“The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press … in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past few years.”

From The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, pg. 871-872 (London, Oxford University Press, 1942.)

JUNE, 2004 THROUGH THE PRESENT 



THE ONGOING ADVENTURES OF MINNESOTA SAM & ABBY 

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises, and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest, and despair most
fits 

William Shakespeare
All's Well That Ends Well
                    circa 1602

click here for columns from January 2000 through May 2004

click here for columns from April, 1996 to December, 1999

Sam & Abby Photo Here

Jhai Coffee Label Goes Here

Article about Lee Thorn's Jhai Foundation

Article on cluster bombs in Laos


Click here to order one of the finest coffees in the world


To learn more about the Jhai Foundation
Sam & Abby Cuddling

December 1, 2007 (from their December 1, 2003 column) In Which Sam & Abby Discuss New Research On The Immediate Treatment For Psychological Trauma, And The Remarkably Effective Non-Drug Treatment For Depression

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, I've been reading some interesting articles in the Harvard Mental Health Letter (November 2003) that I found on the desk here in the office.

Abby The Labrador: What did you read there, Sam?

Sam: The first one is about the immediate treatments for traumatic psychological stress. For many years, the accepted way of helping has been "critical incident stress debriefing," in which the person is encouraged to talk about the details of what happened to them--e.g., if they were involved in a terrible automobile accident, or a wildfire that destroyed all of the homes in their neighborhood--and to express some of their feelings about it while being told that the feelings are normal.

Abby: That makes sense. People don't want to just hold it all in and get stuck with all of that trauma, do they?

Sam: You'd think not, Abby. But in reality, what these researchers found when they looked at several studies was that this debriefing was more effective than other treatments in 3 studies, in 6 studies it made no difference, and in 2 studies it was actually worse.

Abby: Hmmmm. That's pretty thought-provoking, Sam.

Sam: Yes. In this type of treatment, the procedure is only done once. They suggested that it wasn't enough time for victims of trauma to really process the event sufficiently; and also, that our brains may do better by pushing the experience away for awhile in order to give us time to let it sink in more slowly. That's one of the important, positive functions of denial. It keeps our circuits from overloading.

Abby: So it would appear that more traditional, ongoing psychotherapy might be better in the long run?

Sam: Yes, it would appear so.

Abby: That makes even more sense to me, Sam. If you watch humans over the years, you'll notice that the healthier ones take time to talk with their companions about things like this in smaller doses, and certainly more often than once, over a longer period of time.

Sam: And the less healthy ones don't talk about it much at all, either because they don't have any companions with whom to share, or because they believe that it is a sign of strength not to share painful experiences and feelings.

Abby: What else does the article say?

Sam: It says that Inderal (propranolol), a beta-blocker that is used for high blood pressure and stage fright, can actually "slow the formation of emotionally disturbing memories. In two preliminary, controlled studies published this year, immediate treatment with propranolol (within hours or days after the trauma) reduced post-traumatic symptoms and lowered the risk of PTSD.

Abby: PTSD?

Sam: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's the longterm disorder that can result from a traumatic event. Months or years later, people can have nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing, depression, and related symptoms.

Abby: This is fascinating, Sam. What else have you been reading?

Sam: Last year I overheard Dad and Mom discussing the results of research at Duke University on the treatment of depression without medication. I just looked it up using a "Google Search," and I found this press release from September, 2000. It is astounding, if you ask me...

DURHAM, N.C. - After demonstrating that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times a week is just as effective as drug therapy in relieving the symptoms of major depression in the short term, Duke University Medical Center researchers have now shown that continued exercise greatly reduces the chances of the depression returning.

Last year, the Duke researchers reported on their study of 156 older patients diagnosed with major depression which, to their surprise, found that after 16 weeks, patients who exercised showed statistically significant and comparable improvement relative to those who took anti-depression medication, or those who took the medication and exercised. (Italics and underlining added by Sam)

The new study, which followed the same participants for an additional six months, found that patients who continued to exercise after completing the initial trial were much less likely to see their depression return than the other patients. Only 8 percent of patients in the exercise group had their depression return, while 38 percent of the drug-only group and 31 percent of the exercise-plus-drug group relapsed.

"The important conclusion is that the effectiveness of exercise seems to persist over time, and that patients who respond well to exercise and maintain their exercise have a much smaller risk of relapsing," said lead researcher, Duke psychologist James Blumenthal, who published the results of his team's study in the October issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Duke researchers are now using a new $3 million NIH grant to better understand the subtle factors that may explain the positive effects of exercise in a new trial that begins enrolling patients this month.

"We found that there was an inverse relationship between exercise and the risk of relapsing - the more one exercised, the less likely one would see their depressive symptoms return," Blumenthal explained. "For each 50-minute increment of exercise, there was an accompanying 50 percent reduction in relapse risk.

"Findings from these studies indicate that a modest exercise program is an effective and robust treatment for patients with major depression," he continued. "And if these motivated patients continue with their exercise, they have a much better chance of not seeing their depression return."

Researchers were surprised that the group of patients who took the medication and exercised did not respond as well as those who only exercised.

"We had assumed that exercise and medication together would have had an additive effect, but this turned out not to be the case," Blumenthal said. "While we don't know the reasons for this, some of the participants were disappointed when they found out they were randomized to the exercise and medication group. To some extent, this 'anti-medication' sentiment may have played a role by making patients less excited or enthused about their combined exercise and medication program."

He suggested that exercise may be beneficial because patients are actually taking an active role in trying to get better.

"Simply taking a pill is very passive," he said. "Patients who exercised may have felt a greater sense of mastery over their condition and gained a greater sense of accomplishment. They may have felt more self-confident and competent because they were able to do it themselves, and attributed their improvement to their ability to exercise."

Once patients start feeling better, they tend to exercise more, which makes them feel even better, Blumenthal said. The greatest risk for these patients, since they are older, would be to suffer an injury or illness that would interrupt their exercise routine, he added.

While the researchers enrolled middle-aged and elderly people in their study, Blumenthal said it is logical to assume that the results would hold true for the general population, since older people tend to have additional medical problems or infirmities that might make regular exercise more difficult than for younger patients.

Researchers used the anti-depressant sertraline (trade name Zoloft), which is a member of a class of commonly used anti-depressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI).

Blumenthal cautioned that the study did not include patients who were acutely suicidal or had what is termed psychotic depression. Also, since patients were recruited by advertisements, these patients were motivated to get better and interested in exercise.

The research team included, from Duke, Michael Babyak, Steve Herman, Parinda Khatri, Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, Kathleen Moore, Teri Baldewicz and Dr. Ranga Krishnan. Edward Craighead, from the University of Colorado at Boulder also participated.


August 1, 2007 In Which Sam & Abby Say Goodbye To Two Of Mom And Dad's Dear Friends

IN Memoriam:  Anne Subby of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Lynda Winter, of Dayton, Ohio, both passed away in early August after valiant and courageous struggles with cancer over the past several years. Both women were psychotherapists, mothers, and grandmothers, and worked countless miracles in this world while they were here. They will be sorely missed, and we extend our prayers, our heartfelt gratitude, and our good wishes of peace and serenity to their loved ones over the coming months.
                                                                                              John & Linda Friel, August 11, 2007


May 1, 2007 In Which Sam & Abby Describe One Man's Reconciliation With His Pain, And How We Can Give Meaning To Our Lives In An Increasingly Confusing World [from their January 1, 2004 column]

Article about Lee Thorn's Jhai Foundation

Article on cluster bombs in Laos

Click here to order one of the finest coffees in the world

To learn more about the Jhai Foundation, Click here

Abby The Labrador: Happy New Year, Sam.

Sam The Cockapoo: Likewise, Abby.

Abby: I have been organizing my observations about human beings over the past year, and pondering the state of the world on this first day of 2004. Humans are becoming increasingly troubled, I think. And increasingly polarized.

Sam: Dad and Mom say it happens because of anxiety. The more frightened people become, the more they seek simplistic, black-and-white solutions to life's problems.

Abby: Yes. And, it is a confusing world. But what I also realized is that there are millions of humans who are not falling prey to that kind of thinking. They have found a way to care about the world, and each other, despite all the polarization. But we hardly hear anything about them.

Sam: I know, Ab. That's the sad part. Here in America, if it isn't violent or dramatic or scary, it isn't likely to make the evening news, and if it doesn't make the evening news, most Americans aren't likely to hear about it.

