Long ago I decided to openly share my political leanings on my blog and business website.

Mainly because folks who disagree with the work I do are going to assume I’m a bleeding heart liberal  (do people still say that?), or an “elitist”, or a Commie, or a Socialist, or whatever pejorative is au Courant. It’s simpler to be clear.

If you’ve worked with me as a coach, or participated in one of my workshops, you’ve heard some version of my core beliefs:

  • We are all good people doing the best we can – and we can do better.
  • Assume ignorance before malice.
  • To know the good is to do the good.
  • The common good is worth individual commitment.

These are beliefs that inform my thinking and my actions. The language may change depending on the audience, but the guiding principle is static.

Maybe its 6 weeks of isolation, or maybe its my over-dosing on the news, but I am struggling damn hard today to live my values.

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified behaviors that once upon a time in our society would have been unthinkable. The one that’s getting to me today is the appropriation of the language of civil rights struggles to promote a fringe, anti-quarantine agenda.

It is twisted and cruel.

Some may call it framing or spin, but I fully believe “words create worlds” to paraphrase David Cooperider.  So calling “Stay-at-home rules” a “Lockdown Order” makes space for all kinds of outrage and false equivalence.

Citizens unhappy about actions meant to protect the majority – to which they belong – are posturing as if their civil rights are being trampled. I want to know:

  • Who is marginalized?
  • Who is disenfranchised?
  • Who is being sacrificed because “we” are more important than “them”?

There’s a big difference between believing you are marginalized or disenfranchised, and demonstrated evidence that you, in fact, historically and currently, have fewer rights and less power.

Anti-quarantine rallies have appropriated phrases like “My body, my choice” to support not wearing a mask. The same “choice” that they would withhold for a women’s personal reproduction decisions.

When I say “My body, my choice” I mean I will fight for everyone’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and I won’t interfere with your choice.  Appropriated that phrase means “My choice will be your choice too.”

Anti-quarantine folks equate their “struggle against injustice” and loss of their liberty to shop, dine out, and watch sports, to Rosa Parks’ fight for integration and civil rights after slavery and Jim Crow.

Even though public safety is a common good, not evidence of oppression, anti-quarantine folks are falsely equating pandemic safety measures to actual genocide – to Hitler putting “Jews on trains”.

I support Free Speech because I value my rights enough to fight for your right to express your views even when I find them morally reprehensible. Like the statement about Hitler.

Today I can feel myself struggling to find my balance and grace in the face of the appropriated language and the many inflammatory, falsely equivalent headlines.

So I am reminding myself right now, out loud and in front of you,  “I am a good person doing the best I can, and I know I can do better.”

I know we can all do better.

FDR Memorial, Washington DC

It is disheartening how little impact the mass murder of 20 elementary school children has had on gun regulations. Increased background check legislation stalled, restrictions on automatic weapons and military grade ammunition not happening. I guess the horror fades for some folks if it’s not your kid, and the political will to take on the gun lobby is clearly nonexistent.

In fact “In the 12 months since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost every state has enacted at least one new gun law“, however, of the 109 laws passed 70 eased restrictions and expanded the rights of gun owners.

Unbelievable in the wake of the unspeakable.

Below is what I wrote a year ago in reaction to the massacre of 20 children and the 6 teachers trying to protect them.

December 21, 2012

It is such a short trip to the land of fear. It’s a place you can get to from just about anywhere.

The predictable response from the NRA to the massacre in Sandy Hook was to blame every other societal ill beside gun proliferation. And of course to advocate for more guns because “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre points to our “blood-soaked culture” as reason for the violence rather than the ease of obtaining military grade weapons equipped with high-powered ammunition. One of many arguments based on the idea that our culture has disintegrated, youth are desensitized, music videos glorify thug life, and we are not safe.

What we are is a gun culture. And the easiest way to perpetuate the need for guns is through fear.

After it happened, we talked with our daughter about Sandy Hook. She talked about the intruder drill they had at school the next week and how unsatisfying it was. She said she didn’t feel safe with this one particular teacher, and that the room had too many windows. The drill had kids hide under the desks, and most of them are too big to fit, which doesn’t matter anyway because it’s about as useful as  “duck and cover.”

