Requiescat in pace

Yesterday the world lost a good man, a woman lost her partner, a young man lost his father, and Dawnise and I – and many others – lost a friend. Rest in peace, Mike Dunkle – you will be remembered and you will be missed.

To absent friends. Some across the ocean, and some across a gulf far more vast.

Tell the important people the important things. Tomorrow is a terrible time to do anything.

Fragile Mores

mores/ˈmɔːreɪz,ˈmɔːriːz /noun plural noun: mores

  1. the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a society or community.

I’ve been thinking about the state of our republic over the past couple weeks – both due to current events and because I’ve recently finished reading Ratf**ked [1] and Dark Money [2].

Former President Obama described America as “no fragile thing” in his farewell address. America may not be fragile, but I think the particular variant of democracy we’ve grown over the past few hundred years is. I believe our democracy is a fragile thing. And I would argue that our elected leaders over the past few decades – at multiple levels – have failed to recognize that fragility.

Or maybe they recognize it and they just don’t care.

Western democracies have inoculated themselves against overt tyranny and anarchy for the past few hundred years using different vaccines in different places. In America the serum has been a tincture of forward thinking by the framers, no small amount of luck, and perhaps most importantly a willingness on all sides to play by the rules.

Not just a willingness to play by the written rules – as embodied in the Constitution, by federal and state laws, and our body of jurisprudence – but by a set of unspoken and sometimes more restrictive set of mores [3].

The written rules, for example, dictate that various branches of our government will submit to oversight from the others. It’s only the mores that enjoin any of those branches from disparaging or undermining the legitimacy of the other branches.

The written rules dictate that a president “shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased (sic) nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

The mores dictate that the president will remove the specter of conflict of interest by placing his (or, with any luck, eventually her) assets in a blind trust, and by not using their bully pulpit to king-make in a purportedly free market.

In recent years [4] this willingness to be bound by tradition has fallen away, and our political discourse – and the country – have suffered for it. At this point the two sides don’t just disagree on policy – a form of disagreement I think makes the county better through constructive argument in the long run – but have effectively lost the common ground from which to hold a civil and constructive conversation.

Both sides seem to be playing a game of total war – encouraged by our winner take all system – with no obvious concern for long term stability or viability. No self-awareness that when tides turn – and in the long run they always do – whatever precedent one side sets the other side may choose to adopt.

More than just being depressing, I think it’s inherently short-sited and dangerous. There’s a treacherously short path between insulting entire ethnic classes of people and deciding they aren’t even people.

Just the briefest of moments between depriving a group of their constitutional protections and transforming our government into some new thing.

A short, slippery slope from disparaging judges to ignoring the rule of law…

And right now the ground feels awfully glassy under my feet.





Differences of Opinion

The other day, I asked my circle of friends if a Trump supporter was willing to answer “a carefully worded” question with the commitment that I wouldn’t attack the answer or the person. I’m posting my question and the response here, with the authors approval.

While thinking about the question to ask, I decided to offer something of a framework that – if followed – I hoped would be useful for me to understand where we diverged in opinion. This isn’t intended as a call for argument or rebuttal of my or his position. This is intended as a window into someone whom I consider intelligent and thoughtful, despite us routinely falling on opposite sides of the political fence. [Edit: formatting of response.]

Thanks for offering to answer. We’ve known each other for a long time, and while for much of that time it’s been clear we have different political positions I’ve always found you to be thoughtful and reasoned in your opinions. It seems unfair to ask a short question and expect a deep answer, it also seems difficult to ask the question without offering some context for how I’ll evaluate the answer.

I’m an independent voter – I’ve never been registered with either the Republican or Democratic party. I take steps to avoid living in a news bubble – seeking sources inside and outside the US and attempting to understand their political leanings. I favor small government and believe that government has no business dictating details of my – or anyone else’s – private lives, but believe that government does have a critical role in regulating financial markets and corporate behavior.

I support a woman’s right to reproductive choice. I support equal recognition under the law for same sex unions. The word “marriage” is the right word, in my opinion, because it’s ensconced so many places in law.

