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On Confidence

January 31, 2017

There is such a thing as KNOWING you are right. This is not to be confused with BELIEVING you are right.

This seems to beg the question, “Right about what?” but I do not.

In every aspect of life that has some consequence, we are bound to consider the various paths of action, and having done so, choose one. In private life, in private decisions, the result of having chosen this path or that will have limited consequence. You gamble and win, you win; you gamble and lose, YOU lose. You risk your family’s fortunes and lose, you ALL lose.

It’s a different order of risk for generals and heads of state to rush forward on ill-considered paths, courses set by political obligations set in motion by the promises of an earlier campaign. A wrong decision dooms not the individual, but the nation, sometimes the world.

This is where KNOWING and BELIEVING part ways.

Mark Twain has a little parable about this, at the end of Chapter XIII of “Life on the Mississippi.” It’s about the responsibility that shipping pilots have, to the boats they are guiding, and everyone and everything on them. About not allowing yourself to be led astray from the path that you know is the right path by the voices all around you telling you to go this way or that.

It’s about knowing the right thing to do.

Not everyone seems to understand the distinction.

The Power of the Pen: On converting impulse to action

January 24, 2017

Now that the march is over, the time has come to take the next step. One of those steps will be to act in the thousands—the millions—to let every elected official in the country know that you have opinions as to the right course of action, and you expect them to be heard, and honored.

This will take work. It doesn’t have to be grueling, but if it’s too easy, it will carry too little weight. Clicking on a petition is easy; composing an email, deciding who to send it to, finding out where to send it, and then doing it again and again, is more akin to work.

Work is picking up the tools and using them. Think about what it is you want to say, then sit down at the keyboard and compose the letter. Not write—compose. Using .doc, shift the sentences and paragraphs around as needed, until the composition itself has power. This is more than just an opinion piece, this is a skillfully projected argument intended to sway the recipient—the congressman, the senator, the chief executive—to see things the way you do, and act accordingly. If you are haphazard in your presentation, you will be wasting your time and theirs.

Maybe you want to change the course of history, and stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or the dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency, or the approval of the oil pipelines, or the wholesale deportation of immigrants, or any of a host of other disastrous policies the new administration is considering. If you want to have any effect at all, you will have to start with reason and compelling argument, before resorting to emotional appeal. That has its own place in the dialog, but it is not the prime place.

Now you have the letter. Determine who among the power elite is most likely to be receptive, and start with them. Who will they be? Ask google. What is their address? Ask google. Who else should I contact? All your friends and acquaintances who you believe will share your opinions, and help to forward them along. Who else? Ask google.

What about those who I know won’t agree with me? Ask yourself, only you will know whether your arguments will persuade them.

The Power of the Pen is only one course of action. Not the most difficult—that is yet to come. But your voice, heard in the millions, will demonstrate its power.

The Power of the Pen: More important now than ever

January 20, 2017

The old adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” has taken on a new meaning, and a new urgency. But in today’s volatile world of instantaneous communication, where irreparable damage can be done to reputations and diplomacy by the issuance of an ill-considered, off-the-cuff, and outright dangerous TWEET by a man soon to be head of state of the most powerful and well-respected nation in the world.

The new adage: “The Pen is mightier than the Tweet.” The well-considered, fully developed thought, presented in complete sentences and paragraphs, skillfully argued, has got to be the strongest tool we have to combat this insidious threat.

Those who think the complex issues of the world can be described, addressed, and resolved in an onslaught of 140-character missives must have small minds indeed. Those with a more expansive intellect will need persuasive, well-reasoned discourse to offer real solutions to real-world, urgent problems.

This is where the flow of real ink in a real postmarked letter, or a carefully constructed and persuasive email to your friends, your community, and your legislators can have the power to make a difference. The more such persuasion, the greater number of such letters, the more powerful the flood tide of correspondence, the more likely we can demonstrate that it is the people of the United States who wield the power, not the dark money oligarchs.

You can use Google search right now, to find the addresses of your own state and federal legislators, as well as those of the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders, and let them know you expect better, of them, and of the incoming chief executive who seems to think that the solutions to problems facing the nation and the world can be described in 140 characters.

Without your active participation, they will never know the power of the pen. This is more important today, than ever. The newly inaugurated president, and the party-first congress who supports him, MUST hear the voice of America loud and clear.

Please forward this message along to anyone you know who hopes for a better future for the USA.

Don’t ever think “It can’t happen here. . . .”

January 19, 2017

First they came. . . .

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— poem/statement by Martin Niemöller, German Protestant pastor during the Nazi era

He was held eight months without trial and when his case eventually took place he was found guilty of “abusing the pulpit” and was fined 2,000 marks. As he left the court he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to be “re-educated”. Niemöller refused to change his views and was later transferred to Dachau.

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

December 24, 2016

At Christmas-time, bombarded as we are with sentimental commercial messages aimed at getting us go buy-buy-buy, it’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in what we tend to think of as traditions. The retail decorations and the piped-in music carols start in November. A lot of those “traditions” are not so old, they only seem that way. Santa Claus made his appearance in 1821, Scrooge and Tiny Tim in 1843, and within a few decades had become the dominant images associated with what was once a religious holiday. Even for those who live in warm places, snow seems to have become important, immortalized in the song “White Christmas” only in 1942. Charlie Brown had his first Peanuts Christmas in 1966, the same year Kwaanza came into being.

