Pat’s Plaque

They start gathering in the lobby of McGuigan Hall in the evening on Tues, Sept 7, 2023, mostly white haired men and dye haired women. They are members of the Borough Council,  Police Chief Lou Marcelli,  Public Works Superintendent Ira Dutter,  Borough Manager Tiffany Loomis, other citizens and even a few elementary school kids. 

Paintings of Malvern from an earlier era by local artist Randall Graham line the walls – with one exception, which is covered with a grey tarp.

The crowd grows to thirty or forty. There is light laughter, shoulder pats, and handshakes as they watch the double glass doors for the reason they’ve gathered this Tuesday night.

A few minutes before 7:00 Pat McGuigan, grey haired with a military bearing only slightly softened by time, walks through the double glass doors and up a few steps to the main lobby. He is accompanied by Margaret McGuigan, slim, soft-spoken and elegant.  They chat with friends in the crowd. They hug their children and elementary aged grandchildren.

The Borough of Malvern started life as the “West Chester Intersection”. The last stop after the last stop on a train line, originally known as The Philadelphia Main Line, now just “The Main Line”, brought the wealthy out of 1800’s Philadelphia to escape summer heat.  

The “West Chester Intersection” became Malvern Borough in 1873. Unlike other stops on the line, the Malvern station offered not mansions, but a transportation hub for local farmers to bring their produce and pick up supplies. Eventually, as farms gave way to estates surrounding the Borough, Malvern Borough became a blue collar village. 

It stayed that way through the 1900’s until, between the 1950’s and the 1980’s, while the rest of the Main Line modernized, Malvern slowly slipped behind. King Street had dowdy storefronts and no streetlights. Sidewalks were in disrepair or absent. The one bookstore sold porn. Rust and rattles grew on the bridge built over the train tracks to connect one part of town to the other.  The water system was barely meeting state codes. 

At 7:00 PM sharp, Mayor Zeyn Uzman steps up to the covered picture. He tells the crowd why the Borough Hall was named for retired US Army Command Sergeant Major Pat McGuigan, who came to Malvern in 1982 and saw, as Pat put it: “a great little town that just needed to be brought into the 20th century.” 

The Mayor removes the cover and reveals, not a painting, but a plaque with photographs and text describing just a few of Pat’s accomplishments for the Borough: A new bridge, a new water system, new sidewalks, new street lights, refreshed store fronts, and the most significant – not just for the Borough – but the whole country: the rescue of the Revolutionary War Paoli Battlefield from developers. He talks about Pat’s Malvern journey, from joining the Planning Commission to leading it, to joining the Borough Council and leading it, to, when the town faced bankruptcy, being recruited as Borough Manager and turning it around to the point of reducing taxes four times in five years.

While the Mayor talks, Pat stands stiffly facing him. (His legs are hurting today, but he’ll be damned if he’ll admit it or give in to them. And he has always disdained this kind of attention – You do things for the common good, not for personal accolades.) But just for a moment, as Margaret looks at the ground, the crowd, the plaque – anywhere but her husband- the Mayor sees some mist in Pat’s eyes.

When the Mayor has finished, when the applause has died down, Pat speaks with a voice softened by 89 years. He reflects on 30 years of military service, a wife who supported him through myriad moves while raising 7 kids, and a town where he bought a house, sight unseen. 

He talks about the need for individual citizens – everyone – to contribute to their town, to care for it, to keep it as it was for him since 1982, “the United States of America the way it should be.”

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The Great American Balancing Act

Our democracy is a balancing act, deliberately designed that way. That’s why we have three equally powerful branches of government: the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court.

The Constitution is also full of balancing acts. For example, the First Amendment allows freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the right to petition. You can talk about your cheating spouse, but not state secrets; you can be a member of a truly stupid religion or cult, but not if it endorses raping or killing people; you can protest in front of the White House but not on the White House lawn; you can petition Congress, but you can’t storm the Capitol after a disappointing election. 

