A Couple Of Observations About The Culture

I’ve been working my way through Mario Vargas Llosa’s intriguing little book Notes On The Death Of Culture, which intends to be a general critique on the state of high culture and the impact its enervation has had on the world at large.  Reading that and watching the election campaigns is a strange thing.

One of Llosa’s main themes here is that we have demoted “high” culture through a process of democratization of self-brutalization via social media and a mistaken acceptance of the idea that everyone’s opinion carries equal weight.  That we no longer value wisdom, quality, or know how to appreciate it as distinct from middle or lowbrow culture, so-called “popular” culture.

There’s something to this, certainly, but I hesitate to call it a death.  A tumultuous sorting maybe. Because side by side, cheek by jowl, as it were, with undeniable banality, dross, and effluence that passes for æsthetic content—no, that’s not quite fair, is it? Garbage has an æsthetic quality, even if it can only be apprehended as a negative—that presents itself as of equal value and merit to works of genuine worth, we do see works of superior quality, intent, and impact. In fact, work being done now in all the arts offers examples equal to if not better than any masterpiece of the past.  Even television, that vast wasteland, offers amazing work. If one looks for it one may find music, painting, photography, sculpture, literature both fictive and nonfiction, drama both on stage and recorded, that compares with the finest humanity has ever offered.

And with it, audiences.  You might question their level of appreciation, but that has two aspects which negate the attempt.  Firstly, how do you gauge “appreciation?” How can anyone determine the extent of comprehension, of response, of, finally, “takeaway” experienced by another human being?  You can’t really, certainly not in any way that might be revealed in a poll or a survey.  Certainly not as some prognostic assessment about the Culture.  Secondly, those creating these works have not come from another planet.  They emerge from among us.  We, in some way, “produce” them.  They are us, they are not alien, so if in fact what they do cannot be understood or appreciated or even recognized, how then do they appear? The fact is, they have an audience.  And not, judging by the availability and public knowledge of the work, small, dying audiences.

Which means we are, irritatingly, forced to take on faith that the culture, whatever we might mean by that, is not dying.  Transforming, sure, as culture always does.  Isolation is harder to achieve, if in fact it is even desirable.  We live in each others’ living rooms.  At best, Llosa’s fears—which may be too strong a word—may have more to do with nostalgia than actual diagnosis.

But then there is this huge, gawping thing in our midst, this political circus, and it might be reasonable to wonder how much we may have lost in terms of “culture” that something like Trump can aspire as successfully as he has to the presidency.  It is perhaps a handicap for many that the answers may be culture-based and insulting to a large group of people.  But I think, for myself at least, that there is nothing wrong with affirming that some things are better than others and that all aspects of culture are not equal.  When you see placards with gross misspellings and bad diction in service to poor logic and spiteful ignorance, it offends and perhaps causes one to hold back rather than indulge in the obvious assessments.  But like the doofus who shows up at a formal-attire wedding in plaid shorts and tennis shoes with an emblazoned t-shirt and a product-placement ball cap, the initial conclusion may not be wrong.

Suggestions have been made that the GOP might intervene and force Trump to step down or even do something with the rules to make him ineligible.  Hiding the blemish won’t cure it.  Trump’s success, if not he himself, is an expression of a popular sentiment, an æsthetic, if you will, that has embraced the thing Llosa is, in part, talking about.  He has brought them together, the subliterates, the banal, the velvet-paintings-of-Elvis crowd, those whose most trenchant popular icon should be Archie Bunker.

And they voted for him.  Should the GOP try to remove Trump, understandable as the impulse may be, it will be a repudiation of the very people they have relied on and nurtured and groomed for over three decades.  They have been largely unseen all this time because they have been salted throughout the larger culture, an aberration perhaps.  But Trump has caused them to step forward as a group.  We, the rest of us, can see them now.  They’ve been there all along, but we have rarely encountered them in numbers so large we could not pretend they weren’t just fringe kooks, loonies, or family embarrassments.

Forgive my crudeness, but I’m  engaging this problem the way they do.  Name-calling, pigeon-holing,  because it makes the unknown manageable.  It is a practice we rightly abhor but is the obverse of recognizing a form of self-selection and commitment to a set of protocols.  If it makes us uncomfortable to be confronted with a reality that has grown up in our midst, then perhaps we share some of the responsibility.  We have as a culture been driven more by the shiny, the thalamic and hippocampic  reactiveness that draws us to the bright thing at the expense, sometimes, of the good thing.

