What’s the Honorable Thing To Do?

Yesterday, John Kelly, the chief of staff for President Trump, said a “lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Further, he described Robert E. Lee, the confederate general who fought to preserve the rights of states to enslave Africans, as an “honorable man.”

It occurred to me, Vera, that so much in life is about deciding what’s the honorable thing to do. General Lee reached one decision. President Lincoln reached another. Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren in Pennsylvania reached another.

Mr. Kelly is entitled to his own opinion, of course. But it’s important to note that not everyone embraces his concept of honor. Indeed, at the time of the Civil War, there were people in the South who thought slavery was morally repugnant. And who also believed it was wrong to kill others in battle in an effort to preserve this perverse economic system.

Yet I have no doubt General Lee thought he was doing the honorable thing. And that Mr. Kelly sees honor in the general’s choice.

It’s not for me to judge whether General Lee was an honorable man. It is up to me, however, to judge whether my own actions are honorable.

What is honorable? What isn’t? Is the distinction always apparent? Or does the messiness of life and the pull of forces in opposing directions make the answers more illusive than they’d otherwise appear?

Some people like Mr. Kelly caution against imposing 21st-century standards of morality on 19th-century characters and events. And I suppose that’s where he and I part company.

Personally, I believe it was always wrong to enslave other people. To put them in chains. To deny them their liberty. To treat them like chattel. Animals. Sub-human.

I find honor in people who resisted those impulses. Not in people who fought and killed others to preserve it.

But I suppose that’s one of the reasons Mr. Kelly can work for Mr. Trump.

Stupidity Recorded for Eternity

Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald recently tweeted:

Now that every stupid, offensive, transgressive comment of young people are recorded on the internet, need standards for how long they count.

He added:

Most who are 36 would be horrified by things they said at 19. This is the 1st generation where youthful stupidity is recorded for eternity.

This is the world in which you’re entering, Vera.

Mine was a gentler, more forgiving world. About the only thing that seemed to live for eternity was some inane comment we may have scribbled in a classmate’s yearbook. And let’s face it, unless you were to become rich and famous, it’s unlikely those comments would see the light of day. And even if they did, they were unlikely to be as toxic as many of the things youth post today on the Internet.

The standards for dialogue have dropped and dragged our youth with them. I can’t believe some of the things people will write about their professors, coaches, fellow classmates and others. All sense of decorum seems to have flown out the window.

But you don’t have to participate. You don’t have to share things with the public that may end up haunting you for the rest of your life. You can be more discriminating. You have a choice.

I get the problem, of course: a teenager or someone in their early 20s may lack the experience and judgment to make sound decisions when it comes to matters such as this. That’s true, which is why one should err on the side of discretion. And not sharing.

Let someone else embarrass themselves. Let someone else establish a reputation as a fool or idiot. Just don’t let it be you.

This may seem like odd advice from someone who shares with the public his writings to you. Note, however, I’m in the late stages of my life, not the early ones. There is less at risk. Moreover, despite the degree to which I do share, there is an awful lot I don’t.

The litmus tests for me are:

  • Would it unnecessarily hurt someone?
  • Would the information cause a loved one to feel responsible in a way that I don’t think is helpful to anyone?
  • Would it be gratuitous and serve no useful purpose?
  • Is my opinion well grounded, or is it something I’m basically pulling out of my ass?

Certain things are appropriate for my journal, not my blog. And still other things may be appropriate only for my inner thoughts, never to be shared with anyone.

One very practical thing to remember is that prospective employers and colleges routinely check applicants’ “digital footprints” — that is, what the applicants reveal about themselves to the world on the Internet.

Some of us leave a very large footprint. And that footprint frequently ends up being the reason for a rejection by a prospective employer, client or institution.

Some may say they don’t care. That’s fine. But, at a young age, are you really in position to make such a decision? Is it that essential to share things that are likely to limit your future options?

In some cases, it might be. But it is obvious to me that in quite a few cases it’s merely a product of bad decision-making. Or of thinking your opinion matters more to the world than it actually does. Most of the time, no one else really cares, and our opinions are pretty irrelevant.

In any case, remember that all of us will say or do something stupid in our lives. More than once. If we’re lucky, and smart, evidence of that stupidity will not live forever on the web.

