Shocked! Shocked!

“The founder of Johns Hopkins owned enslaved people. Our university must face a reckoning,” said the headline in a Washington Post Op Ed recently. Martha S. Jones, the author, is a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, and director of the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project. 

She was shocked! shocked! that Johns Hopkins, the founder of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital, had once owned slaves.  She joined legions of people who are shocked! shocked! that their heroes, from Washington and Jefferson forward and into the 1800’s, owned slaves.

Martha was so upset at this discovery the she prostrated herself on the Opinions Page of the Washington Post, not to mention taking off her Johns Hopkins sweatshirt “in a small gesture of reckoning but a sincere one”. 

Now that’s penance, albeit with a small “p”.

There are a lot of Martha’s out there who are shocked! shocked! at the fact that many of our founding fathers owned slaves.  

The Romans, if one is to believe historians, thought slavery was just fine. It was one of the spoils of war and contributed to the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire.  Slavery – of all races -continued as a spoil of war for centuries, all the way up to the 1780’s when slavery as a spoil of wars in Africa became the subject of a huge debate during the Constitutional Convention. The southern states and northern states couldn’t agree, so they kicked that can down the road and crashed into it 72 years later in the Civil War. That resulted in a legal solution. The associated moral issue of racism is still being resolved.

LGBTQ was accepted in Ancient Greece. That attitude lasted right through Washington’s time and into the 1800’s in this country. But, by the 1950’s, it was verboten, against moral and legal (in some states) law. The 1969 raid by police of the Stonewall Inn, a gay hangout in Greenwich Village, New York, led to demonstrations that many say triggered the eventual acceptance of LGBTQ people today, 50 years later.

In the 1980’s, Congress passed a number of laws that resulted in long sentences for those caught with marijuana. 40 years later, we’re passing laws allowing not just the possession, but also the selling of marijuana, even as we are just starting to think about giving get-out-of-jail cards to those who broke the 1980’s laws. 

We think of morality (especially our own) as absolute, permanent, locked in stone. But, while the wisdom of some morality has remained consistent over time (“judge not, lest ye be judged” comes to  mind), much has not.   

Morality has evolved over time, just as everything else in nature. What the Marthas of this world need to remember is that what is morally upstanding today may be less so tomorrow.

Washington and Jefferson (and most others) were taught from an early age that slaves were part of a healthy economy and that African Americans weren’t completely human. Thus the compromise in the Constitutional Convention describing African American slaves as 3/5th of a white person (at least for population counting.)

As a kid, Johns Hopkins was taught that slavery was OK. Then he and his generation saw the cruelty and immorality of it and taught that lesson to the next generation.

There are numerous examples throughout history of evolving morality. Criminals were drawn and quartered at one time. Thieves hands were lopped off. Pirates walked the plank. Speaking out against a country’s leaders was grounds for death. (and still is in parts of the world). 

It is easy to look back on all of that with an air of superiority. But consider how people might look at us 50, 60, or 100 years from now.

In our current moral certainty we jail people for some crimes and not for others. If you’re black and rob a store, you’ll do more jail time than the white pharmaceutical company owners who hooked hundreds of thousands on pain killers and caused thousands of deaths, not to mention the Wall Street types who bankrupted millions. Lying in court can land you in jail; lying in politics can land you in the White House. 

Will future Marthas look at us and our era with shock! shock! or will they see us as a combination of good and bad, learning and evolving morally as well as physically.

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“Oh Give Me A Home, Where The Buffalo Roam”

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking at January 20th with great trepidation. Boring Old Joe is going to take over the White House.

No-more insulting foreign countries or US military heroes. No more shredding of protocols and tradition.  No more hyperbole and lies. The Bully of the Bully Pulpit will take his last flight on Marine One and with it, bring down the curtain on so much of our daily drama.

Whether you love Trump or hate him, life is going to be very -extremely – boring without him. 

Looking to prepare for this major change, I decided to leave the comfort of my static life and do something I had never done before; risky times call for risky actions.

I spent the weekend at an RV park. 

RV’s, to me, had always been the hippos of the freeway, huffing up a hill in the passing lane and preventing me from even approaching the speed limit much less exercising my right to exceed it.

Usually, there would be an old man or woman in a baseball cap with both hands on the wheel staring serenely ahead and oblivious to my need to get somewhere…fast!

