5 years, 8 months, and 7 days. We are but stewards of our planets, our talents, and our time; it is our duty to nurture and not squander each.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Too often, people blind themselves to problems occurring outside their homes and occupy themselves only to what immediately affects their own lives.  They leave the problems at large (e.g., pollution, injustice, fascism, racism, environmental degradation, etc.) to the care of others.  This is known as the “free-ridership problem”.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the problem as follows:

In many contexts, all of the individual members of a group can benefit from the efforts of each member and all can benefit substantially from collective action. For example, if each of us pollutes less by paying a bit extra for our cars, we all benefit from the reduction of harmful gases in the air we breathe and even in the reduced harm to the ozone layer that protects us against exposure to carcinogenic ultraviolet radiation (although those with fair skin benefit far more from the latter than do those with dark skin). If all of us or some subgroup of us prefer the state of affairs in which we each pay this bit over the state of affairs in which we do not, then the provision of cleaner air is a collective good for us. (If it costs more than it is worth to us, then its provision is not a collective good for us.)

Unfortunately, my polluting less does not matter enough for anyone—especially me—to notice. Therefore, I may not contribute my share toward not fouling the atmosphere. I may be a free rider (or freerider) on the beneficial actions of others. This is a compelling instance of the logic of collective action, an instance of such grave import that we pass laws to regulate the behavior of individuals to force them to pollute less.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-rider/

Greater minds than mine have argued the morality of free-ridership, i.e., whether it is immoral for me to sponge off another or whether it is immoral for another to impose their collective will upon me.  Id.  But, I think they miss the point: I have a moral obligation to not waste finite resources.  For example, if I were given a basket of food sufficient to feed 10 people, would it not be morally wrong and morally repugnant of me to pick a few items out of the basket then waste the rest as target practice, especially when there are others who go without food and could have used the food I wasted?  If that’s true and if my moral duty is to keep myself alive and not burden others, then my obligations must include nurturing and making the best use of the finite resources which sustain life and an orderly society.  Whether I do this individually or collectively is a separate matter.

Your maternal grandmother, imperfect as she may be, has done us a great service by teaching us at a young age to care others.  We used to tutor children, help carry groceries for our elderly neighbors, mow their lawns, push cars stuck in ice and snow as we walked to church, translate for schools and churches, etc.  In other words, she taught us to be activists.

Her teaching is in keeping with our faith.  As stated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where I once worked:

16 The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.k

17If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?l

18Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.m

http://usccb.org/bible/1john/3/

Although not religious, I am spiritual and try to live right.  Thus, I have spent years working with refugees (in the U.S. as well as overseas), caring for the homeless (by both creating policies and homeless shelters for them as well as feeding and caring for them during the freeze of winter), helping the poor and the elderly (by building homes and improving the safety net for those in need), protecting children and victims of domestic violence, etc.  I believe we are called to actions not just by our faith, but by our humanity.  For example, how can we blind ourselves to the fact that “40 million people struggle with hunger in the United States, including more than 12 million children” … innocent children like you?  http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.html.

Yet, for my efforts, I have been accused of, and admonished for, harming you, my own children, because I once lost my job and harmed my career by fighting the Enron of Healthcare to stop them from harming the sick and dying, to stop them from denying the insurance coverage and medical care for which policy holders have paid and for which they were then in great need.  My accusers missed the point: by fighting the corrupt insurance company, I protected you and them from the corrupted practices of that particular insurance company and of other insurance companies in general.  (The Enron of Healthcare is one of 10 largest health insurance companies in the U.S., and covers you guys as well as my accusers.)  By taking the fight to insurance regulators and to the court, after failing to stop the illegal practices internally, I exposed those corrupt practices.  Insurance regulators spent a year investigating that insurer.  They corroborated all of my allegations and found numerous other violations.  By publicizing their findings and issuing fines, they gave notice to that insurance carrier and all others that such harmful and corrupt practices would not be tolerated.

We live in a closed system, my sons.  Pollutants and poor environmental policies adversely affecting the South and Midwest affect us in terms of rising food costs and societal costs.  Chemicals dumped into rivers harm our fish, hurt of water system, and poison our oceans … all of which comes back to haunt us.  Our silence when others are bullied is assent and emboldens the bullies.  Can we then complain when the bullies move past their targets to us?

I am always mindful of the lessons of Martin Niemöller.  Speaking about the fascism of the Nazis, he states:

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.

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists.

Live well, my sons.  Live right.  I never promised you that life would be easy, only that you would find life rewarding if you lived well and helped others.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this thought.

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5 years, 8 months, and 2 days. Embrace the wisdom of our forefathers.

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If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened. — an ancient Vietnamese saying.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Dark days lie ahead.  I don’t know how this journey ends.  None of us do.