So, You’re Going To Be a Doctor

Vera, a couple of weeks ago your grandmother and I looked after you when you parents had some business to attend to. You were interested in the protective guard I was wearing on my left arm, the one a surgeon had recently cut open to install a plate and screws. I removed the guard so you could see the incision, which by now had had the sutures removed. You were quite curious and not the least bit scared or queasy about it. You touched the site of the incision, now closed and in the process of healing further.

Because of your surprising interest, I then showed you my shoulder, where a different surgeon had repaired fractures with even more hardware, requiring an even longer incision. The incision isn’t pretty (actually, it’s considerably worse looking than the arm), but, again, you had a curiosity that was compelling. You asked if you could touch it. I said, yes, wondering what was going through your mind.

I then remarked that, given your interest, perhaps you should become a doctor. I asked you if you wanted to be a doctor when you grew up. Without hesitation, you said, Yes! I said you’d have to share your new career plans with your parents when they returned home.

Quite a while later, we heard the garage door. When the door to the kitchen opened, you took off to enthusiastically greet your parents as you always do. It was then I heard you tell them: “I’m going to be a doctor!”

I feel I should receive a fee for this career counseling. You and your parents have avoided hours if not years of struggling to find your chosen career. At 27 months, you already have yours in hand, thanks to me!

I realize, of course, that it’s possible you will change your mind. I also realize there is no way a 27-month-old could understand what the job entailed. Or what she was actually saying for that matter.

That said, I wouldn’t be disappointed if you did become a doctor. I always thought it would be interesting and rewarding to be a doctor — a profession in which you get to help people and make the world a better place on a daily basis. I never had the memory to handle all the terms, nor the interest in memorizing all that stuff that would be required, but in a way I wish I had.

As a lawyer, I helped people and companies. But it wasn’t the same. I didn’t save lives. I didn’t find cures or heal. My contribution paled in comparison to a doctor.

That’s not to suggest there aren’t many other career paths that afford opportunity to satisfy one’s cognitive appetite and make a real contribution. There are. Even in the law, there are such options. But I never went that direction.

My addition to affirmation and economic security that comes from professional success led me to a law firm that accepted only those at the top of their class. In return, they paid well and gave us the opportunity to handle interesting, complex matters. I liked that. But nearly all our clients were businesses. Everyday people couldn’t afford our rates.

I wish I had recognized my addiction at an earlier age and worked to overcome it. But, as with so many things, it seems things are easier to spot with age.

In any case, Vera, it doesn’t matter to me what you choose to do when you grow up. I just hope it’s something you enjoy and that you’re good at it, and that it enables you to make a contribution to the world.

Most of all, I hope you do it for the right reasons.

What I Love About Donald Trump

Donald Trump is despicable on so many levels. Most (perhaps all) of his values are abhorrent. His language is coarse and offensive. His behavior is disgusting and crude. He’s a race-baiter and hate-monger. His temperament is ill-suited for the presidency (or, for that matter, any role requiring a modicum of civility). He’s a pathological liar. Simply put, Vera, if you came home with a boyfriend like Mr. Trump, I’d wonder where we (your parents and everyone else who played a role in your life) went wrong.

But there is one thing I like about him. He’s a doer. He tries to get something done.

The reason that’s important is, we desperately need to get something done in this country. Opportunity for most Americans has been shriveling on the vine for decades now. Only the very top of the socioeconomic pyramid has been doing well.

Communities have hollowed out. Men past the prime of their careers have been kicked to the street. Students have gone deeply into debt ($1.4 trillion and growing). Debilitating drug use is no longer a street corner thing, or something that plagues only “the other side of the tracks.” For heaven’s sake, even the death rate has been rising for certain demographics!

Meanwhile, our fiscal condition, both at the federal and state levels, continues to erode. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our investment in basic research is declining. Most people can’t afford to educate their kids or to pay the dentist or doctor. And God forbid they ever require a hospital. Social Security and Medicare are barreling to a fiscal cliff.

And the fact of the matter is, the establishment political parties and candidates are basically useless when it comes to solving any of this. I can’t think of a president in the past quarter century or more, or a traditional candidate of a major political party during that time, who seemed to fully understand the problem and be committed to changing anything except the window dressing.

They were too busy raising money and then placating all the donors who put them into office and whose continuing support they thought they needed to stay there. The workers of America no longer had anyone looking out for them.