Abby: That's why I found it so heart warming to read about Vietnam veteran Lee Thorn and his reconciliation work in Laos, as well as the work of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in that same country. Together, they are helping to slowly--and I mean slowly--reverse the horrible damage that was done to this rural country. Between 1964 and 1973, America conducted a secret air war in which over 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in history.

This secret war, which was in clear violation of international law, eventually came to light during Senate investigations, but the aftermath goes on, today.

The country is now littered with millions of unexploded tennis ball-sized cluster bombs, called "bombies," that look like toys, making them especially dangerous for the children of Laos. Tens of thousands of Laotians continue to be killed or maimed by these cluster bombs. The MCC and MAG have instituted a comprehensive program to explode and remove the cluster bombs, and so far have removed hundreds of thousands of them.

Sam: That is incredible, Abby. It is unbelievable, too. How could the United States military conduct such a massive air campaign in secret?

Abby: Sadly, these things happen all the time. Read your history books. You'll see.

Sam: Where does Lee Thorn enter into the picture?

Abby: Lee Thorn loaded bombs on U.S. planes on the U.S.S. Ranger in the Gulf of Tonkin during this secret war, and then he had to screen film footage of the destruction caused by those bombs. He had nightmares. In 1998, he and a friend brought 200 pounds of medical supplies to Laos in response to a plea for help. As a result of that initial effort to help, he has not only healed much of the post-traumatic stress with which he has struggled, but he has also set up, along with Bounthanh Phommasathit, a foundation to help with medical and educational services in Laos. "Jhai" means "hearts and minds working together."

Sam: What a wonderful word for this confusing 21st century.

Abby: Yes, isn't it, though?

Now, they are in the process of developing pedal-powered wireless computers so that villagers in Laos can be connected to the outside world. This particular project has gained prominence on an international scale.

Sam: Where does the coffee come in?

Abby: Laotian Arabica Typica beans, brought to Laos by the French in the 1930's, are considered to be among the best in the entire world, due to the perfect growing conditions there. Much of the funding for the Jhai Foundation has come through selling this coffee. And in addition, the Laotian farmers get paid above the global Fair Trade value for it.

Sam: It sounds like an amazing journey for so many people, Abby. Hurt, healing, hope, reconciliation.

Abby: Yes, Sam, it is. I just thought it would be nice to start out 2004 with a story that could well have remained a disaster indefinitely, but that through the efforts of some caring, dedicated people, will end up on a much better note.

Sam: And who knows? Maybe someone will read our column and buy some of that Jhai coffee!

Abby: They'd win all the way around--the best coffee in the world, and a chance to clean up some terrible stains from our recent past. When we bring our better part forward, who knows what great things can happen!

Sam & Abby: We end our January column, below, with a Happy New Year greeting from Lee Thorn. We wish you all the best in 2004.

Happy New Year
From Jhai Foundation


April 1, 2007  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Weather In Minnesota, And How To Talk To Kids About Difficult Things [from the dynamic duo's column from April, 2000]

Sam The Cockapoo: What a weird month March was!  A few weeks ago we had several days in a row when all the high temperature records were broken--it was GREAT--and then it snowed!  The poor geese and ducks had begun returning in droves--er, flocks--and the ice had all melted off of the ponds and lakes, and then one day the geese were walking around on the ice again, floating in the water as ice formed around them, and trying to stay warm.

Abby The Labrador:  It was bizarre, Sam.  Now the geese are all paired up and are doing their mating dances, which is really noisy.  They're chasing each other around, twirling their necks, poking at each other, honking and cackling and gurgling--it's quite a display of instinctual behavior.

Sam:  Yes.  And it's finally beginning to warm up in the usual way it does at about this time.  It's supposed to be a high of 55 degrees, not the 78 degrees it was several weeks ago.  I loved it when it was so warm, but I don't mind it once it gets above 50 degrees, especially if it's sunny and not too windy.  It's perfect weather to go for a long run and then snooze in the sun on our beds that are right in front of the sliding glass doors leading out onto the deck.  Southern exposure.  We get that "snoozing sun" all afternoon.

Abby:  You're quite the connoisseur of weather and sun these days, Sam.

Sam:  Oh, yes, Abby.  I am.

Abby:  Sam, I saw this on Dad's desk the other day.

Sam:  What is it?

Abby:  It looks like the script he and Mom were working on with Rebecca when she came up for Dad's birthday a few weeks ago.  It's for that parenting videotape he made down in Chicago, for Allyn & Bacon Publishers.  It's part of a series called Parenting With The Experts, in which each tape is made by a different expert in the field, and they do four teaching exercises per tape.  John Gray, who wrote Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus did the first tape.  Dad did the second.  And they have people like Harville Hendrix, Harriet Lerner, Bill Pollack, Sylvia Rimm, John Covey, and Bill Doherty signed up to do the others.

Sam:  Wow!  What a group!  So, what did Dad do on his tape?

Abby:  He did exercises on how to talk to children about difficult things.

Sam:  That's pretty timely, given all the things that have been going on in families lately.

Abby:  Yes.  It starts out with an exercise for parents on how to identify and label their own feelings.  The idea behind it is that if parents aren't aware of what they're feeling, they can get "hijacked" by them, as Daniel Goleman called it in Emotional Intelligence.  And when our unconscious feelings hijack us, we do or say things that we later regret.

Sam:  That sounds like a good way to start.  It looks like in the second half of that exercise, he had them focus on fear, shame , guilt, loneliness, and sadness, because these are the more vulnerable feelings that can lead to things like rage.  Good idea.

Abby:  And the next exercise is about how parents can manage their own anxiety and guilt so that these feelings don't cause them to react to their kids in really immature ways.  For example, if you tell your child she has to go to her room for ten minutes because she hit her brother, she might turn around and yell, "I hate you, Mommy!" If Mommy were to say, "Oooh, that hurts Mommy's feelings when you say that," Mommy is manipulating her daughter, and teaching her daughter to be manipulative in return.  But if Mommy were to say, "Yes, you're angry. I understand. And you have to go to your room for ten minutes," then Mommy is acting like an adult, and daughter will learn how to manage her feelings and reactions appropriately.

Sam:  That's good stuff.  Let's see.  The next one is how to teach without lecturing, because lecturing is the WORST way to teach things or correct behavior.  No one can keep from zoning out when they're getting a lecture in a one-on-one situation.  It's natural for your eyes to glaze over and for you to dissociate when someone is droning on and on with a lecture.  But there is a very good way to teach without lecturing--by demonstrating your own thought process when you're faced with a similar problem.  Dad and Mom discuss this in their parenting book, in the chapter on impulse control.

Abby:  And then the last exercise is how to respond to your child when he or she shares some really painful experience, or is confused about something.  That's the one that Rebecca and Mom helped the most with.

Sam: Yes.  I remember them talking about it.

Abby:  Yes.  If your child comes to you with a problem, like a friend no longer likes them, or even more difficult, that they think they may be depressed or in some kind of trouble, it is very important for parents to LISTEN, NOT GIVE ADVICE.  And to KEEP THE CONVERSATION FLOWING BY ASKING SPECIFIC QUESTIONS, like "Where were you when your friend said that she didn't want to be friends anymore?" and "Were there other kids around?" And to SET ASIDE YOUR OWN BELIEFS AND AND ANXIETY FOR THE TIME BEING, so that your child feels heard.  There is time later to give advice if in fact it is really needed, but in most cases, if an adult or child has someone to listen, he or she can usually figure out how to solve the problem on their own.

Sam:  You know, The U.S. Secret Service just released a report on kids and teenagers who get guns and shoot others, and one of the facts they discovered is that the kids didn't have any adults that they felt they could talk to.  It seems like this is pretty important stuff for parents to work on.

Abby:  Yes.  Keeping the lines of communication open, and MAKING ENOUGH TIME in your lives so that kids feel they can approach you with their problems, and then not imposing your own advice and anxiety on them, are crucial to having healthy kids.

Sam:  It sounds good to me, Abby.  I hope parents can do more of that with their children instead of lecturing or trying to "fix" things for their kids. Parents need to encourage their kids to work their feelings through.

Abby: It will make for much healthier families.

Sam:  Well, Abby, speaking of health.  It's time for our run.  It looks like Dad is putting on his running shoes!

Abby:  This is going to be a great month, Sam!  I can feel it in my bones!!
 

March 1, 2007  In Which Sam & Abby Honor The Life Of Jack Kirk, "The Dipsea Demon," Who Died This Past January.

Abby The Labrador:
Sam, do you remember that race that Dad ran in 2000, to celebrate the new millenium?