In a way, they remind me of the covered wagons of the early Americans except, where covered wagons usually had a horse tied to the back, RV’s have a car or boat. And instead of forming a circle at the end of the day to ward off attackers, RV’s form straight lines in RV parks, usually off a secondary highway and often near a stream or lake.

And they’re not wagons; they are mini apartments, with bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms with hot and cold showers, and living rooms with TV’s and internet. They come in all sizes and colors, from the classic tear drop trailers of the 1930’s to the behemoth Winnebagos of today. 

RV parks are actually big housing tracts, where the houses come and go at will.

They come in all sizes and prices, from small, used ones at a few thousand dollars to huge, ritzy ones at half-a million and more. They have brand names that recall calmer times, like “Tropical”, “Solitude”, and “Bighorn”, and better times, like “Minnie” and “Thor” , the brand my friend owned.

“This Coach is a gift from our children… paid for with their inheritance” says a sign on one RV. The couple sitting in lawn chairs next to it nod as we chuckle. “Absolutely true”, she says.

Like RV’s, there are a variety of people in RV parks.

There is a couple in their 60’s, he with a German accent and she with a Hispanic lilt. He has left others in charge of his MD group in Illinois so he and his S.O. can roam for a few months. His RV is also a Thor, although not the same model. He shares a few tips he has learned about the vehicle and the lifestyle.

While we are chatting, two white haired people in motorized wheel chairs, ride by us and wave. 

On the one hand, this is a world I have never visited. On the other hand it is vaguely familiar. People are relaxed and happy, eager to interact without posturing or artifice, and instinctively considerate.  Although there are dogs everywhere, each one is leashed. Kids dash in and out and ride bikes as freely as they did before grownups filled their lives with playdates and after school activities. 

A movie star beautiful woman is walking her puppy. Her three kids run and laugh as she stops to chat. She and her husband had made a living with their food cart, but Covid killed their business, so they sold their house and now live out of their RV, where she home schools the kids and he works part time. 

We pet the puppy and ask its name. “Seven”, she says with a soft smile and explains he is named after an infant son who died seven years ago in a car accident.

Her candor speaks to a sense of community and trust rarely encountered between strangers in today’s world. Indeed, the whole park has the feel of an era when life was slower, when it provided real, not manufactured drama, but also gave us the breathing space to deal with it. 

President Biden may seem like a boring prospect, but after this weekend, boring seems pretty exciting right now.

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Dear Joe,

Don’t worry about not answering my 25 earlier emails or calls. What with the campaign and all, I’m not at all insulted. My son ran for President of his high school and I was with him every step of the way,.. except when he was at school. which is where he campaigned… So I know what you went through. 

You’re doing all the right things in terms of staying cool in the face of Trump’s foot-stomping temper tantrums. I do advise against putting your foot down when he rants about the election, though. It can cause hairline fractures of the lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones. The good news is that will require wearing a boot, so if Trump shows up at the Inauguration, you can put your foot down – on his foot.

Picking a seasoned, smart, and calm set of professionals to lead your administration is such a clever move. First time in 4 years, if I remember correctly. 

But you have to do more than that. You have to corral the feral cats that make up the Democratic Party. You have to calm the Republicans who have been made crazy by Trump. You have to make Americans believe each other again, not to mention believe in each other.  

Here’s my considered advice.

Have occasional televised Zoom Halls, with a moderator, similar to those you had in the campaign. Make sure to invite folks from different parts of the country. Answer questions candidly- no spin. If you don’t have a good answer, say that. If you can’t answer for security or other reasons, say that. If any of them are wearing MAGA hats and long, bushy beards, keep your answers simple and use one syllable words.

Clearly Fox and other Trump networks will try to undercut you, but, Zoom Halls will do for you what Fireside Chats did for Roosevelt: create a bond of trust with the American people.

And from time to time include Kamala Harris. The country has to get to know and trust her, too, because…really Joe, how long do you have? 

Stop using the word “socialism”. The word is toxic to many in the country, especially the older, less educated voters who think communism and socialism are the same, even though they’re not. Socialism involves nationalization of commonly needed resources (healthcare, education, utilities, for example).  It is  successful in countries like Sweden and Denmark. Communism which started as an extreme version of socialism, has never actually existed. It was immediately morphed into dictatorship by Russia. Older Americans remember ducking under school desks in Atom Bomb drills because of Stalin and Mao.  Communism and socialism are equally feared by old White types, even though they graduated from public schools, drive on our national road system, and collect Social Security checks.

