Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Madam I'm Adam

Dear Children:

There are names for human diseases, temptations, losses, dysfunctions, rushes, fears, shocks and pauses. There are names for the things that surround us. There are names for the conceptions that inform our actions. Knowing these words can be very powerful. That may be why we invent them with such alacrity and fashion ever finer slivers of meaning.

The creation story we have from the ancient Hebrews underscores this idea. Among the powers granted Adam was that of naming the plants and animals. We’ve been naming things ever since. Learning is often the retention and rapid recall of names and their meanings. Scholarship is often the coining of terminology. History often turns on the naming of events.

At the risk of getting too worked up over this, the unique power we have as humans to create and recognize a name encases our sentience. For as powerful and unique a thing names disciplined by grammar can be it is shorthand for what goes on in our hearts. Names are not sentient.

That’s why names can be dangerous and hurtful as well as being dispositive and uplifting. That’s why, for all effort bent to the contrary, misunderstandings flourish. That’s why it’s still possible to talk past each other, dictators remain normative and swindlers still earn a living.

I’m just sayin’

Much Love,


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Simply Gifts

Dear Children:

Unless you’ve been away at camp or living underground lately, you’ve noticed that a famous entertainer has died. Michael Jackson was a hugely talented singer, producer and innovator. His gifts were so great that after forty five years in show business, he was still giving us novel songs, inventive dance and eye-popping music videos that will outlast us all. By all accounts he was shrewd in business as well. Those who mourn him do so out of a sense of gratitude for the joy he brought us. That is for sure. There is also a sense of lost promise, a squandered future and no way of understanding his death.

He died under circumstances of his own making.

The risk here is to engage in poppy psychology by looking for a thread that wove through his life that, had he seen it, could have been excised. Worse yet, we can point fingers at those who enabled him, those who ate the crumbs from his table, those who hadn’t the courage to say “no” to his wealth and power and those who excused his behavior as merely eccentric. Instead, let’s see if we can take a lesson from this tragedy.

He was born with gifts in much the same way as you were born with gifts. I am speaking here of the gifts that are not necessarily attributable to genetics. Sure, we get our tallness and our skin tone from our parents. We get our taste for foods from our experiences and love of books from our educations. Good skiers usually come from snow country. Our fear of snakes and of falling may be pure instinct and shared with the like of goldfish and platypuses. Michael Jackson’s gifts were way past all that. Your gifts are way past all that. They are what they appear to be, simply gifts.

Lest I sound simple-minded, the lesson is to treat gifts for what they are and nothing more. Some of us are able through dint of effort to polish those gifts. Some of us know we have gifts and choose not to employ them. Some of us never recognize our gifts. Whatever happens, though, we did not manufacture our own gifts. We cannot exchange the gifts we have for some others more valued. Our gifts are ours and belong to no other. Gifts are not skills we can learn. Gifts are not commodities up for trade. Our gifts are what we are when we’re not wearing our skins.

So, we don’t treat gifts except with gratitude and humility. You can be guaranteed that any other way will come to no good.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Monday, June 8, 2009

The Power Of No

Dear Children:

My lazy Sunday afternoon was rocked recently by a story in the New York Times with the headline: “Reluctantly, Sufis Answer A Call To Arms In Somalia”.

You may know the Sufis. They practice of mystical form of Islam that honors tolerance and a personal relationship with God. It takes a lot to get them mad. The warlords of that benighted land fight over real estate and property without regard for human life, livestock and crops as if they still lived in the time of Tamujin or Attilla. The Sufis are catching a big part of the collateral damage.

More recently, there are stories coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the locals are taking matters into their own hands. Peoples of the Swat Valley and in Upper Dir known for their fierce regard for hospitality and who have been at peace with all others since the early days of the British Raj have formed militias to end Taliban thuggery.

One thinks also of Dietrich Bonheoffer, a wunderkind theologian and pacifist in both Weimar Germany and The United States in the 1930s. He too took up arms against an oppressor in the form of Nazism and condoned an assassination plot against the duly-elected Chancellor, Adolph Hitler.

I bring this matter up at this time to say that our better natures and otherwise loathsome actions can sometimes coexist. It’s unstable ground to navigate, though. What is the difference between a righteous uprising and a vigilante committee, for instance? Who appointed The Rev. Dr. Bonheoffer judge and jury? When innocents die righting a wrong, who answers for their deaths? Is history spun by the victors of a conflict leaving truth as just one more victim? Is there a crime so great as to justify the employment of another crime? Is there a bright line between evil and indifference?

Good question. I don’t know the answer. People feel strongly. We’re passionate creatures. The man who murdered the family planning physician recently exhibits no remorse. He’s real clear he’s doing the Lord’s work.

Me? I think he’s the worst sort of criminal much on the order of Che Guevara who employed the flimsiest of reasons to justify murder. Still, the guy is secure in his righteous anger and will not be dissuaded.

Know this for sure: Whenever you say no and are prepared to back it up with unpleasant scuffling, sorting out the aftermath will be messy.

But wait boys and girls, the aftermath of indifference and apathy is just as messy. You can’t get by unscathed no matter what.

If you pay attention to anything I say, pay attention to this: Be a thinker. Know what you are doing and why. Know the possible outcome. Know that once you do a thing, it’s done. Know there will be consequences whether good or bad. Accept those consequences. They’re yours.

Still, you’re not excused from making informed decisions and acting on them. Just like those Sufis, those Pashtu and the cabal around Herr Bonheoffer made decisions and stuck around to watch them play out; you are privileged to participate in a principled and meaningful life. It’s really the only satisfying way to live.

I’m just sayin’

Much Love,


Friday, May 1, 2009

Enhanced Mendacity Techniques

Dear Children:

This post comes from a place of deep frustration. The torture debate is on again. Wasn’t this settled? Didn’t Mr. Bush back off the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”? Didn’t he say that, if we did torture we’d wouldn’t anymore? We held an election that included this subject where both candidates espoused the same position: We don’t torture.

I have an inkling why this matter is still front and center. It has to do with release of some memos written by political appointees in the Justice Department who split some hairs, razzled some dazzle and bammed some boozle – nothing up the sleeve, honest.

How poor is our political discourse when a few lame hacks can write gossamer bunkum justifying an odious practice followed by elected officials braying, “See? … Signed off by the lawyers”.