Sam The Cockapoo:  Yes, the Dipsea Race. He came back talking excitedly about having run the race with Jack Kirk, the guy who has run it every year from 1930 'til 2002, and he won it twice. He was going to run it again this year to celebrate his 100th birthday, and Dad is planning to run it to celebrate his 60th birthday. Sadly, Jack Kirk died in January. His obituary, from the Dipsea Race web site, is presented below, in his honor.

The Dipsea Race: Old runners never die; they just reach the 672nd step. -Jack Kirk


The Dipsea Race:
First run in 1905, the Dipsea is the oldest cross country race in America. It is run every year on the second Sunday in June. The next race is June 10, 2007. The scenic 7.1 mile course from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful courses in the world. The stairs and steep trails make it a grueling and treacherous race. And its unique handicapping system has made winners of men and women of all ages. Because of its beauty and challenge, it is a very popular event, and because of safety and environmental concerns the number of runners is limited to about 1,500. While racers enter for all over the world, the Dipsea is primarily a Northern California event and the entry process is tilted slightly to favor local contestants. Please see the section on How To Enter for details.

The 97th Annual Dipsea will be run on Sunday, June 10th, 2007 at 8:30 am sharp!

--- 98 Days, 13 Hours, 14 Minutes, 47 Seconds until the 2007 Dipsea Race ---


Latest News:

Dipsea Demon Passes to "672nd Step": Jack Kirk,The Dipsea Demon, a legendary figure in American cross-country racing and a world record holder for consecutive completions of a sporting event, died on January 29th at age of 100, at a hospital in Clovis, CA.

Starting in 1930 and continuing until 2002, when he was 95, Kirk started and finished every Dipsea race that was run. In 2003, at the age of 96, Jack was the first runner out of the gate, but he got only as far as the top of Cardiac Hill, the highest elevation point on the course. He was not well, yet he still achieved that challenging summit at 96.

He was also a dedicated naturalist, well versed in Botany, Geology and Astronomy.

Besides his remarkable record for consistency, Kirk was also a champion. He won the race twice, once in 1951 and then years later in 1967, when he was 60 years old. He also won the best time award in 1931 and 1940. A member of the Dipsea Hall of Fame and a winner of the Norman Bright award for extraordinary accomplishment, Kirk was also a colorful character. Paraphrasing Geneeral Douglas MacArthur's resignation speech, and referring to the formidable Dipsea Stairs that challenge runners at the beginning of the race with 671 steps Kirk said "old Dipsea runners never die. they just reach the 672nd step." Although he was not able to run in the last few years, he turned up at the finish line, still wearing his habitual long pants, tennis shoes, and button front shirt. He'll be missed but his spirit will live on with the race. And indeed, so will his name. On the occassion of Jack's birthday last year, the Dipsea Race Foundation awarded him a permanent and honored place on the Dipsea trail. This summer, the upper flight of the Dipsea stairs will be totally rebuilt. Engraved bronze plaques installed in the risers will carry the names and messages of supporters who donate $1,000 or more to finance the construction. And the bronze medallion on the very top step will read: "Jack Kirk/The Dipsea Demon."


2007 Entry Procedure: Hand-delivery of the Dipsea applications to the Mill Valley Post Office will no longer give entrants in the Dipsea Runner section an advantage. Please read the How To Enter page for more information.

Race Entry Fee Increase in 2007: The Dipsea Board of Directors voted unanimously to increase the Dipsea Race entry fee from $40.00 to $50.00 for adults, and from $25.00 to $35.00 for children (16 & under). This fee increase is necessary due to spiraling increases in race operating costs. Specifically, significant increases in timing, transportation, postage and permit fees. The fee increase is necessary for the preservation of the Dipsea Race.

2006 Dipsea Race results! Congratulations to Melody Anne Schultz on her third Dipsea victory, and also congratulations to everyone else who ran the 96th Annual Dipsea Race! Read all about it, see the final results, and check out some race day photos!

New Interactive Course Map debuts on dipsea.org! The webmaster has created a new interactive course map for the website. Check it out on the Course page.

Dipsea Newspaper Articles Now Online! The Marin Independent Journal is placing all of our current and future Dipsea stories in a special area of their newspaper website. You can read them at http://www.marinij.com/dipsea. Many thanks to the IJ for this great service!

IMPORTANT - Dipsea Route Change: The Mt. Tamalpais State Park has rerouted portions of the Dipsea trail starting past the Cardiac Hill (water station) and continuing to the Swoop. This was necessary because of erosion control. Runners must stay on the trail. No shortcuts are permitted from Cardiac Hill to the Swoop. Race officials will be stationed along the way and will disqualify runners who do not obey this rule.



Check back for more news about Dipsea Race events!






February 1, 2007  In Which Sam & Abby Repeat Their Column From November 1, 1999--
In Which They Show How Without Humility (Shame), Graciousness, and Dependency, Power Is Just Perpetration

Abby The Labrador:  This is fascinating, Sam.  And very sensible.

Sam The Cockapoo:  You're doing it again, Ab.

Abby:  What, Sam?

Sam:  Beginning your sentence in the middle of your thoughts, as if I've been privy to your private thoughts all along.  What are you referring to?

Abby:  Oh, sorry, Sam.  I'm looking at some notes on the desk here...about the relationship between power, perpetration, humility, graciousness, and dependency.

Sam:  And?

Abby: Well, think about it.  Think about a bully...someone who has power but uses it in a mean or disrespectful way.  He hurts people's feelings, steps on people's toes, insults people, says cruel things, and then when someone points out how he's hurt you, he turns it around and makes it about the person he's insulted, as in, "Oh, you're too sensitive," or "What's the matter, can't you take a joke," or "You're all just out to get me."

Sam: Wow!  That IS remarkable! Remember that big bully dog down by the lake?  HE was like that.  He was this big, tough, muscular bulldog and he'd scare other dogs, insult them, make fun of their normal canine limitations--after all, we ALL have normal canine limitations--and the thing that's REALLY fascinating is that you and I caught ourselves both admiring his candor and sort of feeling protective of him at first. He seemed so "honest" and "right out there."

Abby:  Yes.  That's what's so interesting about this.  When someone is a perpetrator, that's what happens.  He can't allow himself to acknowledge his shame, and when you can't acknowledge your shame, you're automatically a perpetrator. So he's broken.  And caring canines can sense that broken-ness, and at first we feel protective.

Sam: Wow!

Abby: You can say that again.  Shame is the feeling that asks us to be accountable for our actions, and it lets us have humility.  Because every creature is imperfect, there will be times in every creature's existence when he must admit that he is flawed.  And when those flaws hurt others, the shame lets him admit that he has hurt others, which helps relationships heal.  If he is too weak to admit his flaws, then his relationships with others will always be damaged or damaging.

Sam:  So being able to admit that we're defective is a sign of STRENGTH, not weakness.

Abby:  Oh, definitely. It's called having ego strength--or the ability to be effective and competent in the world, while also being respectful.  People who don't  have a lot of inner strength get stuck as either victims or perpetrators.  They don't have HEALTHY POWER.

Sam:  It would seem that having healthy power would also include the ability to acknowledge that at times we need each other, and that there are those who are more competent or powerful than us, and that at times we need to depend on their strength.

Abby:  Of course!  How else would we continue to grow and learn and mature?  Truly powerful people are able to admit that at times they don't have the answers, and that they need to rely on a higher authority or a creature with more knowledge or wisdom.

Sam:  So, it would be like me giving a "helping hand up" to someone younger or less wise than me, but then also being willing to ask for a helping hand up when I need it.

Abby: Exactly.  As soon as you believe that you can't learn from anyone else, you've become grandiose, a perpetrator.

Sam:  Is this ability to ask for help the same as being hopelessly dependent?

Abby:  Not at all.  Powerful creatures are self-reliant and competent.  They just aren't arrogant. And they know that creatures like dogs, baboons, and humans are social animals, and therefore depend on each other for survival.

Sam:  Now let me get this straight.  We're talking about someone who says or implies that it's weak to admit one's flaws. And we're talking about someone who looks down on those who know that they don't have all the answers. And we're talking about someone who doesn't admit his shame, and denies that he feels fear. (Fear gives us wisdom, of course).  So we're saying that this dog or person is admitting that he is a perpetrator, which is a distorted use of power, and that he is therefore weak. Right?

Abby:  Right, Sam.  Good.  REAL POWER, HEALTHY POWER, is power that is tempered by humility, graciousness, and acknowledgment of one's need to rely on others.  Look at Nelson Mandela.  Talk about power.  He turned around an entire nation that seemed to be hopelessly trapped in the misery of apartheid.  And he did it humbly, by spending 27 years or so in prison.  They tried to cut deals with him year after year, if only he would give up his goal of creating a fair and equal government in South Africa.  But he never gave in.