When she identified other rooms and teachers she’d rather be with if “something happened for real”, I asked her to imagine what she’d do if she was in charge of that classroom. She had an immediate answer. I said if something “real” ever did happen, she should trust herself if she didn’t think the adult could keep her safe. This is a dangerous thing to say, but I don’t know how better to clarify that we trust her to trust herself.

This conversation was actually Part 2 of an earlier conversation about fear. We were in a run down neighborhood and she remarked that she always felt a little afraid in poor neighborhoods but then she feels bad because she is afraid that’s racist. (I think the DSM-V should consider including this as “The White Folks Dilemma.”) We teased apart what she was afraid of and why, and it was clear that none of the reasons were because the people were black. Poverty scares a lot of people. It can look like desperation, potential crime and violence.

What I was afraid of with The White Folks Dilemma was that she would talk herself out of her instincts. Our bodies always know danger faster than our minds. And our minds are trained to overrule all sorts of useful signals. It’s useful to be afraid sometimes, it heightens your awareness. It’s not useful to be afraid all the time because, again your mind is overruling instinct.

It’s so easy to give in to fear. Its much easier than joy, or love or trust. But that kind of “the world is a dangerous place” fear, seems implausible to me. I’m much more afraid of easy access to semi-automatic handguns than I am of a shooter going in my daughters school. Or randomly shoot me through the floor to ceiling windows in my office, which just occurred to me today after 8 years in this office.

I don’t have any solution except to keep reminding myself and others that fear is just one of our emotions. And I will continue to stumble stupidly through the world believing that humans are inherently good. I am a Platonist at heart – “To know the good is to do the good”.

Now we just need to teach the NRA the meaning of “the good”.


July is turning into a brutally hard month for blog writing. Too many competing writing projects means ranting stays (mostly) in my head rather than in my blog.

I overheard something last night that is driving me to my keyboard. At my exercise class – Fit! Fusion! Fun! – one woman was telling another about how she might treat her headache. Helpful woman was going on about neti pots and herbal supplements and how Dr. Oz just had this on his show last week. The headache woman asked ‘Who is Dr. Oz?’. Continue reading

Moral restrictions on medical procedures. That is the framework of the anti-abortion movement and other conservative positions. My God says “No”, therefore it should be “No” for the whole country. We have been down this road before in history, which is why we have separation of church and state. Or we used to.

Ohio Governor John Kasich has until 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 30th to make any line-item vetoes on the state budget before he signs it into effect for July 1, 2013. Politicians should not be making medical decisions or forcing doctors to lie. For your Friday reading pleasure I give you an Op-Ed I submitted to Ohio newspapers, which they unfortunately declined to publish.