I want you to know that, in my life, I am guided by the wisdom of the ages.  Fads come and go.  But real knowledge has a way of sticking around.  For example, we still today immerse ourselves in the learnings of the ancient Greeks and Chinese philosophers, who lived thousands of years ago.  Why? It’s because those lessons have been tested in the crucible of time.

Today’s teachings are often lacks depth.  They are devoid of long-term wisdom.

For example, when I did research for my Honors Thesis on “Child Rearing Practices an Prosocial Development” for the Honors Program in Psychology in undergraduate, studies at the time and from earlier times state corporal punishment is one tool in the arsenal of tools parents must use to help raise altruistic and healthy children who will become contributing members of society.  In other words, measured spanking is but ONE tool among many.  It is a necessary tool because consequences and accountability are important parts of life.  Both the carrot and the stick are needed to encourage good behaviours and discourage bad ones.  (See, e.g., https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1655269.html, a court case which states it is not abuse, in the process of preventing their once-good child from joining a gang, for parents to use a wooden spoon to spank a child after trying all other forms of punishment.  Note also how the court took pains to enshrine in writing in footnotes and to make part of the record the lies told by CPS in its efforts to assert its power without any regards for the true interests of the child … that she stay on the good path and not go down the destructive path of gangs and violence.)

These days, the “wisdom” is for parents to not even yell at their kids, much less spank them.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/well/family/why-you-should-stop-yelling-at-your-kids.html.

Is that wise?  Does that solve the problem and help raise better and more well-adjusted kids?  No!  With horrible consequences, it only shifted the burden from parents and teachers disciplining kids to school police to do so.  Troubled behaviors that once would have resulted in admonishment in class, detention, conversations with parents, suspension, etc., now results in tazing, physical assaults, arrests, handcuffs, jail time, juvenile criminal records, etc.  See, e.g., https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/school-safety-students-police-abuse_us_5b746a4ce4b0df9b093b8d6a; https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/why-do-most-school-cops-have-no-student-training-requirements/414286/; https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/us/police-officers-in-schools.html; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/police-in-schools-keeping-kids-safe-or-arresting-them-for-no-good-reason/2015/11/08/937ddfd0-816c-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.006da1640595; http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-aclu-report-20161017-snap-story.html.

 

No, my sons, think for yourselves, but use as guides the wisdom of the ancients.  For example, we are rediscovering the positives benefits of copper in medical treatment, something the ancients used to use before that practice fell out of favor for more modern pharmaceuticals.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-bacteria-fighting-super-element-making-a-return-to-hospitals-copper/2015/09/20/19251704-5beb-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html?utm_term=.16210f211e7a.

With the above said, let me share that I am guided by three adages, which capture relevant wisdom of the ancients.

(1) All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  This is your world and your community.  You have but one world.  Protect it.  Fight for good and fight against evil.  Be prone to action.  Words are cheap.  Everyday, you see people give lip service to what is good and right, but wouldn’t lift a finger to protect what is good and right.  Don’t be like them.  Be prone to action.  Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is noteworthy.  Remember, too, the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

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(2) If immersed in ink, you will be stained dark.  If bathed in light, you will be enlightened.  Surround yourselves with good people, who will inspire you and help you aspire to be better. Work towards continuous incremental improvements, so that you will be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than today.  We need more good people in the world: builders, problem solvers, helpers … those with good hearts and good intentions.  Surround yourselves with good peeps.

On the other hand, stay away from evil because it will drag you down to its level.  Your cousin on your mother’s side ignored the warnings and was caught in a car carrying drugs.  The police charged all the occupants of the vehicle with possession with the intent to sell.  He claimed he was just hanging out with friends and knew nothing of the drugs.  Regardless of the truth, the consequences were dire.  He now has a felony conviction and will forever by marked by that. 

Wrongful convictions are a major problems in the American justice system.  See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2018/09/10/report-wrongful-convictions-have-stolen-at-least-20000-years-from-innocent-defendants/?utm_term=.a643e396962d; https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-texas-judge-20131109-story.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-would-have-freed-her.html; http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/aboutus/; https://www.innocenceproject.org/.  It’s a reality.  Avoid putting yourselves from that situation if you can.  .

(3) A frog at the bottom of the well thinks the sky is only as big as the mouth of the well.  Learn and expand your horizons.  Read voraciously.  Engage with others, those who are good-hearted and who have good intentions.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You can learn something from everyone.”