We’re a nation of laws that require balance, too. That’s why we have judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

One of the reasons our democracy has thrived for nearly 250 years is shared values. They are not just written into the Constitution; they are the pole that holds us upright and steady through the constant balancing acts.

I’m talking about “Thou shalt not steal, lie, or cheat”. These are values derived from most religions, including that bearded guy who carried stone tablets down from the mount.

Previous American generations were brought up believing in those values. Today, in many ways, they are artifacts, like black and white westerns.

Sure, politicians have skirted truth on occasion in search of their goals. Car dealers have been smarmy since just after WWII when cars were scarce and buyers plentiful, so plentiful that dealers would promise them all a car and then play them against each other for the highest price. And crooks have always been crooks. But they were the exceptions.

Most people didn’t lie or steal or cheat the way they do now. We had Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, not Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Our heroes were stalwarts of good ethics, like Superman whose “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was a source of pride, not cynicism. We trusted the media, banks, hospitals, schools, local and national governments, police, the courts, and other institutions. 

That balancing pole of shared values enabled our democracy to move steadily forward, with the exception of those unbalanced years between 1861 and 1865.  

Over the last few decades, however, the country has begun wobbling again, like a tightrope walker with a flimsy balancing pole.

It is easy to blame it on “He Who Rode Down” his personal escalator from his personal mount carrying his own set of values, which resulted in 30,000 false or misleading statements in 4 years, 3900 children separated from families, and 91 indictments spread over four jurisdictions, not to mention millions of smitten fans who support him despite his values of lying, stealing, and cheating.

But let’s not forget two things: one, the citizens of this country elected him in 2016 and might do so again in 2024; and two, the rejection of shared values started well before The Don arrived, or he wouldn’t have been elected in the first place.

When Nixon was caught covering up for just one crime, the Watergate burglary, the nation was outraged and Nixon, with only 20% support, resigned rather than risk humiliating himself. When Ford pardoned him, the nation was outraged again, to the point of not re-electing him.

Compare that to The Don and his willingness to fight two impeachments while President, and 91 indictments while running for President again with the support of 40% of voters, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight poll.

What happened?

The same thing that put more guns into the country than people, the same thing that allows Comcast and Verizon, Amazon, Google and others to operate like monopolies, the same thing that has allowed Fox News to spew lies for years, the same thing that has broken trust in our institutions, from Congress to police to the medical system to public schools to the media. 

A loss of shared values.

Which is why this great American balancing act is teetering, the pole of shared values twisted into angry knots.

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Why I’m Not Afraid of Getting Old

When my parent’s generation grew old, they were, to put it politely, screwed. 

During their lives cars had been invented, so if they got sick, they could get to a hospital faster. On the other hand, being old they could drive badly and get into bad car accidents and die, because, well, cars had been invented.

They could get sick and die from all kinds of new diseases discovered in their lifetimes, like Ebola or Sickle Cell or HIV or SARS.

Wars were much worse in their life times and occurred with more frequency: there were 20 years between WWI and WWII, 5 years between WWII and Korea, and 1 year between the Korea and Vietnam. 

I feel sorry for my parents’ generation; the older they got, the more ways there were to die.

My generation’s wars are much smaller and kill fewer people. Iraq and Afghanistan were pretty deadly, but nothing like my parents’ wars. Also, my generation is starting to use drones and robots in place of people. Pretty smart, huh? 

Medically, my generation is looking much better than my parents’ generation. It may be almost impossible for us to schedule a doctor visit, but we have Urgent Care.  And if Urgent Care is full our doctors can make a house calls via computer. Granted, we only get 5 to 10 minutes a visit, but we do so from the comfort of our homes.

Oh! And concierge doctors – the newest thing – will actually answer the phone or see me in a day or two …or make a house call! (OK, sure, to give credit where credit’s due: house calls were invented by my parents’ generation… actually their parents’ generations…actually many before them…. On the other hand, my generation rediscovered them, so we’re still cool.)