And, to be fair, we were too busy treating politics like a blood sport or a reality TV show and did our fair part in the dumbing down of America. In other words, we got fat and lazy.

And then came Mr. Trump. He may be fat, but he ain’t lazy.

I could never bring myself to vote for such a person. But I do like a few of the things he’s done or has tried to do (or at least highlighted as being problems). And, most of all, I like the fact he’s trying to get something done.

The problem, of course, is that he often doesn’t know what to do, so he flails. And in his flailing, he only makes things worse. And undermines his support and any chance he has to build his base and garner support for any of his initiatives that require legislation.

So, will he make any real progress with jobs and in reforming a trade policy that destroyed Johnstown but enriched Wall Street? I doubt it. But at least he’s not status quo. At least someone is finally challenging conventional wisdom and policies designed to enrich capital at the expense of labor.

Will he reform the tax code in a transformative way that dismantles disincentives, encourages the efficient deployment of capital, gives equal weight to labor and removes many of the hidden subsidies that enrich the elite? The early returns aren’t encouraging, but at least the president isn’t wedded to the same old system.

Will he rid the system of growth and entrepreneur-suffocating regulations that were well intended but installed and maintained by people who don’t understand incentive systems and the law of unintended consequences? Probably, but it looks like he may end up throwing the baby out with the bath water, too.

Will he reverse the neocon-driven foreign policy of his predecessors and stop interjecting America into everyone’s business around the world? Apparently not, despite his campaign promises to the contrary. The embedded power of the neocons is proving to be too powerful even for Mr. Trump. One of his mistakes was surrounding himself with so many generals.

Will he reform the deeply flawed ObamaCare and help make quality health care affordable for the average American? Apparently not. He simply is devoid of ideas and, moreover, doesn’t even seem to grasp the issues deeply enough to help devise a solution.

So, even though I like the fact Mr. Trump is anti-status quo and at least tries to deal with some long standing problems that, if left unaddressed, will become only weightier anchors around America’s ankles, I do think he’ll fail. The despicable part is part of the problem. The power of inertia is another. His cognitive limitations are another. His over confidence in his own power and abilities is yet another.

What’s going for him is his remarkable powers of persuasion and sales abilities. He did, after all, manage to get himself elected. Yet, not surprisingly, governing is proving to be something all together different.

Of course, the forces that got him elected will not simply evaporate, even if Mr. Trump himself does. Consequently, my fear — indeed, the nightmare scenario that I think is quite possible — is that the future will bring something far worse than Donald J. Trump.

I remind your grandmother from time to time, Vera, that if she thinks Mr. Trump is so bad (and she does, as do I), just wait because what’s coming down the line could be even worse.

And, based on where we’re headed, I think the odds are pretty high that worse is coming. You simply can’t hold a democracy together in the 21st century with the gross disparity and injustice we’ve allowed to develop.

America was sold on the American dream. But it’s dawning on America that the dream has turned into a nightmare. But they want it back.

As Ray Dalio recently pointed out in an essay well worth reading, “the wealth of the top one-tenth of 1% of the population is about equal to that of the bottom 90% of the population, which is the same sort of wealth gap that existed during the 1935-40 period.”

Yet everyone gets a vote.

We know what happened in the 30s. And the early 40s. What we don’t know yet is how this unsustainable situation will play itself out over the next 10 to 20 years.

It started with Donald J. Trump. How will it end?

There are a lot of angry people out there. And for good reason. My fear is that Mr. Trump the president will be unable to assuage them. And his failure may even result in an exponential increase in anger. Or, in an effort to save his presidency, that Mr. Trump will lead us into another major war. Everyone — even Mr. Trump — knows that there is nothing like a war to make people forget their problems and support their leaders.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. And it doesn’t have to. But even if it doesn’t, the pressures will build and find some other way to be released.

Tighten your seatbelt, America. The ride is only going to get rougher.

Cord-Cutting Gains Steam

I grew up in the era of cords, Vera — specifically, cords connecting cable to television sets. America — indeed, pretty much the entire developed world — was connected. And then greed took over. And technology provided alternatives (live streaming and Netflix). And things changed.

I cut our cord over four years ago. I haven’t regretted it.

I’m not alone. Eleven days ago AT&T reported that its losses of traditional TV customers worsened. The trend has been apparent for some time: America is engaged in cord-cutting on a widespread basis. It’s not surprising that share prices of AT&T, Dish, Comcast and Charter Communications fell. I think they will far more.

