Buddy Discovers Halloween

The sun is setting as I take my standard French poodle for a walk.

He speaks French, Bark! and English. My other poodle, Philo, did too, but Philo also preferred wit on our walks – the way D’Artagnan preferred a sword – to skewer the less intelligent. Me.

My new Poodle’s name is “Buddy”. That, alone, should tell you the difference between him and Philo. At just under two years old, Buddy focuses on more basic things, like watering the neighborhood fire hydrant. There is none of Philo’s haughtiness. 

On this evening he spots a squirrel near the hydrant. 

“What’s that?” he asks. All 60 pounds of him lunges toward it, almost yanking my arm out of its socket. “Did you see that? Did you? What is that? Looks cool, huh? I think I’d like to play with it?“

I heave back on the leash as the squirrel darts over to a tree trunk, where it stops and looks back, flicking its tail mockingly at Buddy.

Buddy lunges again, nearly upending me. 

“It’s just a squirrel, Buddy.” 

“Oh cool! Do they like dogs?” Then to the squirrel, “Do you like dogs? I can bark in French! Really, I can!”

He strains against the leash. The squirrel suddenly darts up the tree and sits on the branch, scolding Buddy. 

Buddy starts up the tree, too, but falls off.

“Jeez!” he says, getting up and starting back down the sidewalk. ”Squirrels aren’t very fun.” 

A moment later, he sees a much bigger squirrel and, once again, hurls himself at it. I use both hands on the leash and yell something too strong for family readers. The really big squirrel doesn’t move an inch. Then slowly it turns, not away from Buddy, but toward him. Buddy keeps pulling closer.

“I wouldn’t do that Buddy.” I say, struggling. “That’s not a squirrel.”

The cat, tail flicking back and forth, teeth bared and menacing, ears back, is now facing Buddy in a “want to make something of it!” crouch. 

Buddy pulls closer and closer to the cat, until…there is a short spitting sound as the cat swipes a paw at him, then dashes off. Buddy jumps behind me, wrapping me in the leash.

“What the…! Mon Dieu! ” 

“See, cats, if they don’t know you, can be very nasty.”

“Yeah…”, he says. “But you’ll notice he ran, not me!” He starts walking purposefully again. “I must be a pretty tough Poodle. Bien sur.”

The sun drops completely away and we continue our walk in the dark. His tail and nose are up. He is fully alert. 

Which is really helpful as we approach the driveway next to our house and he is greeted – not by a squirrel, not by a cat – but a whole slew of huge orange creatures with open mouths exposing jagged teeth and glowing yellow throats. 

There is the sound of un-oiled hinges opening and closing as shadows race across the front of the darkened house behind them.

Buddy doesn’t leap forward; he leaps behind me, pulling the leash, and thus me, backward. Fortunately a bush breaks my fall. 

Unfortunately it is a rose bush. 

I get back up on my feet. He gingerly approaches one of the orange things. Unlike the squirrel, it doesn’t budge. He slowly moves closer, wriggling his nose in an effort to get a clue about this new creature. Nothing.

He stops and barks, once. The creature stands its ground.

Buddy barks several more times. A dog inside the house starts barking.  

Buddy looks at the house in surprise. In seconds other dogs in the neighborhood join in. It’s a cacophony.

There are sounds from the sidewalk behind us. A crowd of kids is coming toward us in the darkness. They are wearing masks and scary clothes. Grownups behind them are waving flashlights.  

Buddy grabs the leash in his teeth and starts pulling me away from them, toward our house. He doesn’t stop until we’re home.

Once inside I tell him he didn’t have to be afraid. It is just Halloween. The scary orange creatures were pumpkins and the kids were trick or treaters, looking for candy.

He slowly lets go of the leash and looks at me with disdain. “Mais oui!”, he says. “I knew that. But you looked so scared, I just wanted to get you home so you’d feel safe. I am a French Poodle, after all. We protect our minors.”

“You mean, “masters”, don’t you?”

“Really? I save your life and you want to be called ‘master’?”  

I guess there’s a little of Philo in him, after all.

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Why I don’t lie…much.

It’s not that I look down on liars. I do, but that’s not the reason I don’t lie much. 

And it’s not that I don’t find myself, on occasion, in need of a really good, really inventive lie. For example, when I’m at a restaurant with a new friend and the food is really expensive but just OK tasting and the server interrupts my attempt scintillating conversation with “How’s the food?”, I wish I could say something truthful, like ”It’s not great, but I’m really trying hard here, so could you please just buzz off?!”

But I don’t. “Great!” I say, hoping he won’t ask anything else and run my train of thought further off the track. It’s a lie. And not very clever, but it allows me to get back at the task at hand quickly.

There are all kinds of lies; for example: Loyalty Lies. 

If a friend asks how I like her new dress I always, always like it. Ditto hairdos, shoes, and all her friends.

My friends’ kids are also cute as buttons and very smart. 

Or Silly Lies.

