Category archives for Logos/Ethos

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 [...]

War and Civic Virtue

March, 2012             The Iraq War cost the United States 4,436 citizen lives, 35,000 wounded and, depending on whom you want to believe, between one and three trillion dollars. (That would be 3 million million dollars). To arrive at roughly the same place as Iraq, that is, a wobbly state with virtually no government [...]

Is It Ever Wrong to Do the Right Thing?

April, 2011             There are some days that make teaching the greatest activity that one can imagine. One such day occurred a few years ago when a student asked me a great question. Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?  Isn’t that a great question?  It’s a special moment when anyone, no matter [...]

Contemplations on War, Freedom, and Guilt

            July, 2010                 The bumper sticker in front of me was troubling on so many levels. I haven’t been able to shake either the contradictory emotions I felt or my need to respond somehow.                                             “My son is a soldier in Iraq. Enjoy your freedom”               How frightening it must be to know [...]

The Town Square

   July, 2010            We call it the marketplace of ideas. It’s a metaphorical public square where  democratic citizens stroll about exchanging and exploring competing ideas which affect the common good. Socrates of Athens and Publius of the Federalist Papers once drew thoughtful crowds here.             I like to think the marketplace actually exists. Even [...]

Independence Day in America

 July, 2010               I have never been able to determine our most significant national holiday. The closest I have come is to identify the two finalists, Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day.  Together they represent the very best of our human nature and our national character.   Thanksgiving Day signifies the moral virtue of our [...]

On Peace and Misery

    May, 2010                  It took me many years to learn I couldn’t make deals with God.  It had worked pretty well throughout my teen and young adult years.  God got me into the college I wanted and convinced my parents that I was worth the room and board my older brother somehow didn’t merit.  [...]

Marriage and Civil Rights

 March, 2010             In November, a majority of California voters chose to deny the minority of citizens a right which the majority enjoys. The right in question, of course, was the right to marry. The majority of voters decided that only heterosexual couples possess this right. America’s founders would have been stunned to see such [...]

What’s Wrong With the Golden Rule?

January, 2010               Just when we thought it was safe to hold another national election, the clamor for candidates to pass a religious preference test rears its ugly head.  Since the appearance of the religious right on the political scene twenty years ago, the GOP, the major benefactor of fundamentalist fervor, has insisted on [...]

Speech to Harvard Alumni Association

October, 2009   Civic Virtue: Signs of Life in an Age of Low Expectations               Thank you for inviting me here today.  I get good vibes from this room. My wife and I had our wedding reception here a few years ago. Congratulations for keeping Arpad in the money.             I spent 40 years in [...]

Gatsby – The Great American Novel: A Speech

  June, 2009              Besides literary excellence, it seems to me that the great American novel would have to be one that is not only placed in a recognizably American setting, with characters who reflect an American spirit, and who speak the American language. But beyond any of these elements is the necessity that the [...]