It’s bad enough when twaddle passes for scholarship, its worse when easily identifiable decency gets lost in the double shuffle.

The same hooey went on over the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. This one made it to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t even close. All the ink that was spilled making the case those non-citizens held on foreign territory were not entitled to Habeas Corpus never dealt with the obvious – we believe in Habeas Corpus. It is a founding principle of our republic. A high price has been paid for it preservation. The accused has a right to be charged under law, face his accuser and have a speedy trial. We believe in that.

This may be the time to assert that the Golden Rule leaves little room for slick interpretation. You know me. I’m deeply suspicious of the effortless aphorism. The Golden Rule, however, is so tightly wrought and so genuinely intuitive that there’s just no wriggle room.

The scholars call the Golden Rule the Ethic of Reciprocity. It is found in religious texts across the globe, is ancient as recorded thought, remarkably consistent in wording and held as an ideal nearly universally. Why is this so hard?

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Unclear Ignorance

Dear Children:

Have you noticed that TV news segments often involve reporters interviewing each other? Laying aside the suspicion that this practice is neither news nor reporting, we are left with nothing. “Tell me, Lancome, what does this triple homicide say about the quality of law enforcement in the city?” “That’s a very good question, Chanel. The answer is unclear.” Nothing gives way to more nothing.

Wait. Did he just say that the answer was unclear? Is that the same as saying he doesn’t know? Yes, it does mean he does not know the answer. Nor do we expect him to know the answer. The whole exchange is unintelligible.

But that’s not why I called this meeting. This meeting is about copping to ignorance. Maybe we can start a new fashion of admitting ignorance. One knows that ignorance has taken on a pejorative sense recently. It’s still a perfectly good English word. If you'd rather not use it among your friends, we can use it here for safe-keeping. It was no less a thinker than St Jerome who said: "It is worse still to be ignorant of your ignorance." More recently, Will Durant wrote: "Education is the progressive discovery one's ignorance."

Let’s start by appropriating from others less and attributing more. We don’t really know the answer to a question if we read it in this morning’s paper. We know for sure we read it in The Bugle. That’s about it. There is nothing wrong and certainly no dishonor to report that you don’t know but you read something in The Bugle.

This has become an important topic because the internet makes it possible to get a wide range of opinions on any subject quickly, easily and anonymously. We want to take care that we distinguish what we say for ourselves and what we pass on for others.

It’s hard, I know. Who can say with a straight face that something you just vouchsafed as fact was actually from squirrelnuts3411? Or, who would want to admit that some public policy opinion was recently cribbed from the blog bidenhater.com? Silly as it sounds, it must be done.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Ms. Liberty

Dear Children:

There are few things that people have longed for more than liberty. In human history liberty is the one thing most denied, the most feared and the least understood of political concepts. Worse yet, once granted liberty is a moving target and will never be perfected.

That said, it’s easy to see why liberty is found so dangerous by even enlightened of dictators through the ages. For liberty to come into flower it must be granted to everyone. The country bumpkin and the wheelwright and the clergy will all outgrow their britches. The untutored as well as the learned from every corner will want a say in the affairs of state. It’s just too messy of a prospect to keep strict order.

Actually, liberty can be a bit scary for those on whom it is thrust. There will come a time when you are released from the clutches of your parents and set out on your own. Liberty can be quite prickly indeed.

Liberty is understood in modern parlance as synonymous with words such as freedom, independence, franchise and license. Mr. Jefferson, on the other hand, thought of liberty as a broad political right stemming from a previous condition of servitude. Serfs, peons, prisoners, slaves and other vassals of the state are said to be set at liberty. Liberty, in the view of Jefferson and his fellow conspirators, was different from a notion of freedom that included independence, franchise, privilege and license.

Freedoms were thought of as conditions that may be enumerated, restricted, controlled and even proscribed. Physicians, for instance, are free to practice medicine within the confines of a license granted by the state. Voting is a freedom restricted by age. Use of alcohol, tobacco and other dangerous products are controlled by taxation. A person with a license to use dynamite is not necessarily free to blow up his neighbor’s outhouse no matter how deserving that outhouse might be.

Freedom is also a feeling. We can feel free to act. We can feel coerced thereby robbing us of a feeling of freedom. Freedom may be the absence of necessity.

We’re going through this muddle to make a point: We are at liberty to experience freedoms. It is a wonderful feeling. Most of the peoples on earth are not at liberty to experience freedom.

Put another way, liberty means not captive.

Captives have a special place in our narrative. Throughout the Hebrew Bible there are stories of captivation and captives – who got captured and who got ransomed, who did the capturing; who got carted-off where. In the Christian canon, however, we have this single, poignant passage:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

Here we have a license that grants little in the way of freedom in the usual sense. That is, if we accept the usual construct of freedom as a range of permitted actions, the wider the better. Who would volunteer to be constrained? Who would accept obligations without prospect of reward?

The answer to those questions is at the core of the concept of liberty. We are at liberty to accept or reject commissions that severely restrict the range of our actions.

That’s where you come in. How you express your liberty is mostly up to you. But, as we have said in these pages before, the cost is always high. Express your liberty in a way that affronts, you will surely be affronted. Express your liberty in a way that is healing, you will lose your freedom to abuse. Express your liberty in a way that is selfish, you will do so alone. Express your liberty to control others, your life will be spent keeping them shackled. Express your liberty in the service of money, money had better be good enough.

By the same token, we are at liberty to keep our options open, to not commit one way or the other. That too has a price.

The idea that there is some higher recompense for a valued choice or penalty for a bad one doesn’t work either. Mr. Jefferson, for one, used the liberty he was granted in his own time and was judged worthy and grand. In another time, he has been vilified as a slave owner and hypocrite. He is known for articulating high-minded concepts yet abused his chattel maid.

James R. Lowell wrote a poem in 1845 that was set to music fifty years later from a Franz Josef Haydn tune. It was written to protest an American military incursion into Mexico. The Poem is called: Once To Every Man and Nation. It was once part of the rich hymnody that graced our churches. One couplet says it very well.