But then, what do you do with someone who has decided that truth and beauty are the same as a red dot sale at WalMart?

It’s perhaps one reason WalMart has been so successful.

Trump, finally, has caused nothing.  He is playing to an audience.  What he says is less important than the fact that there are people who like it.  When he is long gone from the political stage, they will remain.

It’s a cultural problem.

Distractions

I really have too much else to do to write the long piece I’d like to about current events, so I will post a new image.  I spent too much time this morning learning some new tricks on Photoshop.  This picture will be in the Archon art show this October and I may tweak it a bit  ‘tween now and then.

I am not a quiet or gentle learner.  I hate looking up how-to videos, watching them closely, jotting down notes of how to get from A to G, press this button, slide this over there, etc, and then going to my own computer and finding most of those buttons simply NOT THERE!  Eventually I get where I need to, but it is neither pleasant or quiet.

Still, when I get results like this, it makes all the angst seem worthwhile.

Moonrise Over Dome stylized

Kansas City

I hadn’t intended going to MidAmericon II, in spite of it being just on the other side of my own home state, but things change and it seems I will be there.  So below is my schedule, if any of you are attending and have an inclination to come see me.  I am having an autographing session, please note.  My most recent book is Gravity Box a collection of short fiction of which I am very proud.  Snag a copy and come by and make my day.

Without further what have you…

Generation Starships

Friday 18:00 – 19:00, 2502B (Kansas City Convention Center)

What would life be like for those living on a Generation Spaceship? From water storage and greenhouses to dealing with the reprecussions of being always indoors, panellists will discuss the scientific, sociological and psychological aspects of building and living on a Generation Spaceship.
Gregory Benford, Ms Pat Cadigan, Jerry Pournelle, Brenda Cooper (M), Mark W. Tiedemann

 

Balancing the Creative Life

Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)

Finding balance is a trick nowadays. How do you keep a day job, AND read AND go to galleries AND network AND absorb enough of the world to keep your brain well fed inspired and energized enough to create? Panelists discuss what keeps them going and engaged in their work and life.

Kelly Robson, Joelle Presby, Mark W. Tiedemann, James Van Pelt (M), Deirdre Murphy

 

Autographing: Dana Cameron, Adam-Troy Castro, Todd McCaffrey, Alan Smale, Mark Tiedemann

Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)

Dana Cameron, Todd McCaffrey, Alan Smale, Mark W. Tiedemann, Adam-Troy Castro

 

Human Culture on Remote Space Settlements

Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, 3501F (Kansas City Convention Center)

Before modern communications, isolated communities on Earth invented new words, with vowel or consonant shifts, and new jargon. Moral standards evolved. In space colonies, departures might be greater.  Human genetic engineering, for instance, could be a new art form or it is taken for granted. Or, as also has happened with some transplanted Earth cultures, might colonies become more conservative than their home worlds?

Dr. Mary A. Turzillo Ph.D., Tom Ashwell, G. David Nordley, Dr. Charles Gannon (M), Mark W. Tiedemann

A Moment of Stepping Back and Considering Something Else

Politics is generally like that old joke about wrasslin’ pigs.  More, it’s like walking into the middle of a bar fight and asking “Who started this?” and expecting a useful answer.  One may be available, but not from the participants.  At least, not likely.

The only viable stance to take is to ask yourself, What is it you hope to gain from who you back?  And then, how likely is it you’ll get it from the one you’re backing?  Detailed analysis of outcomes are problematic while the punches and beer bottles are being thrown. Conclusions from that must wait till after the fight is over and the cleaning up begins.  They will be useful, just not right now.

With that in mind, I have a lot of other things to do this week, so I’m stepping back and doing them.  I leave you therefore with a new photograph.  Or rather an old photograph redone in my new photoshop, etc etc, for something (one hopes) more on the noncontroversial side of life.

Redwood Nook, 2013 Redwood Paradise, 2013Okay, two images.  I lied.  Enjoy ’em anyway.

On History and Loyalty

My mother said something to me once that has informed much of my political thinking in the years since.  Back when Ollie North was being held up as some kind of hero.  “No one wants to tell the truth more than I do” North who worked diligently on Reagan’s behalf to deceive Congress and deliver weapons into the hands of people who used them on schools and clinics.  It baffled me that people could find his actions not only defensible but somehow heroic and honorable.  When I opined that in my opinion he should be court-martialed and shot for treason, they looked at me as if I’d just stepped out of flying saucer and didn’t understand.  “He violated his oath as an officer.”  He made an oath to defend the Constitution.  What he did broke that oath.

