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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remembering Earl Hamner Jr.

It's been a busy news week, but one bit of news almost slipped by. My brother Paul just texted it to me.
Here is the full story in USA Today: Earl Hamner Jr. creator of 'Waltons,' dies .

I have written of this author here at POI on more than one occasion. Two years ago, I spoke of his voice:
"One of my favorite author-narrators is Earl Hamner Jr., best known for his television show, "The Waltons," which aired through the Seventies. By "author-narrator" I mean a writer whose own voice is inseparable from the tone and rhythm his words pull from the page. If you remember the show or have watched its re-runs, you've heard Earl's voice toward the end of the show as the exterior of the two-story clap-board house is show (just before all the sibling "good-nights" and a soft harmonica chord sighed into the night). You can also hear his voice at this link as Hamner's reads the opening of The Homecomingwhich was the basis for The Waltons. The story is about a blizzard that almost kept the father of the family from getting home in time for Christmas."
There is, however, a little-known recitation of Hamner's that became a favorite of mine back in the mid-70's. A college friend had "The Walton's Christmas" album, and I listened to it over and over. I even made a cassette tape of the particular reading I share below. There was a time I had it memorized to perform "in old-man character" in a Christmas program. Because of that the rhythms and imagery have never left me. I lost the cassette decades ago, but through the wonder of YouTube, I found it today.

Toward the end of the recording below, Hamner's prose becomes poetry. In those final lines about the seasons, you'll hear the first time I had ever heard the word "russet" used as a color. (I had only thought of it as a type of potato.) But Hamner combines it the phrase "the russet and gold of autumn." It is a line I often say when I see those colors in October. Decades later, I used the Hamner's "russet" color myself in "A Melancholy Splendor." 
Please take a few minutes to listen to this video. You'll hear Hamner's voice at the beginning, and you'll hear his heart in the tired, gentle voice of Grandpa Walton who was roughly the age of Hamner at his passing. 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Understanding Trump...
What's Puccini Got to Do with It?

I’ve Got a Secret…
Promise not to tell?
I went to Trump rally last Friday morning. Why is that a secret? Because I have close friends and family who would be shocked that I of all people would go hear Trump of all candidates. When I asked my daughters, for instance, not to tell anyone, they laughed and said, "Dad, why would we want anyone to know you were there? We promise not to say a word if you promise not to get on TV." 

Well, I didn't mean to get on TV, but oops... That's me in the lower RH corner of this frame-grab from the ABC camera feed. My daughters were mortified when they saw it.  After all, conservatives like me are not supposed to be at Trump rallies. Why? A cultural conservative with a lifetime of Evangelical church background should be able to see right through Trump, right? Of course right.

Perhaps some background may help: I cast my first for Reagan back in 1980. I saw him in person twice. I've seen every Republican presidential nominee (except Romney) in person ever since. For 18 years, my family and I lived in the caucus state of Iowa and became fascinated with the presidential primary process. The Iowa caucus process is pretty much a gathering of neighbors at public place and you all have to explain why you plan to vote a certain way. You and your neighbors then reach consensus--like a jury--and cast a collective vote. There is no secret ballot behind a curtain. Knowing the caucus process helps explain why Trump wins handily in primary states but Cruz has won in six caucus states (where the more family-friendly candidate is more likely to become the tolerable "neighborhood choice."

Because of Trump's reckless rhetoric, many social conservatives are hesitant to publicly support him. The visceral negative feelings about Trump in some church circles were recently underscored by Max Lucado. Without using the term, that article was an invitation to the "#neverTrump" movement that Mitt Romney is promoting. Regardless of my concerns about Trump, I do not support any contested convention that ignores the hard-earned momentum of the primary leaders. Having spent a morning in the company of die-hard Trump supporters, I can confirm their loyalty. They are true-blue--from blue collar to blue-bloods. They're all in, and they will not show up at the polls in November if  a contested convention eliminates Trump (and in turn eliminates Cruz, who will be the runner-up).

I have good friends who are conservative Evangelicals and closet Trump supporters. Between them and the Reagan Democrats who will cross over to vote Republican, Trump is very likely to win Michigan on the 8th with Cruz nipping at his heels. 

My attending a Trump ralley had nothing to do with my undecided vote or whether or not Trump reflects "my core values." He does not at many levels. I was not there blindly but rather as an observer to see first-hand the most underestimated presidential run in memory. I went there to study the people and the "production," and in the process I also learned something about Puccini. Let me explain... 