I believe the preponderance of evidence supports the idea that human behavior has an affect on the environment and ecosystem, and even if that weren’t so, behaving as if it does is the safe long term strategy. I believe the scientific method of inquiry is the most effective method we have for understanding and solving problems.

I believe words matter – they shape and affect our thoughts and influence our actions. I’m highly dissatisfied with the state of the federal government. I do not believe that putting rank amateurs in charge of the government of arguably the most powerful country in the west will make things better, for Americans or the global community. I believe that governance, like any other complex skill, benefits from experience but that we’ve built a system so ripe for abuse that it’s hard for many people to even imagine how to begin fixing it.

I did not support HRC. I thought she was poor at connecting with people in her speeches, poor at explaining the benefits of her proposed policies, and it was hard to believe she was the best candidate the Democrats could have forwarded.

I do not believe HRC is the corrupt liar that one side spends so much time painting her as. Given the number of times she’s been actively investigated and nothing actionable found I must conclude that either: her accusers are consistently incompetent, she’s a James Bond-esque super villain, or there’s been precious little there to warrant the persecution. Occam’s razor suggests the last.

I didn’t support Sanders. To me Sanders and Trump are in some sense flip sides of a coin. Where Trump is a populist nationalist Sanders is a populist socialist – they both rile up their respective bases with impossible vague promises.

I actively opposed Trump. He has no experience governing and did not lucidly describe any policy positions that I could support. As a businessman he’s an accidental success who incorrectly attributes his success to skill. In both his business and in his private dealings I see ample evidence that he treats those he has power over badly, and as an orator he panders to fear and division and gives people permission and encouragement to act out their baser violent instincts.

He seems different than any other presidential candidate in my lifetime. I disagree with him not only on matters of policy – which I’ve disagreed with every president in my adult life – but also about what it means to be a decent human and member of society. I can’t find a way to separate support for his policies (which he never actually enumerated or explained) with support for his behavior, which I found reprehensible. I believe his primary interest in the presidency is to enrich himself and his family and don’t believe he cares about bettering the lives of the nearly 320 million people he’s going to lead, except by happy accident.

So with all that in mind, the question: What encouraged and enabled you to overlook Trump’s lack of experience and his repeated demonstrations of xenophobia, misogyny, racial and cultural bias, his tacit approval of intolerance and violence as a means to settle debate, and his outright fabrications and conclude he was the best candidate for the office of the president?

I got this answer:

I’ll try and give you some context as to my worldview and how I’ll answer your question. If you wish to post my answer on Facebook, go right ahead. I am a registered Republican. I do not agree with everything in the party platform – in fact, I lean more towards Libertarian, but many of their ideals are close enough to Republican ideals. I have voted for Democrats in the past and have not ruled out doing so in the future. Libertarians, unfortunately, tend to run idiots for office instead of reasonable, articulate folks.

I, too, try to avoid living in a bubble. People in my line of work tend to be quite conservative, and it is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking alike with everyone around you. I read and view articles from a variety of sources and run it through the filter of, “What is the slant of the author/news organization?”

I have a deep distrust of “mainstream media” due to their nearly universal bias against conservatives and their desire to tell a story rather than seek the truth. Another part of me was quite happy to see the mainstream media and talking heads go into full freak-out mode as the election got closer. Their bias and antipathy towards Trump turned more people off to the media than they turned off people to Trump.

As a Republi-tarian, I also favor limited government and the idea that freedom, even if dangerous to self, is better than a nanny-state that tells you how to live every facet of your life. Gun control laws, the war on drugs, etc. have produced more problems and have suffocated freedom. Economic meddling by the government in the name of fairness tends to break more things than it fixes.

I do believe abortion should be, as Bill Clinton put it, “safe, legal, and rare.” As a father who has raised babies and adopted children, I find the practice of abortion abhorrent, but that genie can’t be put back into the bottle. Adoption and contraception should be emphasized, and abortion should be a last resort rather than another form of birth control.

My view of same sex marriage has evolved over the years. I was against it at first for religious reasons, but the Libertarian in me recognizes that “if it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket,” I could really care less. Two guys want to get married? Eh, doesn’t affect me – have at it.