Ignorance begets fear.  Don’t live in ignorance and fear.  Arm yourselves with knowledge.  Reserve judgement and try to see things from the other’s perspective.  Keep an open mind.  Give people a chance, but don’t waste your time on every sob story.  The world has 7.6 billion people.  You don’t have time to meet and measure everyone.  Use heuristics and rules of thumbs to help you more efficiently find the good.  For example, you are more likely to find the good among kids who volunteer to help the homeless, clean up the environment, or feed the hungry than among kids who hangs out at corners, smoking cigarettes or pot, who sneak out in the cover of darkness to tag walls and paint graffiti.  Not all of the kids in the latter group is bad, but your time is better spent interacting with kids in the good group and helping others.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t involve you when I volunteered to feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; help the disabled, the elderly, and the victims of domestic abuse; etc.  I wish I had.  Your mother doesn’t do those things so you have never seen such behavior modeled.  That is my failing. I am sorry.

Be well, my sons.  Learn from life and the wisdom of those who came before us.  Be good.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

5 years, 7 months, and 24 days. How to live well … some thoughts

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

A battle is well-underway for the heart and soul of America — the vision of what America should stand for and how we should live.  The recent deaths of, and memorials for, Senator John McCain and Aretha Franklin have brought this battle directly into the cross-hair of public discourse.

One side believes, as President Ronald Reagan once said, “America is, and always will be, a shinning city on a hill.” As our founding fathers acknowledged, America is the great social experiment in — an example of — what could be.  We lead in hope that others would follow and the world would be made into a better place.  Inherent in this vision is the idea that the inhabitants of this planet are inter-related and interdependent.  In other words, life is not a zero-sum game:  we can both win.

The other side believes self-interest must reign supreme.  Life is a zero-sum game: others win at our expense.

But, these are not the only two possible visions for a good life, a life well-lived.  For example, a third posits that by helping others, we make our own lives better.  I subscribe to this vision of how to live well.

The failures of both the first and second visions is that they are both inherently self-centered.  “We are the shining example for the world … look at us! copy us! learn from us!” is only slightly better than “me first!”

Concerns relating to the latter “me first!” approach are far better explained by Thomas Hobbes’ discussion in Leviathan of the state of nature and its attendant problems and by Garrett Hardin’s discussion of the tragedy of the commons than I could ever attempt to explain here.  To my simple mind, the greatest worry of the latter approach is simply that we human beings have an insatiable appetite for power and for things.  As discussed previously, our greed is without bound, and we will fight others to catch that last fish, caring not for future generations.  Individual greed is quick to foist societal costs onto others.  We mine the land for our benefits, but leave the scars and poisonous soup that remains for others to clean up.  We forget the “others” who are harmed is us.  It’s our land.  It’s our Earth.  It’s our environment.  Those who filled the air in China and India with pollutants condemn their children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, brethren, etc., to a life of misery.  Thus, the “me first!” approach cannot be right.

My fear regarding the “we are the example” approach is that it is similarly susceptible to human weaknesses — particularly our tendency to be blinded by our own ambitions and desires, and to project those ambitions and desires onto others as if the evil we do are for the goods of others.  The Crusades, where Christians killed tens of thousands of non-Christians to “save” them, are but one example.  There are many others.  For example, this “higher necessity” argument underlies the false rationale that it is better for the Catholic Church to cover up its failings than to admit and expose the sexual assaults by those entrusted with power upon those over whom they have power.  I suspect it, too, plays a role in the recent accusation by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S. that the Pope is engaged in malfeasance.  I say this without judgement or blame.  God and his Church are far more powerful and knowledgeable than I.  They can sort it out for themselves without my passing judgement one way or the other.  My fear is simply that human beings are fallible.  Who am I to say the god to which another prays is false?  I can only say the God to whom I pray is true.  Unless we are burdened with the mercurial gods told in Greek and Roman mythologies, I must assume our omnipotent and omniscient God is capable of taking care of Himself without the need for me to condemn my brethren (who He created) but who happens to hold a different belief than I.

My understanding and thought processes are far more basic.  In the same vein as Tip O’Neill’s belief that all politics is local, I think a good philosophy for living well should also be animated by local interests.  The smile that spread across my neighbor’s face after having been fed a warm meal on a cold night brings me joy.  The tears of happiness animated by the knowledge that the family is finally safe and their refugee status recognized by the international community warm my heart.  I may not know much, but I know that helping others make me happy and gives my life meaning.  Apparently, I am not the only one armed with this belief.

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Live well, my sons.  Help others.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 7 months, and 18 days. John McCain’s Rules for Living.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today, I want you to hear from a good man, Senator John McCain, who passed away recently.  Heed well his lessons for living, as recounted by his former staff member, John Raidt.

John McCain’s Rules for Living

He was a man of extraordinary conviction and character. This was his code.