Sam: It's awe inspiring and humbling just to think of what he did. What amazing power!

Abby:  Yes.  And that's the point. Compare him to the neighborhood bully who can make people cower in fear.  So what if the bully can force creatures to do things?  What does that prove?  That he's scared, lonely, arrogant, grandiose, and hollow.  Abuse of power is weak.  It isn't respectful.  And in the end, bullies lose everything.

Sam:  Boy.  This is great.  I have a whole month's worth of stuff to ponder now.  Just in time for the first snowfall.

Abby:  Wha...?

Sam:  No, it isn't going to snow just yet, Ab.  But it won't be long.

Abby: Good grief, Sam!  Dogs get so GOOFY in the snow!  I wonder why that is?

Sam:  I haven't a clue.  Must be in our genes, because all dogs do it.

Abby:  What are genes?

Sam:  Uh...we're done for this month.  Say "Goodnight," Ab.

Abby:  "Goodnight, Ab."


November 12, 2006  Sam and Abby Have Decided To Endorse Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States in 2008
Barack Obama


October 1, 2006  Sam and Abby Will be Holding Their Breath Until The Elections Are Over And The Results Tabulated In Early November. They Are Sore Afraid That Unless Something Changes, Their Beloved America Will Suffer More Than She Has In Decades

September 1, 2006 In which Sam and Abby Reproduce A Quote From RFK Regarding Materialism vs. Meaning And Depth

"Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product...if we should judge American by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." Robert F. Kennedy, Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968.

August 1, 2006 In which Sam and Abby Wish Dad & Mom "Happy 25th Anniversary!"

July 1, 2006  In which Sam and Abby Talk About Robert Kennedy's profoundly compassionate and healing impromptu speech in  Indianapolis upon hearing of Martin Luther King's assassination--It's what celebrating the birth of America is really about

Abby The Labrador:   What are you reading there, old Sam.

Sam The Cockapoo:   It's an excerpt in Time Magazine from Joe Klein's new book about how political consultatnts have all but destroyed the political process, or at the very least, political discourse, in America.

Abby: What's the title of the book?

 Sam:  Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You Are Stupid

Abby: Interesting title, Sam.

Sam:  Yes.  I overheard Dad reading this section of the essay to Mom the other day, and he was almost in tears as he read it. He said that not only was that moment in history so sad and so touching--the African-Americans in the crowd were so hurt, so crushed by the news--but he was also so sad to acknowledge that politicians today are so programmed, so shallow, so afraid of saying anything at all that might have any meaning or value, that it overwhelmed him for a moment. Read what Bobby Kennedy said, off the top of his head, in what had to be one of the most difficult, anxious moments that any speaker has ever had to face.  Joe Klein wrote...

On the evening of April 4, 1968, about an hour after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy responded with a powerfully simple speech, which he delivered spontaneously in a black neighborhood of Indianapolis. Nearly 40 years later, Kennedy's words stand as an example of the substance and music of politics in its grandest form and highest purpose—to heal, to educate, to lead. Sadly, his speech also marked the end of an era: the last moments before American public life was overwhelmed by marketing professionals, consultants and pollsters who, with the flaccid acquiescence of the politicians, have robbed public life of much of its romance and vigor.

Kennedy, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, had a dangerous job that night. His audience was unaware of King's assassination. He had no police or Secret Service protection. His aides were worried that the crowd would explode as soon as it learned the news; there were already reports of riots in other cities. His speechwriters Adam Walinsky and Frank Mankiewicz had drafted remarks for the occasion, but Kennedy rejected them. He had scribbled a few notes of his own. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, rather formally, respectfully. "I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening because I have some very sad news ..." His voice caught, and he turned it into a slight cough, a throat clearing, "and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee."

There were screams, wailing—just the rawest, most visceral sounds of pain that human voices can summon. As the screams died, Kennedy resumed, slowly, pausing frequently, measuring his words: "Martin Luther King ... dedicated his life ... to love ... and to justice between fellow human beings, and he died in the cause of that effort." There was near total silence now. One senses, listening to the tape years later, the audience's trust in the man on the podium, a man who didn't merely feel the crowd's pain but shared it. And Kennedy reciprocated: he laid himself bare for them, speaking of the death of his brother—something he'd never done publicly and rarely privately—and then he said, "My favorite poem, my favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote, 'Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart,'" he paused, his voice quivering slightly as he caressed every word. The silence had deepened, somehow; the moment was stunning. "'Until ... in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'"

Listen to Kennedy's Indianapolis speech and there is a quality of respect for the audience that simply is not present in modern American politics. It isn't merely that he quotes Aeschylus to the destitute and uneducated, although that is remarkable enough. Kennedy's respect for the crowd is not only innate and scrupulous, it is also structural, born of technological innocence: he doesn't know who they are--not scientifically, the way post-modern politicians do. The audience hasn't been sliced and diced by his pollsters, their prejudices and policy priorities cross-tabbed, their favorite words discovered by carefully targeted focus groups. He hasn't been told what not to say to them: Aeschylus would never survive a focus group. Kennedy knows certain things, to be sure: they are poor, they are black, they are aggrieved and quite possibly furious. But he doesn't know too much. He is therefore less constrained than subsequent generations of politicians, freer to share his extravagant humanity with them.

"Television," Walinsky said many years after his Kennedy apprenticeship, "has ruined every single thing it has touched." There was some puckishness to this—he was talking about professional basketball, if I remember correctly—but Walinsky is a serious man and he wasn't really joking. Yes, television has been a wondrous thing. Vast numbers of people now watch presidential debates, State of the Union messages, prime-time press conferences, not to mention terrorist attacks, hurricanes and wars in real time. But television also set off a chain reaction that transformed the very nature of politics. "This is the beginning of a whole new concept," said a very young Roger Ailes as he stage-managed Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. "This is the way they'll be elected forevermore. The next guys up will have to be performers." Television brought other changes as well. Suddenly, politicians were able to use televised advertising to communicate in a more powerful and intimate (and negative) way than ever before—and suddenly politicians had to raise vast sums of money to pay for those ads. Television demanded transparency, and so the rules of politics had to change as well: no more selection of presidential candidates in smoke-filled rooms.

Abby:  "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until ... in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

Sam:  You can listen to the actual speech by clicking on the blue highlighted text above. I did, and I was in tears.

Abby: Happy Birthday, America. We hope you continue to fulfill your promise as a beacon of courage, wisdom, and true moral leadership, rather than wallowing in shallow displays of hollow sound bites and moral platitudes.


June 1, 2006 In which Sam and Abby Discuss John F. Kennedy's Speech in Honor of Robert Frost at Amherst College, Less Than A Month Before His Assassination

Sam The Cockapoo:   I've been reading the January/February issue of The Atlantic Monthly that Dad and Mom left out on the coffee table. I can see why they were getting weepy when they read this particular article.

Abby The Labrador:  Why, Sam?

Sam: It's a brief speech that President John F. Kennedy gave at Amherst College less than a month before he was assassinated.

Abby: Were they weepy because he was killed?

Sam: The whole world seemed to weep when he was killed, but after reading this, I think they were weeping for their grandchildren.

Abby: How so?

Sam:  Read this speech. Let his words and their meanings penetrate into the far reaches of your heart and soul. Can you imagine ANY  politician or potential leader expressing such gracious, noble, powerful thoughts today? I think they were weepng because they are so sad at what has happened to the country they love so much--to Republicans, Democrats, the corporate world, and above all, the media. I read an article the other day that was noting the brilliance and foresight of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's admonition that we be wary of the "military-industrial complex," and then adding that what Ike could not have forseen is that the other leg of that dangerous 3-legged beast is the corporately-controlled media. To wit, there is no real news, no real debate about which candidate is better than the other. Dad's sister is a mentor teacher and student of history, and she says that hope springs eternal when it comes to democracy in America. I pray that she is right.

Abby: I think I'll read JFK's speech now.

The Purpose of Poetry

Less than a month before his assassination President Kennedy gave a speech at Amherst College in honor of the late poet Robert Frost. He emphasized the importance of the poet in American society as critic, commentator, and "champion of the individual mind and sensibility." The speech was later published in The Atlantic.

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers …

The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation's greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us …

When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, "a lover's quarrel with the world." In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time …

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him …

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation …

I look forward to a great future for America—a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens.