New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Liberty is powerful medicine. It is given to you unbidden with all the dangers, joys and challenges that attend it.
I’m just sayin’.
Much Love,

P.S. One of the reasons our hymnody is rich has everything to do with the subject of Mr. Lowell’s poem and the music to which it is set. Fashions run in and out of our culture. Some things that are quite evocative and expressive in one age become passé in another. The Haydn tune (Austria), was originally written as a patriotic song subsequently adopted by the Nazi thugs mostly for its ill-advised line: Germany is above every nation in the world. Add to that the fashion among hymnal committees in recent decades to excise martial themes, references to physical infirmities, gender-specific believers and lyrics whose context are no longer easily accessible. The poem here loses on two of those counts. The tune survives in lots of hymnals with the title: Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken.
Just in case you’d like to read the Lowell poem, it follows.

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Zygote This, Your Highness!

Dear Children:

In The Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jefferson and the other rebel leaders held that individual persons had an inalienable right to life. That doesn’t sound very radical to us. We have a right to live and that’s that. That’s right.

It wasn’t so settled a principle as the eighteenth century drew to a close. The Sovereign on the one hand or The Mob on the other had all the rights over life.

The Founders seized the immodest idea that government could not deprive anyone of life capriciously. From the beginnings of civilization, governments treated life as an asset to be exploited for its own purposes as one would the water in a lake or clay in the earth. In the case of a kingdom, the ruler could sign a warrant for anyone’s death on his own authority. In other cultures, any gang of pitchfork-wielding vigilantes could have your head.

We’re still working out what this means in fine slices. Be that as it may, the idea that government cannot willy-nilly take life only began to be codified for ordinary people with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution. That codification required something called due process of law. As big a deal as this was and is nothing in these principles guarantees life.

Your life is a result of a freakishly random set of circumstances that began when the first set of human parents produced children. Lucy Hominid met Dezi Australopithecus in the Addis Ababa suburbs more than three million years ago. Over the millennia some people died before they could reproduce, some lived to reproduce. Of those who did reproduce, some had one child, some had many more. Some of the issue of those parents survived to reproduce and so on until we get to the six or seven billion people now alive. Three million years is a long time, but Humankind really got started about ten thousand years ago as the last ice age receded. Figure four or five generations per century. Imagine the productive power of a single grandmother given four hundred generations.

Next imagine the toll of war, pestilence, disease, natural calamity and pure dumb luck.

The math geniuses among you will want to work out the odds but, trust me, the odds of you being on the planet at this moment are not anything approaching possible. Complicate the calculus further by factoring the odds of your living where you live under the rule of law with the parents you have and the wealth you enjoy. Your unique selfness was lifted up a very steep, very tall cliff to get you here.

Yet here you are. What are we to make of that?

Well, dear ones, we can start with amazement and top it off with gratitude. You can be amazed that something like you that had no say in the matter really matters. You really matter to your friends and family. You matter to me and, one hopes, you’ll matter to the wider world. As zany as it seems, our infinitesimal speck of cosmic dust swirling in an infinitesimal eddy of infinitude of light and space and substance really matters. In a cosmos where it can be said that life is empty and meaningless, where it is empty and meaningless to say that life is empty and meaningless, you are present and meaningful.

That’s why we have reason for gratitude. That’s why expressions of gratitude are important.

Beyond that, though, there is another small matter to consider: We are stuck with each other. We are stuck for better and for worse. We are stuck with all the vagaries that will produce the next generation of people who will matter and who will, in their turn, be stuck with each other.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dude, Where's My Scar?

Dear Children:

The last thing anybody wants is to be laughed at. As much as we abhor the experience, as assiduously we may guard against the possibility, as loathsome is the aftermath; it still happens. Somebody thinks something we did or said was worthy of ridicule. Whether it’s a disparaging remark, sneering mimicry or purposeful misapprehension, it always stings.

You shouldn’t jeer at other people. You never know what the real effect will be. What starts out as a harmless jape in your mind often ends as a permanent bruise on the other’s psyche. It’s also wrong on a couple other counts. For instance, it wouldn’t be particularly brainy on your part to point out the obvious like fatness or pimples. Similarly, there are no style points for repeating someone else’s observation of yesterday; she is stuck with those glasses no matter how hideous.

Of course, we’re all aware of what passes for funny on TV. Fictional people being mean to each other is both easy and predictable. It is not for polite company.

I know, I know. The temptation is sometimes overwhelming. Me? I bite my tongue over people who imagine they sound Wagnerian but what comes out is Alvin and the Chipmunks. All modern poems that contain the words “twas” or “twill” are a regular source of amusement. Fashion advice from the outlandish, elbow digs during concerts and reflexive opinions by the patently ill-informed often oblige an unkind comment.

It is still a temptation best resisted. If someone genuinely wants your opinion and there’s something cute to say, by all means … Even at that, one needs to be sensitive to the real question. An inquiry into whether a new haircut is flattering is an invitation to flattery not a wish for beauty advice.

Two years ago we were calling to invite classmates to a reunion. You would be astonished to learn how many people used as an excuse for not coming the teasing they took forty five years ago. That, for sure, is a long time to hold a grudge. That, for sure, is instructive on the power of the unthinking sneer or foolish observation.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Do You Want Trites With That?

Dear Children:

Can you stick with me on a complicated topic?

Picture a predicament that comes up every day, is a source of conflict, is not taught in school and (most of the time) goes unacknowledged.  Picture a set of terms that everyone uses and no one understands.  Picture an impossibility that regularly substitutes for observable reality.

That would be cliché.

Just to be clear, cliché refers to overused but accepted expressions. A bromide, to make a fine distinction, is an unoriginal expression in response to an original happenstance.  Both are applicable here.  Old wives tales, chestnuts, rules of thumb and platitudes may also serve proxy.

Most of the time we easily recognize cliché for what it is: no problem.  It’s just something harmless that gets said to fill up the space between important things.  Most of the time a bromide is the gloss we use to brighten an otherwise dull recitation on a dull subject.  Whether there are any old wives around to enlighten us is debatable.  Most of the time a rule of thumb simply gets us past pesky precision.

It’s the gooey middle ground between the nugget of truth that first spawned the cliché and the rocky hard place of something you can take to the bank – something on which you can depend – that’s the problem.