The words came passionately and instinctively, drawn not so much from the man’s memory as from his spirit. It was 1984 and the quote was the answer delivered by freshman Rep. John McCain to the handful of constituents who had filtered into an Arizona community center for a townhall meeting.

McCain was replying to a constituent’s criticism about U.S. involvement abroad. I can’t recall whether the objection was to the United States’ support for democracy in a foreign land or the cost of U.S. relief from African famine. Both were topics at the townhalls that winter. In either case, as I was to learn, McCain’s answer would have come from the same core.

What I vividly remember as a young staffer – I would go on to serve with McCain for 16 years — was the respectful hush that fell over the small assembly, not just because of what he said, but the conviction with which he said it. It was clear, even to those who had come to scold him for holding positions they opposed, that McCain’s words were not the glib rejoinder of a politician. They expressed the passions of a leader with an authentic moral compass, someone who thought deeply about and sacrificed much for his ideals; and was to give much, much more. And they explain the man well.

Fulfilling the obligation to contest evil was John McCain’s life force. It was the source of his legendary, almost impossible, store of personal courage and energy, and the purpose of his public missions. He was a force of nature driven by a monumental sense of duty, an absolute faith in the morality of democracy, and an eagerness for the nation to lead in a needy world.

The list of evils against which he fought the good fight is long and well chronicled: from communism to violent extremism to tyranny of every mode. He fought human trafficking and other abominations of human rights. He dueled man’s inhumanity to man, including torture and the nation’s mistreatment of Native Americans. He tilted against a corrupt and corrosive national campaign finance system; congressional ineptitude and irresponsibility; waste and greed in the defense industry; the world’s uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system; and the public health scourge of tobacco.

Over his political career, the senator was called a conservative, a maverick, a rebel, a fighter, and a firebrand. He is, of course, each of these, and more.

***

I knew John McCain for 36 years, including the 16 I served on his staff. I would like to share some personal reflections and the key lessons from McCain’s life in politics and public service, including how they bear on the United States’ role in the world.

From the beginning, it was clear the McCain political philosophy was shaped by his reverence for the triad of human progress: individual rights, personal responsibility and public accountability. His credo is rooted in a profound respect for the dignity of the person as the basic unit of the commonwealth, and in the core conviction that moral and material prosperity are the product of free people, free markets and free enterprise, facilitated by government; not the other way around. His policies, programs and votes over the years flowed from these basic tenets. If he was a maverick, I think it’s because partisans on both sides of the spectrum are apt to treat the purposes of union and the American form of government spelled out in the Constitution’s preamble as a menu. McCain regarded them as a recipe.

McCain rejoiced in policy scrums that were opinionated, candid, and tough — seeing it as the spirited exercise of democracy; but he aspired for the political process to be fundamentally fair and worthy, understanding that democracy is a process not a war. This is why, to the chagrin of elements in his own party, he strongly supported minority rights and regular order in Congress.

McCain’s most profound legacy, however, will certainly be his character. Maybe over the years, in the heat of battle, he crossed the rhetorical line a time or two, but he never lost the boxer’s disdain for the low blow. His sense of fairness and countless acts of decency stood in stark contrast to the tribal, demoralizing character of Washington today. So, in that spirit, here are some of the key character-forming habits of mind and behavior I observed in McCain in the form of lessons learned — virtues we would hope for in all our nation’s leaders, and in ourselves.

***

Listen actively. McCain was always a listener, listening with as much intensity and presence as he replied. At hearings and in everyday conversations one could see his eyes boring in and his neck craned toward the witness to catch every word. He hungered to know what people thought and why, even when they disagreed with him, perhaps especially when they disagreed. His long love affair with townhall meetings was not so much the opportunity to address voters at scale; rather, it was so he could hear what others had to say. As a freshman congressman, hung on the wall overlooking the conference table in his district office was Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom of Speech.” The picture spoke volumes.

Learn avidly. McCain had an insatiable intellectual curiosity and worked hard at acquiring knowledge. He never presumed that wisdom accompanied an election certificate or seniority. I can’t remember a day when he wasn’t the first person in the office with a stack of newspapers piled on his lap, consuming them one by one. Nor do I ever recall when he wasn’t in the thrall of a good book. He regarded everyone he encountered as a learning opportunity, and would grow frustrated when expounding on issues more than learning about them.

Engage generously. McCain made eye contact with everyone, regardless of rank or stature. It wasn’t a tactic, but an innate inclination toward inclusiveness. To McCain, everyone mattered.

Care deeply and serve passionately. I’m not sure there is anyone in American politics who evinced more genuine passion about his or her ideals and missions. McCain’s career was a testament to the truth that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without a deep, enthusiastic sense of purpose. He cared about people and his principles intensely, and it showed.