And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.


May 1, 2006  In which Sam and Abby Repeat Their April and May Columns From 1999 

May 1, 1999 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Signs Of Summer's Approach, The Beginnings Of Their Book About Humans, And Other Pithy Topics

Abby The Labrador:  Sam!!

Sam The Cockapoo:  What!!??

Abby:  It's WARM out!

Sam:  And the lilacs have leaves on them.

Abby:  And the oak trees have buds popping out.

Sam:  And the geese are back.

Abby: And Dad's taken us for a run three times this week.

Sam:  I am SO happy!

Abby:  Me, too, Sammy!  It's that time of year again.

Sam:  What else is happening this month, oh wise Labrador?

Abby:  Well, Dave is graduating from college in two weeks.

Sam:  He is?  Boy, time sure has been flying by.  Why, I remember when he was just a little tike.

Abby:  No you don't, Sam.  You're only 6 1/2 years old.  I'm 9 1/2 years old.  When you joined the family, Dave was already full grown, and off puppy chow.

Sam:  Humans don't eat puppy chow.

Abby:  Well, he was full grown, anyway.

Sam:  It's amazing how much happens in just four seasons.  It seems like only yesterday when he went off to college, and now he's done and will be going out into the world on his own.  How exciting for him.

Abby:  Mom and Dad are very proud of the five of us kids.

Sam:  Do you think they know that we get on this computer and write this column every month?  I mean, if they DID, they'd be REALLY proud.

Abby:  Maybe we should send them an e-mail and include the URL for this web site, and then watch and see how they react when they get it.  We could sign it "The Kids Who Still Live At Home."  Do you think they'd know who it was?

Sam:  Perhaps.  They're fairly clever.

Abby:  At times.

Sam:  And after we do that, I think we should start writing that book we've been contemplating--the one on Why Humans Do The Things They Do.

Abby:  Do you think we have enough research data to begin?  We want to ensure that it's as professionally-written as possible.

Sam:  Well, we've been watching everyone who lives here for as long as we've known them all.  We've seen their friends and relatives come and go, come and go, and come and go, season after season.  We've noted every pattern and nuance that anyone could observe.  Scientists say that dogs spend a large part of their time--up to 60 or 70 percent--watching their humans.

Abby:  Really?  I didn't realize it was quite that much.

Sam:  Oh, yes.  It's quite a lot.  Do you know WHY we watch them so much?

Abby:  Of course, silly.  We're waiting for treats!!

Sam:  Good answer, Abby old girl.  That's right.  We're waiting for treats, or for them to drop bits of food on the floor. Or for them to look at us and say "Good Boy" or "Good Girl," and then pat us on the head, or  take us outside.  Or for a run, even.

Abby:  Sam, I just LOVE those words! "Outside" and "Run" are my favorite words in the whole world, after "Treats," of course.

Sam:  Yes, Ab, language is wonderful, isn't it?  So much can be communicated in so many ways by using language.

Abby:  Sam, do we really know why humans do the things they do?  Can anyone ever truly know?

Sam:  Of course not, Ab.  Humans are enigmas.  Puzzling paradoxes.  But if we don't at least TRY, we'll never advance our understanding of this odd species.  There is so much to learn, and so little time.  Well, actually, we have lots of time.

Abby:  Not exactly.  Scientists also say that dogs sleep up to 16 hours per day, which means that we don't have that much time.  We have to sleep, then we have to watch our humans.  Then we have to be ready when they say the magic words "Outside" or "Run" or "Squirrel."  That doesn't leave much time to write our book.

Sam:  Yes, but a good book takes a lot of germination time.  A dog who is contemplating writing a book must spend days, weeks, even months snoozing in the sun while his or her unconscious mind gradually frames up the structures of the book, the details of the book, and the meanings that must be conveyed.

Abby:  You're right, Sam.  It IS a lot of internal work.  It takes a lot of snooze-time.  Thank goodness we dogs like to snooze so much.

Sam:  Indeed.  It is one of God's great gifts to the world that He made dogs sleep so much, and by so doing, made us intuitively brilliant.  I'm glad to be a dog, Abby.

Abby:  As am I, Sammy.  But you know, I'm getting sleepy.  And the sun has just started to pop up high enough to be streaming onto the living room floor right on our favorite rug.  I think it's time for some unconscious "book-writing" time.

Sam:  Brilliant, Abby.  You ARE quite brilliant.  I think I'll just curl up here next to you and...
 

April 1, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Plan To Watch Dad And Mom On The Oprah Winfrey Show, And Talk About How Parents Keep Kids From Growing Up By Not Letting Them Struggle

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby!  Who is Oprah Winfrey?

Abby The Labrador:  She's one of the most influential people in show business.  She's an African-American woman, talk-show host, author, and actor among other things.  Why do you ask?

Sam:  Because I thought I heard Mom and Dad talking about possibly going on her show to talk about their new book, The 7 Worst Things Parents Do.

Abby:  They did?  Sam, that would be a wonderful opportunity for them to get their message out.  They've worked long and hard to get this message out around the country.  Dad is especially careful to try to explain what they mean by these 7 things when he is working with local school teachers, because they have gotten so frustrated over the past decade as their efforts to teach are thwarted more and more by parents who want to protect their children from reality, or who aren't willing to step in and create family structure for their kids.

Sam:  Tell me about it.  I remember about 16 years ago, when David was 7 or so and was about to shift to the traveling team in ice hockey, and Mom and Dad went to him and gently but very firmly explained that the traveling team wasn't an option--that it would be too disruptive to his health and too much stress on the family.  He was angry about that decision for several days.

Abby:  And then he came out of it, took up tennis, and ended up being co-captain of the high school tennis team several years later.  And the family got to have some time together as a result.

Sam:  I was reading in their new book that there are parents nowadays who actually file lawsuits against their kids' teachers and schools because their kids are getting too much homework!  Can you imagine that?  Suing a school for teaching your child and expecting your child to become competent?  It's amazing what has happened to American children.

Abby:  It's sad what has happened.  Which is why Dad and Mom wrote this book.  Look, Sam, something has happened to America over the past 20 years.  Dad thinks it's because of guilt and the high divorce rate, as well as all the abuse and neglect that has been uncovered.  But whatever the cause, it seems as if a certain segment of the population, especially middle and upper-middle-class families, have decided that challenge, struggle, and competence are things they'd rather not see their children face or attain because it makes some parents uncomfortable to see their children work!

Sam:  That's awful, Abby!  If parents make life too easy for their kids, the kids become emotional cripples, and then when it's time for them to fly out of the nest out into the great big exciting world of their own adulthood...

Abby:  They fall flat on their faces and limp back to the nest, where they stay...INDEFINITELY!!

Sam:  Uh Oh!!  That's not good, Abby.  If we had Kristin, Rebecca, and David still living in THIS nest with us, it would be awfully crowded!  (:-)

Abby:  No kidding, Sammo!  We'd all be tearing each other's fur...er...or hair out.

Sam:  About 5 years ago, Dad and Mom were watching a news special about male children still in the nest.  The statistic was something like 25-30% of all male children between 22 and 30 years of age still lived at home.  They followed four families in that situation, and in each case, the son who still lived at home had a very good job! One was an attorney, one was a physical therapist, one was a dentist, and one did something else--I forget.

Abby:  I remember that, Sammy!!  It was frightening!

Sam:  And oh, so sad.  So-o-o-o-o sad.  I'm no psychologist, but when the interviewer asked one of the mothers if she still did all of her son's laundry, made his bed, cooked his meals, and so forth, not only did I feel ill, but the mother looked pretty unhappy beneath her nervous smile.  So-o-o-o-o-o-o sad.

Abby:  I loved what the psychologist said when they showed him the clip of the one young man who said he couldn't pay his parents rent because if he did, he'd have to give up his private tennis lessons at the club!!!!  The psychologist said, very emphatically, "Move out!!  Get a second job!!!"

Sam:  Oh, Abby.  I hope that humans can find their way back to a better path.  As much as this is a great country, it's times like these when I worry a little bit.  Kids don't want to struggle.  Parents sue everyone at the drop of a hat because they want to blame someone for the fact that one of life's greatest joys is the reward of struggling with something and eventually succeeding.  And when they sue, they rob their children of the chance to become competent.  Then they wonder why their very intelligent son or daughter is working at McDonald's for minimum wage after college.

Abby:  Do you remember how we met, Sam?