Years ago, and I mean many, many years, a single friend and I were at a bar, sitting a few stools away from a very pretty woman. He told me to pretend to argue with him – and loudly. So I did. We yelled back and forth for a minute or so and then he held his hands up. He walked over to the woman and said, “Could you settle an argument? My friend thinks you’re 40. I don’t think you’re a day over 30. Which of us is right?” 

Of course, not everyone appreciates Silly Lies. The woman paid her bill and left. 

I think one reason so many young people like Bernie Sanders is he doesn’t seem to lie that much. If he did, I doubt he’d even use the word “socialist”, as in “Democratic Socialist”.  The “S-#@!“ word has been taboo since the 1930’s, when it was first confused with “communism”. In the 1950’s, McCarthy used it to great advantage until he got caught lying. Trump is already polishing it for use next year on any and every Democrat.

The media and Democrats say Trump has lied over 10,000 times since taking office. His fans call that a Statistical Lie – or would, except they really don’t care; he’s their liar, after all.

Also, at this point we all know he lies. So, no big deal, right?

When other politicians lie, though, it is a big deal. When Elizabeth Warren kept saying she’d raise “taxes” on the wealthy to pay for Medicare For All, but “costs” wouldn’t go up for the middle class, I was really impressed. Until I realized “costs” sounded like another word for “taxes”, but it could have meant that overall “costs”, including “medical” would shrink, but “taxes” would still grow. She just didn’t want to tell the middle class their taxes could still go up.

That’s called a Clever Lie. Most politicians excel at those.

Trump is one of the best liars ever – no matter what the reason. For example, I’m sure he never had to lean on his dog for a missing homework. Nope, I’ll bet his excuse was, “I’m sorry to say teacher, your dog ate my homework.” 

The thing that makes him such a great liar is he never backs down from a lie. He lies about the lies. 

It’s a very good tactic, but you have to be good at it.  

His “acting” Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, tried to pull a Trump in trying to “walk back” (lie) about his lie to Fox’s Chris Wallace last Sunday about Trumps’ “quid pro quo” phone call with Ukraine.  (See YouTube “Mick Mulvaney One-On-One with Chris Wallace 10 20 19”).

He got most of Trump’s moves right. He was measured, confident. And best of all, he kept a straight face. (“Who, me lie? Oh Gosh, No!”)

But he failed at the lie about the lie. All he offered was, “I didn’t say what I did say”. Definitely not up to Trump standards. Trump would have said something way more bombastic. 

It was like the Eagles Cody Kessler trying to become Carson Wentz.

That’s why I don’t lie much, except for Loyalty Lies. It’s too hard to make up a really good, believable lie, too hard to deny it when caught, and too hard to remember, down the road, what the heck I had lied about anyway.

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When Standing On The Sidelines Isn’t Enough

One of the best things that ever happened to Malvern, PA was Pat McGuigan. This self-deprecating ex-Army Command Sergeant Major retired to Malvern in the 80’s, drawn by its rural, down-to-earth charm.  A doer instead of a talker, Pat became President of the Borough Council for a time and then retired again. 

One day in the 90’s, when Malvern woke up to being virtually broke, Sam and Betty Burke, town elders for whom Malvern’s Burke Park is named, brought McGuigan back as Manager. He did two things that had immediate impact: one, he stopped all but the most necessary spending (legend has it that when the Police Chief bought something without an OK, McGuigan made him pay for it) and two, every night after dinner, he and his wife Margaret walked different parts of the Borough, getting to know the people and spotting small problems before they became big.

Within two years, he had brought Malvern back to health.

Pre-McGuigan, many area realtors avoided Malvern; post-McGuigan, they feature it. Malvern had arrived. That’s one reason the Malvern government bulding is named McGuigan Hall.

This is the kind of leadership the country yearns for today: an honest, modest leader who gets things done. Despite all the headlines, these kinds of leaders still exist. You just have to look for them behind the blowhards and me-firsters.

Rural villages like Malvern are fragile things, easily overpowered by voracious developers and ego-centric politicians who want more high rise apartment complexes, more sidewalks, more stop signs, more speed bumps, and other symbols of “progress”- people who simply don’t get it.

And then there are people who do get it, like Pat McGuigan.

And Joe Bones. 

Joe and his wife, Sarah, first moved into an apartment on Woodland Avenue in 1976. Later they bought a small house on High Street where they raised two children and embarked on successful careers. She is a freelance photographer and video director; he has been one of the “experts” at Bartlett Tree Experts since 1971 when he graduated from Conestoga High School. An arborist who now supervises 300 people, he has lectured on tree care and safety as far away as Singapore.

In the middle 80’s, he and Sam Burke started the Malvern Tree Commission. Around the same time, Sarah joined the Borough Planning Commission and eventually became the Vice-President of the Borough Council. Their joint commitment to open space resulted in Randolf Woods, an untouched wooded area behind the Malvern Fire Station that is now protected by state law. 

Why do I tell you about one couple in this one little town? 