A lot of people didn’t understand me.  I certainly didn’t understand them.  And then my mother pointed out, very simply, “Most people can’t be loyal to an idea, they can only be loyal to a person.  Even very smart people.”

Meaning, Ollie was loyal to Reagan and anything else didn’t matter nearly as much. He didn’t have the capacity to see beyond that, to the importance of abstracts—or law.

I’m looking at the Bernie or Bust folks and wondering if some version of that isn’t at work.  They have invested in a man and a movement.  Interestingly, though the man has moved on—like an intelligent, well-informed human being who understands there is more at stake than his success or failure—many of his followers can’t.  It would seem on the face of it that they have been captured by the inverse of my mother’s dictum and have pledged their loyalty to an idea rather than a person, but I don’t think so.

Because Sanders is still championing an idea, one they seem not to get.  That the system must be allowed to work and that right now letting it do so in order to achieve the kind of results that will keep the country from further fragment and possibly see its dissolution it is time to act pragmatically and reasonably.  That the problems we face today are from the system not working and for a very simple reason—people don’t vote.  Sometimes they can’t and that needs to be addressed, but often they just won’t, for any number of reasons.  (I remind people all the time that the Tea Party gained control of Congress based only on around 21 to 23% of the eligible voting public, because the people who might have kept them out stayed home.)  That his revolution is one to make the system work as it should—not destroy it in order to erect a new one.  And with that in mind,  in another four years, you’ll all get another shot.  Or eight.  That’s the way it works.  Bernie’s idea is not that the system has failed but that it has been ignored and poorly used—and we let it happen. But endangering that system right now by abetting the election of a walking clusterfuck could do far more harm, possibly permanent damage that might see that opportunity to bring this to the stage again die.

The other side of the coin is the sheer hatred of Hillary Clinton.  So it would seem that the obstinate, short-term loyalty being shown is still about a person.

A person who is being abstracted out of reality and turned into a symbol while the walking talking breathing man is in the process of being relegated to the bin of Also Ran and treated like an aging uncle who has apparently lost touch with what’s important.

You want the revolution to work, go home and start electing city council members, state senators, mayors.  Start with county commissioners, sheriffs, D.A.s, circuit attorneys, and local judges.  We have become addicted to the notion that for something like this to work it must be top down, even as we’ve been complaining that top down (trickledown) policies are anti-democratic and elitist.  Bernie started something.  It can be brought to fruition through the hard, unglamorous work of electing local representatives and building it from the ground up.

But not if you break the system by facilitating the election of Judge Dredd.

In the meantime, pay attention.  History has just been made.  I know, I know, you don’t trust Hillary.  Has it occurred to you that much of your distrust is a result of lies fed you by the very people you are presumably trying to work against by championing Bernie’s revolution?

That aside, frankly, you don’t have to trust Hillary.  She will be, as all presidents are, an employee.  A public employee.  And you have the power to regulate her job performance through your representative in Congress—if you get out there and elect the ones you wanted.  She will still have to work with Congress, you know, and when the system works as it can—and as it should—she can only do what she is allowed to do by virtue of that system.

In the meantime, an Idea has been made real.  A woman is a viable candidate for president.  This is a symbolic moment and in all honesty Hillary was going to be that candidate because to date she’s the only one who has been able to marshal the necessary forces to make it real.  The next one will be easier, but there has to be a first, and Jill Stein was never going to be her.

You’ve got four or eight years to build the foundation for the next candidate, but that won’t happen if you go home in a petulant snit and piss and moan about how you were betrayed and then cast a protest vote that gets Sauron elected. Classic cutting your head off to spite your neck.

So I ask you, what is it you think Hillary might do that would be so bad it would justify the stupidity of assisting Trump into office?

A rhetorical question.  It is just possible she’s not the terror you’ve been led to believe she is.

All the rest is politics.

An Open Letter To Eric Greitens

Dear Mr. Greitens,

This morning, at the gym, I got on the treadmill, switched on the tv monitor, plugged in my headphones, just in time to catch one your campaign ads.  It prompted me to write, to ask a couple of questions.  Clarification seems in order.

Several years ago you founded the Mission Continues as a community activist agency and I was very impressed. I thought, this guy has a lot going, and when rumors began to circulate that you might run for governor, I thought here’s a Republican I could vote for.  I know there are Republicans worth my vote, they just seem overwhelmed by those who aren’t. You, I thought at the time, were an exception.

Then I saw your ad.