See, each of us has at least some values, ideals, principles and ethics that suit us well enough – that make sense to us.  We use cliché as shorthand.  “Honesty is the best policy”, as we have discussed before, is a rich tapestry of interdependent threads that are well attended using cliché.  Each of us shares some of these values and threads and differs on others.  That’s okay too.  A little divergence here and there is healthy and makes us hardier.

No, it’s dependability that we need.  Cliché doesn’t work outside our little circle – our tiny circle of shared ideals and established ethical constructs.  Witness our consternation with pirates and rogue states and terrorists and warlords and animists and communists and anarchists and any others with whom we differ fundamentally.  There’s no shorthand to make common cause with those who don’t and won’t share our codes, customs and dispositions.

There are terms for this too: Culture Clash, Racial Narrative, Class Struggle, Received Truth, Religious Animus, Homophobia, White Guilt and (my personal favorite) Self Loathing all come readily to mind.  No definitions need to be made here.  They are mostly cliché about cliché.  They describe Cliché Conflict.

Nobody expects you to solve intractable human relations problems.  For now, let’s confine ourselves to the everyday and close at hand.  In that spirit, here are some tests for sorting out the harmless from the tricky cliché.

If you are asked not only to agree, but to agree in some specific and fulsome way, you just might be in a cliché conflict.

 If you must recite some prescribed mantra or pay some humbug lip service to be admitted into a community, you just might have a cliché conflict.

If you are dealing with someone for whom jargon takes precedence over substance, you just might be in a cliché conflict.

If you express a thought that is met with anger, resentment or sullen silence and you have been sincere and kindly, you just might have a cliché conflict.

If your colleague is only interested in opinions she shares, you have just observed cliché conflict.

If you are accused of being unable to “get” something by virtue of your race, gender or similar circumstance, you just might have been stung by cliché conflict.

There are lots of examples.

Suffice to say that when argot stands in for thought, pique substitutes for engagement and exclusivity relies solely on the plainly apparent, it’s unlikely to be your problem.  You are better than that.  You have been taught to actively engage, look beneath the surface and to mistrust inconsequential certainty.  You are willing to be convinced by force of argument and not by earsplitting harangue.

It may be hard to hear in this age when we honor diversity and embrace differences, but people who will not try to understand you are the ones with the problem.  There isn’t much we can do about it either.  There is no percentage in a program to kiss a bully into right relationship, for instance. Other means need to be employed.

Cliché then, while useful, is merely a basket of thin reeds that neither protect nor instruct.

I’m just sayin’.

Much Love,


Windows Live™: Life without walls. Check it out.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Happy Pursuits

Dear Children:

The Declaration of Independence is one of those great documents in human history that, at once, lays out a set of ideals that forever elude us and makes a list of specific failings that can be unambiguously redressed.

Among the most ideal of the notions expressed in The Declaration is that of the pursuit of happiness. In the future, we’ll examine what life and liberty rights entail.

Delegates to The Second Continental Congress who approved the document were not vexed in the slightest by the idea. The Virginia Declaration of Rights adopted at about the same time included the phrase and thinkers such as John Locke writing a hundred years earlier were quite clear that this was a bedrock gift of natural law.

To Locke, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and others who held this truth to be self evident knew the pursuit of happiness to be a right to engage in the trade of one’s own choosing. It was not the province of government, church, family, guild or tribe to decide for an individual what employment he should undertake.

In those days, it was quite common to restrict this right. People took names like Miller, Baker and Wheeler. Sons were granted immediate admittance to a guild upon successful completion of an apprenticeship. Other apprentices were subjected to longer periods of servitude and “proofing” before admittance. A person expected to follow in the family business. This, of course, was for the greater purpose of maintaining a class system based on the idea that certain people who practiced certain professions were better or lesser than persons who practiced other professions.

You get the idea.

But imagine the confusion that resulted: Someone named Baker was shoeing horses and someone else named Blacksmith had the temerity to study law. It was quite an unsettling time. The established social order was turned upside down. People who could lay claim to peerage were reduced to mucking barns and others with the humblest of lineage were laying claim to huge tracts of land and exploiting its resources.

As a direct result, the average person living in North American from long before the Revolution to this very moment was richer by far than the average person living on any other continent. We went from a system of resources rationed according to inherited privilege to a system that rationed resources according to wealth. But, because our poor people were still richer than other nation’s poor folks, we were not guilty of abuse.

Maybe not.

In a time like the present when we have become aware that resources that were once thought to be inexhaustible are becoming exhausted, we need to rethink the meaning of the pursuit of happiness. When services such as health care are grievously expensive, is it fair to ration it on the basis of wealth? When we reach the point where finance drives our economy, can we take pride in production and the creation of wealth through endless subdivision of fleeting assets? Have we found the ugly side of the pursuit of happiness?

I don’t think so. We can still work with it. The idea has served us well. As a matter of fact, you should embrace the gift you have now as a matter of settled law; the opportunity to seek your own happiness in the dignity of work. Work is its own reward made all the more sweet by its having been freely chosen. Naturally there are problems for each age to shape and perfect. We hope you will be part of that debate.

The pursuit of happiness as seen by Mr. Jefferson carries strictures of its own. It holds that no institutions may tell an individual what employment she must seek, to be sure. Yet, nothing in the concept repeals other natural laws that bind us together as members of the family of humankind beholden to each other.

Just remember that he says we are the inheritors of inalienable rights granted by The Creator. He lists the pursuit of happiness among them.

That’s where life and liberty come in.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Air Travel Is For The Birds

Dear Children:

There was a time when air travel was unusual, luxurious and expensive. It didn’t take long for it to become commonplace, cheap and painful. Take this morning, for instance.

We arose early in west suburban Boston. That part was okay. We were off to Logan Airport at the stroke of ten for a noon flight. In that time the car could have gotten us 120 miles down the road through fens and forests, history and myth, budding trees and melting snow; 18 wheelers and McDonalds by the score.

Instead there was the TSA assiduously guarding against the 4.5 oz toothpaste tube and ferrous metal. Don’t misunderstand: Nobody wants a hijacked aircraft used as a weapon against iconic buildings or the power grid. Its just that our sense of diligent fairness requires granny to get out of her wheelchair to be wanded, babies to have boarding passes and a suspension (however briefly) of our right to free speech. A mindless devotion to specific rule plays proxy for safety. Yet, we endure it for the greater good even though we know that determined criminals will merely bypass a hardened target for a soft one.

