Category Archives: Current Affairs

Bernie Sanders, Jimmy Carter, and The Press

Carter (1 of 1)Summer is for dating, fall is for mating. Tamara Keith on NPR is a reference to Bernie Sanders not being a viable candidate.

What most pisses me off this primary season, even as the Bernie Sander’s crowds get bigger, is hearing a pundit say, Of course he can’t win, or, even, get the nomination.  And the bigger the crowds, the louder they seem to say it.

As people – politicians, movie actors, athletes, even The Kardashians – move into the collective conscience, a sort of collective shorthand takes over. The press, but it is more than just the press, decide on one simple story and all the complexities are washed away. Now it is the craziness of Donald Trump, or the vague sleaziness of Hillary Clinton, it used to be the naiveté of Jimmy Carter.

My first and lasting impression of Jimmy Carter was that he is far from  naive. I first heard him talk in January of 1975, about 21 months before the 1976 Presidential election. I was driving across Nevada on my way to Sun Valley, and just after Lovelock, it started to lightly snow. I turned on the radio, hoping to get a local station with a weather report, and what I got was what I thought was a random southerner talking about US foreign policy. I kept driving and the snow kept lightly falling – heavy enough so that the countryside became magically covered and light enough so the highway was kept clear by traffic – and I kept listening. The speaker, who had been schooled in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program, was brilliant, thoughtful and knowledgeable. As I cleared  Winnemucca, still heading east, I started to lose the signal, so I pulled over and listened to the final minutes by the side of the road, heater running, anxiously hoping it wouldn’t keep snowing.  It was so bizarre – sitting in the car by the side of the road, in a snowstorm, in the middle of Nevada, listening to a talk on how to change our foreign policy – that I still remember it.  At the end, I learned that the random southerner was Jimmy Carter, the governor of Georgia, and I was smitten with him. I still am.

Part of my smitteness is that I am a sucker for southern populists. I like Huey Long – Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions of training in the professions and vocations in life; to be regulated on the capacity of children to learn, and not on the ability of parents to pay the costs. Training for life’s work to be as much universal and thorough for all walks of life as has been the training in the arts of killing – even though I know a refined and educated person shouldn’t like somebody like Huey Long. I was and am a fan of Bear Bryant – If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you. And, as might be expected, before I turned on him for Vietnam, I liked Lyndon Johnson over the Kennedys.

But I also remember that speech by Jimmy Carter because it was the most coherent speech on foreign policy that I have ever heard. Carter had been an officer aboard a nuclear submarine and he had obviously thought about foreign policy and about nuclear war with the total carnage it would bring. It seemed to me that Carter was a peacenik who had actually thought about the problem.  By the time I got back to the office a week or so later, I was telling everybody I knew that that Jimmy Carter should be our next president.

The most common reaction I got was laughter but Carter ran a brilliant, if sometimes very rough, campaign making enough converts to become president. Starting as an almost unknown outsider, a born-again Christian outsider from the deep South, Carter surprised the establishment press and I don’t think they ever forgave him for that. Today, partially because of the presses’ simplified picture of him, Carter is considered a mediocre president at best and his decency, as a human, is regarded as Jimmy Carter’s main legacy. But much of what people didn’t like in 1976 is now starting to seem like prophecy.

Even when we know better, much of what we were told and believe about the Carter presidency comes from the press that simplified a complex man. His honest and his openness – he was the first, and maybe the last, president to be interviewed in Playboy (and the first to wear jeans in the White House) – were painted as weaknesses. We want our politicians transparent, yet we want them powerful as well, and power, even in the best of circumstances, means the management of information Nathan Heller pointed out in The New Yorker, and telling the truth is not managing the information.

We are given cartoons of complex people and complex situations and all nuance is lost. Now we are told that Bernie Sanders is unelectable and, really, un-nominatable. That may be true but it may not be true and the press’ insistent dismissal is hurting Sanders by making him seem like a summer fling. That is too bad, because Sanders is a serious candidate.

 

An overheard snippet of conversation

PV Concert (1 of 1)

Last evening, we went down to the Town Center to hear and see the Lara Price Band performing, what they call, rootsie rock’n blues. There were kids running around everywhere, perfect dogs – on very loose leashes – sniffing each other, and beautiful people relaxing in the twilight. It was idyllic and, the day after a white terrorist murdered six women and three men in Charleston, it made me sad.