Not the first one, the one you pulled, on the shooting range.  An ill-conceived mistake, taken away.  Not a message appropriate to the people served by Mission Continues.  No, not that one.  The one in which you are looking at the camera, dark background, and earnestly telling us your positions.

I was very disappointed.

You preface your claim to be “Pro-life, pro-gun” but declaring your belief that Obama is the  worst president ever.  Or at least in your lifetime.  Granted that you’re only 42, which means your first opportunity to vote for a president would have been Bill Clinton, so as an active participant you don’t have much to choose from—three presidents.  But as someone aspiring to office I would expect you to have a better grasp of history than such a statement shows.

Worst president ever?  By what metric?

I hear that from people who hate Obama.  I look at them and while I can understand the emotionalism I cannot understand on what basis they make that claim.  Granted, most of them are not running for office.  They have not seen much of the world.  They do not have the experiences you have.  Most of them do not have a degree from Oxford nor have had your first-class education from Parkway to UMSL.  History is a foreign language to most Americans, but I expect people who aspire to high office to know better.

I have yet to hear one thing that merits such an assessment about Obama.

Now, there are many things you might have said which would not have sparked my reaction.  Had you said you think he is a middling or even mediocre president, I might quibble, but fair enough.  It’s a complex office, context matters, and mileage varies.  I might disagree (I do) but I can respect an assessment like that.  It indicates a degree of thought went into it.  However, a blanket “worst ever” is nothing but political bombast irrespective of reality.

It is not what I expected from you.

So I repeat: by what metric?  Because based on the metrics Republicans usually use to claim success for their own, Obama is a raging success.

Therein lies the problem.  If I thought Republicans were critical of the situation that boasts an unemployment rate that disregards those chronically unemployed who simply have fallen off the roles, then I might listen.  If I thought Republicans were critical of trade deals that injured American job prospects even though the stock market shows the economy booming, I might listen.  We could go on, but you see my point.  The fact is, Republicans—at least those in office—are not critical of those things and if under the same circumstances one of them were in the White House with these numbers, they would be hailing that president as the second coming of Lincoln.  So it has nothing to do with what Obama has done.  By their own metrics, he should be lauded.

But he’s the wrong man for that, isn’t he?  For a number of reasons.

That kind of cheap denigration should be beneath you.

I repeat, by what metric?  Explain to me what he has done that has been so terrible that you would take the opportunity to craft an ad for your campaign that leads with that cheap shot?

And then I have to ask, compared to who?

Because if we’re going to dig into the box of history, we can come up with several far worse, including but not limited to Obama’s predecessor.

Memories are short.  Politicians rely on that.  People forget.

But let me move on.  Your next claim.  “Pro-life, Pro-gun.”  Do you have any idea how that sounds to reasonable people?  It is oxymoronic, a logical inconsistency.  You are pro-life in support of the personal means to take life.

I know that’s not what you meant, not exactly.  You’re playing to an audience.  People who don’t like abortion and think someone is about to take their guns away, which they need to protect themselves from people hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  Because in spite of what we see on television and on Facebook and hear from the pulpits of jingoistic opportunists, crime is on a downturn in this country.  Things have gotten better over the last few decades.  So feeding the myth that everyone needs their firearm because the crazed bad guys are coming through their doors any minute is just irresponsible nonsense.  This is the politics of fear and completely inconsistent with the Greitens of Mission Continues.

As for the pro-life part, that is pure emotionalism wrapped up in a bundle of distracting falsehood.  You want to cut back abortions, then you do something to provide women with the means to manage their own fertility.  Birth control, sex education, and empowerment.  We have the proof that these are things that work.  It is not guesswork, not wishful thinking.  Make birth control available, provide for comprehensive sex education at an early age, stop shaming people for their private lives, unwanted pregnancy goes down.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is the exact opposite of policies that work.

This is not opinion.  We have seen it work.  More, we have seen the abysmal, tragic failure of so-called Abstinence Only education.

Nothing in your c.v. to date would have suggested to me that taking a principled stand based on fact and reality would bother you.  Was I wrong?

As to the gun stuff.  Please.  Reasonable measures to keep weapons from easy access to people who clearly should not have them would not, in any sane world, constitute an infringement on anyone’s rights.

But a lot of people are having their rights infringed by the thoughtless support of public policies that see birth control as somehow worse than murder or suicide.

So what happened?  Did someone talk to you and explain that if you wanted to be governor you would have to toe the party line?  Did someone point out that if you took reasonable stands on these things, the party would not back you?  Did someone show you how all this requires money and those who have it don’t like politicians who think for themselves?  Was there such a conversation?

