Gorsuch and Such

141212181108-tsr-bash-spending-bill-drama-00010204-story-topThis might get me into trouble, but here’s my take on Gorsuch. He deserves to be confirmed. I don’t agree with his legal philosophy but, from what I know so far, he is competent, by all accounts intelligent, has regard for the rule of law, and seems like he would fit on this court. Unlike other Trump nominees (I’m talking about you, Betsy) he is a legitimate selection.

Until he is impeached, Trump has the right to pick a capable jurist for the High Court that fits with his party’s perspective, and he seems to have done that here. If you are a progressive and have a problem with it, then I hope you voted for Sec. Clinton. If you stayed away, then one price you willingly chose to pay was the difference between Garland and Gorsuch for the next 30 years, give or take. So, show up next time.

But here is where it gets interesting. The confirmation process could be surprising and encouraging, or hard, polarizing, and exhausting. When Republicans refused to consider Merrick Garland in March, 2016 they set a cynical new Senate standard: a Chief Executive will only be assured of having his (or her) Supreme Court nominee considered if his party also has control of the Senate. Less than a year later Republicans could further change the filibuster rules for Supreme Court nominees, continuing the downward slide of short-sighted, tradition-busting expediencies which simply set new precedents that the other party will eagerly use in 4 or 8 years. The Democrats could use any number of tactics of their own to obstruct or delay Gorsuch, like refusing to provide a quorum, or attempting to hold hostage other Senate activity, thereby continuing the downward slide of short-sighted, tradition-busting…(see above).

But what if Senate Democrats promised to confirm Gorsuch without Republicans having to resort to the “nuclear option”? In return Republicans agree to support certain Democratic proposals, or reject some other particularly unqualified cabinet nominee (I’m talking about you, Betsy) and replace with a more broadly acceptable and qualified choice. The Republicans get their Justice without further damage to Senate rules, the Democrats get some movement on an important issue, and Americans get a taste of good, old fashioned political compromise. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer start looking like Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan. Best of all, the process doesn’t require permission from the executive branch and it could begin to define for Republican legislators a line of independence from the White House which I expect they will desperately want by 2018.

It only works, of course, if legislators believe there is value in the rules and traditions of governance that have built up over the years. I do. Both sides would likely get excoriated by their most ardent supporters but I, for one, would send Democratic and Republican Senators a thank you for preserving the types of rules that limit partisan heavy handedness, even demagoguery.

I am not at all worried about a new conservative era on the court. I firmly believe in “the arc of the moral universe” and all that. It may take a bit longer with Gorsuch instead of Garland but we are bending toward justice, of that I’m convinced. What I do want is to see in the meantime, is useful governing traditions honored rather than partisan procedural extortions with every change in administration.

So, c’mon ladies and gentlemen of the Senate…do some horse-trading and give us a break.

Resolute in Resolutions

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2016 has shaken me, I’ll admit it. I feel alienated from people I thought I knew well, whose civic and spiritual judgement I had once counted upon but now suspect. I used to assume that my political disagreements were with individuals who quarreled with me on the tools and methods best suited to best bring about our shared vision of America. This year, for the first time, I sense that we may not actually share a common vision.

What, then, to do? How do I relate to a new political administration without seeming to normalize, or worse, endorse demagoguery? How do I resist parasitical injustice yet still respect the institutions of government that might host it? How do I speak to friends with whom I disagree, and not so shun and condemn them that I make them permanently disaffected from me and my views?

I remember when I was a young graduate student preparing for a series of oral examinations before a panel of my professors. A classmate, who was also readying for similar exams, and I were in the library exchanging preparation techniques during a study break. What were you concentrating on? How were you approaching a particular topic? After sharing ideas for a few minutes he leaned in closer, as if he were divulging the password to some Prohibition speakeasy.

“Here’s the thing,” he whispered, “I just want to be a clear, shallow pool of information into which each of my examiners can see his own reflection.”

Back then I considered his strategy brilliantly cynical. But today, I take a different view. Perhaps it is not cynicism at all, but simply persuasion of the highest order. After all, as a Christian, I celebrate the notion that Jesus did exactly that. Through the Christmas incarnation in the manger, we could suddenly look directly at God and see humanity reflected.