Three weeks ago, my wife and I went to a Rubio rally in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, February 23rd. There was about 3,000 packed into the venue with far more college-age kids than I would have imagined. He was nearly an hour late but once he arrived, his speech was Kennedyesque. I consider Rubio to be the best speaker of all the candidates on both sides. His narrative is authentic and compelling, and I could imagine his optimism and the rhythms of his thoughts in a memorable inauguration address. As we left that cavernous warehouse, Julie and I thought Rubio had earned our vote in the Michigan Primary on March 8th.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or the Super Tuesday primaries, as it were. Rubio began acting like a mischievous school boy all across the South. Gone were his inspirational themes and memorable lines—and in their place was a low-brow comedy riff intended to fight Trump’s fire with fire. In my opinion, it flopped. By venturing into the Vulgate version of his stump speech, Rubio looked less presidential and more juvenile. I was very disappointed not only by his content but by the fact that he was obviously "doing what he was told" by the establishment powers behind his campaign.

Then on Sunday, February 28, a non-news story broke on CNN that led to a media feeding frenzy over a topic that I will not give ink to in this post. Believe me, I have many issues with Trump as a candidate and role model, but even a man whose imperfections flash like the neon lights of Las Vegas should not be smeared by knowingly false accusations. I expect this from the media; I expect it from the Democrats; but I do not expect fellow Republicans to pile on with blatant lies about their front-runner when there are so many legitimate distinctions to make in support of their own cause. 

Two days after Trump's many wins on Super Tuesday, March 1, Mitt Romney gave a speech designed to quench Trump’s flame with a wet blanket left over from Mitt’s own failed campaign in 2012. The speech seemed self-serving and most agree that it helped Trump more than hurt him by putting the brash front-runner in the role of bullied underdog. Who saw that coming?

I had family business in Macomb County, Michigan, Thursday night and Friday. It was a busy two-day schedule, but the early Friday morning time slot was free so I got an on-line ticket to the event.  

It was a fifteen- minute snowy drive to the event. When I arrived around 6:30 AM, there were already thousands of people in a meandering serpentine line moving past vendors of all sorts of Trump murch. The long line led into a single entrance and on to rows of metal detectors and the watchful eyes of Secret Service officers. I saw nothing like this at the Rubio event.

The first thing I noticed was the broad age-range of groups in the lines. There were several clumps of varsity jackets brandishing the names of Macomb County high schools. This was a school day, but I think these were seniors who will be voting age in the fall. I also saw younger non-voting children. There was even a black-leather Vigilante (Biker Club) who was helping with security. 
The business man in this picture asked his wife to paint the word TRUMP on his bald head and hour before the event.

By 8:30 AM, about 10,000 people were packed into the arena with a half-hour to go before Trump's arrival. The atmosphere was pleasant as friends waved at each other in the crowd.  I was a stranger 200 miles from home, but felt included in the casual conversations around me.

A variety of music was played in a continuous loop to pass the time. It was an eclectic assortment but not at all random. Each song was carefully chosen to foreshadow the attitude of the long-awaited guest. Songs like Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”;  Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want"; Elton John's "Tiny Dancer"; and many other pop songs.

At 9:00 AM the recorded music stopped and a local talent sang the National Anthem; a young Eagle Scout led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, and to my surprise, a church leader was introduced and opened in prayer. (This did not happen at the Rubio event.) During the prayer, I heard the whispered affirmations (e.g. "Yes, Lord," etc.) the kind one hears during prayer at church. This, too, surprised me. The "amen" was met with respectful applause, and as if on cue a team of Secret Service men entered with earpieces, steely stride and a penetrating stare into the sea of faces. This ominous process only added to the excitement.

The loop of music began again, and then came a musical selection that at first seemed out of place. It was Puccini's "Nessan Dorma" from Turandot, one of the best known opera arias. It began slowly and built to its moving crescendo. At the end of the song, thousands of Trump supporters standing shoulder to shoulder began to applaud much like the crowd in this video now viewed almost 150 million times on YouTube.

To fully appreciate this post, please take a moment to watch the video above. It helps explain how Trump can live among chandeliers and claiming stand for the common man. This aria was the BBC's theme song for the 1990 FIFA championship in Italy. It was heard so often during that championship that it rose to #2 on the pop charts in Britain. 

An opera aria on the pop charts? That's right. So years later when a cell phone salesman sang "Nessan Dorma" on Britain's Got Talent, it was actually a well-known tune, but I dare say that most of the people in both the Pott's audience and Trump's crowd do not know the translation of lyrics. Here is a link to Pavarotti's performance of the same song at its peak.  