When my parents’ generation got too old to drive, they depended on their kids or busses or taxis to get to the train station or grocery store or the mall. Not me. When I’m too old to drive I have all of the above plus Uber and Lyft.  

If I need groceries, instead of going to the grocery store, I can use Instacart. And guess what? When I use Instacart, I just buy what I need; I don’t walk all the aisles and get sucked into impulse buying. 

And for other items, I can use Amazon or Walmart or Target or others.

Who needs kids, anyway?

And guess what? I don’t need to go to the bank at all; I can do all my banking with my computer (except for cash and cash is so 20 Century).

Being old and housebound might crimp time with my kids or friends, but I have Facetime, so I won’t have to stare at the wall when I’m alone the way my parents’ generation did. And with Facetime I won’t have to get dressed up either; I can just comb my hair and put on a clean shirt. In fact, I won’t even have to brush my teeth (just kidding. I will. Really. No, really)

So, all in all, I’m not afraid of getting old. I mean, the only thing I’m worried about is losing my memory. But that’s unlikely.  I still write my columns.

When my parent’s generation grew old, they were, to put it politely, screwed. During their lives cars had been invented, so if they got sick, they could get to a hospital faster. On the other hand–

–Wait! Did I just say that?  Oh crap!  I’m screwed!

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The Best Trip Ever

We’re walking down a dirt road, 6 of us, each holding the lead to a horse that patiently plods along beside us. It is sunny, blue sky, one or two white clouds, t-shirt weather. Lush green meadows line either side of the road.

Before we met them, before they bounded down from an upper meadow into the corral, our host spoke about the horses in several languages, each of which he spoke fluently to accommodate our several nationalities.

“These are rescue horses”, he said in Dutch accented English. “They have been beaten and attacked by other horses and humans. We’re teaching them to trust again.” He had been a successful businessman in Amsterdam until he got sick of it and decided to shelter himself and the discarded horses on a sparse piece of land in Portugal. 

This was day 2 of a week long trip to Portugal my youngest son gave me for my 80th birthday. He remembered trips I had taken with each of my kids – when he was little.  “I did?” I asked, trying to sort through 8 decades of misfiled memories. “I felt really special” he said.

Our host gently leads his horse into the left meadow. “Time to eat”, he says. 

My horse follows enthusiastically. He blows through happily widened nostrils, pulls me over to a large clump of grass and chomps, blows, chews… finds another clump… chomps, blows, chews… pulls, pulls… 

At the Lisbon airport, instead of rushing us through, the car rental agent teaches us some Portuguese: I learn “Thank you”(Obrigado from men- Obrigada from woman) and “Thank you very much“ (Muito Obrigado). Cool!

As he eats, I notice short, black scars on his neck and back. Horse bites or barbed wire, I surmise.  I stroke his back. All but one of the horses are white, with grey manes and tails. One, a tan horse, the smallest, is led by my son, who, at 6’3” has an arm casually draped around him. 

My son has planned the week sparingly, preferring, as I do, to just explore. He’s scheduled a couple of Airbnbs and a few events, like meeting these horses.

The leader knows them like a mother knows her kids. My son’s horse, he tells us, is the herd leader – young, tough, and irascible. His name is Rocky. Yep, after that Rocky.  

My son picks a small Toyota and we drive south for about 2 hours  to beach country. The highway is like any US highway, with fewer cars, and muito fewer trucks, but when we leave the highway, we hit narrow roads that started as foot paths hundreds of years ago and wind their way from farms to towns to cities and back. Small cars -there are no big ones – share the roads with pedestrians who chat and stroll unhurried by deadlines or bills due, or deposits to be made.

After about 15 minutes, horses and humans leave that meadow and follow our host up the road to another meadow and another grass break. I tell him he’s a good horse, scratch under his chin and pat his neck. I see others doing the same thing. 

We stop at a grocery store. It is pretty and bright with narrow aisles and lots of food with names we don’t understand. We gather some basics, eggs, bread, juice and pay with credit card. Aisles are narrow. Shoppers pull small, wheeled baskets and chat and smile. The check-out lady holds up the line to learn where we’re from and how long we’ll be there and where’re we’re headed next and… no-one behind us complains.