Sam:  Sure I do, Ab.  I was with my herd of cockapoos, galloping through the Canadian wilderness, when I fell down a ravine and broke my leg.  I told the herd to continue without me because I didn't want the rest of them to die of starvation. It was a tough decision on my part.  And then you came along, on your way back to Labrador, found me, revived me, and carried me hundreds of miles to the nearest hospital.  We have been the dearest of friends ever since, even after moving here to Minnesota.

Abby:  Right.  Now let me ask you this, Sam.  Do you think that the challenges we've shared together over the years--including that very dramatic first one where you almost died, and where I wore the pads off of my paws as I carried you for miles and miles---do you think those challenges hurt us?

Sam:  Hurt us?  That's silly, Ab.  That's SO silly.  Hurt us?  These challenges made us the wonderful canines we are today.  And they gave us a love that's beyond measure.  No, Abby, those challenges are what have given us the meaning and depth in our lives, and the depth of love that no one could ever imagine.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Abby:  Me neither, Sammo.  Me neither.

Sam:  I sure hope parents reconsider their positions on these issues, and that if they feel so guilt ridden or so powerless that they can't lead their children into adulthood, that they get some help.  It's such a waste to see a grown man or woman who's still emotionally  back in early childhood because someone kept robbing him or her of the chance to struggle and grow up.

Abby:  Such a waste.

Sam: See you next month, everybody.  The snow is almost all gone here in the city that is just a few cities east of Lake Wobegon.  

March 1, 2006  In Which Sam And Abby Repeat Their Column From February 1, 1998

February 1, 1998

Sam The Cockapoo: Ab, this has been one of the warmest winters we've had in all of recorded history, up here in typically-frozen Lake Wobegon.

Abby The Labrador: And we've had so little snow that I've thought now and then that it's been perpetual spring. Although we did have that one week which included a morning when we awoke to 22 degrees below zero, just to impress upon us that this is Minnesota.

Sam: Yes. But all-in-all, it's been wonderful. Weather-wise, 1998 has gotten off to a good start.

Abby: So Sam, tell me, what do you think about Iraq?

Sam: Iraq?! Uh...well...okay, Abby, I'll tell you. I don't think anyone should have chemical or biological weapons. I think the whole idea of them is sick. I think whoever plans to use stuff like that ought to be sent to their rooms without their treats until they figure out that it's a stupid thing to be fooling around with. That's what I think, Abby.

Abby: Good answer, Sam. So, what do you think about Bill Gates saying that he's going to match or even exceed Ted Turner's 1 billion dollar contribuion to the UN?

Sam: More power to him. But I also think he ought to play a little fairer in the "browser-business."

Abby: "Bowser-business?"

Sam: No, Ab--"browser business." You know, Netscape vs. Internet Explorer 4.0. That's how we surf the web when Mom and Dad are gone. Acquisitiveness can be a positive trait up to a point, but after that point, it smacks of avarice and greed. I mean, Ab, did you ever notice what you do when we both get our rawhide chewy-sticks?

Abby: Um...uh...um-m...

Sam: You look a tad sheepish. We get the sticks, run over to the big glass sliding doors facing south, lay in the warm, morning sunlight streaming onto the carpet, and begin to chew. Then, being a cockapoo who is always interested in what's going on elsewhere, and perhaps having a touch of Attention Deficit Disorder, I get distracted by something. I scamper away for a moment, leaving my rawhide stick on the carpet. When I return, you have it in your big mug, and you've reduced it to a tiny scrap. If Dad or Mom is around, he or she will command you to let go of it, which you do, and then I finish it off.

Abby: Uh...yes...that sounds about right.

Sam: I don't know which is worse--that, or when you simply devour your own rawhide stick in thirty seconds, and then stand over me, drooling, watching, and waiting patiently for me to get distracted, so you can go in for the kill! Sometimes you're really clever, and you simply lay down nonchalantly next to me, gazing down at the floor, or out the window, all the while watching that rawhide stick out of the corner of your eye. I mean, Abby, it's really obvious, if you haven't noticed.

Abby: It is?

Sam: Haven't you heard Mom and Dad chuckling? They say, "Oh, look at Abby. She's so sneaky. She's just waiting quietly for Sam to leave that stick, and then she'll discreetly swipe it up in her mouth and it'll be gone before Sam knows what hit him."

Abby: They do?

Sam: Duh, Abby. Don't play dumb with me.

Abby: Okay, okay, okay, Sammy. We're dogs, for goodness sakes! We're dogs!! We may be the most intelligent, literate, computer-savvy dogs west of San Francisco and east of Manhattan Island, but we're still dogs. We have instincts. We have fixed behavior patterns and drives. We're still dogs!! And besides, I weigh 60 pounds and you only weigh 20 pounds, so...

Sam: Give me a break!! That was a nice try, but I don't think it cuts it. I think we're getting down to the meat of the matter, though. I think it's a question of What is enough? Saddam Hussein has so many gigantic, opulent palaces that he couldn't possibly use them for any purpose other than absolute greed in a million years; and yet his people live in substandard conditions by and large. Bill Gates has, what, 40 billion dollars or more? So, one billion dollars is a pittance. After a certain point--after one has enough--the fairness of it all changes, in my opinion.

Abby: Are you equating Saddam Hussein with Bill Gates? I think that would be a gross mistake.

Sam: I agree. No, I'm not equating them. But I think there is a related issue in both cases.

Abby: And in your mind, this is related to my desire to grab up your chewy stick when you leave it on the floor?

Sam: Maybe.

Abby: But I am a dog, and so are you. We eat what's there when it's there because in the wild, if we don't, we won't survive.

Sam: I know, Abby. And I don't deny that you're right about that. I just think that there's a philosophical issue here that deserves further exploration. After all, wasn't it Freud who said that human beings are basically driven by animal instincts? And if so, what hope is there for mankind if humans don't keep trying to rise above those basic instincts when the chips are down.

Abby: When the rawhide chips are down on the carpet?

Sam: Good one, Abby. You do have a flair for puns.

Abby: Thank you, Sam. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

Sam: Thank you, Abby. And if I didn't love you so much, I'd never tell you that while it bothers me now and then that I leave my rawhide stick on the carpet and then you devour it before I have a chance to get back to it, it really doesn't ruin my day when that happens. Cockapoos are naturally, instinctually curious and busy creatures, and while you are busily chewing up my rawhide stick, I am fulfilling my need to know what's going on around the house and yard at all times. And of course, every once in awhile, when you aren't looking, Dad or Mom slips me a treat while you're finishing off my chewy stick. So in the end, I guess we both get enough.

Abby: Hm-m-m-m-m. They give you a treat? I'll have to be more vigilant. Maybe I can get both your chewy stick and another treat from them. Or, maybe I could be grateful for the nice life that we have, and that we do, indeed, have enough.

Sam: Yes, we do. And I am grateful for that, and for having you in my life.

Abby: Thanks, Sam. You're a prince.

Sam: And you're my girl, Ab. Let's go pester Mom incessantly until she gives us a rawhide chewy stick. You can sing The Whiny Labrador Song, and I'll get up on my hind legs and paw at her. That usually does the trick.

Abby: I like being a dog. Let's go for it, Sam!

Sam: Righto!

February 1, 2006 In Which Sam And Abby Repeat Their Column From February 1, 1999, on Personality Disorders And Personal Responsibility

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby!  We've nearly made it through the very worst part of winter.  And despite some nasty cold weather and a lot of snow so far this year, the past few days have been downright lovely.

Abby The Labrador:  You can say that again.  Saturday and Sunday were sunny and warm--between 35 and 40 degrees.  If you look at the graph of daily highs and lows throughout the year, you'll see that during the last week of January and the first week of February, the highs often don't get above minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows are often minus 20 degrees, or worse.

Sam:  When it's that cold, I last about 60 seconds and you last about 120 seconds outside before our feet begin to freeze and we try to lift them off the ground one after the other.  It isn't an easy thing to do, and it doesn't solve the problem.

Abby:  Yes, and every once in awhile you go a little too far from the house when we go out to do our business, and then you get stranded out there with freezing feet, and Dad has to run over and rescue you.

Sam;  Yes.  Thank goodness he waits out there with us when it's that cold.  Otherwise, I'd freeze to death. And as much as I hate to put on those boots and that coat when we go for our run with Dad, I think if I didn't, we'd wind up having to go back to the house before we got to the lake, only a block away.

Abby:  You look very dapper with your coat and boots, Mr. Sam.  Very dapper.  It's nice to have such a handsome best friend.

Sam:  Your kindness is humbling, Miss Abby.  Thank you.

Abby:  So, Sam, I'm bored.  What shall we read?