Looking at the people around me, the kids playing, the adults laughing, everybody relaxed and comfortable, feeling safe, I kept thinking that everybody should have this. The right to a safe, open, public space with music every once in awhile, should be a Civilization’s highest priority. What is the purpose of government if it can’t or doesn’t want to keep its citizens safe. As Americans, to feel safe in public should be our birthright.

If the state doesn’t provide safe places for everybody and anybody, what is the point of having a State?

Oh, and The Overheard Snippet? We were standing in line, waiting to order a panini from a food truck, when I overheard part of a conversation. It was just a snippet as the line momentary contracted enough to hear the couple standing behind us. He: How was your lunch with Alice? She: We had an interesting conversation about failure. About the importance of failure to learning and  growth and building character. He: Everybody fails. She: It worries me that Emily and Ryan are so afraid of failure. Then the line moved, we stepped forward out of hearing range, and my eavesdropping was over.

 

 

 

Denise McCluggage

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Photo lifted from Hemmings Daily

“There’s a great opening line in a book called The Go Between, which I often quote: The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” Denise McCluggage.

Denise McCluggage, ski-racer, racecar-driver, and writer extraordinary, died a couple of days ago at 88 and, as I sit here, I am tearing up. Both for her and for a lost world that I am a little ashamed I feel so attached to. It is hard to talk about Denise McCluggage without talking about that lost world that she embraced and defied with talent, humor, and enthusiasm. It was a world dominated by White Anglo-Saxon Men, so entitled that it seemed like the natural order of things. It was the world before Nixon lost to Kennedy, the world of the first season of Mad Men. It was also a time when few enough women wanted to be equal to men that they were not a threat and McCluggage was often the only woman in the room.

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Denise McCluggage was born in small town Kansas in 1927, became a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle in its heyday, and dirt track auto racer after graduating summa cum laude from Mills College in Oakland. She moved back east to race sports cars big time and backed into becoming a publisher. She moved to Europe to race and write about racing and, in the process, she hug out with the best drivers in the world. McCluggage never made much money but she always lived life on her terms, enthusiasticly and fully.

She was a suburb skier and an even better driver, but I remember Denise McCluggage as a sports writer before there were women sports writers. She was a great story teller and probably the best way to talk about her is to let her do the talking.

Originally, I’d ride around Europe with Phil Hill, who got a new Beetle every year. I was headquartered in Modena like most everyone else. Then I got an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which I raced, including at the Nürburgring. I don’t remember what happened to it, but I went back to bumming rides. I had gone up to the Nürburgring with Alejandro De Tomaso and Isabel Haskell, because I was sharing an O.S.C.A. there with Isabel. The car broke in practice. Henry Manney III offered me a ride to Stuttgart, where I could wait for Isabel to put my passport on the Rapido train from Modena. I had suddenly realized I’d left it in my helmet bag, which I’d stowed in the race car.

So I hung out in Stuttgart for several days, and I visited Mercedes, and then Porsche to see my friend Huschke von Hanstein. There, he had a Porsche 356 just back from a show somewhere. It had an unheard-of electric sunroof and knock-off hubs. It could not be sold in Germany, because knock-off hubs were illegal for street use. He suggested I buy it. Like every other time I bought a car, I had exactly enough money in the bank to cover it–in this case, $3,000 (1959, remember?). I never thought that now I had nothing left. There was always something else down the road. Unfortunately, I’m still like that. By the time my passport arrived, I’d bought the Porsche and was ready to head for Modena.

She was sensitive and funny. The world will miss her, I already miss her, so here is one more sample, writing about Saudi women not being able to drive:

I felt the depth of the cultural abyss one day in the south of Yugoslavia when I was doing the Liege-Sofia-Liege rally in the mid ’60s. I was driving a Ford Cortina with Anne Hall, and we’d been caught in the momentary aspic of some crowded village near the Albanian border. The population was heavily Muslim. Few women were in the crowd and those few were swathed head to toe in black. Only their eyes were visible. At one curving junction we stopped again for hand carts, bicycles and trucks to clear. A nearby post of black slowly turned and starred wide-eyed directly at me–interrupted perhaps in her usual lowered-eyes mode by the fact that she had seen a woman–driving a car.

I starred back, in stunned awareness of an odd coincidence: the shape of our windshield and the shape of the eye opening in her black covering were the same extended oval. We two women, probably having arrived on this planet at close to the same time and in much the same way–kicking, naked and wet–now looked through similar ovals on very different worlds. The brief but somehow endless moment broke. We turned back to our diverse worlds. I, the Woman Driver. She, the eyes-only mystery.