I mentioned above that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is greed. It was greed and short-term thinking that led networks to stuff more commercials into their programming. Today, if you sit down and watch an hour of network shows, you’ll end up spending a third or more of your time watching commercials. Frankly, that exceeded my level of tolerance.

I suppose crappy content was part of the problem, too. When I had cable, I frequently wondered how it was possible not to be able to find something decent to watch with over 100 channels. But it was.

Networks are like the vast majority of businesses today. They care about only one thing: making money. As much as they can. In the near-term.

This obsession sometimes blinds them to the long-term consequences of their decisions. There is a saying: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Cable isn’t the only hog in America today.

Colleges have allowed their greed to ruin the college football experience for many of us. (See My Final Football Game) Attendance at college football has been on a downward trend. It’s a predictable consequence of the NCAA’s hoggish values and decisions.

So, unless you find yourself running a cable company or the NCAA, does any of this make any difference to you, Vera? Probably.

You see, the principle is universal. It’s not limited to businesses and sports franchises. It impacts individuals, too.

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Unconstrained greed has the potential for major long-term blowback.

A world in which everyone is trying to squeeze another dollar of profit out of every transaction and experience is not a very pleasing place to live for some of us. It’s a world without meaning or beauty. It’s a world where everyone becomes a target for someone else. A world where humanity is sacrificed at the alter of gold and glitter.

How can I make more money off of you? How can we maximize our profits today (without regard to long-term impacts)? How can we cross-sell more products to you whether you need them or not?

Too many people are obsessed with these questions today. As a result, we see a bank such as Wells Fargo, which had (past tense) a stellar reputation, now being run through the gutter as a result of rampant fraudulent practices that were fueled by a desire to squeeze the last dollar out of its customers. It turned out that integrity wasn’t a core value of Wells. Greed was.

When we get to the point of not caring about each other but only caring about making more money for ourselves, irrespective of the impact on others or, more broadly, on society and the world, we effectively are returning to the jungle. We become more animal than human.

I cut our cord. And I no longer attend 3+ hour baseball games or 4+ hour football games. And Wells Fargo is no longer one of my primary banks. And I no longer donate to nonprofits that care more about fundraising than their original missions and that lavish high salaries and other perks on their officers and employees.

In other words, we have some choice in the matter. We’re not entirely free. We are hostage to this culture of greed somewhat. But we still have some choice in the matter.

I for one choose to resist as best I can. And to interact with people and businesses that care about something other than new ways to separate me from my money, even if it means paying more for the service or product in the short-run.

And the days of sitting in front of a television set and watching commercials are forever gone. If I need something, I know where to find it.

The Better Question Is, What Do I Have That I Didn’t?

I’m tired of having to explain my decision to move to Indiana to all the people around Carmel with whom I come into contact. Given my situation, many of those people are in the health care field, but there have been others.

Hoosiers are open and inquisitive people. I’m always amazed by how much you learn about them in a brief conversation. They’re eager to share. And they want you to share, too.

So invariably they learn we’ve lived here for only a short time. I don’t volunteer it, but they ask: “Where did you move from?” Colorado, I say (a mistake). “Why would you leave Colorado to move here?!,” they ask, with a tone that suggests they think I made a terrible mistake.

That’s when I tell them about you, Vera. And your parents. And how happy I am to be here, even though I love Colorado.

I then promise myself to tell people, the next time I’m asked, that we moved from Camden or Detroit. But I can’t do it, even though it would be only a little white fib.

Two events occurred this week that brought all of this to the fore once again. My physical therapist was working on my arm, doing what Hoosiers do best: sharing and probing. And sure enough, she asked, Where did you move from?” I stupidly confessed: “Colorado.”

She then caught me off guard, asking a question I hadn’t gotten from other inquisitors. “What do you miss most about Colorado?”

Perhaps it’s because I’m ill and had my guard down. Perhaps it was the pain meds. Whatever the reason, I didn’t take time to think about my response. Instead, I simply uttered the first thought that came to mind, which also seemed to be the most truthful: “Everything.”

My response was entirely consistent with my prior views, of course. Simply put, taking all other considerations out of the equation (which can’t nor should it be done), there is no place like Colorado.