The practical consequence of this to me is that instead of screaming (at least in my mind) “how could you?”, I need to ask sincerely “how do you think we got to such different places?”. Then I need to listen well and speak back truth in boldness, but also respect. This itself has become controversial because a vocal segment of the citizenry has come to view any meaningful discussion across the philosophical aisle as capitulation. I reject this. It is wrongheaded and merely reinforces the tinny narrative that opposing sides can only engage via Twitter insults. We do not win by allowing the opposition to choose the field of intellectual battle, particularly if it is circumscribed by 140 characters.

So, my very tricky resolutions for 2017 are: Resist and Relate.

  • Resist. Oppose demagoguery, injustice, unkindness. Period.
  • Relate. Win converts, not arguments.

I’ll try and do this by restricting my most vocal opposition to political philosophies, actions and policies, not people. And I will attempt to determine which actions and policies demand the loudest response. Not all opposition policies will be bad, and not all bad policies are equally consequential. If we do not temper our volume to the most important, then we shouldn’t wonder that people weary of our constant fortissimo. Where people and their character really become the issue, I will try to focus on public officials, not family and friends. And, when the issue is inescapably with family or friends, I will attempt to refrain from demeaning or condescending comments. I plan to maintain credibility and relationship and hope that, over time, they can see enough of themselves in me that they have a place to come when the events of the coming years cause their positions to soften. That’s how minds change.

I am sorry that 2016 has forced me to these resolutions. I’d rather be concentrating on getting more exercise, learning Spanish or taking up some new hobby. But it’s serious. Those that comfort themselves in the certainty that our political institutions will moderate systematic executive malfeasance are unwise.  There is no inevitability to the democratic experience. Demagoguery threatens its core, yet we have cavalierly chosen exactly that in the misguided pursuit of “blowing up the status quo”. And history suggests that if accepted political norms of political behavior are truly exploded, those left to build new ones are only rarely Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. More often they are Lenin, Hitler, and Robespierre.

But how can I convince anyone of these views unless they can see in me some story that reflects their own interests, dreams, and experiences? And how can reflection happen unless we maintain proximity to each other?

I read once where, after World War II, British computer pioneer Alan Turing wryly responded to a debate about whether machines will ever write sonnets, by noting that they very well could, but “a sonnet written by a machine will be better appreciated by another machine”.  Surely the reverse is also true. If I want another human to understand the poetry of my life and perspective, I won’t do so by becoming an overheated argument delivery machine; I will do so by maintaining genuine personal engagement, reflecting humanity to humanity. However difficult.

So that’s my plan for 2017. Resist and Relate. Hold me to it.

Happy New Year from the Stubborn Glebe.

Out of the Fog

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The “fog truck” is an abiding childhood memory for anyone who grew up in the Deep South in the 1960’s. Often at dusk, just as the family was settling down to dinner, a happy cry would go up from house to house that the city mosquito control truck was coming through the neighborhood. Children begged permission from their parents, then raced outside to form an impromptu bicycle parade merrily weaving in and out of the billowing white fog of bug-destroying chemicals spewing from the back of the city truck.

The pesticide smell was terrible and I expect we must have known, deep down, that it was bad for us. But the experience was so exciting, and the fog was so wonderfully disorienting as to be irresistible. And, of course, we didn’t remain behind the truck for more than a few minutes. As it made its way out of our neighborhood we woozily rode back to our homes for the remains of our dinner and cleaner air. Still, who knows the long-term damage we may have done ourselves by gulping poison from breath to breath?

Now, years later, I feel as if we’ve all been riding behind another fog truck. As the election nears we have been enclouded in an unrelenting news and social media miasma, weaving back and forth, light-headed, between the twin poisons of indignation and condescension. Who knows the long-term damage we may have done ourselves by gulping outrage from meme to meme?

To be honest, I learned a whole lot about America this election year that I wish I hadn’t. It has not been pretty and I don’t suppose I can unlearn it at this point. The electoral choices were so stark that I struggle to understand how some of my friends could decide so differently from me, just “bumfuzzled” as one fellow Texan described the sensation. Of course, I am going to be livid if my candidate loses this election. But I have dear friends about whom I care very much, who will feel equally bad if my candidate wins. Instead of lamenting that I have friends who, to me, have gone off the rails, perhaps I should be rejoicing that my circle of relationships is not yet so narrow and self-reinforcing as to exclude all those who have different perspectives and think that I’m the one who has lost his mind.