Work tirelessly. No one worked harder. During his first run for Congress, McCain wore holes in his shoes walking door to door. His wife, Cindy, had the shoes bronzed. For many years they stood beside his fireplace, not as a trophy but as a reminder that relentless hard work and persistence are the price of high achievement. McCain often quoted Winston Churchill’s counsel to “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up!” More importantly, he practiced it.

Think for yourself. McCain liked to assay truth for himself. He valued input and advice and respected general opinion, but he wanted to satisfy himself about the validity of any argument, cause, or position. He wanted to know something, not just hear it, and was open to arguments based on evidence and reason that countered his prevailing viewpoint.

Call it like you see it. “Straight talk” wasn’t a campaign slogan. It was an operating system. I saw it in countless interactions with constituents and colleagues. He said exactly what he thought, not what might be expedient or politic. His arguments, however, weren’t always meant to convince. Sometimes they were meant to elicit the counter-argument to test the merits of both.

Have courage in your conviction. McCain not only showed moral and intellectual courage in his public stances but also physical courage, putting himself in harm’s way. He traveled to countless zones of conflict and human suffering, from war fronts to refugee camps, standing with dissidents and putting something more on the line than a good speech. He didn’t just sympathize and stand up in the Senate for oppressed people; he stood with them, taking part in pro-democracy rallies in Ukraine, walking the streets of Baghdad, visiting with the displaced of Syria, and circuiting the mountains of Afghanistan.

Team energetically. The military culture in which McCain was raised inculcated the precept that nothing worth achieving can be accomplished alone. He regarded everyone’s role, no matter how small, to be essential. In the early years, he kept a practice of regularly visiting the office mailroom to keep up morale and reinforce the team ethic. And to him, a good idea was a good idea regardless of who had it. He encouraged creativity and entrepreneurship in his staff. His team ethic, however, never dulled a keen sense of personal accountability. Typically, whether in his official duties, political campaigns, or private matters, he would own failure while credit for success would be shared. In his company one heard “we” far more than “I.”

But he could be withering in his criticism, and perhaps no elected official was a harsher critic of his own institution – Congress – than McCain. His reproach sprang from a deep respect for the essential role of the legislative branch in a healthy democracy, and from a significant measure of fear about what congressional dysfunction portends for the country’s future.

Duty first. Other than on philosophical grounds, I am not sure one could perceive a discernible difference between the way McCain treated government witnesses representing Republican presidents than those under a Democrat. He was tough on the executive branch because that is part of the job — and when an administration wasn’t doing its duty, he said so, loudly.

Respect the process. Here’s how McCain thought Congress was supposed to work, in six steps: public introduction of a proposal, official public hearings, committee action, referral to full House and Senate for consideration, amendment, and up or down vote. The modern Congress has shelved this process in favor of an ad hoc system administered by the majority in which all too often major legislation is shaped in secret, sprung on the full body, barely read or understood, and, when approved, passed along mainly partisan lines. The practice assures the enactment of laws rife with unintended consequences while intensifying partisan animosity. It means that on major pieces of legislation nearly half of Congress and the public feel alienated and cheated. Moreover, it assures that when majorities flip, the new party in power repays the favor. This lack of “regular order” was a prime reason for McCain’s controversial vote against the Obamacare repeal. To have been the deciding vote in concert with one’s party to erase the centerpiece accomplishment of the individual who defeated you in a presidential election would have been all too tempting for a typical politician. Not McCain. He cared deeply about process, because to him, it was essential to democracy.

Protect the minority. The United States is an experiment in self-government, rule of law, and the protection of basic human freedom and rights. Among them are the rights of minorities, including political minorities. For many years, McCain served in the minority party and when that flipped, he didn’t forget what it was like. He stood up to ensure that the minority party is afforded the right to view, amend, and be consulted on legislation and policy. In the committees he chaired, he tried diligently to protect the due prerogatives of all members regardless of party. It wasn’t always just a gesture of fairness: He recognized that political winds change, and that as the national political pendulum swings, parties will inevitably be required to labor in the minority under the same standards and practices of treatment they imposed while in power.

Engage the opposition. McCain didn’t hide from anyone. On the contrary, he engaged his political adversaries. He would take meetings that many other elected officials wouldn’t consider. Rather than sneaking in and out of back doors, he was known to invite protesters into his office to discuss their grievances. During the Cold War he was happy to meet with Nuclear Freeze groups. While they agreed on very little, the senator respected their intentions and activism. Even if the meeting didn’t forge consensus, it established mutual understanding and respectful give and take.

