Liberty revised: Rebirth of the Know-Nothings

My father came to this country in 1947…the year before I was born.

Dad had minimal English and began his new life in New York shoveling coal on the Staten Island Ferry.

He was a hard worker and over time his English became functional.  He gained citizenship and got a skilled labor job, repairing heavy oil burners. It was what he did for the rest of his work life and he did it well. Continue reading “Liberty revised: Rebirth of the Know-Nothings”

The interdependence of us all…

Many years ago, while I was living off-campus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, I became friendly with the woman who ran the commuter services office. One day, she gave me a quote that I carried in my wallet for many years. I’m embarrassed to say I remember neither the exact words nor the name of the person who wrote them…but the message continues to ring clear.

It was this: As societies grow in population and become more complex, people tend to stumble into one another more often. That is, the actions of one person or group – often unintentionally – impact the lives of others, sometimes with great consequence. Continue reading “The interdependence of us all…”

Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…

Adrienne Dern was the first vice-president I hired at the Pulmonary Hypertension Association.  PHA was much smaller when she joined us but had grown to the point that Pathlight, our newsletter, needed to move to a staff-edited publication.   The patient volunteers who had edited it since it was launched in 1991 had done a remarkable job in creating a quarterly that made a difference in people’s lives.  They gave news how others were living with this rare and incurable disease….and, from that, they gave hope.  Adrienne knew that transitioning the publication in-house had peril.  Pathlight was the soul of the organization and if patients were no longer editing it, their lives needed to be reflected.  It could not be abstract.  During her six years at PHA, Adrienne accomplished that task through the editors she hired and the thoughtful way she trained and supervised them.

Today, I’m pleased to post a brief but pointed guest blog from Adrienne.  I have also included a recording of the speech from which Adrienne quotes as a reminder to us all of how the President of a great nation, the United States of America, used to speak and inspire and move us toward each other, rather than apart.

Adrienne writes… Continue reading “Adrienne on JFK and the Arts…”

Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3


Filmed in 1939 and directed by John Ford, Stagecoach is a wonderful character study of 9 people – mostly unconnected to each other – traveling together from Tonto, Arizona Territory in 1880. They are on a dangerous journey through hostile Apache territory. They range from poor outcasts to society’s elites.

Mr. Gatewood (played by Berton Churchill), is one of the elites. He is the town banker who meets the departing Stagecoach on the outskirts of town. Since his bank is on Main Street, the drivers are surprised. He says he had a last minute telegraph message causing him to rush home and pack a bag.

As the passengers ride in the close quarters of the coach, Gatewood pontificates a message that sounds eerily familiar… Continue reading “Stagecoach: At the Movies, Part 3”

Admiral: At the Movies, Part 2



My last blog post, Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies Part 1, looked at the struggle between a republic and a totalitarian state in ancient Rome…and its relevance to today.

Today I’m back to the movies, looking at the same issues through the 2015 Dutch historical film, Admiral (Dutch with English subtitles).

The Admiral opens with these words…

In the 1600’s the Netherlands is the only republic in the world.

The surrounding monarchies see the young republic as a threat to their own political and economic power.

The Dutch country divided between Republicans, currently in power, and Orangists who want the country to become a monarchy.

In the midst of this internal struggle and the external dangers, Johan de Witt – a Republican – becomes the new prime minister.

In his opening address to his contentious legislators, divided between the Republican Holland and the provinces supporting the Prince of Orange. de Witt says…

I understand your concerns. I do.

There is no one in this country who understands you more than I do.

My father was imprisoned for disagreeing with the Orangists.

I found out what it means to live in a country where you cannot say what you are thinking.

Do you want to live in such a country? I don’t.

I don’t think you do, either.

Let me pose you a question.

We’re a nation of merchants. We sail the seas with 20,000 ships. In trade we all work together…to get better prices and to help each other. And what do you think? Does this work or not?

It does.

Some members became so successful they hardly fit in the benches.

When you do business in the East or the West do you do so as Orangists or Republicans? And why are the English trying to block our shipping routes? To disrupt trade.

Is that because you’re an Orangist or a Republican?

No, the English want to wage war against us because we’re Dutch. Free Dutchmen.

Large monarchies consider our small nation too rich. and too free. and on top of that, we’re a republic. In which all men are free to live their own lives. We decide how we worship God.

No leader is more important than the country itself.

The English begrudge us our freedom. Our freedom frightens them. Because we’re prepared to die for our freedom. Because we paid for our freedom with our own blood.

And I’m asking you. Haven’t you lost a relative to the Spanish or the English? And was that Republican blood or Orangist blood?

No. It was Dutch blood. It was our blood.

Your freedom is my freedom.

I’ll defend this freedom until my last breath.

As the movie progresses, the Orangists who seek to make the Prince of Orange the monarchist head of state, distribute lies to weaken de Witt and make him the enemy of the people, who eventually murder him and his brother. It is left to the king to send The Admiral – the brilliant strategist Michiel de Ruyter – on a suicide mission. After defeating the English and the French, he Admiral’s crime was becoming more loved than the King. The King describes his act as leadership.