First, Malvern is a great example of what once was and still can be: a small town inhabited by people who – corny as it sounds – have timeless values like integrity, volunteering, and a strong sense of community. 

Second, Joe Bones is running for Malvern Borough Council. 

A few years ago, he noticed that Randolf Woods wasn’t being taken care of properly. Its neighbors were dumping rusty bikes and other trash. Walking paths were being vandalized. 

He went to the Borough Council with his concerns. 

“They listened politely, said ‘thanks for telling us’ – and did nothing”, he says.

But Joe understands process and perseverance. He went to the Planning Commission and together they formed a committee of 10 other citizens. Then all 10 went back to the Council. There is now a 90-page plan in place for maintaining, upgrading, and preserving Randolf Woods, along with funding. 

“Randolf Woods will be a jewel”, Joe says. 

Why run for Borough Council? Because of politics today. 

“I realized that standing on the sidelines isn’t enough anymore”, he says. “You have to do something.”

“Zoning needs to be updated,” he adds. “Something as simple as setbacks requirements (the space between properties) need to be revised.” 

He also noticed that Council votes have become somewhat automatic. “People don’t ask questions that much anymore. I just think we need more questions – from Council Members and the public. It’s our town, after all.”

Several days a week, Joe and Sarah walk the Borough. They chat with fellow Malvernites. When they see a defective telephone pole, a cracked sidewalk or other problems, they report it to the Borough Manager.  The problems get fixed.

Good people pick up on good practices.

And good people aren’t hard to find. You just have to vote for them.

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The Question For Regulators

When I was in high school some of the coaches were also teachers. The other teachers were respectful to the coaches, but were well aware of the difference between a coach/teacher and a teacher/teacher. Teacher/teachers thought of themselves as, well… smarter.  It was subtle, but prevalent.

The feeling filtered down to students. We were pretty convinced that having a coach as a teacher was a ticket to easier classes and better grades.

On the field, the head football coach, Coach Corkery, was from the Knute Rockne school of football – no pain no gain, sacrifice everything for the team, leave it all on the field, that kind of thing. 

As hard-nosed as he was on the field, though, we were pretty sure his US History course would be a snap. After all, how much could a football coach with the winningest record in decades, care about US history, right?

But we were wrong. He actually liked teaching and he really knew his history. The drill sergeant was gone. If you hadn’t done your homework, there was no yelling; he simply ignored you.  

And instead of barking commands, he asked questions.

One day he walked into class with just one question: what differentiates the US version of democracy from other democracies?  

Without offering even a hint of an answer, he watched us argue and debate for the entire 50 minute class. Just before the bell rang, we hit on an answer: protection of the minority. He smiled and waved us out. 

Like all lessons one learns for oneself, it was one I’ll never forget.

The concept is embedded in the Constitution, inherent in Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, States Rights, the Amendments, and the Justice System. Even the basic three branches of government are designed to protect against too much centralized power.  

Small wonder so many of our regulations stem from the Constitution’s protections of the minority. 

When Teddy Roosevelt came into power there was an imbalance between the haves and the have-nots. People like Rockefeller had cornered the market on oil, creating a monopoly that cut out other providers and controlled prices. So Teddy outlawed monopolies to protect those without money and power.

In the 1930’s, his younger cousin, Franklin, further balanced power with a series of regulations designed to protect the have-nots from the haves. 

The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment banking from personal accounts, so banks couldn’t use your savings to fund their investments (the kind of thing that led to the Great Depression and, more recently, after Clinton dumped Glass-Steagall, the 2008 Great Recession). Roosevelt added Social Security to protect retirees from becoming homeless. He established the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring electricity to the poor in the Tennessee Valley.  

From the thirties through the sixties, unions organized workers and gave them power to balance that of the big companies. They pushed through laws protecting the minority they represented – the middle class. So the middle class thrived.

Recently, though, with the arrival of Silicon Valley Oligarchs and an economy and tax system that benefits the very wealthy, the pendulum has swung back to the side of the haves.

Now Rockefeller has been replaced by Comcast’s Roberts, Carnegie by Amazon’s Bezos, Mellon by JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, and so many CEO’s who are paid five and six hundred times what many of their employees are paid.

We’re living in a second Gilded Age.

Why does the pendulum keep swinging back and forth? Because human beings are competitive and have been since the first caveman grabbed the biggest cave. 

You see competition in every aspect of today’s world, from sports to politics to economics.

Competition fuels capitalism which has led to the great success of the US. We all want the biggest cave. The only problem is that capitalism, unregulated, becomes the law of the jungle; a lot of people end up with no cave.

Socialism goes the other way. Countries in Scandinavia, for example, have tons of regulations designed to make sure everyone gets basic necessities. Minorities are protected. So, everybody gets a cave of some sort. But socialism also discourages the incentive to compete.

So there’s a natural tension between capitalism and socialism, between the law of the jungle and the law of humanity. 

Between protection of the powerful and protection of the powerless.

The question for the regulators – and voters – is: how much is too much and how little is too little? 

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)