My Hands Are Tied
“My hands are tied” is phrase Ohioans we will get used to if Ohio House Bill 200 becomes law. This is the outcome desired by anti-abortion activists, and the future feared by those who believe medical decisions must be between a patient and their doctor. The people of Ohio cannot let this bill become law.
Women have been preventing and terminating pregnancies for 4,000 years. Because women who desperately need an abortion for whatever reason will do everything in their power to get one, they have died for lack of a safe, legal abortion. Access to safe, legal abortions has been the law of the land since 1973.  Since then, anti-abortionists have found ways to limit access, intimidate women, and yes, even kill physicians who have abortion practices.  This means that today 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties have no abortion provider.
Now Ohio legislators are attempting to further thwart this legal medical procedure by increasing the waiting period before a procedure and requiring doctors to give untruths to their patients and perform an unnecessary, invasive ultrasound or face criminal charges.
By increasing the waiting period to 48 hours, and requiring two visits to a provider before she can secure a safe legal abortion, the legislators effectively “tie the hands” of many women who cannot afford to travel twice in two days to obtain their medical procedure. By adding the provision that doctors who fail to comply with the House Bill 200 rules would be subject to a first-degree felony charge (the same class as rape, aggravated arson and kidnapping) and a fine of up to a million dollars, the legislature has tied and double knotted the hands of Ohio doctors.
This bill is a textbook example of a slippery slope. A slope that would be all but impossible to climb back up if it becomes law.
Doctors who are oath-bound to “do no harm” will be forced to lie. The bill requires doctors to provide patients with the patently false information that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. Good clinics already provide information and counseling through trained patient advocates who talk with women about their feelings and beliefs without pressure or judgment. The goal at Preterm Clinic in Cleveland is to ensure that every patient is informed and sure of her decision whether it is to have an abortion, choose adoption or continue her pregnancy.
The slope gets slipperier. This bill requires doctors to divulge in writing “their gross income and the percentage of that income that was obtained” by performing the procedure. Will we have the same declaration when from a doctor before an MRI or a hip replacement? How does this information help the patient? The theory that there is a multi-million dollar abortion industry exploiting and “tricking” women into having abortions they don’t understand or want is a lie.
By restricting abortion to a “medical emergency”, this bill removes the right of a doctor to decide what is medically necessary for a patient. How can we expect a doctor, under threat of a felony charge, to not hesitate when deciding if a situation has gone from “necessity” to “emergency”? The American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly opposes legislative interference that “causes a physician to compromise his or her medical judgment about treatment in the best interest of the patient.” As women – as mothers – we oppose that interference as well.
Where does it end? House Bill 200 ruthlessly and viciously restricts a legitimate medical procedure, forces physicians to compromise their ethics, and treats women as incompetent. After abortion is effectively inaccessible, what will be restricted next because legislators don’t trust you and your doctor to competently decide your medical procedures? Will you allow your judgment to be overridden by lawmakers? Will doctors let their medical training be overridden by politicians? Will you trust politicians to make your medical decisions?
We must stop this bill – and the slippery slope it creates – before all of our hands are tied. Women, and men who respect the right of a woman to make choices about her health care, would be wise to contact Governor Kasich and demand that veto House Bill 200 in its entirety.
Call Governor Kasich at 1-614-466-3555 and tell him to veto this bill.
Tweet Governor Kasich @JohnKasich and tell him to veto this bill.
Contact Governor Kasich through his website and tell him to veto this bill.
Do something.

One of the interesting things I have found about writing a blog is the sense of obligation I feel to unseen readers. I know I have exactly six followers (the little icons show up on the bottom of the page) and a handful of other folks who have told me they read it. So when I don’t post three or four times a week I feel it niggling in the back of my mind. 

One thought that has returned repeatedly in the time between the last post and this – which was by no means empty I assure you – is the use of the phrase “A drop in the bucket”. This caught my attention a few weeks ago in a story about Syria. The person reporting the International Aid provided had a very disgusted tone and was stressing that it was so little as to be meaningless. Then, as these things do, I started hearing “a drop in the bucket” in all sorts of conversations.

I couldn’t help wondering if the people on the receiving end in Syria, as much as they need a great deal more intervention and attention, were not happy to receive something rather than nothing. It is a curious attitude people often have about the worth of effort. “Choose your battles” is another one that implies futility to me. My question, which I’m sure is rich for psychoanalysis, is ‘Just because something is futile, does that mean you shouldn’t do it?’

I would love to be part of the grand gesture, launch the world-changing movement or earn a place in the history books, but that doesn’t mean I turn away from the individual kindness, the small monetary contribution or the tedium of what needs doing. It’s not even that I have a “pay it forward” mentality (another phrase that could use some critical analysis as to the self-benefit attached to “public” altruism), I think I am much more utilitarian – do what you can, when you can.

The futility calculation translates too easily into helplessness and it’s easily forgotten that drops add up and fill the bucket, that molehills piled on top of each other become a mountain. Sometimes my “something” ends up being simply sending thoughts into the world via my little blog noodlings. Conversation I am having with the world. Or myself. That part is less clear.

But at least its something rather than nothing.

I really should have called this post “cull” because I’m having a hard time actually purging.

I’ve been on a kick to sort the paper in my office. Boxes of files, cabinets of files, files of files – I am surrounded. It starts innocently enough when I grab a 3-inch stack of paper or an overstuffed binder or accordion folder and say to myself “I haven’t touched this in years, I don’t know what it is, I can probably throw it straight into the recycling”.

And then I check. Just to be sure. Who knows if an heirloom photo, a diploma or a stray Apple stock certificate is lurking in there. Could happen.

30 minutes later I can’t seem to part with the lecture notes from a class I taught on Contemporary Moral Problems.  Some pithy stuff about normative ethics and the Challenger disaster, or Augustine’s analysis of lying to liars (seems like it should be morally okay doesn’t it) and 40% of what I started out purging is now merely culled.

