Monday, March 18, 2013

Is Conscription the Answer?

Our system of justice is based on the theory that we have a fundamental right to be judged by a panel of our peers, versus by the king’s (or state’s) representatives. To ensure a panel of our peers, we use random selection to populate each panel from the general population. (Once upon a time, we did the same to field an army.)

What if our system of governance were similarly based? What if, at all levels, our personal and collective interests were represented not by dissembling politicians, but by conscripts selected by lot?
What if there were no career politicians? No negative campaign ads? No endless electioneering? No gerrymandering. No entrenched partisanship. No daily dissembling? No robo-calls? No PACs? No pundits? No Donald Trumps?

What if our entire culture were built around the requirement that every citizen, however humble in his or her abilities or achievements, must be subject to being conscripted into a position of governance, just as, once upon a time, every male citizen had been held subject to being conscripted into a common defense?
Indeed, isn’t this what a democracy really is?
Could we possibly be any worse off than we are now?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sometimes a Great Notion

Here's a notion: No matter who wins the next presidential election (or the one after), we all lose. What do you think?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ben Franklin on Bullying

Because I spent nine years writing a novel about Ben Franklin, I’m often asked what Ben would say about this or that issue. Recently, I was asked what Ben would say about bullying, a growing scourge in America that has captured a great deal of attention lately because of a rash of bullying-related suicides.

The popular wisdom seems to be that the solution to this problem (and how many others?) lies with our schools; in particular, with enforcing zero-tolerance policies on school grounds, and with educating both sides of the equation, victim as well as perpetrator.

If Ben Franklin were to weigh in on the matter, my sense is that, as a master analyst, he would ponder a moment and then ask us, simply: Why do bullies bully? 

In other words, is bullying a malady in itself, to be treated in isolation, or is it only a symptom of something larger? If the latter, is treating symptoms really what we want to be doing to solve our bullying problem, or is it instead going after the root cause?

(The same could be asked concerning drug addiction and obesity, could it not?)

If to answer Ben’s question (Why do bullies bully?) we were to follow the vector it suggests, what might we encounter? Children who are cherished and well-treated at home? Children who feel valued and respected? Children who feel useful and self-confident? Children who do their homework every night instead of watching TV reality shows? Parents who model tolerance, forbearance, and thoughtfulness?

Do the nays have it?

If so, should we continue to look to our schools for a solution to our bullying problem, or should we instead take a closer look at the state of American home life?

As the founder and commander of the Pennsylvania militia, Ben would likely pose one other question to us: Where is it written that children witnessing the abuse and degradation of a fellow human being must stand by and allow it to go on. Is not a bully only as bold as those around him allow him to be? And does it not take but one child of courage, one bold spirit, to organize and lead a local militia?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Papal Bull

The pope tells us that masturbation is an abomination (except, apparently, for those countless heathens who preceded Catholicism, lucky devils). The logic behind this stance, we’re told, is that spilling one’s seed other than in the proper receptacle, under the proper conditions, is prima facie against “God’s will.” God invented sex, you see, not for loving couples to join with and pleasure each other, but for God-fearing couples to produce as many new Catholics as possible.

Curiously unmentioned by the pope regarding the inherent evil of masturbation is the fact that masturbation for females does not involve spilling one’s seed, and therefore cannot warrant the same moral sanction it does for boys. Indeed, it would seem that girls get to pleasure themselves with impunity while boys get to choose between chronic sexual frustration and being cast into hellfire for all eternity, in company, unavoidably, with mass murderers and serial rapists. 

The pope also tells us that “impure thoughts” are an abomination. An impure thought is any mental image visited upon or conjured by one’s imagination that has anything to do with sex. The logic here is that any mental image involving sex is prima facie one and the same with the act itself. Given this “logic,” one has to wonder what God-fearing parent would risk providing her pubescent child with a sex education of any sort for fear it might trigger an uncontrollable cascade of impure thoughts and thereby condemn her child to a fate of unimaginable horror.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Finding Kanzus

Why can’t Johnny find Kansas on a map?
 The same reason he can’t read.
 Johnny lives in a culture in which learning for leaning’s sake, knowing for knowing’s sake, understanding for understanding’s sake, has little intrinsic value. Johnny lives in a culture in which a majority of parents do not read to their children, do not take them on exploratory excursions, and do not discuss the issues of the day with them at the dinner table. Johnny lives in a culture in which the average child spends over six hours a day texting, Facebooking, cellphoning, apping, and instant-messaging. Johnny lives in a culture in which most major-league baseball pitchers make more money per pitch than most teachers make in an entire school year. Johnny lives in a culture in which creationism is believed by 62% of the adult population to be an appropriate topic of study in a public high school. Johnny lives in a culture in which any student who openly shows a passion for learning risks being bullied unto the brink.

Bottom Line: Johnny lives in a culture in which no one under 60 has any idea who Frank Baum is.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Few More Thoughts on Leadership

As long as public office continues to attract takers over leavers, most of us will continue to get taken.
Swagger does not a silverback make.
A politician tells us what we want to hear; a leader, what we will hold against him in the next election.
Leadership not reluctant is not.
What politicians lack in modesty and imagination they more than make up for in glibness and guile.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On Leadership: Food for Thought

Leadership is one part enlightenment, one part courage, two parts humility, simmered over the steady heat of a compassionate heart.
The true leader runs not for office but from it.
As long as public office continues to attract takers over leavers, most of us will continue to get taken.
Swagger does not a silverback make.