Public Radio Commentary

Commentaries that have aired on Vt Public Radio

Men and their Sacred Writs

I’m not a biblical scholar but there is a wonderful passage in Matthew called “The Woes of the Pharisees and Scribes,” in which Christ – the son of God in Christianity, and a revered prophet in Judaism and Islam – excoriates the leaders of the church and state for their sins. I’ve updated it somewhat: Who are these feared and fearful patriarchs, these lawgivers, and porers over sacred texts? … Middle-Eastern elders who find in sacred texts the right to sell their daughters in marriage to their friends and then to hunt them down and kill them when they flee in terror, … African elders who find in tribal tradition the right to ensure their infant daughters never grow up …
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A Peaceful Revolution ?

Extremes of wealth and poverty have often led to revolution. Our own founding revolution was but one example in the historical continuum. Oxfam has declared without challenge that 85 people own half the world’s wealth. Here at home, the top 10% own 75% of all domestic wealth. But even as concentrations of the world’s wealth are at an historic high this does not necessarily mean revolution is inevitable. Nor does rebalancing wealth solve poverty, because wealth isn’t exactly a zero-sum game. To understand real options, we must review and understand our political belief systems. Most conservatives and libertarians are laissez-faire capitalists. They believe that great wealth at the top, unconstrained by taxation and regulation, inevitably “trickles down” and nourishes the …
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Weather or Old Age?

Listen Sometimes it seems like the only question I’ve been asking myself recently, besides “how cold is it this morning?” is whether I’m just getting old or whether the world is indeed changing around me. Take for example the weather. We all agree it’s been a long, miserable winter. I’ve lived here since just after peace was declared in Europe and grew up far from the “lake effect” we enjoy in Hinesburg. I remember snow up to the bottom of our first-story windows and occasional temperatures in the 30+ below zero range. It seemed fun then except for the dreaded shoveling we had to do after school. My father said the driveway between Washington Highway and our one-car garage was …
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Rough Beasts

I write in my sleep. It’s hardly restful. Since I mostly remember what I write, I’m never quite sure if I’m really asleep. Recently, I’ve been haunted by the nocturnal question of whether things in America are deteriorating or whether I am ageing and just living through another cycle of the more or less steady-state human condition. I worry that we re-living the beginning of the last century when the halls of government were awash in the money of powerful men until Teddy Roosevelt, himself wealthy and powerful, began his signature trust-busting and brought the monopolists of his day to heel. I’m afraid we’re reliving that past now that free speech and money are one and business is free to …
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Talk or Action?

Most politicians would rather take refuge in the comfort of big ideas than risk voter retribution by trying to solve specific problems. It’s both easier and more comfortable to stick with liberal or conservative nostrums than to roll up one’s sleeves and gamble on new initiatives that could reduce the pain of poverty, diminish safety-net dependency, and actually offer people a leg up to economic independence. Sermons about big government vs. small government, high taxes or low taxes may woo voters at election time but solve little or nothing in the long run. For that, we need to identify key flaws in the system and fix them individually, not with speeches but with action. America’s middle class is shrinking. Our …
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The Spirit of Toys

In the early 50s, I remember sitting in my PJs under a spruce Christmas tree. I’m opening a pile of presents from my mother. These are the presents my mother never got as a young girl. She grew up in a family that had little use for manufactured things. I’m embarrassed at how many toys are spread out around me and gather them up and hide them in my room. I know my neighborhood playmates have few if any store-bought toys and that most of their gifts are necessities like hand-me-downs, clothing, or playthings fashioned from found objects. Across the street, Vick’s father has a small engine repair shop and Vick has a collection of toys that I envy. Most of …
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At Home with Corruption

For generations, the organizing principles of tribal and melting pot societies have been religion, commerce, and government. Each has occasioned both great human advancement and incalculable human suffering. They are, after all, only frameworks populated by imperfect human beings. Our government was founded with both religion and commerce firmly in mind, wanting both to thrive – but within an agreed upon framework. Separation of church and state ensured that citizens might worship, or not, according to their own beliefs and that no single religion could ever impose its beliefs on another. Trade and commerce regulation grew out of the need to establish rules within which commerce could bring its many economic and social benefits to citizens while ensuring fairness and …
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America in Decline

Among the common frames through which we view the quality of our lives are health, knowledge, ethics, wealth, beauty, and spirit. A life well lived uses all these frames to assess and understand wellbeing. When one frame becomes dominant – or the only frame by which we judge – our decisions and our lives become distorted. We lose sight of who we are. Although this is true of us as individuals, it is also true of us as a nation. And if society is a reflection of its inhabitants, we’re losing our way in America. Watching the battle between the gladiators of personal wealth and those fighting for a broader understanding of our nation’s wellbeing, we miss the slow unraveling …
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Arrogant Species?

Sometimes I worry that we’re at risk of succumbing to our own arrogance as a species. A quick history … In primitive times, just after we lost our prehensile tails, our humility was ensured by our constant flight from marauding carnivores, droughts, floods, and rampaging cannibals. A recent article in The Guardian claims that it was in this period of our development that mankind achieved its pinnacle of intelligence, which explains to some degree our subsequent decline as a species. Then barricades and armor were invented but, alas, so was tyranny and we became serfs, peons, slaves, and crew members. Then the arrogant French hoi polloi invented human rights and the guillotine, and tyrannies began to fall like heads. Later …
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The New Civil War

The accords we’ve long used to organize ourselves into a functioning society have traditionally been shared among three sectors: government, business and the non-profit sector. Government has traditionally been the steward of national defense, criminal justice, internal revenue, education, cultural heritage, infrastructure, and social safety. The business sector has typically ensured employment, wealth generation, and commerce – all of which make possible taxation that funds government. Gaps in the social safety net, healthcare, education, and the environment have fallen to the non-profit sector. Today, however, all bets are off. The rising clash of political philosophies, unmediated by skilled leaders, has ignited a smoldering civil war over the appropriate roles of the three sectors. The resulting anarchy of words, fanned by …
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