Saturday, February 25, 2012

We the Lasagna Eaters?

My opinion on politicians stems from graduate school, when the professor asked for the best definition of the word politics.

Do I have to tell you who won? I told him that I thought politics was the art of displeasing the least amount of people.

Of course, I could really grow to like a politician. If one came along and said that, if elected, the first thing he was going to do was float a measure that would make term limits mandatory…well, that guy, I might like to hang out with.

Elected office was never envisioned as a career or even an occupation by the Founding Fathers. They saw it as a duty. If elected, a man would leave his farm, serve a particular amount of time, then—having done his duty—would return to his plow, allowing another of his neighbors to then go and serve.

If you think that’s a little pie-in-the-sky-ish, you should look up the background of Cincinnati—not the city in Ohio, per se, but its name. More precisely—Cincinnatus—the man from whom that town took its name. I won’t explain it to you now, but look it up. It will go a long way in clarifying how this republic of ours is supposed to work.

A lot of what has happened to our government is simple public perception. Ask where the government is located and you’ll get a stock answer. National government, well, that’s in Washington; State government, Harrisburg in Pennsylvania; city government, well heck, that’s in City Hall.

And how many times have you heard a sentence begin with the phrase, “When Reagan was running the country…” or  “When Clinton was running the country…”

But government in this country does not (or at least it’s not supposed to) reside in a city or a building. And presidents are not supposed to “run” the country, any more than Congressmen are supposed to run their districts.

Presidents administer our government for us. That’s why their office is called “The Administration.” And Congressmen represent their districts the way senators represent their states.

You see, the government is not located in Washington, D.C., Trenton, New Jersey, Bismarck, North Dakota, or in some historic building at Broad and Market streets in Philadelphia. Government in this republic resides in the people. That’s why the Preamble begins the way it does.

I know I’ve oversimplified this, but if you gave me three hundred pages instead of three hundred words, I couldn’t make it any clearer. We are the government. And the next politician that makes that point clear…well, aside from getting my vote, he just might be the first politician that gets invited to my home for lasagna.

And although you’ll find some good stuff on my Web site:, you will not find my lasagna recipe. That’s one thing that doesn’t belong to We, the People.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Book To Make You Think

As a writer, I understand the value of education, and in today’s atmosphere of rising expenses, I also understand why schools are feeling that currency noose tightening around their academic necks.

Good schooling—if it’s doing its job—teaches you how to learn. When I got my bachelor’s degree, my cousin, an Oxford-trained psychologist, told me, “Now your education really begins.”

School should give you the tools to continue your education.

I’ve heard many people point to Bill Gates as an example of why education is not so important. Gates dropped out of college and began Microsoft. So if you think you’ve got a shot to follow in those software footprints…good luck!

I think a far better example of a dropout making the grade is Louis LaMour. LaMour, one of America’s most prolific writers, dropped out of high school in Jamestown, North Dakota at age 15 and became a wandering man. He did a little of everything from sailing on merchant ships to working in a mine to boxing in small western towns. But he never…never, paused his education.

You see, Lamour was in love with books. As prolific a writer as he was, he was even more prolific a reader. Books were his intoxicants. He devoured them. He was addicted to them. He spent most of his eighty years of life in the company of them.

I’ve heard many young people today say that they just don’t have time to read. That phrase was one of Lamour’s pet peeves. He called it absolute nonsense. So he kept a personal record one year. He found that he had read twenty-five books while just waiting for people—waiting for them in restaurants, or in doctor’s offices, or while waiting for a bus…just waiting.

And he asks a vital question when he wants to know what’s more important—a night on the town or learning something that can be with you a lifetime?

LaMour is best known for writing westerns, like Hondo and The Haunted Mesa. But if there’s one Louis Lamour book I would recommend, it would be Education of a Wandering Man. I’ve read that book three times, and it has never failed to entertain and educate me. If you’ve never read a Louis Lamour book, then start with this one.

And if you are a Lamour fan but haven’t got to Education of a Wandering Man yet; it’s time you did so. I think it’s one of those books that can be enormously influential.

                Because it will make you think…

Monday, February 6, 2012

Taking Monday Morning Quarterbacking to a Fault

What Joe Paterno took to his grave regarding the recently alleged sexual assaults at Penn State University, we’ll never truly know. In hindsight, many are sanctimoniously declaring that they know full well what they would have done, had they found themselves in his place.

Sportscasters are now quick to say that Paterno may have been a man of principles, but he should have done more when notified of pedophilic behavior in one of his staff at Penn State University.

Paterno, they say, should have taken matters into his own hands and gone above the heads of the University staff members that oversee him—specifically, the athletic director and college president.

But instead, Paterno followed the regulation that dictates what he must do; that is, he reported to his superiors what was reported to him by one of his subordinates. You see, Paterno was a rule-follower, and journalists—especially sports journalists—often hate those types.

And this prompts the media intelligentsia to now condemn him for one of the very traits that factored into his strong principles—his strict adherence to rules. He practiced it himself, and demanded it of his players.

Now it’s easy for me to rationalize this way. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life in military and quasi-military careers, where we are trained to report complaints such as this to our superior.

What we are not trained to do is to follow-up, if you will, to see if our superiors are handling the complaint to our satisfaction. And that is exactly what Paterno’s detractors are insisting: that he should have seen to it that the college authorities took the action he thought was appropriate.

In fact, they are saying that Paterno should have supervised his supervisors. At least that’s what they would have done. They would have taken matters into their own hands and damn the consequences.

This hits close to home with me since it’s a preferential theme in some of my writing. The protagonist in my novel, Grave Departure, does precisely that. He has departmental rules that dictate what he must do, yet his dilemma is to decide if he will follow the rules or take matters into his own hands. And—like Joe Paterno—he must live with the consequences. And also like Paterno, he’ll most likely take certain of those consequences to his grave.

My intention with Grave Departure was to make the reader think: To think, “Did the protagonist do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or did he do the wrong thing for the right reasons?” And most importantly, “What would I have done in this situation?”

But now, instead of asking themselves what they would have done in Joe Paterno’s position, too many analysts are saying they know what they would have done in his position.  They fail to ask, “Did he do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or perhaps, the wrong thing for the right reasons?”

However we look at it, Joe Paterno took his consequences to his grave. They may have even hastened his death. I truly hope he rests in peace.

He was a good man. A good man faced with an agonizing dilemma—one I hope I’ll never have to face.
And that’s how I’ll remember him. One rule-follower to another.