As a congressman, McCain was the beneficiary of the friendship and inclusion shown him by Morris Udall, a beloved Arizona Democrat who for many years chaired the House Interior Committee. Udall could have easily ignored McCain, a junior member of the other party, but went out of his way to take him under his wing. He had no reason to do it other than common decency. McCain never forgot the kindness shown to him. As he rose in seniority and came to majority power he tried to pay the example forward. He extended his hand of friendship and partnership to young liberals like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone, and over the years maintained tight friendships with many Democrats, including Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy and Sheldon Whitehouse.

As electoral politics grow increasingly tribal, driving party bases to donor envelopes and the voting booth, respectful cross-aisle friendships and collaboration are becoming rarer in Washington. This miserable trend overlooks that Americans, including the parties, have far more in common than not. The animus is destroying Congress and the middle ground essential for principled compromise that remains the heart and soul of democratic governance.

Take risks. McCain was a political risk taker. He respected the duty of an elected official to represent but also felt an obligation to lead, unafraid to expend his capital on politically risky but important initiatives. As a newly elected Reagan Republican, he opposed Ronald Reagan’s deployment of Marines to Lebanon. He risked the wrath of his party in championing campaign finance reform. He wasn’t afraid to offend Arizona’s power and water interests in altering dam operations on the Colorado River to protect Grand Canyon National Park or stand up to the state’s cattle and mining industry in helping put 3.5 million acres of Arizona under wilderness protection. He didn’t shrink from upsetting powerful commercial interests at home by championing Native American rights, including water entitlements; or in key primary states, by sticking to his opposition to ethanol subsidies so dear to the corn growers of Iowa and to his advocacy for anti-smoking controls despite the power of tobacco farmers in South Carolina.

In taking controversial stands during his White House runs he stated, “I would rather be right than president.” McCain firmly believed that if you did the right thing for the right reasons the electorate would support you. It did in two House elections and six Senate campaigns. When it didn’t in two presidential races, he could move on undiminished, honor intact. The point is that without political risk takers on both sides of the aisle, very little can be achieved across it.

Clean up the role of money in politics. Nothing offended McCain more than the appearance that Congress is bought and paid for by special interests. He felt this most acutely in the aftermath of the Keating Five corruption scandal in which he was embroiled, but the conviction only increased as he came to appreciate the intensity of the public’s cynicism about the system. Public trust is a fragile but essential component of democracy. Without limits on the time elected officials spend fundraising and the amount that a special interest can spend to influence races, the alienation between the elected and the electorate will only grow wider — all to the delight of foreign powers seeking to destroy our form of government from within.

Honor the office. McCain felt keenly that positions of elected leadership are not about the occupant. It’s the office that counts — or, as he put it, “the opportunity to do something rather than be somebody.” Every elected position is a trust that comes with the heavy weight of history and responsibility to the future. As important as the president of the United States may be, the office of the president of the United States is what really matters.

Curate freedom’s comparative advantage. His friend, the Irish rock star Bono, observed that the United States is not just a place but an idea. McCain agreed. Throughout his career, he devoted himself to protecting the idea, including for 25 years as chairman of the International Republican Institute, a component of the National Endowment for Democracy. And as a national political leader, he sought to ensure that the United States remains a just and worthy custodian of the idea. For many years, freedom lovers across the world looked to McCain for leadership and support. They drew strength from his mission to ensure that the United States remains a bulwark of liberty for those who have it and a beacon of hope for those who don’t.

America’s economic and military power are, first and foremost, the product of the country’s values and ideals. They are the foundation for everything that makes the United States exceptional and influential. Over the years, McCain routinely admonished friends and allies that “what separates us from our adversaries is our respect for human rights.” Should we forget that, the American sunset as a nation of good and great influence and consequence will be nearer than its dawn.

Lead from the front. I’m not sure anything was as offensive or antithetical to John as the notion of the United States leading from behind. Leading from the front doesn’t mean that the United States must own every global problem. McCain was always zealous for friends and allies to pull their weight. But, leadership means leadership. It can’t be sustained passively from the loge section of world events.

Peace through strength. McCain’s career-long commitment to strong armed services was not the product of an affinity for conflict. On the contrary, knowing firsthand the cost of war, he had a unique understanding and loathing of its horrors. His conviction that national defense must be generously but prudently funded, was informed by the bitterly learned lessons of history that tyrants only understand strength, and that remaining vigilant and strong is the price of sustaining peace, security, and freedom.

Defense of democratic values is a team sport. McCain understood the need for tightly knit international cooperation and strong alliances to sustain peace and defend liberal democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human rights. He was a faithful participant in the annual Munich Security Conference, a 55-year-old institution that brings together the international security community devoted to addressing the world’s most pressing security concerns, and building peace through dialogue.

