Category archives for Logos/Ethos

The college admissions scandal and the search for a good life

This hasn’t been a good year for colleges. Small private schools are dropping like flies, unable to find enough applicants to sustain themselves. Elite universities are thriving, with an applicant pool so deep that wealthy parents are paying millions for illicit life jackets to float their children safely to the top. In between are universities [...]

Super Bowl champions: Looking for lessons in unexpected places

March, 2019 It’s been a month since the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory and not much has happened. Oh well, except for THAT … Notwithstanding the owner’s personal transgressions, I’d like to return to the team’s on-field achievement if I may, because I think it may be instructive. The sustained excellence of the New England Patriots [...]

“Toxic masculinity” is giving Stoicism a bad name

February, 2019 The pop psychology flavor of the month appears to be “toxic masculinity”. If you haven’t come across it in your readings, you haven’t been paying attention. As you can tell, the phrase doesn’t appear very flattering to men, of which I am one. The term is meant to describe what experts believe are [...]

Is the notion of American values a delusion?

Dec. 2018 I’ve been focusing my reading lately on the issue of American character and trying to understand why our people seem so divided. Political candidates make much of “restoring fundamental American values”, but what exactly are they? Do Mainers, Alabamans, and Oregonians actually value the same things?             Colin Woodard, author of American Nations, [...]

Educate for Democracy First, Jobs Second

Nov. 2018 It doesn’t matter which side of the political divide we’re on, we can all agree we’re in an era of extreme political and social tribalism. We’re living in an age of hyper-partisanship and democracy is being tested. The foundation of democracy is faith, not in a god, but in human nature. Democracy rises [...]

Truth, Reality, Perception and “Alternative Facts”

The Trump presidency didn’t introduce the post-truth era. America has had a problem with truth for a long time. Long before Kellyanne Conway introduced “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, Americans have been entertaining some rather magical thinking about what constitutes truth and reality. Identifying the first signs of our problem could take us back [...]

Message to NFL Fans: Let It Go

The NFL season is upon us this weekend and that means only one thing. It’s time once again to debate flags and anthems and our proper response to them.  It’s a fresh new season of talk-radio harangues and Thanksgiving dinner eruptions by our hammered Uncle Arnie.  Here’s a different angle to take: It’s widely accepted [...]

Newark, 1968

                The convergence of two events, one past and one future, has preoccupied my mind this week.             We are only a few days from the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Half a century used to strike me as a long time; no more. [...]

Myth and a Nation in Turmoil

America is a fabric woven out of myth, narratives that serve as moral guides, directing both individuals and nations toward meaningful, purposeful lives. As writer and social critic Neil Postman said, “(narratives have) an aura of sacredness about them … they are a fixed figure or image to direct one’s mind to an idea, a [...]

Fleeting Grace

October, 2017 I may be biased, but it seems to me the Golden Age of Catholic education was post-war America. Having won the war because we were on God’s side and possessed a thermonuclear weapon, millions of returning vets and their wives entrusted their children’s education to another army, division upon division of stern, dedicated [...]

On Being a Hero

November, 2017 It shouldn’t be a surprise to any observer of American culture over the past 40 years that we have fallen under the intoxicating spell of “language inflation”. What was originally the linguistic product of the youth culture of the 60’s and ‘70’s has been sent into the stratosphere by hyper-politization and the social [...]

American High School

  Several years after my retirement from full-time teaching, I decided to join that most ridiculed of all American professions. I became a substitute teacher. It didn’t take me long to discover that there are no educational expectations associated with this position. Since the absent teacher was responsible for the lesson plan (and that is [...]

The Deep State and Me

How do you begin to write an essay about a subject that you can barely understand? I did it for years in college, but it seems harder now. Maybe it’s my age. And anyway, the stakes seem different now. This time, I’m not pretending to have knowledge. I am readily admitting that I don’t have [...]

In the Beginning was the Word

           There’s a federally- funded public opinion poll called the General Social Survey (GSS) and it has been in existence since 1972. It’s designed to “take the pulse of America”. (For those inclined to distrust anything originating in the federal government, the GSS is the product of the University of Chicago. If you doubt the integrity [...]

From STEM to STEAM

I find the Times editorial, “Innovative arts” (Nov. 14), thoughtful and relevant but limited in an ironic fashion.   The editorial reviews the current popularity and influence of STEM curriculums, an attempt to “rejuvenate academic vigor” in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.  STEM is a national initiative aimed at “reclaiming the top [...]

William Inge and Me

I keep bumping into William Inge in my life, not that we travel in the same circles. Inge was a great playwright, now dead; and I am an unexceptional one, but currently alive.   My Inge encounters began when I was 11 and saw the film adaptation of his play Picnic.  It featured William Holden, [...]

Speech: Boston Latin School Alumni Association

June 7, 2013 Thank you.  It’s both a pleasure and an honor to speak to alumni of the BostonLatinSchool. It’s an institution that I have long admired. It’s also an institution to which I would have had no chance whatsoever of attending had I tried; and one that actually had the opportunity to hire me [...]

The First American Myth

              Cultures are founded upon myths, narratives which depict the shared self-perceptions and values of  a people. They are the very fabric of a civilization., a unifying influence,  and are  essential to a nation like the United States – one consisting of millions of immigrants who have relocated to these shores from myriad cultures [...]

Bombers, Believers and Skeptics

  On Sunday, Times columnist Dan McCullough responded to the Boston Marathon bombings with an essay entitled, “Why does God let evil happen?” This is an apt topic and certainly deserves consideration by thoughtful people.   Unfortunately, the writer somewhat flippantly disinvites non-believers from reading his thoughts (“If you don’t believe in God, don’t bother [...]

The Meaning of a Sentence

Not long ago, I found myself in a high school classroom with a handful of honor students with too much time on their hands. They were willing to serve as subjects in an experiment that would test an idea that I had floating around in my mind for a while. I gave them a sentence [...]

Book Recommendations

Book Recommendations   I’m probably a bit of an oddball in that I enjoy reading philosophy. I especially enjoy contemporary philosophers with the ability to write with us non-philosophy majors in mind. The best of them craft concise, lucid, and interesting sentences, while knowing that most people are interested only in those ideas that can be immediately [...]

The Bad Guys Who Stole Christmas

(This is an op-ed piece written in response to another op-ed column in which the writer lamented the decline of religiosity at Christmas – the failure of the public to recognize that Christmas is a religious event. She claimed the perpetrators of this degradation are political leftists. Really.)   January, 2013                         Despite her claim [...]

Political Equivocation and the Right to Life

October, 2012             During the Biden-Ryan debate, the moderator managed to sneak in one non-economy question near the end. It had to do with the candidates’ positions on abortion. They responded as candidates usually do, with safe answers that are often considered unassailable and are designed to fend off the question and this morally [...]

Confronting the Extraordinary

  February, 2012             For decades, America has been suffering from language inflation. We take rather ordinary events or people and assign them preposterous descriptors. Cheeseburgers are awesome. Football scores can shock the world. And boyfriends are amazing.             Some time ago I pledged to myself that would try my best to avoid [...]

Recalibrating Public Education

    January, 2013 A democratic society is we-centered and adult in nature; a consumer society is me-centered and adolescent in nature.             Any sound public school system should have three objectives in educating children: preparation for the duties of citizenship, preparation for earning a living, and preparation for exercising one’s moral obligation to [...]