Why are those notes so stirring? How do the words bring listeners to tears even if they do not know what they mean? Why does Trump's prep-team play this song before Trump's grand entrance?   Here is the translation from the Italian; here is what the tenor cries in the night:

Vanish, O night!
Set stars! Set stars!
At dawn,   I will win!   I will win!    I will win!

At the final note, the Trump crowd burst into applause as if they understood the words. Then they quieted down as the opening notes of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" began to reverberate from wall to wall. To that familiar beat, Trump stepped through a curtain and strode out on a runway that elevated him above the boisterous crowd. He paused to make the most of the song and the cheers of adulation. Here is the full video of the entrance and the speech that followed.  Trump speaks at Macomb County Community College, March 3, 2016.

The speech was essentially the same Trump stump speech given at scores of huge rallies across the early primary states. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have heard it in person. (More people have seen Trump speak in person than all the other Republican candidates combined.) Trump rarely says anything new, but his supporters are not looking for a new speech. It is as if they have come to a Tribute Band concert. wanting to sing along to songs they already know. 

And like people at a concert, Trump supporters have no patience for those among them whose
 sole purpose is to sneak into the event and then disrupt it.It would be like shouting in a library when people are trying to study, or barging in on a church service to interrupt worship, or taking over Bernie Sander's microphone. Such  disrupters not only insist that their lives matter more than others; they also think their right of "free speech" matters more than other people's  right to "peaceably assemble." 

Whether the purpose of a gathering is to enjoy music or sport or worship or a speech, the non-existent right to disrupt the event is trumped (no pun intended) by the right of others to enjoy it. Respecting that distinction is the difference between anarchy and democracy.

At the Macomb County rally, there were some protesters momentarily interrupted, but Trump has learned to handle it shaking his head in disapproval, pointing to the exit and blandly saying, "Get 'im out." He doesn't shout it angrily, he is simply giving the police his approval to escort the person outdoors. This happened a couple times, after which the crowd simply began to chant, "We want Trump!"

Trump then goes on with his speech as if nothing happened. He really seems unflappable and completely at ease with his rambling ad-lib presentations. It is the unscripted nature of Trump that is part of his appeal to supporters. I for one, cannot yet imagine his by-the-way style working with an Inaugural Address or State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress.

I have never watched The Apprentice, so I don't know Trump as a TV personality. I will concede, however, that the Kennedy and Reagan presidencies proved that part of presiding is performing. Say what you may about Donald Trump, he is a master of this game, and those who hope to topple him should not underestimate his growing momentum. If he is as skilled at governing and team building as he is at showmanship, he could be a formidable agent of a return to American competence and competition.

Would I vote for Trump over either of the Democrat candidates? Yes, Do I sometimes wince at his shenanigans? Yes. But have I also been disappointed by the other Republican conservative candidates in the past and present? Yes. Very much so.
I recently hired a construction crew to do some foundation work on my house. They smoked; they swore; they probably shared little in common with me personally; but boy were they good at foundation work. Likewise, this time around for me, my presidential choice will not be a vote for a pastor or spiritual leader. Politicians do not set my moral compass, and yet I like to think they have one of their own.

Who will I vote for on Tuesday? I'll have to sleep on it, but probably the runner-up. When I do vote, however, I don't think I will tell others about it. As Trump said when asked to recite his favorite Bible verse: "Some things are too personal to share publicly."

Note: In fairness, he may know a verse or two, but he also may have accidentally said,"Give me liberty or give me death" by mistake. Even if he had quoted the 23rd Psalm, he may have blown the inevitable follow up, which would have been something like, "Would you rather be a lion for a day or a sheep with a shepherd for a lifetime?"   Instead, Trump followed the old adage:  "Know what you know; know what you don't know; and know the difference. You have to give him credit for limiting the damage at the risk of sounding disingenuous, but let's face it: nobody buys it when Trump tries to sound like the Gospel of Christ has shaped his life. I pray that it someday will.

P.S. What if the top two Republican vote-getters decided to outsmart the establishment by forming a ticket before August?  Whenever large egos are involved, such an alliance is unlikely, and much venom has been spewed between them in recent weeks. But stranger things have happened, and in truth, if the nomination is not secured by Trump or Cruz before the convention (if it is contested), neither of them is likely to be on the dance card. 

In the meantime, play on Puccini, play on.

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