Sam:  We've already read the Minneapolis StarTribune from front to back.  And we've gotten our political updates from CNN.  I don't know.  Whatever you want to read is fine with me.

Abby:  Let's see...hmmmmmm...I'm rummaging around on the top of Mom's and Dad's desk here looking for something...aha!  Here's something interesting.  It looks like a paper they're writing.  Here, Sam, will you read it to me?  I love it when you read to me.

Sam:  Oh, of course I'll read to you.  Curl up on that foam doggie bed over there and I'll put on Dad's reading glasses and get started.  Let's see.  It's an awfully long paper they're writing.  I think I'll just try to condense it for you if that's okay.

Abby:  Why, certainly, Mr. Sam.  I just love the sound of your voice, that's all.

Sam:  Okay.  Well, the paper is talking about personality disorders, which appear to be psychological disorders that go way back into childhood, and that are more or less enduring traits, unlike problems such as depression, which seem to have a more definable beginning and end, and are thus often more transitory in nature.

Abby:  Personality disorders must be more a part of one's personality than, say, an anxiety disorder.  I know that sounds redundant, Sam, but I think it makes sense to me.

Sam:  Sure.  We're talking about something that runs a little deeper, and that may be a little more resistant to change, because it's more part of one's core identity, or lack thereof.

Abby:  Go on, Sam.  You're doing a great job.

Sam:  Well, then it goes on to talk about different kinds of personality disorders, like narcissistic personality disorder in which the person is hardly ever able to empathize with anyone else, is completely wrapped up in his own self, and often talks in vague and grandiose terms, like people who are constantly describing things as "fabulous."  It's not that "fabulous" is a bad word to use.  It's just that when you use it all the time, and with a dramatic, affected tone of voice, it comes across as superficial and hollow.  In fact, "hollow" is a good word to describe someone who has this problem.

Abby:  What other personality disorders do they write about?

Sam:  Well, then there's borderline personality disorder, which describes a person who, like the narcissist above, has almost no inner self or core or identity, which means that he or she is literally like a ship adrift at sea without a rudder.  People with this disorder are at the mercy of their own emotional whims, so that one minute they can seem perfectly reasonable and whole, and the next minute they can be in total chaos.  As a result of this, they tend to idealize people and then soon afterwards, get disappointed by them because they turn out to be imperfect, and then they try to destroy that person for letting them down.  A popular book written for the general public, for people who may be living with or working with someone who has this problem, is titled something like I Hate You, Don't Leave, which captures the deeply conflicted and contradictory emotions and behaviors associated with this disorder.

Abby:  Wow, Sam!  That sounds like a big problem to have!

Sam:  It certainly can be.  People with borderline personality disorder often spend much of their adult lives filing lawsuits, butting heads with their bosses and creating havoc with the personnel departments of their employers; and creating chaos for their friends and families.  Paradoxically, they can also be very successful in their careers, and when they aren't stirring everything up and trying to destroy those around them, they can be quite wonderful.

Abby:  It sounds like such a painful way to live.

Sam:  Oh, indeed.  It surely is.  Of course, many people try to justify a person's behavior because of the developmental-family history of the person in question.  In the case of narcissistic and borderline personality disorder, there is little question that the cause is abuse or neglect in childhood.  But the fact that a person had a bad childhood--yes, even a tortured one--is not an excuse for one's inappropriate, damaging behavior.  Having no empathy for anyone but oneself, or creating near-constant chaos for self and others, is not justified by one's mental health history.  And the only way for people to overcome these painful conditions is to take responsibility for their actions.

Abby:  Yes, Sam.  I agree with you.  It is most unfortunate that the humans in this country have strayed so far to the extreme of seeing everyone as a victim of something.

Sam:  Yes.  It is most unfortunate.  We are, after all, responsible for our actions, no matter what.

Abby:  What can someone with one of these personality disorders do?

Sam:  Well, it says here that they need to establish a long term relationship with a therapist whom they can trust--a therapist with impeccable boundaries so that the client isn't able to manipulate him or her--and then to stick with that therapist through thick and thin.  The real test comes, of course, after the client idealizes the therapist and then begins the inevitable process of demonizing him or her.  This is a crucial time in the therapy, because a therapist who can't handle the client's anger, or a therapist who tends to baby his or her clients, will blow it.  At the same time, many clients will leave therapy at this time, just when they're on the verge of a major breakthrough in working through their disappointment.  Learning to deal with disappointment gracefully--and to even deepen as a result of it rather than destroying everything because of it, is a key here.

Abby:  Is that why many lawsuits filed by this type of person are so sad?

Sam:  Yes.  Granted, there are some legitimate lawsuits filed in these situations, but there are many that actually turn out to set the client back months or even years by sabotaging this process of learning to deal with disappointment.  After all, life never gives us everything we want.  But if, as a result of being deeply hurt as a child, a person believes that life now owes him or her everything,  then trying to get "restitution" from life when all that really happened was just a normal part of life's normal disappointments can cause the person to get even more entrenched in his or her symptoms than if he or she tried to get through it without expecting life to "even the score."

Abby:  I get it.  Disappointment is part of life.  Learning to deal with disappointment gracefully is one of the hallmarks of healthy adulthood.  People with certain personality disorders expect, as a result of deep wounds, that life will eventually give them everything they want, which is impossible, which sets the person up for more and more disappointment.  What a trap, Sam!

Sam:  Aye, that it 'tis, Miss Abby.  That it 'tis.  And with that, I am ending our most learned discussion so that we can catch the last of that late afternoon sun streaming through the windows of the kitchen.  Shall we?

Abby:  We shall.  For soon it will be dark, and we will have to wait 24 hours for that late afternoon sun to return.  But I don't mind. Things often come to us when we least expect them.

January 1, 2006  In Which Sam & Abby Take A Break From Their Column

December 9, 2005  In Which Sam & Abby Wish Happy And Peaceful Holidays For All Human Beings On Earth, Despite The Possibility Of Incurring The Wrath Of Bill O'Reilly and Others Who Would Distract From The Real Message of Christmas. They Have Courage And Integrity, Those Two Hounds

November 2, 2005  In Which Sam & Abby Think About How God Must Be Either Amused Or Somewhat Offended By "Creationism" (and then they add some information on the ongoing Katrina Investigation)

Abby the Labrador:  Sam, did you see that cocker spaniel this morning on Good Morning America? She looked like she might have been related to the cocker spaniel part of you.

Sam the Cockapoo: No, Abby, I  missed that. What was the story about?

Abby: She was taken to the pound by her owner, who could no longer care for her, and a 63-year-old man waited and waited until he could finally get her, and then he got her from the pound and they started their new life together.

Sam: So, what happened?

Abby: The man was backing out of his driveway the other day, and drove right off of the nearly vertical embankment across the street, and he and his dog plunged several hundred feet, the car landing upside down. After about an hour, the cocker spaniel got free of the car, and the man, hanging upside down inside the car, told her to go get help.

Sam: What did she do?

Abby: She raced up the hill, across the road, down the street, and up to the neighbor's house, where she barked and barked until someone came out, and then she whined and begged until the woman followed her over to the cliff, where the woman saw the car, and called the police. As they were retrieving her human from way down below, she paced back and forth up on the road, until he was safe!

Sam: (with a tear in his eye) That's such a touching story. Sometimes life is just too marvelous and mysterious to even begin to explain.

Abby: Yes. Well, it's interesting you should say that. I was watching CNN the other night, and it appears that close to half of all Americans now believe that all of the living creatures on earth have existed in their present form, since time began.

Sam: Wha...???

Abby: And Americans wonder why so many high-tech jobs, and why so many smart, talented scientists, are leaving the U.S. for other countries. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the universe, and creation, is constantly evolving, close to half of Americans are so frightened, and so poorly educated, that they choose to believe a simplistic fairy tale instead of the facts.

Sam: That's so....so....I'm not sure if it's more sad than it is scary.

Abby: You and I believe in God, right?

Sam: Right.

Abby: And we believe that God created the universe, right?

Sam: Right.

Abby: Don't you suppose that God is either wonderfully amused, or somewhat offended, by this silly explanation of His incredible universe?

Sam: I should think so. After all, if you were an omniscient being, and you created creatures with a big enough brain to contemplate creation, wouldn't you rather create a fantastic, mysterious, wondrous universe that has been evolving for over 33 billion years, so that those beings you created, with those big brains, would have something to be in awe and wonderment about for thousands and thousands of years, rather than doing it all at once, with a sweep of His hand, so that there is nothing more to think about?