“Each man kills the thing he loves,” wrote Oscar Wilde. The campaign toxicity to which we’ve all been exposed may not disappear in November, but rather find new public spaces to infect. Everyone professes affection for the United States but the survival of the American democratic experience is not an inevitability. It is entirely possible for us to embrace our positions with such force and fervor that we squeeze out the very breath of civil discourse from the democracy we profess to love.

We have two choices: shun those who deeply disappointed, even offended us, in their political choice, or reassert an American community. I propose the latter, not because I believe the issues that divide us are simple or unimportant but precisely because of their consequence. No one has ever changed my mind about any big issue with message alone; the credibility of the messenger has always been as important: my own experience with his or her perspective, judgement, precision, and demeanor. The more significant the opinion, the more confidence I must have in its agent.

So then, it stands to reason that if I sincerely want to change minds I should begin by exhibiting those selfsame attributes. But that sort of modeling cannot happen if we have chosen to cut ourselves off from each other. Perhaps we should love America with a little less devotion to our fiercest positions, and a little more readiness for diverse thought, openness to correction, and dignity even in disagreement. We may prove Wilde wrong simply by attending to that timely Biblical admonition to “bear with one another”.

Finally, it’s almost over. So even though we may all still be smelling of poison as we leave the voting booth, it’s time to ride together, for home and cleaner air.

I’m With Her?

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I normally don’t join in the great quadrennial teeth gnashing that is the American presidential campaign. But this year I find Donald Trump’s message so odious that as a husband, a father of a son and daughter, a colleague to people of color, and friend to those of diverse ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations, I need to be able to say that I took no part in him.

I am a white evangelical Christian and I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s competence, experience, and demeanor are in sharp relief to Trump’s thin-skinned superficiality so unsuited to the stewardship of American military and economic power. On issues of importance to me (gun policy, the economy, security, health care, foreign affairs, immigration, criminal justice reform, etc.) she reflects more the America I want to help build. She wasn’t my first choice, I will admit, and I am aware of her considerable shortcomings. But any lingering reservations completely evaporated after comparing the message and tone of the two competing party conventions. I’m with her.

Here’s hoping that my fellow evangelicals will be as well. Recent Pew studies suggest that over 70% of white self-identified evangelicals plan to vote for Trump. Christian author and speaker James Dobson recently endorsed him saying “most evangelicals I know have decided ­ for various reasons ­ that they will really have only one choice for president, and that is Donald J. Trump…I believe it’s a good choice. America needs strong and competent leadership.”

I understand and agonize with my brothers and sisters who are genuinely tormented by the “lesser of two evils” predicament and who view their potential Trump ballot with quiet revulsion. But what I do not understand and what I condemn is the hearty public approval of Trump from other evangelical leaders and their full throated endorsement of a budding despot who, by self-admission, has never asked God for forgiveness; and whose biography and philosophy are so antithetical to God’s call for justice, kindness and humility. Their public testimonials will have grievous long term consequences for a religion already perceived by many as having too eagerly traded away its enduring spiritual banquet for the temporary scraps from a political table.

Permission to Dissent

Evangelicals respect orthodoxy in matters of faith, but that respect may cause us to imagine orthodoxy in what is only conformity, especially when opinions from leaders like Dr. Dobson are received “ex cathedra”. The breadth of evangelical support for Trump may be nothing more than an instinctive response to his unrelenting message of fear and threat. But, as George Orwell observed, such instinct doesn’t necessarily result in people doing the right thing…merely the same thing (“like a herd of cattle facing a wolf”). Individual evangelicals must give ourselves permission to dissent politically, to be more than a part of the herd, to think for ourselves with the sound mind God has given each of us. Because now and in future generations there will always be those who yearn for credible witnesses with whom to explore the claims of Christianity. We will not be convincing to those seekers if we are seen as the commandeered church; the expropriated tool of Trumpism.