Outlaw the phrase “Defund police” by Democrats. It implies eliminating police through budget cuts. Who in his right mind would do that, outside of a Mexican cartel? “Refund police” might be more appropriate in terms of putting police money toward training in mental illness treatment, community policing, and de-escalation techniques. 

Get down to Georgia right away. Hold hands with Stacy Abrams and ride her coat-tail. Ditto Carter. Send every celebrity who scores well in Georgia. Take the spotlight away from Trump. Use surrogates to blame Trump and Kemp for everything wrong with Georgia.

Take AOC and the other ultra-liberals to a quiet lunch and softly knock heads. Explain that you have enough problems with McConnell and his bunch and if she roadblocks you, she’s giving the Republicans an easy march to 2022, not to mention 2024. Convince her that timing is everything, including her time in the sun, which can’t happen without a Democratic sweep in 2022.

Make infrastructure the priority, after Covid 19, as part of reviving the economy. And give rural areas special attention. I know city and suburban kids like video games, but country kids might, too, at least after milking time. And their parents wouldn’t mind exchanging party line phones for Netflix.

Right after that, how about giving education a boost? Imagine a generation that understands the difference between socialism and communism, a generation that understands why “Black Lives Matter” became a slogan instead of “Black Lives Matter, Too”, a generation that respects giving as much as taking, a generation that values nature as much as the future because without one, the other won’t exist, a generation that…

…Wow, Joe, you have a lot to do! But don’t worry, you can call me, any time.

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Things I’m thankful for

As this week of Thanksgiving unfolds, it’s appropriate to think of things I’m thankful for. After all, that’s what the pilgrims did, right?

So, I’m thankful for the pilgrims; I wouldn’t be here without them… I guess. I haven’t looked up my ancestry at or 23 and Me, so for all I know I could be some guy with a European accent or African or Native American or Chinese or Russian… or Brooklyn…

Wow! Thinking about where one comes from can get overwhelming.

I’m thankful I’m an American who isn’t hungry or homeless or afflicted by Covid19. I’m thankful I have kids in the same shape. 

I’m not thankful that they are better looking, nicer, and smarter than I am. Or younger. Why is youth always given to the young? They don’t need it – I do. And what about grandkids? How fair is that?

Speaking of nice, I am thankful for dogs, especially my dog, Buddy. I complain about him, but he never complains about me. That’s nice.

I’m thankful for frozen dinners. In this time of closed restaurants, it’s the only way I can avoid food poisoning. 

I’m thankful for my friends, the ones who are left after the election.

I’m thankful for my ex-friends, the casualties of  the election. They taught me that politics doesn’t just make strange bedfellows; it estranges bedfellows.

I never thought I’d say this: I’m thankful for Mitt Romney.

I’m thankful (sort of ) for Tom Brady. He and Gronk taught the country that Belichick didn’t win all those games with his genius; Brady and Gronk did – with their talent.

I’m thankful for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, AP, Reuters, the networks, the BBC and other “Mainstream Media”. They double check their facts. When they make a mistake they admit it and correct it immediately. That’s journalism.

I’m thankful for Fox news and much of Social Media. They taught us the difference between journalism and propaganda.

I’m thankful for Netflix and the other streaming services. Who’d of thought you could bring candy to a movie without hiding it in your coat? Who’d of thought you could go to as many movies as you want in a month for the price of just one movie?  

I’m thankful for ZOOM. I can fill my living room with friends’ faces and laughter and leave their germs outside.  

I’m thankful for Dr. Anthony Fauci and his calm, sustained adherence to scientific fact. His simple truths overpower bombast and lies every time. 

I’m thankful that the election is over, that dignity, civility, and as much integrity as the “art” of politics allows, will return to the White House.

I am thankful for those who wear masks; it shows their caring. I am thankful to those who refuse to wear masks; it shows their utter selfishness.

I’m thankful for nature:  birds, fish, wildlife, the sun, the sky, water, mountains, valleys, desert, air – all of it feeds and nurtures us even as we beat on it.