Because I am very disappointed.  The GOP has been pushing the same set of policies now since Reagan inaugurated the age of fear-based religious-driven right-wing powermongering and we have seen, repeatedly, how they do not work.  Every time the GOP gets its hands on enough power and authority, the average person suffers.  Wages go down because of the anti-union assaults.  Teen pregnancy goes up because money dries up for education and clinics.  Jobs vanish because deals are brokered with WalMarts and their ilk.  Tax revenues disappear and infrastructure decays.

Oh, sure, these things happen under Democrats, too.  But we just see them as bad at their jobs and eventually vote them out.  Republicans seem to have embraced this stuff as if it had been handed down on tablets from the mountain.

Even as strategy, this makes no sense.  You are appealing to a shrinking demographic.  A frightened, shrinking demographic that responds to the charge that our president is the worst ever based on nothing but confirmation bias.

It’s a cheap strategy.  I would have thought you above that kind of thing.

I guess not.

Yours truly,

 

The Campaign

Hillary Kaine.

Trump Pence.

Part of me—a large part—sees this as a no-brainer.  Who, with any claim to sense or logic, would vote for Donald Trump?

But voting is as much, often more, emotional than rational, so one cannot depend on that for preferred outcomes. A lot of people are emotionally committed to Trump. Their reasons are, from what I have seen and heard, based on nothing tangible about Trump.  It is all about their own discontent with things-as-they-are.

The problem is—for all of us—that such assessments are based on what we see.  And a lot of what we see is scary.  It is extremely difficult to take comfort from logical conclusions based on impersonal data when we are deluged with images of pain, death, and imminent catastrophe.  Humans are visually-oriented.  We panic.  If someone with presumed credibility and/or authority goes “Boo!” there is a small, slippery, worm-like core of our inner Id that vibrates in terror and drives our emotional responses.

Trump has been saying “Boo!” very well and he is aided by the news cycle that thrives on ratings bumps from mass shootings, political insanity, scandal, and predictions of collapse from around the world.  Saying to yourself, “Now, calm down, this is not a true picture,” is very difficult in the face of events like the Dallas shootings, predictions of lost jobs, the Munich massacre, the continuing struggle in the Middle East.

Even though what we see is based on reality, the conclusions to be drawn are difficult with the lack of detail and the conflicting arguments over what these things mean.

“Why don’t our leaders do something!

It does little to mollify that worm to be told “They are, they are, you just don’t see everything that’s going on.”

And of course sometimes they aren’t, at least not what we think they should be doing.

Because it is all those unseen machinations which you know are going on that serve to undermine your faith.  Because we have been told for decades now that those “back room” goings-on are to our detriment.  Powerful people doing things out of sight of the public for their own ends.  Nothing good can come of it.

Well, I am prey to the same misgivings.  I won’t lie.  When it seems so obvious what The Problem is, the demand to know why nothing seems to be happening to solve it is perfectly reasonable.  Patience frays.  And you know—you know—deals are being done of which you would not approve.  And clearly not all those deals work the way the people who made them intended.  That only stands to reason.

So you have to ask, “What were they thinking?”

NAFTA is held up as one of the great deals that backfired.  What were they thinking?

Well, I don’t think many of them did it with the intent to undermine the American labor force and cost us jobs.  Some did, the CEOs and business industry moguls who stood to profit, I’m sure they were looking at the way their expenditures would evolve in that new environment, but even among them I doubt it was with the kind of cynicism one might find in a Darth Vader.  They, like most of us, are as susceptible to myth as you or I.  They probably “believed” what losses occurred in one sector would be made up for in another.  The great American job creation machinery would fill the gap.  As well, the immigration problem drove some of that, and we all know that the major driving force in most of that immigration had to do with the lopsided economies of Mexico and the United States.  All those people were coming here because at home they could not find work and what work they could find did not pay enough.  NAFTA might have brought the economy of Mexico up to as viable level to provide jobs at home and thus curtail the flow of illegal immigration.

I don’t think anyone expected the drug war to reach the heights it did.

But even without that, the machine logic of cost-benefit analysis ultimately swept away any “higher purpose” behind NAFTA and it became what it is, a horrible construct that has gutted a lot of American industry.  To my mind, the crime was not that it failed but that in the face of that failure it wasn’t scrapped.