Options

I am proposing that evangelicals can and should vote for Secretary Clinton. Notwithstanding the bewildering intensity of the 40-year vilification machine directed at her, she is clearly the most capable and credible candidate. I know, however, there are those evangelicals whose ideological disagreements on abortion, the Supreme Court, or other issues, make a Clinton vote simply intolerable. Even for them there are options. Some analysts suggest that not voting for Trump is a vote for Clinton or a wasted vote but that is not entirely true. A presidential election boycott that produces a massive vote differential between the top of the ticket and down ticket candidates would send a powerful message to the Republican party and its future candidates that voters deserve better. More importantly it would do so retaining some sense of integrity for the dissenting evangelical base.

What evangelicalism cannot afford is a broad capitulation to Trumpism. If that happens our children may look back in one, or in ten, or in 70 years and ask, where was the modern American confessing church that should have stood up to hate and demagoguery? If the church is not there today for our children we shouldn’t expect our children to be there tomorrow for the church.

Why Hold Trump to a Different Standard?

But is there no fear that an evangelical vote for Clinton could be seen as just as troubling to those examining Christianity? Why such concern for Mr. Trump’s character and not Secretary Clinton’s? There are three considerations. First, her inconsistencies as a candidate, however real, bear no equivalency in magnitude to Trump’s. Clinton’s policies may threaten conservative ideology, but when Trump careens from utterly offensive to heedlessly divisive he threatens the American ideal itself.

Secondly, we don’t have to measure our support of Clinton in the way we do Trump because there is no contention that she speaks for evangelicals; she has not become our de facto standard-bearer. By contrast, the Republican candidate specifically brags of his evangelical backing. “Every poll says how well I’m doing with them,” he claims. Unless we specifically reject him, we cannot escape being painted by his brush.

Finally Trump himself has made this election a referendum on his character and temperament. He speaks of his opponents using character questioning nicknames, “Lying Ted”, “Crooked Hillary”, “Crazy Bernie” with which to differentiate his own cult of personality (“I alone can fix it”). Because of this Trump has left us no room to support his policies without sanctioning the Trump persona. We cannot vote for him without endorsing his dangerous narcissism.

I am a center-left evangelical so for me the vote poses no great personal dilemma. It is an easy choice. But my wonderful rightward-leaning evangelical friends are left with a tougher decision: what to do if political support of their most important values requires that evangelicals marry their fortunes to a demagogue? I believe we must forfeit that support in return for retaining our credibility as believers in a different King. For after November the horrible high tide of electioneering will once again recede. If Christian values have been broken on the rocks of the Trump expediency, the shoreline will be so spoiled by the flotsam of our political imprudence that it may become permanently unappealing to those looking for an inviting vantage from which to contemplate their spiritual horizons.

We should not let that happen. So I’m with her.

The Poetry of Business

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For twenty years the Dai-ichi life insurance firm in Japan has run a short-form poetry contest specifically directed at Japan’s so-called “salarymen”, the country’s white-collar workers. These salaryman poems have become intensely popular across Japan and throughout the world as they capture the ironies and perversity of daily office life.

Perhaps, in this American season of relentless election commentary and overwrought headlines, those of us in the commercial world would do well to refresh ourselves by reflecting on some verses of our own.

So here is my brief collection of business poetry chronicling the trials and exhilirations of the office worker. The first is from the Japanese short-form master, Sumi. The next is an unconventional sonnet from Lord Byron’s little known drinking companion, Jonathan St. Love. The final two are from the largely overlooked Irish limericist, Paddy O’Donagh. Enjoy them.

Downsizing

By Sumi

Reduce staff, boss cries!

So we each lost ten pounds.

It’s good to comply.

……………………………..

Power(point)             

By Jonathan St. Love

When gallant Thor the thunders broke, he wrought

True Mjolnir’s ancient stone to break the night.

With sandals bringing earth’s caress to naught

Young Hermes’ trodding feet were set to flight.

The armor of Achilles full encased,

The warrior’s pow’rs upon the field increased.

When Neptune’s fist his glist’ning trident raised

The desperate shudders of the earth released.

What spear, what shield, what weapon from the gods

Can make my worldly foes to bend the knee?

I need not one! No more repair the odds.

For I have mighty Powerpoint, you see.

My foes from quiet aching boredom weep,

Still others it compels to deepest sleep.

……………………………..

Fenwick

By Paddy O’Donagh

Fenwick had no time for me

He only saw folks for a fee

He thought of aspiring

Then came the firing

Suddenly Fenwick was free

…………………………….. 