Why is it so hard to let go of some things?

It’s highly unlikely I will ever teach philosophy again, I barely read it and almost never even talk about it, so why can’t I chuck the notes & articles? I’ll ponder this while I find someplace to wedge this binder in my “archives” file cabinet. Calling it archives is my clever way to mask hording chunks of my  past.

Paper chunks.

Poor tree.

I am a sucker for a telephone survey.

I know its because I spent my high school years doing telephone market research from 4 – 9 four nights a week. Some nights I could have cried for not being able to make my quota. I worked on a nationwide Burger King v. McDonald’s survey and another about soda pop in the early 80’s. My mother (who got me the job) did mall focus groups on the original SNL cast. It was the kind of lousy job that convinces you to go to college so you can be anything other than a tele-marketer.

So I answer survey calls out of both pity and gratitude that I don’t do this for a living.

The only surveys I ever lie on are the political ones. Years ago I started telling robo-polls that I was an African American. Sometimes I say I am a republican. This was really useful as it allowed me in 2008 to hear the call telling my that my voting place had changed (it had not) and recently that the ACLU is trying to take God out of my state motto (they are not). I do enjoy knowing what what tactics are being used.

Recently I told a robo-poll that we were an upper-middle class Jewish family that attends temple weekly and votes democrat. There is a contentious race here between a Jewish republican and a pinko, union card waving, liberal democrat so the identity politics are hitting pretty hard along with the name-calling and 100% false accusations.

The democrat, for whatever flaws he has, looks out for the working class (hence the pinko label) and fights to keep jobs in our state (the union card bit). He strikes me as a genuine “public servant” do-gooder based on his record + his wonky, rather than sound bite, speeches. I am firmly to the left of center so maybe I am pre-disposed.

I really don’t like the republican guy, and no that doesn’t mean I hate Israel. This is one small example of how his reasoning is playing in his political ads. He is pure ambition and started running this race the minute he got his current political position. Which means he is currently failing to do the job he was elected to do, while trying to get another job. If your employer found out you were doing that, wouldn’t they fire you on the spot?

Anyway. To add insult to injury, not only is he running on his religion and military service, but he is also a Koch-baby.

And that’s why I lie to pollsters. How else do you know what you don’t know?

Its really hard to miss the coverage of the damning evidence uncovered about Joe Paterno’s complicity in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. I even read the sports page today to see what would be said now that it was clear a winning record does not, in fact, absolve sins.

Many people are still reluctant to allow that “one act” to interfere with their hero-worship, even though it turns out that “one act” was a 13-year cover-up. His family released a delusional, if expected, statement about what Paterno would have done “if he had understood what Sandusky was”. Of course Paterno never actually talked to Sandusky about his actions or the allegations, so he never had to understand. Pretty typical denial behavior, followed by a denial of the deniers intentions. This snake could eat its tail all day.

I have written about Sandusky and Penn State before. There are many, many problems with how all the adults behaved from 1998 – 2001 when Sandusky was finally instructed not to shower with children at Penn State, not the least of which is the fact that no one – Paterno, the university President,  Athletic Director or the VP – thought to protect a single child. The culture that made this not only possible but expected is what should be under scrutiny now.

Its not just about football, its about power and fear. Doing the right thing is punished as often as its rewarded. Even if its not public whistle blowing, coming forward after the fact like Roger Boisjoly, the messenger usually experiences retaliation. When the janitors and McQueary saw criminal behavior being committed against a child, they knew they were in a culture of power and protection. And in that culture, weighing their own risk, they had to make a moral decision. At least McQueary rattled the lockers to make Sandusky stop that one time.

How do you shift a culture like that? Those janitors knew without a doubt they would be fired if they said anything against the Sandusky or made the football program look bad. I know McQueary didn’t do all he could but he did something.

Will Penn State be forced to advertise their ethics Hotline? Will anyone use it? These Hotlines are usually so buried that workers have to be truly motivated to find the number, understand how to be anonymous, make a report and then follow up that it was investigated. Will they find a way to support the reporting of child abuse? Educate their students, staff and faculty?

More importantly will they go beyond a Mea Culpa to transform what they expect ethically of everyone at the institution? As of July 12th Mike McQuery is out of a job.

There’s a start.