At its annual conference last February, McCain received an award for his contribution to transatlantic relations. The acceptance letter was read by his wife Cindy. “We come to Munich,” he wrote, “because we want to live in a world where truth transcends falsehood, sovereignty triumphs over subjugation, justice reigns over oppression, freedom overcomes tyranny, where power is transformed into legitimacy, and the fate of people and nations is determined by the rule of law, not the whim of rulers. We come to Munich because we know—and we can never afford to forget—that the alternative to a world ordered by these values is a dark and cruel place, where laws, and rules, and rights count for nothing, and selfish, brute force trumps all.”

In its coda, he issued this challenge to NATO allies and all friends in the cause of human advancement: “I am counting on all of you, my friends, to honor the precious, beautiful things that are still entrusted to our care. I am counting on you to be brave. I am counting on you to be useful. I am counting on you to keep the faith, and never give up—though the true radiance of our world may at times seem obscured, though we will suffer adversity and setbacks and misfortune—never, ever stop fighting for all that is good, and just, and decent about our world, and each other.”

Candor with allies and adversaries. McCain believed the dynamics of relations between nations are not so different than those between individuals. Regular communication and respectful candor is as much a prerequisite for maintaining strong and enduring relationships among allies as it is among friends and family. As heads of state and ministers across the globe can attest, McCain was nothing if not communicative and candid. And in dealing with foes, personal or geopolitical, he invested in the belief that straight talk reduces room for misunderstanding and miscalculation, while decreasing the opportunity for problems to fester.

Modernize our strategies, alliances and forms of global engagement. Times evolve rapidly, and along with them so do global threats, allies and adversaries. McCain spent a career trying to help the country stay on top of change, modernizing the United States’ capability to stay strong, safe, and able to advance the nation’s interests and values. But he also argued that 21st century security is not defined solely by military capabilities. Peace, stability, and winning the ideological war against autocracy demands we work to improve the quality of lives in vulnerable parts of the world. This requires engagement with a broader toolkit (both civilian and military), not the erection of physical walls and trade barriers behind which the United States retreats from the world, only to have the world come knocking at our door — or looking to kick it down.

Know your history. McCain came of age when mankind was forced to overcome the basest evil through enormous sacrifice, vigilance and determination. He was a child of the World War II generation that faced down global fascism. He served in the Cold War, both in uniform and in Congress, against a communist ideology that posed an existential threat to human liberty.

In the aftermath of war, hot and cold, American leaders established alliances and institutions to defend freedom and keep the peace, including by promoting human development. As a result, mankind has experienced exponential increases in prosperity and well-being. The further these conflicts fade into history, McCain feared, the greater the risk the lessons of history will be lost. If so, one fears that coming generations will be forced to relearn them at an unspeakable cost.

***

There is a virtue unaddressed above that I thought would be best saved for last because I think it may be the most powerful bequest: sincere gratitude. Next to love, it is the most redeeming of human emotions. Even in the final terribly challenging days of his life, McCain didn’t talk about personal hurts, regrets, or disappointments as so many people dwell on. By his own account, he was occupied with simple and genuine gratitude for the people, experiences and causes that have filled his meaningful life.

So, to a great man who tried to do something: Thank you.

5 years, 4 months, and 14 days. Keep your eyes on the prize.

 

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The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt pointing speaking president early 1900s

TR’s life shows us that hard work, tenacity, and a desire to do the right thing can get you far in life. In the most memorable section of his “Citizenship in a Republic” speech, Roosevelt captured his life philosophy in just a few sentences. “The Man in the Arena” tells us that the man we should praise is the man who’s out there fighting the big battles, even if those battles end in defeat. In our day, when cynicism and aloof detachment are considered hip and cool, TR reminds us that glory and honor come to those “who spend themselves in a worthy cause.”

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/manvotional-the-man-in-the-arena-by-theodore-roosevelt/ (emphasis added)

My dearest dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I apologize for the absence.  The days have been challenging.

When the going gets tough, I seek comfort in the words of T.R. Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech.  It is far better to have tried and failed (even failed greatly) than to have never tried at all.  People can bitch and moan all they want, but unless they are willing to pitch in and help bring about improvement, they are just wasted breath.

Unfortunately, too many these days are but useless talking heads.  I shall never forget a Superbowl ad I saw years ago:  two consultants were pitching an action plan to a company executive who replied, “Great!  I want you guys to execute that plan.”  The two consultants then laughed and said something to the effect of, “We are consultants.  We come up with the ideas, but we don’t know how to do it.”

Consultants these days are a dime a dozen — many are fresh out of college.  Without substantive knowledge and experience, on what are they basing their critical thinking and analytical skills?

Can critical thinking actually be taught?  Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really.  People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation.  Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill.  The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).

….

Thought processes are intertwined with what is being thought about.

Willingham, Daniel T., “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?” American Educator (Summer 2007), 8-10.