Month-end

By Paddy O’Donagh

The CEO talks to the Chairman

The Chairman talks to the Board

But when quota’s unmet

And the family’s in debt

It’s the salesman who talks to the Lord   

……………………………..

Just remember: not everything you read on the Internet is true.

2016: The Movie

s-l300Several years ago, at the encouragement of friends at church, I read Story, Robert McKee’s guide to screenwriting. My friends and I did so not with the idea that we were going to start producing screenplays, but rather as an illuminating exercise in thinking of our own lives as a dramatic narrative.

It is hard not to perceive our ordinary existence in terms of action. We careen from event to event as life reveals itself. While there is much to be said for simple perseverance, Story allowed me to look at my life not through the unique series of completed tasks and experiences, but rather, as the screenwriter would, through the narrative of the character change brought on by living through them. For McKee makes it clear that, in storytelling, activity alone is not enough to sustain interest:

“If the value-charged condition of the character’s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful happens. The scene has activity—talking about this, doing that—but nothing changes in value. It is a nonevent.”

There is nothing wrong with buying detergent, clocking in at work, picking up the kids at carpool time. Accomplishing tasks brings happiness. We should admire those who quietly and consistently contribute as citizens, parents, spouses and friends, day in and day out. Most of my life is lived within this realm of the ordinary where, if I am honest, my values and character remain largely untested. But at some point we all experience unexpected challenges, internal or external opposition, which disrupt a “normal” life. According to McKee that is precisely where a screenplay gets interesting:

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure—the greater the pressure the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

While we naturally focus entirely on the actions required to overcome our obstacles and reinstate equilibrium, those around us (our audiences) pay attention because of how our choices reveal the state of our true character. Our fascination with great movies is stoked by character change. The same is true for our fascination with each other.

“From the worst of experiences something positive can be gained; for the richest of experiences a great price must be paid. No matter how we try and plot a straight passage through life, we sail on the tides of irony.”

Of course, most of us don’t go around seeking out adversity. But no matter, it finds us all anyway. The abiding lesson in thinking about your life as a screenplay is that it is precisely our response to opposition that makes us interesting people at all. We “sail on the tides of irony” when negative events create positive changes in our character. Were movies really made from our lives they would be about little else.

The folklorist J. Frank Dobie wrote, “well, I have gone in one canyon and come out another,” and it is a good line to consider at the beginning of a new year. Things happened in 2015 that I just didn’t anticipate as I was riding into it last January. It is easy to regret the bad things and venerate the good. And I’m sure I will be grateful for many unanticipated blessings in 2016 as well. They will make me happy. But here’s hoping someone will remind me to be grateful for the challenges and dilemmas as well.

For they will make me interesting.

Happy New Year from The Stubborn Glebe.

Talking About Talking About Politics

social-media-logos (1)The acerbic literary critic, Dorothy Parker, once chided Sinclair Lewis because “the thing he desires to believe is the thing he feels he knows to be true.” It doesn’t require much attention to realize things have not changed much.

“Hey, Bill, Bill, am I gonna check every statistic?” Donald Trump’s recent complaint to Bill O’Reilly were those of a man for whom facts were inconvenient to his bullying intentions.  Trump’s litany of absurd and demonstrably inaccurate statements reflects his deliberate investment in volume over veracity. As Dorothy Parker reflected on Lewis, “he says it so loud and so hard that it sounds to him like the truth.” Ditto Trump, almost a century later.

But we expect that of candidates. Far more worrying is when we as citizens embrace the very same attitude, that the important thing is not whether a statement is true but whether we think it ought to be true. Nowhere is it more evident than social media during campaign season.

Daily I am bombarded with memes and tweets from people whose opinions I once considered thoughtful, supporting their political positions with the most obvious, often odious, factual misrepresentations. False statements which would take less than 30 seconds to fact check get re-tweeted, liked, shared, and posted solely because they affirm a preconceived bias. It is not a partisan disease. In my own small social media sampling I see it more often on display from the right than the left but not exclusively so.

We may simply have forgotten that by what we re-tweet, post, and share, we are all being judged as to our reliability as witnesses to truth.