I am skeptical of the idea that man can affect the climate of our planet – solar activity has far more effect on our climate compared with anything man could produce. That is not to say that we should do nothing – mankind should have a keen interest in the preservation of the environment, and I sort of like having clean air and water. I may not always agree with how the heavy hand of government should dictate this, but I’d also rather not have to chew the air I breathe.

The scientific method works pretty well for solving a lot of problems, but not everything can fit into that box. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and I also believe we can learn a lot about how to solve our current problems by looking at how similar problems were dealt with in the past.

I believe words matter, but actions and deeds matter more. Fighting over nuances of meaning distracts from the fact that a problem needs to be dealt with. I’m also highly dissatisfied with the state of the federal government. It is sprawling, inefficient, and tends to throw money at problems instead of finding innovative solutions.

I differ a bit here when it comes to putting amateurs in charge of government. Some effective government leaders and presidents have come from all walks of life. Being educated, well-spoken, or well-connected doesn’t always mean that you will be a good leader. The political / administrative dichotomy exists, and while their worlds often overlap, one isn’t always better than the other. Different strokes and all that. Unfortunately, the idea of public service is a punchline for most office-holders.

I was not a fan of Trump in the primaries. He struck me as bloviating, pompous, arrogant, and at times barely coherent. I really liked Ted Cruz and hoped he would be nominated. Once Trump became the nominee (and Gary Johnson and his VP turned out to be morons) I realized that the choice would be either Trump or Hillary. While I wasn’t a fan of Trump, I absolutely could not stomach the idea of HRC as president.

Hillary has always been out for herself. Years of scandal after scandal, which she and her cronies avoided prosecution in a way which mafia dons would have been proud, absolutely turned me off to her. The email scandal and Clinton Foundation touched at the very heart of how she operates. Her intention was to operate without transparency and to find ways to shake down governments for money.

Trump connected with many people due to his desire to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. We used to be a country that built things. Now we are a service economy. There are a variety of reasons about how things got this way, and I don’t think all of Trump’s ideas will bring the economy around. One thing for sure, though, is that we can’t tax ourselves into prosperity. Trump’s foibles and his treatment of women are terrible. While his flaws are personal, HRC’s venality and paranoia would make Nixon proud.

Ultimately, I had to weigh the two candidates on this scale – who would operate in the best interests of the United States? In this regard, it was Trump hands down. Warts, ego, and all, I do believe he genuinely wants to do right by our country. Furthermore, a Republican president and Republican Congress will have several Supreme Court picks. With our freedoms hanging in the balance, I believe a conservative court will be more likely to rein in an overzealous federal government.

Lastly, Trump has indicated he will strengthen and protect the Second Amendment. He supports national concealed carry reciprocity (which makes perfect sense if you believe “full faith and credit” means what it says) and other measures which are near and dear to my heart.

Bottom line – Trump has said things that are stupid, thoughtless, and show a marked lack of respect for women. Some of the shocking and outrageous things he has said must also be viewed in the context that he has been an entertainer (and entertainers do entertaining and controversial things to self-promote) and he is not a polished, professional speaker. After looking at the context of the other criticisms (xenophobia and racism) I don’t believe that there is either smoke or fire there.

Ultimately, there were more pluses in Trump’s column than there were minuses (of which there were several). Hillary’s column was almost entirely minuses for me. The choice, to me, was clear.

Great Britain to Little England

For the last few months I’ve had a subscription to the Sunday edition of The New York Times. On Sunday when our schedule permits, I’ve enjoyed reading the paper with a cup of coffee. I often don’t make it through the whole paper on the day, but I at least scan it and mark the articles I want to read – finishing them up over the course of the week while at loose ends.

I don’t remember, specifically, what happened the week of Sunday the 19th, but for whatever reason I found the opinion section today still sitting, folded back, at a piece titled “From Great Britain to Little England.” [1] Written before the referendum vote, it was full of questions and speculation, but ended with the following:

“Isolation brings out the worst in Britain. And it never works. In the 1930s, a complacent Britain refused to help Spain fight fascism, appeased Hitler and Mussolini, and for too long turned away refugees fleeing persecution. As Czechoslovakia cried out for help, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain dismissed “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.” Will a British leader soon speak again about faraway Europe in the same tones? When Britain did admit that it belonged to Europe, after all, it was at the 11th hour. In 1940, isolation ended in a fight for survival, and complacency gave way to five years of grim determination. During those war years, the Continent was devastated and its nation-states discredited. Thanks to that harsh experience, the British after the war recognized their share of responsibility by supporting the vision of a united Europe. Must Britain learn that painful, costly lesson all over again?”