Airports, like shopping districts throughout the world, all look alike. They have the same Sunglasses Hut, the same newsstands, the same over-priced candy, the same stainless steel walls and the same hands-free toilets and sinks. If getting through customs or past the TSA weren’t enough, the glassy far-away stare on most folks is fashioned from pervasive numb and number sameness.

No wonder our minds, if not rotted by television, make great orchid-growing medium. In airports, one sees those portable DVD players, WiFi hotspots and CNN Lite everywhere. Forget sameness, we don’t actually leave home -- God forbid we should take delight in a stopover in Detroit.

Aircraft air is just this side of toxic – closer to ozone than oxygen. We all face forward just like old-timey prison dining rooms. Why is it that city buses can arrange seating for a varied view and airliners can’t? Airliners have a beggar-thy-neighbor system of comfort. The passenger in front tilts back his seat either shortening the one aft or producing a chain reaction of tilts into the empanage. Elbows are not safe from beverage-service carts nor are rest rooms the least bit gag free. What is that blue liquid?

So from Logan Airport we flew to Detroit to layover an hour or so and board a smaller plane destined Omaha. Omaha is not our destination. Our destination is three hours off by car. This is for the purpose of getting a cheaper fare. We save $200 each using this method. Because four Benjamins is nothing to sneeze at, we sneeze at a trip home in the dark.

Early in February it was less expensive to fly from home to Orlando thence New York and retrace the dog-leg than to go directly from home to New York round trip. A nodding acquaintance with geometry exposes that state of affairs for the fraud it is. It is not unlike our prehensile purchase on the idea of telephone long distance when we are all mostly equidistant from the satellite – the hypotenuse doesn’t matter.

Yet here we are at 30 thousand feet unable to see the ground and entertaining the belief that traveling 500 miles per hour is oh-so right. Maybe when this headache subsides and blood no longer pools in my rump, I’ll feel better. Who knows?

Much Love,


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Our Moment Stack

Dear Children:

It’s Lent. In the popular cultural, Lent is as a time of self-denial. Giving up some treasured pastime or food for forty days (plus Sundays) is said to be good for what ails you. This, to be sure, is after a day of indulgence called Fat Tuesday.

Don’t look at me. Getting a reward in advance for a personal discipline in the future may sound a little backward. Who’s to say? Maybe, this one time during the year, arranging things out of order may be the ticket: sort of a feng shui cartwheel.

The religious context of Lent is certainly contrary to the regular way of doing things. One of the lessons of this season is that the things that matter will cost your life. God help us, if something matters, the consequences are profound.

For that matter, the scriptures are chock-a-block with stories about people who are blessed, cursed, killed and saved for their acts. Name an instance where mere thoughts, claims or intentions made the slightest difference to anyone.

In the here and now, in the space we occupy with our bodies, the things we hold dear play out in our actions. It’s not a head-game. It is a function of arithmetic. One action that occupies a moment is exclusive to that moment. Every moment offers a fresh decision about how to occupy that moment. We make decisions whose predicates are resident in our values – the things that are important.

It is no great leap to the conclusion that our values can be read by our actions. The things we hold dear drive our actions in a way that mere palaver cannot. And, by the shortest possible extension, value-driven action pushes out all other possible actions for that moment. The things that matter cost your life.

It’s no accident that we refer to personal history as how a life was spent. It wasn’t unwound out like a length of rope. It was spent. We don’t get a determined number of breaths or heartbeats. We get one moment stacked upon another for a lifetime.

This is a good thing. This is a very good thing.

We spoke of this before. Intentionality doesn’t count. The best we can do is interpret how our values drove us for a moment gone bye-bye. Here’s the wonderful part: we get to amend our values. Surely, if we are unhappy with a moment past, we’ll need to make a change. The next moment is upon us.

It is also the route to happiness. By this method we can be at peace inside our own skins. When there is no disconnect between a profession and an action, all is well. That moment – that lifetime – is well spent.

Much Love,


Monday, March 9, 2009

The Gamaliel Objective

Dear Children:

This is getting complicated. And, just in case anyone’s interested, this blog is challenging my ability to say anything fresh about Big Topics. A couple of your preacher Daddies and some of your preacher uncles know about this problem. The temptation to expound on ever-smaller slices of Big Topic is very real. That temptation is what leads to ever-finer distinctions in theology, dogma and political orthodoxy. In short, we surrender to the greatest single source of conflict that has plagued every moment of every day in sapient history.

Do you remember the dictum that emanated from the Pentagon when the debate was on about the intractable problems of our occupation of Iraq? It was said: Go big, go long or go home. That is a thimble-sized description of the problem with authoritative pronouncements. Going big suggests an imposition of indubitable edict. Going long presumes that we have an open-ended mandate for truth-finding. Going home suggests that once the pearls have dropped from our lips, the job is done.

The policy-makers in Washington decided in the case of Iraq to go big for a while and then go long. I don’t know if that’s the right policy for Iraq, but I do know it’s the right policy for the marketplace of ideas. (Ideas are important not because everybody has them but because so few of us has them. Most of us depend on the ideas of others. Ideas are different from opinions, a distinction that is often lost. Opinions are expressions about ideas, not the ideas themselves.) Ideas are Big Topic. How many Gods are there? Does one of them care about us? What good is learning? What is right relationship? Is there evil? Is there purpose? Does any human life matter? I name just a few.

We need to be committed to the proposition that ideas have lives – lives that are worth investigating. Like everything with a life, ideas are capable of maturing or ossifying – being helpful or destructive. Like everything with a life, potentiality is balanced by withering. Ideas respond to nurturing and shrink with neglect. Ideas can be dead wrong and gloriously transcendent. No idea that has been freely expressed, investigated and subjected to varied opinion is likely to be dangerous. Ideas received by avatars and imposed by bureaucrats without debate are especially dangerous. Do you get the distinction? As they say in The Hood: “Feel me?”

Do not fear the airing out of either ideas or opinions. Instead, fear enforced opinions and ideas or ideas that were snatched from the ether by those with special knowledge or access to special sight. Look up the Sage Gamaliel in The Acts of the Apostles and then let us all know when we last had a Sanhedrin or bothered with Pharisees. There are plenty that aspire the job but they never seem to last.