Thus, the lesson of the day is two-fold: gain substantive knowledge, and use it.

Be good, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with two additional thoughts.

 

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5 years, 3 months, and 10 days. Living a good life is challenging. Live well anyway.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today is a hard day.  Actually, it’s been a hard week.

But, no one promised you life would be easy.  If anyone did, he or she lied.

Life is a struggle … to do the right thing, to do the best you can under the circumstances, to be true to yourself despite pressures from all sides to conform to the wishes and demands of others, etc.  As Anton Chekhov said, “Any idiot can deal with a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

Live well anyway.  What choice have you?  You could lie, cheat, steal, and boot-lick your way up, but there is no honor in that.  Further, you will find that path unpleasant on the way up and that it never ends.  Change is a constant, and you must constantly kiss ass to remain in the position.  Is it really worth it?  Would you rather live honestly or would you rather be a two-faced, back stabbing bootlicker who’d sell his own mother for profit?

Be true to yourself, my sons.  It’s a tough road, but it is one that will enable you to look back on your life with pride.  It will give your life meaning, and will give reasons for those who matter in the world to celebrate your life instead of long for your death.  See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/17/us/barbara-bush-dead.html; and, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/18/southwest-airlines-victim-jennifer-riordan/527363002/.

Buck up!  There will always be difficult days. But, strive to live such that more of your days are pleasant than unpleasant.

We are surrounded by ankle-biters, who will never amount to much.  But, that is the nature of ankle-biters: they are often of low- or poor-skills, will never make much of their lives, and are best at pulling others down to their levels.  Ignore them if you can, deal forcefully with them if you must, but spend most of your time pursuing your goals and dreams.  Your success is what they fear most … because it makes more stark their failures.

Be you.  Be the best you.  Find joy wherever and whenever you can.  Make it a priority to spend time with friends and people who love you.  Make friends.  Let nature nourish your body, heart, mind, and spirit.  Experience life.

Love with all you heart and soul because that is the only way to love and live.  To hedge your bet or to reciprocate only the feelings of another is to empower your mind to cage your heart and imprison it in fear.  Don’t do that.  Experience life.  With great love may come great loss, but at least you would have loved and lost rather than to have never experience such miracle and exquisite beauty.

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All my love, always.  You are the best of me.

Dad

P.S., don’t buy the “fake news” crap that the dishonest espouses.  Reputable newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post build their reputations over decades, and have processes in place to protect the hard-earned good-will and reputation they cultivated.  They make mistakes, as all humans are want to do, but they try to be fair and accurate.  That is a lot more than others who won’t even bother to be fair, accurate, or even truthful.

Congratulations to the New York Times, Washington Post, Arizona Republic, and others on their Pulitzer Prizes.  http://www.pulitzer.org/prize-winners-by-year/2018.

5 years, 3 months, and 6 days. Be kind to your audience.

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Pity the readers.

https://kmh-lanl.hansonhub.com/pc-24-66-vonnegut.pdf (emphasis added)

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My dearest and most precious Shosh and Jaialai:

Kurt Vonnegut said it best and most succinctly:  “Pity the readers.”  Be kind to your audience.  They occupy not your life and live not in your head; thus, they have the difficult task of trying to follow your thoughts — be it in written or oral form.  Help them.

First, know your audience.  Who are they?  What do they want out of the interaction with you?  What are their interests?  What are their levels of education?  What is their frames of reference?  For example, if you were talking to high school graduates who are sports fanatics, and you peppered your conversation with quotes from a philosophy book, do you think your audience would be hooked by your presentation or bored?  Know your audience.  Speak their “language” — be it words, anecdotes, imagery, etc.

Second, as the speaker or writer, IT IS YOUR JOB to communicate your thoughts clearly to your audience.  Don’t shirk your duties.  Worse, don’t blame your audience for your failure to do your job.

For example, your job as the writer is to help your readers understand what you are saying by clearly giving them roadmaps and textual clues for them to follow along.  Thus, use signals – such as commas, and words like “but” – to tell readers what to expect and to better help them understand your points.

Shosh, when you were a toddler, you visited me at the office and scared my staff.  Ms. T asked why you liked construction equipment or something that simple.  You responded with, “Well, I like them for three reasons.  First, …”  Your detailed analysis as well as clear and organized thinking freaked them out.  Mr. D said he’d rather have kids who are not as smart since they would be easier to teach.

In life, you will find that if you care about your audience, they will care about you in return.  Do the hard lifting and complicated analyses for your audience and explain complex ideas in simple terms for your audience, and they will knock down your door to get to you and your services.  I promise.

Be well, my sons.  Live well.  Be happy.

All my love, always,

Dad