I went on to tell my therapist that, even though I liked Colorado, I was glad we lived here, near you and your parents. And in Carmel, which is probably the best place we ever lived from the perspective of many of the things that matter to us (amenities, walkability, conveniences, no HOA, progressive, etc.).

Roll the clock forward to last evening. Your grandmother thought she was going to pick you up a day care without me. She said I should stay home. After all, I had pneumonia and perhaps other undiagnosed ailments. I needed to stay put.

Right, I thought. The pain wouldn’t be that much different in the car than sitting at home. I went.

It was at your day care that it occurred to me that the better question would have been, “What do you have here that you didn’t have in Colorado?”

Here is just a glimpse of what I have.

We walked into your room. You were playing with your classmates. You were holding a container and they were filling it. You hadn’t seen us arrive (I have stealth-like qualities).

I then spoke your name. You turned and, consistent with past practice, you immediately did your best imitation of Usain Bolt. I’m always surprised by your acceleration and speed — and recklessness.

You never pull up. Instead, you run full throttle into my arms.

And then we went home and played.

When the Cost of Living Becomes Too Great

This weekend was the weekend from hell. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced sustained pain of this magnitude. It was so bad Saturday night that, although I thought it might be a good idea to go to the ER at 1 a.m., I just couldn’t imagine getting to the car. My best odds were in lying perfectly still and popping one of those leftover opiates from my surgery. All of this came on the heels of a really bad Friday night and a couple other horrendous days over the past two weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, it’s nothing. And, indeed, the pain since Saturday night has been bearable.

I’m not worried about it, although I have to admit it’s a royal pain in the ass. It’s hard to focus and get things done when you’re battling this kind of thing. I suppose I’m too easily distracted.

The episode did spur me to remember there was something I wanted to tell you, Vera, that I hadn’t gotten around to sharing yet. As will be obvious, this is a message for when you’re an adult (as if all the other posts aren’t).

I know this is difficult for some people to accept, but here it is: There are limits to what I would do to extend my life, and there are steps I might take to end my life on my own terms.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting my current ailment is life threatening or would precipitate any action. It’s not. I’m thinking ahead. Well down the road. When I’m old (an age that mysteriously keeps getting pushed further into the future).

I think I have a rather high pain threshold, and I could live with a certain amount of pain. But I don’t think I could live with severe daily pain, mainly because it would prevent me from living and doing any of the things that bring me joy. In my mind, living entails more than breathing. Perhaps I’m being greedy. Whatever.

Moreover, I have no desire to live through a hideous, painful death if I can help it. I watched my father (your great-granddad) go through such a death as cancer destroyed his body. It was terrible. If given the opportunity to avoid that fate, I’d seize it, even at the cost of a shorter life. So don’t be surprised if the time comes when I move to Oregon or Vermont (although I hope that’s a long way off!).

I also have no desire to be institutionalized. A couple of years ago your grandmother and I applied for long-term care insurance. Both of us qualified (physically and mentally), which was good news. We purchased a policy for your grandmother. I passed.

The reason is simple: I would be miserable sitting or lying in one of the facilities. If that were to happen, I’d feel as though the cost of living was simply too high.

Your grandmother points out I may not have a choice. She’s right. I easily could have ended up in such predicament as a result of my recent accident. I asked her, if that were to happen, to suffocate me. She declined. I have to come up with a Plan B.

I understand the human instinct for survival. I get it. And I’d never judge anyone who tried to squeeze out one more day, hour or breath, regardless of the cost or situation.

All I’m asking is that, if it ever comes to this, please respect my decision. Don’t expect me to continue on when the cost of living becomes too great in my judgment.

Frankly, I’m hoping that day never comes. But it might. If it does, don’t feel like a tragedy occurred, and don’t rationalize it away by saying he must not have been thinking clearly or was depressed. That would be insulting to me. And condescending and disrespectful.

More importantly, don’t worry about me. Ever. Now or in the future. And never fret over any decision I might make even if it’s different from the decision you’d make for yourself in the same or similar circumstance.

If you ever want to do something for me, just go about living your life to the fullest. Even at this early age, you have an unusual zest for life, Vera. It’s infectious. Share it with the world!