My plan is to go long.

Much Love,


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Telos All About It, Poppy

Dear Children:

I’ve been re-reading some of my recent work including these posts. I ask this question for you: Who appointed Poppy Grand Inquisitor?

Nobody. In my own defense, please let me describe in the broadest possible terms, what informs these judgments that are inflicted on those who would love me anyway.

The first is the hardship of experience. Just recently, I told someone I love that all education is expensive. If there was ever a thought worthy of a petit point pillow, it is that. All education is expensive because it is wrought from what would otherwise be dross, refined in fire and often turns out to be just another link in a chain. It is never free, never easy and never enough.

Just like the self-help books that describe someone else’s education, these thoughts put down for you can only suggest a place to go for education. The education itself must be won by you and will be available only to you.

I should also tell you what I believe about transcendent things. As you know, I subscribe to rather orthodox, rather stripped-down Christianity. As such, I believe that salvation is free, grace is not only sufficient but also abundant and that God is at work in history. That’s about it. I’m happy to debate all other tropes and claims as well as the plain text of the scriptural canon. I might even hold strong views. Those views are open to interpretation, further reflection and amendment. As such, they are of less substantial stuff than beliefs are made of.

If what I believe is true, I must live a life that is primarily grateful. If my salvation is secure, if my gifts are equal to my tasks and if God will someday make everything right, there isn’t much else to ask for.

Between now and death, life presents challenges. Life is not challenging to test us or even to strengthen us. That’s just how life is -- challenging. Conflict will continue. Unhealthy urges abound. We are made of brittle material that becomes more fragile as we age. That business about the only certainty being death and taxes is flat wrong.

There’s no inquisition here. If I can, though, I’d like to stiffen your resolve to learn and to grow. I’d love it if you embrace the idea that life is hard and that there’s no escape. And, if you could also grasp the idea that there is good purpose to life with grace sufficient for your part in it, well, that would make me very happy indeed.

Much Love,


Monday, March 2, 2009

A Booger Her Way

Dear Children:

The last post on this blog generated a lot of comment. Most wanted to know1.) How can we tell what is showing on our faces and 2.) How can we recognize honesty in ourselves?

One thing is sure: We recognize dishonesty. Dishonesty is easy.

Honesty, on the other hand, is subtle and slippery. Plain, painful honesty isn’t good enough.

Say, for instance, you detect an aroma cloud surrounding your sister. What is the honest thing? “You stink!” is honest in the sense that it’s factually true. Is it possible she already knows? Surely your pointing it out is gratuitous, even mean-spirited.

Yet, there are circumstances where she both doesn’t know and needs to know. Say there is a snot unit hanging from her nose. “Nice booger, Sis!” is, at once, demonstrably true and unnecessarily cruel. Here’s the tricky part: She needs to know. Our job is to be both true and responsible. “Here’s a tissue for that yuck on your nose.” Live the difference.

Almost always, it is better to talk than not to talk. Our talk should strive to be honest and responsible. More often than not, we discover in the course of talk what is honest and responsible. We work out what we truly believe with the help of others. As we talk, the things we say and the expressions that play across our faces reflect in the other. We get a chance to revise and refine our attitudes.

Did you ever get put on No Speaks? Name something less agreeable than No Speaks. It’s the way we punish each other for saying or doing something we don’t like. It is also the least likely strategy for reforming behavior. Isn’t it better to stand toe-to-toe on an issue for a few minutes than to spend days, months or years fuming and mute?

Here’s a favorite: “If you don’t know what’s bothering me, I’m not going to tell you.” Sure, we get angry and don’t trust what we’ll say at that hot second. Anger is a part of our nature. Staying angry, though, is poisonous. Settle the problem. Don’t let it fester and worsen. Why should you be injured by a punishment you mean to inflict elsewhere? Besides, it’s not honest.

Further, an honest and responsible exchange of views sometimes results in that most unpleasant of discoveries: I was wrong. Do not fear this eventuality however odious it may seem. Being habitually right is frequently over-rated and always annoying.

How do we know how we are being perceived? We see it in others.

How do we recognize honesty? We grasp it in true and responsible exchanges with others.

Much Love,


Friday, February 27, 2009

No, Honestly

Dear Children:

We teach others how to treat us.

Make no mistake. Most people look to us for guidance about how they should interact with us. Put another way: people seek hints about their own interest in relationships from the object of that relationship. Such is the curious fact of the matter. Pretty goofy.

Of course there are bullies and other clueless nincompoops who operate independent of the rule. But, bullies and the oblivious form a tiny school of odd fish swimming in a great swarm of wrigglers busily looking outside themselves for tips on how to act.

It’s you I care about, so we should stay in the specific: We teach others how to treat us.

That hang-dog expression we use when we want a little sympathy communicates that we are weak. The snarl that plays across our faces when we’re angry tells others to stay away. That goofy grin when we are unsure is often taken for an unserious nature. Flinching in the face of conflict tells just the opposite story from when we get our game faces on.

Is our head in the clouds? Do we care about our neighbor? Is our language combative or passive? Are we way too cool to bother with another’s problems?

All these things and much more are communicated in our facial expression, our language and how we hold ourselves in three-dimensional space.

The question is: Are those expressions true?

Remember we are teaching people how to treat us. What is gained when we are nonchalant when our interest is keen, for instance? We are teaching that we don’t care in the face of truth 180 degrees off true north. What is taught when we gush over trifles and mock the weighty? Is our shyness real or is our purpose to dodge something unpleasant?

None of this is as difficult as it sounds. I certainly don’t want you to phony-up your countenance or dissemble your language. We should cultivate honesty. We should practice making our faces match the facts.

Try this little exercise: Next time you’re called to answer in the affirmative, say “yes”. At the same time wag your head from side to side in the typical “no” manner. Observe the other person. Does she respond to the spoken word or to the gesture? You will discover that most of the time she will register “no”, some of the time she will register confusion and a small fraction of the time she will register “yes”

More importantly, what have you taught that person about how to treat you? Are you to be trusted? Do you care enough to communicate with clarity? Or, worse of all, are you weaseling to quote yourself later as having been truthful while encouraging a false impression for now?