Free Will vs. Compelled

Church-2678We had Easter at Michele’s familial home the weekend after the Indiana pizzeria said they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding. Sitting around, what I like to think of as the typical American family table, we had a couple of interesting conversations about politics that spilled over to religion (or religion that spilled over to politics). We were, very roughly, evenly split between Liberals and Conservatives and the Conservatives were spit between those who had gone to church that morning and those who hadn’t.

One thing we did agree on, surprisingly, is that people should have the right to be assholes, within limits, but that governments shouldn’t. To be clear, I wouldn’t say that we completely agreed, but we did come close to agreeing that there were differences between public acts in public spaces and private acts in private spaces. We all agreed that if a store is open for business, they have to serve everybody that walks in, but we differed on how restrictive they could be in the hypothetical catering of a wedding.

That conversation drew us into a – unexpected, for me – minefield. Maybe it shouldn’t have been unexpected, because I was the primary wanderer, owing to my fascination with religion’s special privileges. It is illegal for me to take peyote because I enjoy it, but, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, I can take it if I am taking it as part of my religion. My question was Why should religion get special privileges? The only answer I got to this question was something along the lines of We are a Christian Nation, as if that would answer it. As the conversation staggered on, however, my question did get answered in a fashion.

To back up, when we are in Napa on a Sunday morning, or around a religious holiday like Christmas, Michele usually goes to church with her step-father, Jim (who was one of the church goers in the group, duh!). During the conversation, Michele’s stepfather said something, I don’t remember what, that led to Michele countering that she wasn’t raised as a Christian and wasn’t a Christian now. Jim was surprised, If you aren’t a Christian, why do you go to church with me? Michele said that she went because she enjoyed it. That was even more surprising to Jim.

Isn’t that why you go? asked Michele. No, I don’t go because I enjoy it, I go because, as a Christian, I have to go, Jim  said, laughing in a dismissive way as if that should be self-evident. In a way it was the answer that I had been looking for.

Still, not being a believer, Jim’s answer shocked me. Actually, I am a little reluctant to say Not being a believer, because I think of myself as a believer in A Divine that transcends what we know of the ordinary world. I don’t believe that science knows all the big answers and we are now only working on filling in the details, I don’t believe the world is all material and we are only a result of our DNA. I do believe that there is A Mystery, I’m just not a believer in any particular religious dogma (and I especially don’t believe that there is a personal God that cares how we act, that holds a grudge if we don’t go to church, that is interested in how we have sex or what we ate for lunch).

My life is not governed by a god telling me to live it a certain way. Not being a believer in that dogma means that I don’t get my morality from somebody’s interpretation of what God wants us to do. The church goers were pretty adamant that, without God telling us the rules or providing the moral guidelines, to say it in a little less dogmatic way, we would have no morality. Michele said that she is a Scientist and her morality is based on the scientific principle that acts have consequences. I sided with Michele and added that I liked the Buddhist Eightfold Path that includes don’t harm others and the Church goers looked at us like we must not have any moral principles at all, like maybe we were OK with serial killing.

Looking across the table, I could almost understand that somebody could believe that they weren’t homophobic, but their God is and they have no choice but to follow along. That gulf between our beliefs, between our belief structures,  seems much bigger than I had imagined.

Walking Russian Ridge, thinking about religion and violence

Russian Ridge-1
Charlie Hebdo being equally nasty to Islam and Judaism

I woke up yesterday morning to the headlines of the attack on the people behind Charlie Herbo and I have been thinking about it ever since. It seems incomprehensible to me, senseless.

It seems to me that even these deranged killers must know that what they are doing will only hurt the Muslim community in France. Maybe that was the point, as I remember, General Field Marshal Cinque of the Symbionese  Army thought their actions would get the police to over react and, thereby, getting the general community to join their side. Maybe these  deranged killers were part of a recruitment drive as Juan Cole supposes. Maybe it is just senseless violence fueled by helplessness and anger. What ever the reason, I don’t see it improving the plight of Muslims in France.

Selma is coming out this week and, as I walk along Russian Ridge watching the sunset over the pacific Pacific, I think of how powerful non-violence is.

Looking down into the mirk on a No Burn Day
Looking east, down into the mirk over the Bay, on a No Burn Day

 

January sun setting over a pacific Pacific
Looking West at the January sun setting over a pacific Pacific
The end of a warm, calm, day
The end of a warm, calm, day