Is that all the time it takes to make a tradition? What about those of us who remain apart from the retail frenzy, or those of us whose own personal take on the solstice holiday does not involve religious imagery, or fake snow and Santa Claus suits, or artificial trees and candles. What about the rest of us?

There’s another tradition taking hold, at least as old as Kwaanza, conceived in 1966, popularized in a TV show in 1996, and now showing up in holiday displays all around the country. It’s “Festivus,” for the rest of us.

It was first observed on December 23, 1966, in the household of author and editor Daniel O’Keefe, the father of TV writer Dan O’Keefe, as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas.. The word Festivus in this sense was coined by the elder O’Keefe, and according to him the name “just popped into my head. The English word festive derives from Latin “festivus”, an adjective meaning “excellent, jovial, lively” which in turn derives from festus “joyous; holiday, feast day”. The phrase, “a Festivus for the rest of us” originally referred to those remaining after the death of the elder O’Keefe’s mother, Jeanette, in 1976; i.e. the “rest of us” are the living, as opposed to the dead.”

Customary practices include the traditional Festivus Dinner: meatloaf on a bed of lettuce. No alcohol is served, but quaffing from a hip flask is encouraged. Immediately following the meal comes the “Airing of Grievances, in which each person, opening with the words “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!” tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed them over the past year.

The “Feats of Strength” are celebrated immediately following the Festivus dinner. The head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges them to a wrestling match. Tradition states Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned. Failing to pin the head of the household results in Festivus continuing until such requirement is met.

The traditional “Festivus Pole” is a bare aluminum pole, originally the trunk of a 60’s style aluminum tree shorn of all its branches. The aluminum pole was not part of the original O’Keefe family celebration, which centered on putting a clock in a bag and nailing it to a wall. “Festivus miracles” seem to consist chiefly of wagers won, and bets collected.

Since the notoriety given to Festivus by the Costanza family in the TV show Seinfeld aired in 1996, the holiday has won wider adoption nationwide.

In 2005, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle was declared “Governor Festivus”, and during the holiday season displayed a Festivus Pole in the family room of the Executive Residence in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2010, a CNN story featuring Jerry Stiller detailed the increasing popularity of the holiday, including US Representative Eric Cantor’s Festivus fundraiser, and the Christian Science Monitor reported that Festivus was a top trend on Twitter that year. In 2012, a Festivus Pole was erected on city property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, alongside religious themed holiday displays. A similar Festivus Pole was displayed next to religious displays in the Wisconsin State Capitol, along with a banner provided by the Freedom From Religion Foundation advocating for the separation of government and religion. For the third year in a row in 2015, a Festivus pole has been displayed at state capitols in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Washington.

But according to Dan O’Keefe, “The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year…I don’t know why, I don’t know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, ‘That’s not for you to know.’”

But for those of us who grow weary of the hype and hoopla surrounding the Christmas holiday in the way its come to be celebrated, every year, remember this: There’s a Festivus for the Rest of Us.

Émile Zola: “I am waiting for something else. . . .”

November 21, 2016

Émile Zola–quoted from Naturalism on the Stage (1881)—-

“I am waiting for something else. . . .I am waiting for someone to put a man of flesh and bones on the stage, taken from reality, scientifically analyzed, and described without one lie. I am waiting for someone to rid us of fictitious characters, of these symbols of virtue and vice which have no worth as human data. I am waiting for the environment to determine the characters and the characters to act according to the logic of facts combined with the logic of their own dispositions. . . . I am waiting for everyone to throw out the tricks of the trade, the contrived formulas, the tears and superficial laughs. I am waiting for a dramatic work void of declamations, majestic speech, and noble sentiments, to have the unimpeachable morality of truth and to teach us the frightening lesson of sincere investigation.”

Zola may still be waiting. I’ll try to do my part to let him rest. . . .

Playwrights on Playwriting: Arthur Miller

November 4, 2016

“So, there was a kind of confidence underlying this play, a self-disarming quality that was in part born of my belief in the audience as being essentially the same as myself. If I had wanted, then, to put the audience reaction into words, it would not have been ‘What happened next, and why?’ so much as ‘Oh, God, of course!’ ” [Arthur Miller, speaking about Death of a Salesman, quoted in Playwrights on Playwriting]

As I am weaving scenes from a marriage into a play, a modern—or perhaps not so modern—or perhaps timeless—tragedy arising from the intimate preoccupations that precede and ultimately lead to unforgivable betrayal, I myself should heed Miller’s words.

The subject matter may be lofty, the characters and their deeds at least superficially familiar, but the playwright’s intent must be to write to his audience, about themselves. Things they can understand on a deep-seated physical level, a feeling that “This is—or it could be—me.”

No audience wants to be preached at. They want to see themselves, doing what they do in their ordinary lives, making the mistakes they regret, or will regret. Therein lies the drama, or the tragedy.