What I’ve Learned Over the Years About Flags and Anthems

Here is a recent inquiry to a law firm about an incident in Indiana:

I work for a prominent company in a small city here in the Hoosier State, and we are very involved in our local community. We sponsor a corporate softball team, and last night one of our team members “took a knee” during the national anthem before a game. His supervisor asked if the player can be disciplined for this conduct or at least transferred out of the supervisor’s department.

This comes on the heels of President Trump making political hay over the demonstrations by some NFL players (taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem to draw attention to racial injustice and police brutality).

The current stink over athletes’ nonviolence demonstrations caused me to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned over the years about flags and anthems.


They’re an object. A piece of cloth or other material. They have no inherent value or meaning. Yet people love to rally around them. I’ve done it myself.

Sometimes, the rally is for good (maybe). Sometimes, it’s innocuous (neutral). Often, it’s for bad purposes.

The mighty Roman Empire employed flags in its pageantry and celebrations of war victories. And to lead their troops into battle. Flags are useful in getting young men to charge into situations from which they might not exit whole or alive. The elite (rich, powerful people who pull the strings of war and government) are very good at using flags to manipulate the emotions of others. Consequently, many flags are stained with blood.

The Romans weren’t lone, of course. Examples are replete throughout history, including the Pope as he extended the military reach of the “Holy” Roman Catholic Church beyond Rome, the king of England as he marched troops to the “Holy Land” to kill heretics, Hitler as he mustered support among the youth and other impressionable people to establish and expand his Third Reich, modern-day neo-Nazis who march in Charlottesville, and now Donald Trump, with his red MAGA cap as he uses bigotry, fear and hate to solidify and expand his political base even at the expense of driving a stake through the heart of America.

The president rails against those who supposedly disrespect the flag, while intentionally distorting and misrepresenting the motives and actions of the demonstrators and while assaulting the very Constitution he professes to respect (e.g., his blatant attacks on the First Amendment). Obviously, he’s doing this for purely selfish political purposes. Yet his tactics are effective.

If some people think anyone is disrespecting the Stars and Stripes, they get angry. And angry people are highly manipulatable. They become unthinking and unreflective people, the kind of people whom demagogues want and need to claim and retain power.

So here’s my take on flags — impressions more than 60 years in the making:

  • Flags are things. That’s all. One cannot respect or disrespect a piece of cloth or plastic. It’s what flags represent that matter. They can represent good things. And really bad things, too. Some flags represent both. But, in the end, it’s just a thing.
  • I don’t pledge allegiance to any flag. Allegiance means you’ll do whatever you’re told to do by your country — i.e., by its political leaders (who typically do the bidding of the wealthy powerful class). I won’t. I’ve seen too much. I know that some of those leaders have led us into immoral wars. Have engaged in torture. Have overthrown democratically elected governments. Have slaughtered — or, more often, have directed others to slaughter — defenseless native Americans and even entire cities of women and children, and, today, by its drones and other instruments of death, to kill countless innocent people, including children and babies. Some have run medical experiments on Americans without their consent. Imprisoned people without due process. I’m not about to blindly promise my allegiance to such people. (As an aside, I never understood how a Christian could pledge allegiance to a flag or nation. It’s so obviously antithetical to the life of discipleship.)
  • Despite what I just wrote, the American flag does represent something I value. Specifically, it represents the ideals and principles on which the country was founded and under which it has grown and thrived. It’s true we have not fully realized those ideals, and we never will. That’s what makes them ideals. We’re a work in progress. Yet I thoroughly embrace and adore the principles of freedom and individual liberty, and the right to choose for oneself and not be bound by the mandates of a king or president. The freedom of press, of expression, of religion, of dissent — these are ideals that the flag represents to me and which would cause me never to deface the flag. Yet I’m not so blind as not to see what the same flag may represent to others — to those who have been oppressed by people who pledged allegiance to the flag and claim to respect it so much.


Much of what I wrote about flags apply equally to our national anthem. I have and will sing it. To me, the words “Land of the free” are the most important words in the Star Spangled Banner.

I don’t much care for the genesis of the lyrics or its glorification of war. There are better songs. But it’s what we got. To be honest, I don’t spend anytime thinking about it.

Freedom: The Thread That Supposedly Hold the Stars and Stripes Together

Observing the anthem/flag controversy in the NFL today reminds me of the dangers of being sucked into the hysteria of nationalists — the very kind of people who are prone to wrap themselves in flags. We ignore such people at our peril. Scared, angry people with power — especially those with strong nationalistic and militaristic tendencies — are capable of doing really bad things. We’ve seen it too often throughout history to take it lightly.