That almost never happens, though.  Does it?  We put these huge and complex things into place and, oh my, they don’t work the way we thought they would.  But do we ever go back and say, “Enough, shut it down, this won’t work.”  Rarely.  Very rarely.  Because of their complexity, because of the ancillary deals made to put them in place to begin with, because of the evolving dependencies they create, they become Rube-Goldberg structures impossible to undo without bringing destruction down upon even more people.  So they have to be modified, amended, something over here has to change before we change this thing over there, otherwise…

Otherwise chaos.

Whether we like it or not—and for the most part we don’t—this is how the world works.  It is all a huge, complicated Rube-Goldberg Thing that works inefficiently but is kept in place because otherwise chaos follows.

Trump is telling people he can tear it all down and we can start over—without killing anyone.

Or at least without killing anyone here.  On some days he talks blithely about bombing the shit out of people who are not here.

Either way, he is telling people that huge, vast machine can be removed and things will get better.

It is flat out untrue.

Those mechanisms have evolved over time to do one basic thing—prevent chaos.

Granted, chaos happens anyway.  Here and there, now and then, in relatively small pockets and doses.  Because the mechanism changes—on its own or by intent—and that is one of the consequences.

Ronald Reagan gutted our national healthcare system which provided succor to the mentally ill.  The consequence of that single act was to shut down facilities that had been caring for those suffering a variety of mental illnesses.  They ended up on the street.  We have the homeless problem today as a direct result.  People died.  He broke a system and probably, naively, expected the slack to be taken up by private institutions, and instead people died.  Did he intend that?  Certainly not.  But he believed in certain myths and falsehoods and acted without regard to realities.  He thought he was doing something correct, if not necessarily  good.

So when Trump promises to undo, repeal, destroy, etc in order to make the impatient and the poorly-informed and the uncomfortable vote for him, he is lying about it being a good thing.  People will die.  Chaos will follow.

He’s lying willfully, because he understands “deals.”  He knows about unintended consequences and he knows the pernicious tenacity of such constructs.  He knows very well that if he does half of what he’s promised you and I will be in a world of hurt.*

Which brings me to Hillary.

I’ve been listening for years as people on the Right—and even in her own party—have vilified her.  No doubt, some of the complaints have bases in fact.  She is a technocrat.  She understands those Rube-Goldberg systems of which I spoke.  And for better or worse, she seems to understand that they must be managed.  Destroying them leads down rabbit holes from which escape may be problematic at best.  So she has spent her career engaged in the unglamorous, often unexamined job of maintaining systems which many regard as horrible.  Here and there, from time to time, change can be worked on them, but never quickly, never in sweeping gestures, and rarely in terms that are easily explicable to those determined to not understand.

This is one of the reasons we see president-elects, almost always, change at least the priorities of their promised policies upon taking office.  The difference between desire and the achievable, between the ideal and the possible.  Sometimes that difference is not so great that the perceived “abandonment” of principle is very obvious.  Sometimes it is.  But it is, I believe, the responsible acceptance of the realities that creates the discontent for a president who seems to back off from campaign promises.  You cannot just displace or destroy what you don’t like—unless you’re willing to see people die.  Change has to come slowly.

It is the logic of our interconnectedness.

I believe Hillary Clinton understands this.  Probably better than most.  During the primary season, comparisons showed consistently that she and Sanders were mere degrees apart in terms of policy.  Bernie was, in his own way, promising what Trump is promising—tear it all down and put up something that “works.”  Hillary is more cautious.

I’m not going to rehearse her presumed “crimes” here.  As I’ve said before, anyone who has moved in the circles she has for as long as she has will have made deals and done things that can easily be construed as criminal, depending on how they’re spun.  The fact remains that the Republicans have spent millions and millions to find something that would put her out of the running if not in jail and have flat out failed.  Hillary’s reputation as untrustworthy is perfectly understandable, because we go to that simplistic metric at all levels—the guy arrested and jailed, despite the Constitution, is always presumed guilty, otherwise why would he have been arrested and accused?  Whether we like it or not, that’s just where we go.  Hillary has been accused and accused and accused and found not guilty so many times that now, even if she did do something wrong, likely the accusation would have no greater force than all the false ones.  But it has backfired by proving her to be one of the more honest candidates.  Of course, those who already don’t like her won’t ever believe that.

No matter.

Her choice of vice presidential running mate has caused further consternation among those who want to see sweeping reform.  The desire was for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  Two thoughts on that.  One, I have almost never seen a presidential ticket—at least, not a successful one—with two firebrands on the same ballot.  A president doesn’t need a co-president, and frankly I would like to see a return to the days before Cheney in terms of the personality of VPs.  Elizabeth Warren or Sanders both would be constant critics and because of their reputations and status it would be impossible for them not be in the limelight.  Someone like Kaine is a smart choice.