This is important stuff. Be honest in your words. Be honest in your actions. Be honest in your inactions. Teach others to treat you honestly.

Much Love,


Monday, February 9, 2009

Technicolor Burp 35 Thousand Style

Dear Children:

Consider this tableau from the Orlando airport: A family submitting to the bureaucratic horrors wrought by thirty years of hijackers and terrorists. The tallest among them was a lean and acned dad, eyes focused on the middle distance. Below him was a twirling, bouncy nine-year-old filled with the spirit of one of the princesses that abound in the Magic Kingdom. Looking up at her was a squalling, mulish two-year-old lashed in a stroller. Surveying him was a laconic infant of uncertain gender about the size of a Shitzu, swaddled across a pair of ample breasts belonging to a mom – bedraggled – with a belly full of child number four.

One should think this is an occasion for all those who had been in similar boats to rush in with aid for an obviously distressed group. Not on your life. Rather, the folks who did not look away were abuzz in the line with murmurings of condemnation. Within earshot of the family were questions about why they were there at all and hopes they would not be seated where personal repose might be disturbed. One supposes that these disapproving ninnies could not imagine a planeload of such families wrung out, amped up, rundown and done-in returning from Mickey’s paradise.

Yet, such was the case. There were diapers and screeching, shouts of unfairness, reports of bladder condition, aisle escapes and all the squawking vocalizations of family life. I heard no fewer than six different words for poop. There were entreaties of all hue and level, most of which fell on deaf ears.

Buster, who occupied a small portion of Mom’s lap, was of a mind to puke away his time in the air. At first, Mom didn’t want to hand him over; insisting she was equal to Buster as well as Roxanne’s sullen presence smoldering in the window seat. She was convinced at a second effortless coaxing.

True to his promise, Buster up-chucked strained beets and belched Enfamil clouds all the way to LaGuardia.

This story is about human needs – the ones we all share -- the little things. We do not refer to the self-satisfied pronouncements on family values of politicians and divines. We refer to universal, commonplace, everyday, unrewarded, golden-ruley decency.

We most certainly do not refer to sacrifice. We mean the easy, part-of-our-day, utterly costless decency that oils the gears of human interaction.

Much Love,


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Missed Boats: Regrets

Dear Children:

There has been no shortage of opportunities recently to speak of regret. Maybe it’s the advancing age of my circle. Who knows?

Regret can be recognition that we did something wrong or could have done something better. That sort of regret is healthy and recommended. When we backtrack over our day as its ending, we can assess what went right, what went wrong, what we could have done; what we should have done. Wrongs, after a fashion, can be righted the next day. Right actions are a source of comfort and cheer. Are you with me so far? Just to be clear: there will never come a time when the acknowledgement of the weight of our actions cannot be expressed for the betterment of ourselves and the ease of others.

Just so, there will never come a time when past actions can be changed. We never get a do-over on anything -- never ever. Even when you get to try again – golfers call it a mulligan – that first try is in the books forever and permanently established even if you are the only one who knows. Your future has been affected and your unconscious mind never forgets. That is the case for all actions whether for good or ill. We hear it every day. “If only I had done that thing differently, I wouldn’t be in this pickle.” “When I was nine I had a chance to take piano lessons. Something happened. Now I can barely play the radio.” “If only I hadn’t taken that dare, I wouldn’t be gimping up these stairs.”

I’m here to tell you cuties that those statements are true and serious. See? It’s not about one particular dare. Laser in on whether taking dares at all is a good idea. Accept that actions taken today will play out tomorrow with a certainty reserved for death and taxes.

Here’s the problem: Memories of our actions can morph into a corrosive effect called regret. We get so worked up over mistakes, the memory of them blocks positive action. We come to believe that we are somehow diminished or, worse yet, destined to repeat our errors. The differences are subtle. Please stick with me.

Never express an error by using “if only” as in “I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. I wouldn’t be cooling my heels in detention”. While the statement is true on its face, it is more likely to produce an ugly regret. Instead, express it in a positive way: “I am here because I shot my mouth off”. Can you appreciate the difference? When we acknowledge that we did something and accept that the action is immutable, reform is possible. A wish is not useful. The “if only” statements are what’s known in the movie trade as a MacGuffin – a way to misdirect the viewer from the real action of the plot. A MacGuffin does not explain what is happening. Exposition of the plot swamps the MacGuffin to the point of nothingness.

That goes for the close calls as well. Sometimes rotten things happen around us. We get caught up in them and the consequences are painful. It is never constructive to focus on the negative. Something unfair may have happened. Yet we are still obliged to acknowledge our part in the incident. Yes, even if our part was trifling, we need to make positive concession to the facts. That way we can dwell less on unfairness and more on learning to be sensitive to our surroundings.

There is promise in this. I promise that if you learn to own up to your part in everything that goes on around you, regrets – especially the longstanding ones – become MacGuffin. Regrets lose their power to explain when the facts play out and the story unfolds naturally.

Much Love,


P.S. Mulligan and MacGuffin sound like they could be racial or ethnic slurs like the description of a hammer as an Irish screwdriver. They probably are. Irish screwdriver certainly is. The word handicap began its life to describe a beggar as one whose cap is handy to receive alms. The Shakers, the Quakers and the Puritans all accepted names that were, at first, meant to be unflattering. Our language is chock-a-block with such terminology. Don’t worry about it. The truly crude racial and ethnic smears are well known and should be avoided. Beyond that … you needn’t worry.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Carpenter Rant

Dear Children:

At a certain age, life invites a measure of predictability. Life is never predictable, of course. Life has its own agenda quite apart from individual aspiration. It’s just that the interior gets familiar.

You don’t have this problem. There is nothing especially settled among your emotions. There is little about which you’re confident. Most of your feelings are, at once, resolute and alien.

The golden years are different. Resolute must be summoned and alien is mostly shunned. Do not be in any hurry to reach that state. Hang on to the intensity you feel. Welcome the exotic and outlandish. These are gifts for you from a Providence that provides abundant hours to pay out in wonder and awe. In fact, the only real requirement of youth is to discover how much wonder you can handle and how awestruck you are prepared to be.