What all of this does, for me, is to highlight a truth that has been present for most or all of our country’s existence: many Americans don’t actually like freedom and some of the principles embedded in our constitution. Actually, they feel threatened by it.

Again, this isn’t new. The majority didn’t much care for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent resistance to institutionalized racism, and they don’t much care for resistance today, especially when it’s delivered by people with dark skin.

Moreover, those in society’s dominant position (principally, white men) try to impose discipline — that is, penalties — to ensure dissent doesn’t spread or become accepted. Fire the employee! Transfer him (see opening request of the Indiana supervisor)! Kill the troublemaker’s prospects for promotion. Refuse to sign the athlete. Boycott them and hit them where it hurts: in the pocketbook. Erect statutes of white supremacists (known affectionately as Southern heroes) and fly the Confederate flag to remind them who’s really in charge! Scare them by shooting some defiant college students (Kent State). Try to intimidate them by carrying guns in the public square.

The underlying tactic is always the same: impose discipline through fear and preserve the existing power structure at any cost.

That’s what the NFL controversy is really about. It has nothing to do with a piece of cloth or song. It has everything to do with quelling dissent and keeping black folk in their rightful place — with reclaiming the white European culture and power structure that predated Brown vs. Education, the integration of our Armed Forces by President Truman and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. It has everything to do with reclaiming the world that President Trump has promised will return. It has everything to do with fear. And insecurity.

Does that mean I think everyone who objects to the football players’ demonstration is a racist? Of course not. And it doesn’t mean I think the players’ tactics are effective or the best means of advancing the cause of justice and equality.

Personally, I have no opinion on the matter. I’m not black. I haven’t been the subject of racial discrimination and police brutality. I haven’t lived in a society that thinks I’m inferior because of the color of my skin.

It would be presumptuous of me to question the methods discriminated people choose to improve their lot, especially when their methods are nonviolent.

It’s their call, not mine. But I will respect them and support all people who strive for freedom, justice and equality. I will support anyone who yearns for the best of what the flag represents to me. And I will not defer to hatred and bigotry and the forces that seek to divide us even if such forces are wrapped in the flag. I can see through their disguise.

History shows in stark terms that such hatred and bigotry often hides behind flags and anthems. And it’s hiding behind our flag and anthem today. And under a red cap as well.

Well, perhaps it’s not hiding so much. Perhaps it’s come out and revealed itself in all its despicable forms.

The people who are taking a knee are merely trying to promote awareness and foster justice and equality. They’re not rejecting America or its flags and anthems. They are simply calling on America to live up to its ideals. They are pleading with the country to become more American.

On the other hand, those who are distorting the demonstrators’ motives and choosing to ignore the injustice that is rooted in our society are using the flag and anthem as a club. And as an instrument to reclaim and perpetuate a cruel and unjust social structure.

I do not and will not pledge allegiance to a flag if it stands for oppression. I will stand for a flag that represents the ideals of a just, fair and compassionate people.

But even then, one must ask why? Why the need for flags? Why not instead focus on the people — our actions, our values, our choices, our humanity?

In the final analysis, flags and anthems don’t matter much. But values and principles matter a lot.

I pledge allegiance to compassion, justice, equality and the inalienable rights of people for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And I oppose any person or method that seeks to deny those rights to others.

And I couldn’t care less whether anyone attends or watches an NFL game this weekend.

Just Because

Day care was closed yesterday for a Jewish holiday (Shmini Atzeret). So you did something better, Vera: you came over to our place.

At one point, I asked if you’d like to do something. I can’t recall what it was. You replied, “No.” I asked why not. You said, “Because.”

“Because.” I have to confess, I hadn’t expected such a retort from a 27-month-old. I laughed.

I didn’t push the issue because I thought your reply, although surprising, was sufficient. Basically, “because” or “just because” simply means you’d rather not, and you don’t feel compelled to justify your decision to anyone else.

That’s cool. You shouldn’t have to. The world would probably be a better place if all of us were more willing to take “because” for an answer.

Why didn’t you complete your homework, Johnny? Because.

Why did you not come to visit me? Because.

Why did you eat half of the peach pie? Because (and guilty as charged).

