Walmart leather recliner, which is neither from Walmart nor made of true leather. There are numerous oddly shaped homemade pillows upholstered in faux leather fabric found at Walmart; a homemade foam-filled headrest extension, loosely fixed in the same material; and a full-length fake-leather-weave kitchen floor mat that supports my pliable body and keeps it from sliding around. All this is topped with a forest-green fleece throw blanket. Here, invariably, my eyes flutter in periodic submission during familiar or dull moments of nighttime movies.

My car seats, the firm gray cloth ones in my Honda Civic rather than the slick tan leather ones in my Accord, offer similar delight and comfort. The heat of my car is a blessing after a brisk walk to and from work.

All these places are my work stations – or rather my think stations. I would have few creative thoughts otherwise, except for the muted quiet afforded on my four-mile walks each morning, bundled up in so many layers that I look like a nomadic tribesman on the tundra.

All relates to the weather, the all-important condition that envelops each day and makes it different and uncertain. Knowledge of the weather connects science with practical and sensitive awareness of surroundings and change.

I offer a story related to the fundamentals of weather and its importance in our everyday lives. It is very brief but long enough. It is akin to a children’s tale about the culture of science and teaching, and the presence and palpable consequences of nature.

Please follow this trail to my reading room and sit warmly by the hearth.

In Other Words

After a few million years, God said, “Let there be a change in climate.”

Then God commanded, “Children of Adam and Eve, as you have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, you must adapt together to a new challenge that affects all the earth.”

When sons and daughters of Adam and Eve complained that man was too small and could do little, God said, “Remember what Noah did.” And when they denied the change that God had ordained and claimed, like Job, to have done nothing to contribute to such harsh conditions, God said, “Your knowledge and your ignorance have endangered creation. You can undo what you have done if you use all of your talents in concert to conserve the bounty given you.”

And the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve went forth about the earth performing miracles, applying gifts from the Tree of Knowledge to turn sun and wind and water into light where it was dark, into heat where it was cold, into cool where it was hot, into moisture where it was dry, into fertility where it was barren. And God was pleased with man’s stewardship of the earth and saw that it was good enough.

Fathers and Guns

Patricia Waters launched a blog this summer called Green Roots TN. It was originally aimed at a particular environmental concern: fracking on property managed by the University of Tennessee. Very soon she branched out to address a multitude of her interests in the full panoply of her persuasive powers. At the end of her first month as a blogger, she posted a copy of a letter she sent to her local newspaper editor regarding a Tea Party member’s “full editorial page rant against” a friend’s letter to the editor about gun violence. Her letter is well worth the read. Here is a link to her letter. Below the link, I have posted a response to her essay.

http://greenrootstn.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/the-western-and-gun-violence/

Continuity and conservation versus “hell no” and gunpowder – only one side seems interested in asking fundamental questions. Patricia’s letter on guns in our culture is a terrific read. The passions rooted in Tennessee, American history and popular culture, and ancient antecedents drive home the insidiousness and pathetic pettiness of Tea Party misdirection and flippancy.

But Patricia, in her erudite, lucid, principled, and personal argument, does not tell the full story as it relates to true conservatism – what relates to our heritage, our fathers, and our real lives. I know that her story has a deep connection to her father and his love of Western fiction – and his intense patriotism as a World War II B-29 flight engineer (20th Air Force, 313 Bomb Wing, 505 Bomb Group) who served in the Pacific Theater (North Field, Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands). Though he had two hunting rifles and a shotgun, he did not possess a functioning handgun until late in life when he was living on his own after his wife passed away.

My father-in-law was a bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II and had a full rack of rifles and shotguns for his entire adult life. He was a Ross Perot Republican, yet he did not possess a handgun after the war. He would have been appalled at the liberality of gun laws in Tennessee and across the country today. He thought movies were a complete waste of time. For him a real man read and worked to support his family and settled his differences with his arms and hands (not a gun) only if all reasonable alternatives had failed.

My father was a hunter in his youth and a Tennessee lawmaker who thought government very useful in building highways and schools. He never renounced guns, but they were never a visible or important part of family life. He instilled in me a love of the old movies that we shared together and the values they imparted. He modeled respect for learning and guided my initiation into retail politics and civil activism.

The ways of the Tea Party are not just an affront to our fathers and their legacy, they are an affront to conservatism. They reject the civil behavior represented by our fathers and for which they honorably struggled. Tea Party ways are intended to be a rejection of our primary legacy in a cynical ploy to gain political power for a wealthy few.

Tea Party intransigence, though considered a convenient tactic by its exponents and controllers, is not merely ignorant and clownish: it is profoundly immoral. Calculated immorality at an empowered level is intended to shatter reason and order so as to subject others – not to law but to the will of the powerful. Certainly there are large numbers of Tea Party followers who are genuine – and genuinely manipulated by bankrollers who care not a fig for their general welfare. (These same bankrollers are sponsoring advertisements urging young people not to buy health insurance.) Some undoubtedly think they are being funny, just getting a rising out of mainstream people (and many in mainstream too quickly take the bait, pursuing gab instead of effective concerted action). At worst they are the most pernicious kind of evil: the evil that seems normal but perpetrates the kind of scorched-earth policies that Patricia cited as evident in latter-day classic movies. This is perhaps an evil with global dimensions and permanent consequences for life on earth.

There is much tongue-wagging and screaming about the threat of our national government. But like Oliver Goldsmith, if there will be tyrants, I prefer my tyrants to be far away, not in my local and state government. National government has to accommodate a multitude of powers and interests under great scrutiny with significant checks and balances. Local governments are not so naturally constrained.

Do-nothings or evildoers in politics get away with it because liberals and centrists and real conservatives can’t be bothered with stopping nonsense at the polls, at the courthouse, at the legislature, at the TV set, at the checkout counter. Our elusive hope is that some hero will step forward and fix it for us, like in the Westerns, or that in time the jokers will overplay their hands and bring on their own demise. So, it’s high noon and the town’s folk have scattered for cover. But the Gary Cooper and John Wayne types are no where in sight, except for Patricia, who is packing two holsters chock full of legacy and literacy and the skill and guts to use them against lunacy masquerading as law in the clear light of day.

My Katrina

by Mary Dodson (& her daughter, Gail)

Pummeled People Persevere or Perish

Or so I am told.

It’s been said a million times in countless ways: The lot of humanity is for each to be dealt a different hand with varying degrees of suffering and joy, adversity and advantage. It is not the hand we draw that reveals who we are or our significance but how we play our cards that counts. These stories are our lifeblood. I want – I need – to hear these stories and think about them over and over as I look down from the hole in my attic at the torrent sloshing below.

Read it here.