I am thankful for food banks and other charities for giving me so many ways to help others.

I’m thankful for the written word. It entertains and educates me, not to mention giving me something to do every week.

I’m thankful that the biggest sacrifice my family and I have to make through this holiday season is to wear a mask and stay away from each other.  Or, as I like to put it: “I love you. Now don’t come near me.”

Happy Thanksgiving, turkeys!

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What’s a poor sport?

Before you jump in with 20 one-liners, all ending with Trump, let’s hold those guffaws. 

Who asks a question like that? In this case, it was a six year old girl. I don’t know what prompted the question. She might have heard her parents talking about the 2018 Dodgers stealing signs in the World Series or Bill Belichick’s videotaping opposing team practices. 

Or Baby Donald’s tantrums at losing to Biden. 

(Sorry. Couldn’t resist. On the other hand, this really isn’t a guffaw moment, is it.) 

Traditionally a poor sport is someone who cheats in a competition or loses, and then, rather than accept the loss, complains about the winner, the rules, or the referees. We’ve all seen it: a thrown baseball bat, a football helmet slammed on the ground, a tennis racket flying at the ref.

Being a good sport has been a standard of our culture for, well, ever. For example, since 1865 when the Marquess of Queensberry Rules were written (by a Welshman), bare fists have been forbidden in boxing.

Other sports developed protocols, too. Like politics and business.

Today senators refer to even their most hated enemies as “My Colleague” or “Our friends across the aisle.” It’s a way of keeping arguments civil, as opposed to the early days, like in 1804 when Alexander Hamilton accused Aaron Burr of corruption. They settled it with a duel. Hamilton – the good guy –  lost. 

One politician, corrupt, trying to destroy the other – hard to believe, huh.

Human beings have developed rules for how to treat each other from the Garden of Eden forward. For example, shaking hands was a way of showing the other guy you weren’t about to knife him. 

Rules like that were an attempt by humans to avoid the rule of the jungle whereby the meanest, most ruthless, hungriest one wins. (Although, when you think about it, we’re the only animal that kills other animals for pleasure.)

Our culture has had basic rules about how we treat each other for, well (again), ever. 

But there’s always been something of a dichotomy. 

We teach our children not to lie or cheat or steal, the Golden Rule, the importance of shared sacrifice for the higher good, that kind of thing. We teach them about George Washington and the cherry tree, about Abraham Lincoln walking miles to return a few pennies, about Roosevelt smiling through polio.

Some people call that the American Character, a culture of shared values that settled the west, fostered the Industrial Revolution, launched us back across the pond in WWI and again in WWII, and into world leadership.

But then there were the likes of Carnegie and Rockefeller and Henry Ford. 

In 1919 Henry Ford got wind that the the Dodge Brothers, who provided engines and transmissions for his cars, wanted to start their own car company, using dividends from their Ford stock as startup money.  Ford promptly stopped paying dividends. When the Dodge brothers sued, he claimed he was increasing shareholder value – and won.

From then on, increasing shareholder value has been the shield companies, from Exxon to Marlboro, from Big Pharma to Big Tech, have used to take advantage of consumers, suppliers, and employees. 

Some people call that unchecked Capitalism. 

Over time we’ve always kept Capitalism in check with laws reflecting our shared values. Teddy Roosevelt put a lid on Standard Oil and J.P.Morgan monopolies with the Sherman Anti-trust Act in 1901; it held for years. Judge Harold Green did the same thing with AT&T in 1982. 

We’ve kept authoritarians in check with the Constitution, from Andrew Jackson to Huey Long to Richard Nixon.

(My kids did that to me by turning 21)

In the last 50 years or so, though, the ethic of lying, cheating and stealing has begun to overpower personal integrity. Legal lying is rampant in advertising, not to mention politics. Cheating is sweeping through the educational system, not to mention  business.

Stealing is part of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and headed for Main Street.Google sells us services then steals our data and sells it. Wall Street bends the tax code to its benefit. Chain stores with 40% and 60% off sales are chasing Mom and Pops from Main Street.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

We’re out of balance, America. Trump is not an aberration. He’s the hood ornament. We’re shedding the rules of civility and fairness that brought us here.

Six year olds are right to ask, “what’s a poor sport?”. The real concern is how we answer.

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