Admiral is a film worth watching (it’s on Netflix) as we go through our own crisis of leadership in the U.S.

At the Movies, Part 3: Stagecoach, a 1939 movie with a message for today is next.

Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1

Image result for eMPEROR COMMODUS

As I continue to try to understand Donald Trump’s assault on the country I love, I find myself exploring many sources. This blog and the next I will post are about moments in movies I have seen.

You can judge their relevance to today.

Gladiator was released in 2000. Directed by Ridley Scott, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year. Russell Crowe won Best Actor for his role as Maximus, a Roman General whose family was destroyed by the Emperor Commodus, a disruptive and demented figure.

The struggle in the Gladiator is for the soul of Rome, whether it will be governed by a Senate cleansed of corruption, as representatives of the people or by an emperor.

After killing his own father, the great Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, who has told him he does not have the qualities to rule Rome, Commodus, having just become Caesar speaks to his sister, Lucilla… Continue reading “Commodus and The Donald: At the Movies, Part 1”

Matteotti and the Despot…

[translates: You can kill me but my ideas will never die.]

Many years ago, I took a college course on the rise of fascism in Italy.

It was a particular interest to me since my father grew up in that nation during that period and I had visited Italy three times in the early to mid-1960’s. It was hard for me to understand how fascism could rise among those I saw as a good people.

As discussed in the course, a turning point toward Italian fascism was the murder of Giacomo Matteotti.

In 1922, Benito Mussolini became the Italian Premier. This followed The March on Rome.

The March was the result of dissatisfaction with the socialist and moderate coalitions that had been democratically governing the nation. The middle class feared a socialist revolution. There was also anger at being badly treated, despite promises from their allies on the winning side, during the World War I peace settlement. Their economy was severely damaged.

In the face of the Fascist Blackshirts who were preparing to enter and take over Rome, the king and parliament lacked the strength to stand up to the threat. Fearing civil war, they offered Mussolini leadership of a coalition government. By the time they realized that wasn’t enough, it was too late.

As the Encyclopedia Brittanica describes it…

Continue reading “Matteotti and the Despot…”

This way to the egress…

P.T. Barnum was the showman of the 19th Century.

As he was building his reputation, he created his own, more interesting reality. In other words, he lied…but in a way that got people really excited and made him a lot of money.

One of his early profitable hustles was his purchase of a slave, Joice Heth, who he presented as 161 years old, claiming she was George Washington’s nurse. When she died, he arranged for a public autopsy, charging 50 cents per ticket.

During a recent interview with Chuck Todd, Trump said that he took comparisons to Barnum as a compliment. After all, people need showmanship or, as Barnum put it, “The people like to be humbugged.” Continue reading “This way to the egress…”

An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President

I have stepped away from this blog for the past few weeks to see how you might change as you approach your presidency.

You haven’t.

I could have supported your presidency if only you had said, “U.S. intelligence showed me the facts. Putin tried to destroy our election and our democracy and he will pay a price so this will not continue.”

But, you didn’t. You didn’t come close.

Instead, you attacked our intelligence community. They gave you inconvenient facts. You minimized them before the world. You said other countries hack, too. True but nowhere near the point.

You didn’t stop there. You told us Putin liked you “and isn’t that a good thing”. Your being Our President is not about you or your Brand. It’s about the good of the nation. They are not the same thing.
Continue reading “An Open Letter to Donald Trump as You become Our 45th President”

Rules for you, rules for me: Trashing America in North Carolina

In 1971, I was having a conversation with a friend.  We were both VISTA Volunteers in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  We were taking about his opposition to the Vietnam War.  John said that our leaders should be put in jail for their policies.  I asked him on what basis.  His answer was striking, “Because they’re wrong.”

I didn’t find his suggestion a radical concept so much as a recipe for disaster.  Growing up, one of the most important civic values we learned was that America is nation of rules and laws.  If a rule applied to one, it had to apply to all.  If rules became tools for power, then what made America different and better would be lost.

Over the years, I’ve seen John’s position grow from individual views to a new standard of governance.  Put simply, if you’ve got the power, use it to keep it.

We all know that both parties use the power of their state majorities to create Congressional districts that maximize safe seats and the largest number of seats for their party.  The process is open and claims no logic other than the maintenance of power.  The result has been Members of Congress who are beholden to a single ideology, rather than a mix of ideas.  Taking this approach to its logical outcome, compromise becomes unlikely, if not impossible.  Victory is no longer agreement and progress, it is the destruction of the other party.

A big next step in making America less is now in process in North Carolina.

Forget the names. They’re irrelevant. It is the process that defines us.

Candidate A defeats the incumbent, Candidate B, in a close race for North Carolina governor.  Candidate B is from the party that holds control of the administrative branch of their state’s government.  While the power of the governor to appoint administrative staff and committee members was expanded by his party’s legislative majorities when he came into office, they are now systematically being reduced now that Candidate A from the other party is preparing to take office.

To do this is to further pervert our politics.
To do this is to trash our political system.
To do this is to put another nail in the coffin of American greatness.