The answer, it seems, is a fairly resounding yes.

Since the vote I’ve spent a frankly unreasonable amount of time reading coverage and analysis of subsequent events, watching Parliamentary debates, and thinking about and discussing the situation with British colleagues here and friends in the UK.

For all the time I’ve spent, and the angst I’ve felt, you’d be reasonable to think I had some personal stake in the outcome.

I don’t, of course. I realized, in discussion with one of those friends, that I felt as if a friend whom I thought I’d known for decades had just acted in a way that made me realize they weren’t the person I thought they were. And left me wondering if I wanted to know the person they actually are.

Dawnise and I have traveled to the UK several times in the last twenty years. Sometimes me alone on business and sometimes together on holiday. While living in Luxembourg London was short flight away, and quickly became a comfortable and familiar bastion of spoken English. We have favorite spots, familiar routes and neighborhoods, and our friends one bedroom flat in London – a flat she was incredibly and repeatedly gracious in sharing with us – was probably the place we felt most at home outside our apartment.

We’ve traveled through Ireland, from Dublin to the Giants Causeway – the only indication you’d crossed the border betwixt countries being the two a sign indicating speed limits had changed from metric to Imperial. That border, it seems, may once again be a guarded frontier, restricting the flow of people and commerce.

We’ve spent very memorable time in Scotland – first on our own having driven our way up the island from the South, and more recently with fellow Luxembourg stationed expats on a whisky tasting tour of Speyside. I’m still reeling at the idea that the people of Scotland may find it necessary to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them to another for the past three hundred years.

Beyond all that, it’s hard not to see echo’s of America’s own political zeitgeist. Demagoguery, misinformation making fact hard to find, tempers flaring, the baser nature of scared and angry people rising to the fore. I wonder, as maybe only an American would, if somehow we’ve exported this social and political virus to the UK, or helped it grow.

Two weeks ago, London would have been high – perhaps first – on my list of places to repeat our expat experience. Now I find myself wondering if Amsterdam, or Dublin, or even Berlin might be better places, providing more access to the sorts of people and experiences we had that call us to come back. And that saddens me in a way I can’t quite put into words.


Fluctuat nec mergitur

I don’t know when it happened, but I realize at some point I fell in love with cities.

Not just a city, but the idea of cities.

Places that embody diversity, and progress. Vast collections of people that exist and function only by human ingenuity and determination. Ever evolving landscapes, thriving at the often uncomfortable boundary between conserving the past and creating the future. The most complex things humans have so far created.

Long before I ever visited Paris I knew it by reputation as one of earths great cities, and one of humanities greatest achievements. For hundreds of years Paris has exercised far reaching influence over architecture, cuisine, literature and nearly all aspects of western culture. And over that time it has weathered revolution, siege, plague, and storm.

My thoughts are with those who’ve lost loved ones in the chaos, and to the watchmen who will do their best to calm that chaos and protect the innocent.

Fluctuat nec mergitur.

Rest In Peace, Junior

It’s been a while since I’ve made the time to post anything here – not that there hasn’t been stuff going on, just that life’s been, well, life.

This afternoon, Junior left us after a rocky couple of months. His diabetes, which had been under control without insulin for a couple years, suddenly returned, along with a smorgasbord of other symptoms. This afternoon, I walked into the bathroom to find him in the midst of a violent seizure – and he never came back.

He was with us for 15 years, and ingratiated himself with even the most stalwart anti-cat people. We have lots of record of his time here – as Dawnise has pretty much always thought of cameras as existing solely to capture images of the cats.

He will be missed, and the world has within it a bit less cute. Looking out the window, I’m sure the sky looks just a bit more silvery-grey than normal…