But the other thing about both of them is their power in the Senate.  I want them both there.  We need a congressional overhaul and you don’t make positive change by sidelining your best people.  I would have been disappointed had Hillary picked either of them.  It would not have bode well for the Senate in the long run and would have gained Hillary only short term benefit.  As I said, she understands how these systems work and this was a clear demonstration of that savvy.

To all the Bernie fans who claim they won’t vote for her.  Don’t shoot the rest of us in the foot.  Bernie needs to be in the Senate where he can be both effective critic and strong ally for a president who will be inclined to work with him.  Refusal to support Hillary this time around is petulance on par with Trump’s die-hard acolytes.  Think long term.  The system needs change, but you don’t do that by wrecking it first.  I know you don’t like Hillary, but so what?  It may well be that she’s your best hope of getting some of what you want—and what we need—done.  Saddle her with the same GOP congress, minus either Warren or Sanders, and that likelihood goes down.  View Sanders and Warren as the anchors of a new congress, we could see some good stuff happen.

My two bits, adjusted for inflation.

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*The Gold Standard for the idea that sweeping change can happen is FDR.  And yes, he did a LOT.  But consider—the system was already cracked and dysfunctional and nearly broken, globally, when he did that.  And then WWII happened.  The situation provided the opportunity by itself scrapping huge parts of that apparatus.  His job was less changing the mechanism as it was creating new machinery to do the job no longer being done.  We do not have that situation now and we had better hoe we don’t see such a situation.  2008 was bad but things still functioned.  As bad as it was it was still not historically on par with the Great Depression.

Unqualified

The clown car rolled into the station, the occupants decamped, and the frollicks began in earnest.  Lots of shouting, foot-stamping, and low-grade denunciations from the podium of this or that.

Trump is almost universally seen by all but the most ardent supporters as unqualified for the office of the president.  We keep hearing that, squeezed in between all the other verbiage being spewed about him. That in fact the only reason for some to vote for Hillary is because Trump is so thoroughly unqualified.

And yet, it would seem that most people who support him have a “Yeah? So?” reaction.

Consider:  that very accusation, leveled by people despised by Trump supporters, makes him all the more appealing.  For many, the very fact that he is unqualified to fill an office which they have believed filled primarily by ideologues of the “wrong” stripe for decades is a bonus.  His very unsuitability in comparison to all others is the whole point.  So hammering on the “unqualified to be president” charge is counterproductive.  You’re only reinforcing what they already know—and approve.

What Trump has successfully managed is to project as counternarrative an image of the ideal outsider. Not only is he outside the mainstream of political circles but he is outside the traditional bounds of informed citizen.  The people to which this appeals most strongly are those who no longer believe in any kind of constructive dialogue.  In their bones, they seem to believe that because they either don’t understand the system or the language of cooperative discourse, they are always shut out of any major public dialogue.  They’re tired of the ongoing discussions because, for them, nothing ever goes their way.

This is not Trump’s doing but he has tapped into it very well.  He knows his audience.  Tell them you’ll put up a gigantic wall to keep foreigners out, any attempt at examining the merits of that proposal will be met with impatience and derision. “We don’t care about your ethics or even your cost-benefit analyses, we like the idea of a wall, so stop telling me it won’t work or shouldn’t work or—more to the point—that I have no right to feel that way!”

Trump won the GOP nomination very simply, by appealing to those who are fed up trying to understand “processes” or “paradigms” or “dynamics” or the intricacies of a system they feel—often correctly—is bent on screwing them, by telling them that he will be their John Wayne and clean up the town.  Which usually means gunplay and some form of segregation.

Yes, it does come directly from the implicit “Make America White Again” which is the essential motor in his campaign car.

The reason this never works and only succeeds in making a lot of other people extremely angry is that it is a fantasy.

And Trump knows how to play this. His wife’s speech at the convention, clearly cribbed from Michele Obama, is a seriously twisted example of cultural appropriation that compares well with anything George Orwell might have come up with.  An anti-immigrant candidate’s Eastern European wife steals a speech from an educated native born black woman and represents it as a model of what the GOP should strive for.  This is done without the least hint of irony and the floor erupted with glee at the profundities they heard.  Which they had heard before and, as with just about everything else attached to Obama, rejected.  Rejected without any consideration as to content only with regard to who was saying it.