Open yourself up to idle curiosity. Fill yourself with silly questions that have no practical answers. Accept that our universe and her mechanisms will forever be beyond measuring. Appreciate the endless complications of conflict and cooperation. Know that every thing in creation is different from every other thing in creation. Constancy in change and changeless in openness obviates discontent.

I’ve taken up woodworking after a long hiatus. I’m attracted, in part, by its timelessness. Noah, Jesus and Geppetto come to mind. The tools we use – hammer, saw, ax and drill -- were invented so long ago we have no idea who contributed so profoundly to our lives. For millennia humankind has struggled to shape wood into things useful and beautiful.

Since then, the tools for shaping wood have changed only to make the struggle more precise and more forgiving. We now have very sharp, very exacting, very fast; very responsive tools that contribute in no way to the satisfaction one feels at completion. Epeius and Joseph of Nazareth felt exactly what all woodworkers feel.

The privilege of the child is joined with the need of the older adult. The wood in its stock form is freighted with potential. No amount of planning and no anal regard for the diagram produces a finished product identical to its conception. The wood completes no destiny as Michelangelo suggests. Instead, the wood is consequential along with the tools and the artisan. The process is breathtaking.

Clearly, it’s not predictable.

Much Love,


Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Place Called Nope

Dear Children:

Everybody has an opinion about the Middle East and its troubles. One hopes that you too will take an informed view of the history and present goings on there as well. Maybe you will be the one that finds the right formula that satisfies the dizzying buffet of competing interests in that region and disconnects them from the dizzying variety of competing forces across the globe that complicate and harden those interests. The death, the destruction, the wasted resources, the wonton hatreds, the deferred progress, the misdirected innovation, the slavish cult of revenge, the petty tit for tat, the fresh quarrels and manufactured slights that crop up with each new generation multiply and flourish. There is little optimism and less hope.

As you are thinking and learning about this region, keep a few practical considerations in mind.

1.) Innocent people are difficult to find. Once someone joins a political party, writes a letter to the editor, paints a slogan on a wall, lobs a stone, teaches conjecture as truth, contributes money for propaganda or weaponry, harbors a criminal or shuts his eyes to wrong-doing … all of them have taken a side. Truly innocent people, by extension, are invisible and unrepresented. To be sure, there are lots of innocent people. They just don’t seem to matter.

2.) There is plenty of guilt to go around. Every faction has its own version of history, its own ethnic and religious mythology, its own justifications, its own thugs, its own warmongers, its own blinders and its own simmering suspicions. There is no shortage of factions. If this region is rich in anything, it is rich in factions.

3.) Strife is normative. In our country, we have succeeded lately and in some minimal way in settling our differences peaceably. Peaceable resolution of dispute is thin and fragile. We could lose it at any moment. Nevertheless, it has made us smug and superior toward those who don’t settle grievances in court or through the ballot box. Violence is the resort of choice for a largish fraction of the world’s leadership. For them, it works.

4.) Motives are impossible to assess with certainty. No one knows the mind of another. As such, it is dangerous to act on the basis of perceived motivation. The manifest actions of others are tricky enough. Whatever you do, though, beware of those who claim unique, didactic or exceptional knowledge.

5.) The Socratic method lets us down as well. In the Middle East we insist that our interlocutor agree to a specific set of facts or circumstances as a condition of civil discourse. This is, to be sure, a cultural locution that works well in tribal settings and is not meant as a criticism. Far from a trope, it allows all parties to be right all the time. To us it looks like the parties are not engaged at all. Rather, they seem to be talking past each other with no particular ambition for agreement. This is, indeed, the case.

Does all this mean the peoples of the Middle East face utterly intractable problems? Yes it does. So far, the only stable regimes in that part of the world have had to rely on either oppressive police-state rule or other forms of fear. Bugbears are as numerous as the factions that animate them.

So, what do you think: More cops or more bogeymen?

I’ve decided what I’m doing. My prayers are with Senator Mitchell and his mission to the Middle East. I hope President Obama will be serious and courageous about peace. A new model is required. The cycle of violence must be broken.

Much Love,


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Not My Job, Man

Dear Children:

By now everybody knows Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois shot his mouth off about profiting from his power to fill a vacant senate seat. It remains to be seen if narcissism over a tapped ‘phone line is a crime. We’ll see if prosecutors can convict someone of being a bully. All that is for the future. For now, the governor’s reputation has taken a hit from which it will never recover.

How does something like this happen?

Well, my dears, one answer is that the governor was always a braggart. He was always a bully who hid his pettiness and mendacity from the electorate through four elections – twice for Governor and twice for Congress. True enough. Who knew the guy was like that?

The answer to that question should be on all our minds. Who knew?

Lots of people knew. Lots of people helped him pull the wool over the eyes of voters. Lots of people sat around watching him browbeat donors. Everyone on his staff, everyone who was intimidated by his antics, everyone who signed off on the fruits of his extortion and everyone who heard informed whispers knew all about it. There must have been thousands who knew. That’s who knew: Thousands.

Which begs a question or two about the ethical duty of those who knew: At the very least shouldn’t someone who knows about notorious and barefaced criminality turn on her heels and run in the opposite direction? Shouldn’t someone victimized by unlawful persuasion pick up his iPhone to tell the cops? What about those who had a fiduciary, judicial and friendship duty to the governor? Did they try to correct his behavior?

If everyone who knew discharged his lawful and ethical duty toward the governor, he would not be twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

There is nothing new about this problem. It has ever been thus. It is possible to be responsible but not guilty. The enabler is far more difficult to prosecute than the ganef. The wives, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, landladies, tailors, waiters, dog groomers and clergymen who know they’re getting a slice of pelf all have a stake in the misdeed. Those who knowingly benefit share culpability to some lesser or greater extents yet are granted a smug chuckle at the expense of the exposed felon.

See, in the end, we are responsible. We are responsible to recognize those situations where harm is forming. We are responsible to correct the behavior of those who would do harm. Failing correction, we are to hop the first stagecoach out of Dodge. When all else fails and the wrong done sufficient, we are obliged to snitch.

Making these decisions will haunt your whole life. By now you have seen situations such as these and struggled with your conscience. School is a petri dish for moral ambivalence. Anyone who tells you that your duty is always clear is obviously unclear on the meaning of duty. Doing the right thing is messy business.

Much Love,