And this is particularly so for people of faith of which I am one. It saddens me that many of my Christian friends are often the worst offenders when, regarding truth, we should be the best behaved. The most profound weakening of my own faith in recent years has been as a result of seeing other Christians whose influence I had once cherished prove themselves unreliable witnesses. Once bright lights have become dim bulbs not from personal moral failure but simply from the demeanor and imprudence with which they handle opposing opinions and willingly spread misinformation in support of their point of view.

The Apostle Paul wrote “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” As we enter the quadrennial Christmastime before a presidential election perhaps now especially believers should ask themselves three questions before a sketchy re-tweet:

If my friends cannot trust me to show integrity with the facts of civil government, how can they trust me to tell them the truth about the Kingdom of God?

If I am so easily duped by propaganda and exaggeration, how can my friends believe I have good judgement about some obscure Jewish carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago?

If I rejoice in the vilification of those holding opposing views, how can I expect my friends to become curious about grace and lovingkindness?

Not all are spiritual believers, of course, but we all represent something, and whether as ambassadors of our God or simply our political persuasion, class, gender, ethnicity, or whatever, we are all being judged as to our reliability as witnesses to truth.

Americans have historically been hard headed and soft hearted, committed to the hard headed discipline of fairly evaluating competing ideas yet exhibiting that general compassion which de Tocqueville viewed as inherent in American individualism. Yet either from fear or from want of intellectual discipline we appear to be becoming soft headed and hard hearted, unopen to opposing ideas, unwilling to demand critical thinking from ourselves, and trusting invective instead of empathy.

When that happens we diminish ourselves as individuals and as a nation. So from now until the election, before I forward a meme or article or re-tweet a post, I am going to take an extra minute or two to reflect: Is it true? Is it helpful? How does it reflect on my reliability as a witness?

Call me out if I mess up.

The First Law of Business

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You know you’ve made it when a theorem or scientific law gets named after you…Fermat’s Last Theorem, the Pareto Principle, the Doppler Effect, etc. So how great must it have been to be Sir Isaac Newton? Not only did the 17th century mathematician create Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation but he is also credited with not one, not two, but three laws of motion, including the Newton’s famous Third Law: “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

So now, to create my own small legacy, I humbly introduce Dupree’s First Law of Business: “For every business rule there is an equal and opposite business rule”.

Seriously.

Virtually every business cliché has some countervailing platitude. For every coffee mug that says A Satisfied Customer is Our #1 Goal, there is a break room poster shouting A Happy Employee is Our Top Priority. So which is it? For every pep talk on Pivoting there is another one on Staying the Course. Think Strategically says one book, It’s All in the Detail says another.  Lead, no, Serve, scream LinkedIn memes. It’s confounding. Delegate but control, scale but customize, grow quickly but build profit, move at Internet speed but don’t act too quickly.

The consequences of the First Law of Business are so befuddling, in fact, that they demand a separate proposition devoted to what it means for good management, Dupree’s Second Law: “In the absence of reliable business absolutes, the single most important professional attribute is sound judgement”.

Individuals who can evaluate competing inputs and render good, thoughtful, business decisions are simply the best colleagues. This expresses itself most powerfully when those inputs conflict or when competing options seem equally desirable. It is vital when the information is unclear or when the decision is not between good and evil but between the greater of two goods or the lesser of two (or more) evils. It is brought to bear as often in deciding on inaction as it is action. It may not be the showiest of management qualities but it is the most potent. Workers with sound judgement are like athletes who may rarely make the individual highlight reels but somehow always seem associated with championship teams.

They are not swayed by passion or the buzzwords of the day. But with the information at hand, however imperfect, they consistently make reasonable choices based on the whole picture, not merely their direct self-interest. They constantly groom their business judgement through their own experience, good and bad, as well as their keen observation of colleagues.

Of course, the First Law tends to overstate things. Customer attention is not exactly the opposite of employee focus, nor is growth inconsistent with profitability. But commercial life routinely presents business people genuine discordance in priorities which they must learn to synthesize as best as circumstances allow. It takes double helpings of both energy and brains.

Almost 80 years ago F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Today, after two world wars, multiple global financial crises, the creation of the Internet, the information age, and postmodernism, it still comes down to that.

Keep your charismatic showmen; your showy iconoclasts, your radical innovators. Give me the team of men and women who can thrive in uncertainty and still lead with sound judgement day in and day out.