Of course, if Trump’s presumed policies actually went into effect, his wife might have trouble staying here.  He’d have to give her a special pardon.

But his base doesn’t care.  Melania will be fine, she can stay, because what they want more than anything is the power to say who fits and who doesn’t.

Hence the comparisons to Nazism.  The Green Card will become the new Yellow Star.  What’s in your wallet?

Shifting to the other side, the lukewarm support for Hillary is in some ways based on the exact same set of criteria.  Qualifications.  She may well be the most qualified candidate for president we have ever seen.  On paper, I cannot think of any presidential candidate ever who brings more preparedness to the office.

And that very thing is making a lot of people very uncomfortable.  Because America has developed, over many decades, a culture that exudes contempt for professionalism, especially in politics and especially in someone who is the wrong kind of person.

The reason Melania Trump’s plagiarism (and let me stress, I don’t for a second believe Melania did that, her speech was written for her, but someone knew exactly what they were doing) will pass through the Trump base without stirring a leaf of indignation is because Michele Obama should never have been able to make it in the first place.  She’s the “wrong” kind of person to be smart and powerful.

So, in similar fashion, is Hillary Clinton.

Now, if she were a man…

How can I suggest that?  Because the kind of subterfuge, oligarchism, and political insider creds for which she is being criticized is shared by just about any career politician who has moved for any length of time at those levels of power.  Dig deep enough, you can find exactly the kinds of shenanigans of which Hillary is suspected, but in the main none of it ever gets before a Senate committee, because in the main all of them are men and the overwhelming majority are white.  It only becomes actionable when the status quo is threatened, and here the threat is to the gender bias that should have gone away in the Seventies.

At it’s simplest, the choice is this: we have a candidate who will effectively execute the office of president and run the country; and we have a candidate who will run the country into the ground.  The funny thing is, both of them are in equal measure cheered and reviled over the exact same question of qualifications.  One is amply qualified, the other is profoundly unqualified.

As for the direction of the country, I suggest that the important elections this year are not for the presidency.  If Hillary wins—and I suspect she will—she will be overseeing a political landscape that will either be in chaos or will be in the early stages of serious reform.  Her job will be to keep it together in either case.  Because it will be in congress that the real changes need to be made.  If we send the same congress back, Hillary will simply be there to be blamed for the same stagnant nonsense Obama has been putting up with.  If, however, we see record voter turnout and a massive overhaul in the Senate and the House, then a great deal of repair work will start, and that will be messy in a different way.  I’d still rather see Hillary there that Trump.

One thing, though, that has to change—our indifference to education and our suspicion of ability.

Oh, one other thing—we need to vote.

A Couple of Scenes From Dallas, On the Occasion of Our Recent Visit

I may talk about the tragedy later.  I had a couple of conversations, saw a few things, felt a great deal, but I need to process it.  In the meantime, since we went there for something entirely joyful, let me stick with that for now.

Daniel Kost is Donna’s nephew, the youngest of two brothers.  He’s an engineer, an artist, a good guy and a fine human.  He’s been living in Dallas practically since he got his degree, so we don’t get to see him much.  So when it transpired that he was getting married, naturally we had to attend.

The ceremony, though modified because of a sudden rainstorm, was beautiful.

Here they are, Dan and Ana:

Dan & Ana dance, 2016 Oh, and yes, Dan is tall. Six eleven and a skosh.  Which makes Ana…well, taller than me.

The wedding was held in the Texas Discovery Gardens, which boasts a marvelous butterfly house.  Of course I had to take a walk through it, and…

Butterfly, Dallas, 2016No, it’s not the only picture I shot, but give me time.  (I have no idea what kind of winged beauty that is, but…)

Earlier in the day, we went to the Dallas Museum of Art, which is in (wait for it!) the Art District.  They had an Irving Penn retrospective on.  I’d never seen any of Penn’s work “in the flesh” before and it did not disappoint.  While going through it, we came on a class. The instructor was giving the kids a primer in photography and she was very good.  “When was the last time you took a picture? What did you take it with?” (Unsurprisingly, most of them had taken one with their phones.) She then showed them a range of different cameras.

Class at Museum, Dallas 2016The day after we arrived in Dallas, which was Thursday evening, we took a trip to Garland and the Stetson outlet store.  So I am newly be-hatted as well.

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Anyway, to end with where I began, another photograph of the newly-wed couple.  Clearly they seem merely tolerant of each other and who knows how long this will last.

Dan & Ana, July 2016