Why did you quit your job? Because.

Why did you vote for that person? Because.

Why don’t you have cable? Because.

Why did you move to Indiana? Because.

The older I get, the more “because” becomes acceptable. Often, it’s simply a matter of respecting boundaries and accepting the right of someone else to choose differently than we might.

Often, it’s simply a matter of perspective, and not allowing little things to blow up into big things.

It’s true that sometimes because is simply a dodge. But, if it’s their dodge and not yours, so what?

In my younger years, as a parent, I was probably more inclined to push the issue. With age, as a grandparent, I’m more inclined to think, That works for me!

Why the change?


At the Mercy of Other People’s Judgment

Sunday, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed President Trump (a member of his own political party) was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

The Senator said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.” “He concerns me,” the senator added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

None of this is surprising. I knew it was a risk, which is why I thought the election of Donald Trump to the presidency was the most reckless act undertaken by the U.S. electorate in our history — by far.

That doesn’t mean the worst case scenario will unfold. Rather, it means the risks are higher than they need be and we’ve put other people’s lives and welfare at risk unnecessarily (as well as our own).

That’s on a grand scale (casualties could exceed those of WW II). Everyday, of course, others make decisions that harm or threaten others (physically or financially) without most of us giving much thought about the matter.

Policy makers make decisions about trade, spending and other matters that could (and often do) have a material effect on our futures.

CEOs and boards make decisions about investments that could affect our livelihood.

Plant managers and railroad personnel make decisions that could make the difference between life and death for many people within range of their plants or tracks.

Drivers make decisions (or fail to make decisions) that can forever alter the lives of fellow drivers and their families.

I could go on. The list is endless. The point is simple: we are at the mercy of other people’s judgment in countless ways. And some of them may be at the mercy of ours.

So what is one to do about it?

I don’t claim to know what anyone else should do about it — that’s their decision. But here are some guiding principles I have acquired for myself over the years.

First, I try no to fret about it; rather, I try to focus on that over which I have some control.

So if my fellow citizens decide electing someone like Mr. Trump is in our best interest, so be it. My lot is part of theirs. I shall benefit or be hurt with the broader community we call country. Some call it fate. Call it what you want. I simply say, “It is what it is.” I’m not going to allow it to destroy my happiness.

Part of this is trying to avoid any sense of entitlement. And nurturing a sense of gratitude. I may not have complete control over such feelings and emotions. But I can influence them for the better. It’s most certainly preferable to fretting and worrying about things over which I have no control.

Second, I try to limit my reliance and dependence upon other people’s judgment as best I can. Stated differently, I try to avoid servitude.

One way of doing this is to acquire financial independence as soon as possible. If I got to live life over, this would be a major early goal of mine. The sooner, the better. Retirement age is much too late.

Third, I endeavor to associate with people of sound judgment and good character. This isn’t always easy because often there is misalignment between economic opportunity and virtue. Again, if I got to live life over, I’d try to spend more time and deal more with virtuous people and try harder to keep distance between myself and the other kind of people.

Last but not least, I endeavor to improve my own decision-making processes and, by extension, the quality of my own decisions.

I’ve made some really poor decisions in my life. I wish I’d spent more time reflecting on my mistakes and endeavoring to instill the rigorous discipline to reduce the number of mistakes going forward. And I really wish I had involved more people in the process and been less dependent upon my own perspectives and biases. 

I also wish I’d been more rational and less emotional. More practical and less idealistic.

I’ve made some good decisions of course. But decision making is a lot like investing: the key is to eliminate or reduce the size of your losses. Avoiding big mistakes is a key to a good life.

Charlie Munger is right: he and Warren Buffett got tremendous advantage from simply trying not to be consistently stupid instead of trying to be very intelligent.

I used to tell students that my primary objective in teaching was to help them become better decision makers, that is, to hone their judgment. Schools don’t talk about judgment. They should. It’s far more important than most of the other stuff that commands their attention.

I don’t know if the country will escape the Trump years without a major disaster. I do know we’re playing with fire and, when that happens, someone often gets burned.

In any case, don’t ever allow yourself to be overwhelmed by that which you can’t control, Vera. There is much you can control, including, to an extent, your thoughts and outlook.

Choose wisely. Become the very best decision-maker you can possibly become. Nothing will serve you as well as sound judgment.