After two grass breaks, we head back, strolling quietly alongside  our horses. 

One morning I nap; he gets a surfing lesson. We cook. We stroll through small towns. We wander beaches where we carry our shoes and feel the sand as we walk by couples with young children quietly playing in the water or just racing the waves back and forth. Whether they are in a restaurant or on the street or playing in the sand, children are left to their pursuits as parents watch. It is rare you hear a cry or an outburst. They are admonished as necessary, but without anger. They are treated as children, not small adults. 

Back at the corral we remove the rope halters and take pictures. That’s when the host brings out a bucket of dark goop for each horse… as a reward, I guess, for being patient with tourists. It looks awful, but the horses gobble it like 2 year olds with ice cream. They are relaxed and happy. So are we.

One beach is overhung by natural bridges where visitors stand behind split-rail fences guarding a 30 foot drop, where water rushes in, pauses in the sand, and then flows back out to sea. Along with one or two other tourists, I climb over the fence to stand on the edge to get a picture – somewhat wobbly, as my 80 year old back and legs almost fail me. As I climb back I hear my son mumble, “Freaking me out, Dad.”  


You have to follow before you can lead, I always told my kids (But don’t forget how to follow, I remind myself.)

For one whole week, I’ve broken character: followed while my son led. He took me to a country with virtually none of the stress Americans feel every day, a country filled with sun, beaches, and small pleasures, and people who live with little – little friction, little strife, little conflict. It was the best trip of my life.

Maybe the horses have it right. Maybe I can get used to following.  

Obrigado, Haydn. Muito Obrigado.

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Suppose We Changed Just A Few Words Of A Times News story.

Here is a March 27 New York Times story about Netanyahu’s attempt to exert more control over Israel’s Judicial system:

“Mr. Netanyahu’s government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israeli history — has sought to give itself greater control over the selection of Supreme Court justices and to limit the court’s authority over Parliament. Critics fear the changes will remove important checks and balances on the government and erode democracy. Supporters say the changes would curb the influence of an overreaching and unelected judicial bureaucracy.

Mr. Netanyahu’s firing of the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who had called for a halt to the process, sparked overnight demonstrations. Protesters returned to the streets on Monday, gathering outside Parliament in Jerusalem and blocking a major road in Tel Aviv. There were also calls for counterprotests from a leading coalition lawmaker, Simcha Rothman, who has led the efforts to overhaul the judiciary, and a far-right group of soccer fans.

The fight over the judicial plan has become a stand-in for a deeper ideological and cultural dispute in Israel between those who want a more secular and pluralist state and those with a more religious and nationalist vision. Religious Jews, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, see the court as an obstacle to their ultraconservative way of life.”

Now, have a look at, the same piece with a few  changes:

“Mr. Trump’s government — the most right wing and religiously conservative in US history — has sought to give itself greater control of Supreme Court justices and to limit the Justice Department’s authority over Trump and his allies. Critics fear the changes will remove important checks and balances on the government and erode democracy. Supporters say the changes would curb the influence of an overreaching and unelected judicial branch.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell’s packing of the Supreme Court with religious and secular conservatives generated the Citizen’s United decision, which allowed Republicans to flood the election process with billions in anonymous money,  gerrymander Democrats out of power, and use the electoral college to achieve national power, despite being the minority party.

Protesters took to the streets after the Supreme Court allowed conservative states to turn a woman’s right to abortion into a crime. There were also calls for counterprotests from authoritarians Trump and DeSantis who are leading efforts to turn the 50 United States into one authoritarian state.

The fight over the once non-partisan court has become a stand-in for a deeper ideological and cultural dispute in the US between those who want a more secular and pluralist state and those with a more religious and white nationalist vision. White nationalist Christians, particularly, see the new court as an enforcer of their ultraconservative way of life.”

Interesting, huh?

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