Still Goodbye Football for Me

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It is football season again and several folks have asked me whether I am continuing my position regarding not watching NFL games live or on television.

Yep.

For those interested, here is last year’s post in which I outlined my reasons: https://thestubbornglebe.com/2014/08/05/goodbye-football/

Were I to re-write for 2015 I don’t think I would change anything except possibly to be a little harsher on the vast corporatism represented by the National Football League. Sadly, little else has changed for the good. I also might expand my tiny boycott where it would hurt the most…not simply abstaining from viewing the games but compiling a list of all the official NFL sponsors and deliberately committing to move a meaningful portion of my own purchasing to a non-sponsoring competitor. Look out Papa John’s and Dannon. You too, Nationwide and Hyundai.

Because it is still “goodbye football” for me.

“Do not go gentle, Jimmy”

isMy first foray into door to door grassroots campaigning came in the fall of 1980 when I boarded a bus full of other students in Boston and rode to Nashua, New Hampshire to walk leafy neighborhoods on behalf of Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful presidential re-election campaign. Had I been more experienced in campaigning I might have noticed that there were far too few of us and we were far too uninspired for that point in an election year. Of course, Carter lost resoundingly to Ronald Reagan.

I suspect that historians will one day admit that Carter was neither quite as bad a president, nor Reagan quite as good, as is popularly held today, but I cannot contend that Jimmy Carter will go down as one of our great Chief Executives. The office seemed big and even in his best moments he seemed small and ill at ease in it. I have only had that feeling again once since, and that was with George W. Bush for whom the presidency always seemed like a man’s hat on a boy’s head.

No, Carter certainly wasn’t a great president. But as he announced this week, at age 90, that he has cancer, I experienced a surprising swell of admiration for him and I know why.

Jimmy Carter is a terrific retiree.

I know a little about this as I grow older myself and my professional efforts have morphed…if not into retirement, at least into something unconstrained by the conventional demands of my former corporate life. I’m moving on and as I do so several characteristics of Carter’s post-presidential career influence my own journey through the second half.

Exercise of Faith

Carter was a very public evangelical Christian as president and has been unembarrassed in suggesting that his personal spiritual convictions have shaped his views on public policy issues of all stripes. But at a time of life when many faithful are content simply to reinforce and protect our comfortable spiritual bias Carter demands that his faith and the messy world around him interact. It hasn’t always been pretty and he has created many detractors to his right and left but his faith clearly is something more than a mild palliative taken once each Sunday morning.

Intellectual Curiosity

Thinking is an adventure. There are many retirees whose world has become smaller with age but one gets the sense that Jimmy Carter’s world has continued to enlarge. Virtually every president, Democrat and Republican has been on the receiving end of Carter’s thoughtful, if unsolicited, insights whether on the War on Drugs, Guantanamo, Iraq, drone use, privacy, women’s rights, etc. and his personal involvement in the Carter Center has yielded results from North Korea to Cuba, from rigged elections to Guinea worm disease. It is an amazing testimony to mental acuity and the willingness to engage intellectually.

Breadth of Conviction

But mental acuity and strong opinions alone can simply produce curmudgeons and they just annoy rather than inspire. What generates affection for Carter is not the depth of his convictions but rather their breadth, by which I mean that his passion for purpose manifests itself across a broad range of activity and isn’t restricted to what is seemly and elevated.

If most Americans are asked to describe Carter’s post-presidential life, they likely remember him in a denim shirt with a hammer at some Habitat for Humanity construction site. While many celebrities restrict their good works to appearances at tony fund-raisers, Carter got dirty and modeled to America that sometimes as citizens it is simply about showing up on a volunteer workday.

It is a powerful image that speaks to us all. I may well not found a world-renowned peace center or win the Nobel Peace Prize, but I can lift a hammer or mow some grass…just like the President. For the things that make him a beloved ex-president are precisely those things that are accessible to all the rest of us semi-retirees: making the small efforts purely for the benefit of someone else.

So good for you, President Carter. I am glad I was there back in 1980. I hope you recover and on behalf of all of us semi-retirees, please keep it up.

            Do not go gentle into that good night

            Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

            Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Burn and rave, Jimmy, burn and rave.