Abby: Of course.

Sam: I am thankful that we live in a universe of wonder and mystery, and I pray that no matter how hard we try, we never become arrogant and grandiose enough to think that we know more than God does.

Abby: Amen, Sam. Happy Thanksgiving.

************Below Is An Update On The Katrina Investigation***************************************************

'Can I quit now?' FEMA chief wrote as Katrina raged

E-mails give insight into Brown's leadership, attitude

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Louisiana congressman says e-mails written by the government's emergency response chief as Hurricane Katrina raged show a lack of concern for the unfolding tragedy and a failure in leadership.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, whose district south of New Orleans was devastated by the hurricane, posted a sampling of e-mails written by Federal Emergency Management chief Michael Brown on his Web site on Wednesday.

The Democratic lawmaker cited several e-mails that he said show Brown's failures. In one, as employees looked for direction and support on the ravaged Gulf Coast, Brown offered to "tweak" the federal response.

Two days after Katrina hit, Marty Bahamonde, one of the only FEMA employees in New Orleans, wrote to Brown that "the situation is past critical" and listed problems including many people near death and food and water running out at the Superdome.

Brown's entire response was: "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?" (Copies of e-mails posted by critic -- PDF)

On September 12 Brown resigned, 10 days after President Bush told him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Brown is still on the federal payroll at his $148,000 annual salary. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, saying Brown's expertise was needed as he investigated what went wrong, agreed to a 30-day extension when Brown resigned. Chertoff renewed that extension in mid-October.

Brown took over FEMA in 2003 with little experience in emergency management. He joined the agency in 2001 as legal counsel to his college friend, then-FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, who was Bush's 2000 campaign manager. When Allbaugh left FEMA in 2003 Brown assumed the top job.

Before joining the Bush administration, Brown spent a decade as the stewards and judges commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.

The e-mails Melancon posted, a sampling of more than 1,000 provided to the House committee now assessing responses to Katrina by all levels of government, also show Brown making flippant remarks about his responsibilities.

"Can I quit now? Can I come home?" Brown wrote to Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, the morning of the hurricane.

A few days later, Brown wrote to an acquaintance, "I'm trapped now, please rescue me."

"In the midst of the overwhelming damage caused by the hurricane and enormous problems faced by FEMA, Mr. Brown found time to exchange e-mails about superfluous topics," including "problems finding a dog-sitter," Melancon said.

Melancon said that on August 26, just days before Katrina made landfall, Brown e-mailed his press secretary, Sharon Worthy, about his attire, asking: "Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?"

A few days later, Worthy advised Brown: "Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts. Even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this [crisis] and on TV you just need to look more hard-working."

On August 29, the day of the storm, Brown exchanged e-mails about his attire with Taylor, Melancon said. She told him, "You look fabulous," and Brown replied, "I got it at Nordstroms. ... Are you proud of me?"

An hour later, Brown added: "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god," according to the congressman.

The e-mails came from Chertoff, who oversees FEMA, following a request by Melancon and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, chairman of a House committee appointed to investigate what went wrong during Katrina, Melancon said.

Brown resigned amid accusations that FEMA acted too slowly after Katrina hammered Louisiana and Mississippi, killing more than 1,200 people. He defended the government's response and blamed leaders in Louisiana for failing to act quickly as the hurricane approached.

He acknowledged he made some mistakes as FEMA's director, but he stressed that the agency "is not a first responder," insisting that role belonged to state and local officials.

Brown could not be reached for comment Wednesday night on the e-mails and Melancon's charges.

Although Chertoff has not turned over all the documents requested by the committee, Melancon charged that the material received so far contradicts testimony by Brown before the committee in which he described himself as an effective leader. (Melancon's analysis of e-mails -- PDF)

Melancon used an e-mail sent September 2, four days after the hurricane hit, to illustrate his point. On that day, Brown received a message with the subject "medical help." At the time, thousands of patients were being transported to the New Orleans airport, which had been converted to a makeshift hospital. Because of a lack of ventilators, medical personnel had to ventilate patients by hand for as long as 35 hours, according to Melancon.

The text of the e-mail reads: "Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42-foot trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction.

"Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help."

Melancon said Brown didn't respond for four days, when he forwarded the original e-mail to FEMA Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder.

The text of Brown's e-mail to them read: "Can we use these people?"

Melancon also charged that few of the e-mails from Brown show him assigning specific tasks to employees or responding to pressing problems.

On September 1, FEMA officials exchanged e-mails reporting severe shortages of ice and water in Mississippi. They were to receive 60 trucks of ice and 26 trucks of water the next day, even though they needed 450 trucks of each.

Robert Fenton, a FEMA regional response official, predicted "serious riots" if insufficient supplies arrive.

Brown was forwarded the series of e-mails about the problem, but no response from him is shown in the e-mails provided to the committee, Melancon said.

Katrina came ashore along the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, after being downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm. It flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. It was followed about a month later by Hurricane Rita, which caused more damage and flooding.

Melancon and several other Democrats from districts directly affected by Katrina were invited to participate as a ex-officio members of the Katrina investigative committee, though they have no formal role. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi refused to appoint any Democrats to the panel after GOP leaders rebuffed Democratic demands for an independent probe.

This is the second time a congressional committee had dealt with e-mails relating to FEMA's Katrina response. A complete transcript of Brown's e-mail traffic during the Katrina crisis has not been released by the Department of Homeland Security.


October 1, 2005 In Which Sam & Abby Reproduce CBS News Anchor Bob Schieffer's Essay About Hurricane Katrina From 9-4-2005.

Bob Schieffer's essay at the end of Face The Nation, Sunday morning, 9-4-05...

SCHIEFFER: Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one
of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the
people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives
of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World
country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the
lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.
As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might
as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a
car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.
By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What
good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child? Washington
was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or
even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud
whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington
in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could
understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.
Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to
deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start
over.
For those who wish to make donations to the relief effort, you can call the American Red Cross
at 1 (800) HELP NOW, which is 1 (800) 435-7669. CBS News will have continuing coverage
of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And that's our broadcast. Thanks for watching FACE THE NATION.

"There are immediate needs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and the first priority is meeting those. But after that, we need to think about the American community, about the one America we think we are, the one we talk about. We need people to feel more than sympathy with the victims, we need them to feel empathy with our national community that includes the poor. We have missed opportunities to make certain that all Americans would be more than huddled masses. We have been too slow to act in the face of the misery of our brothers and sisters. This is an ugly and horrifying wake-up call to America. Let us pray we answer this call."  --Senator John Edwards

Looting Or Finding?

Screen shots of the "looting" photos on Yahoo News.

"Looting" or "finding"?
Bloggers are outraged over the different captions on photos of blacks and whites in New Orleans.

September 1, 2005 In Which Sam & Abby Offer Some Pithy Back-To-School Advice To Parents of School-Aged Children. Their Column Was Written Before Hurricane Katrina Hit The U.S., So They Also Ask That Everyone Help, And Pray, As Much As Possible

Sam the Cockapoo:  Well, old girl. Another school year for the kids is upon us. The Minnesota State Fair started on August 25th, teachers are getting ready for the first day of school, and the sun is just a tad lower in the sky--just enough to give us that first little ache that comes with the beginning of the end of another hot, glorious summer.

Abby the Labrador: Four or five leaves have turned. It's one of those precise moments in time. Frozen. When the day is so intense and clear that you don't know whether or not to cry. You know that something is ending and that another is about to begin, and you aren't sure of the outcome--the nastiest winter in history? Another terrorist attack? The most spectacular Fall colors since 1925?  Or, will it all just be a dud? And then, for just a moment, you aren't even sure if the summer that is about to end was everything it was cracked up to be.

Sam: It amuses me that people in more "interesting" parts of the country gaze at us knowingly, condescendingly, patronizingly, and shrug us off. "Their television ads are about farmers' herbicide and fertilizer and machinery, after all. How could they have any real meaning in their lives? How could they really have a soul?"

Abby: A soul. That's rich. As if being grounded and solid and connected to one's family and one's history is passe. Some people forget that Minnesota is, or was at one time, the home and/or birthplace of the Guthrie Theater, the Children's Theater Company, Charles Lindbergh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, water skiing, Cray Supercomputers, HMOs (a dubious distinction), Prince, Robery Bly, and Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion. Lake Wobegon.

Sam:  Lake Wobegon. It's one thing to become famous because you were "discovered" by a vast Hollywood movie machine, and yet another to become a part of the national soul because you did what you do in life, day after day, week after week, regardless of what others think about you. To build something from the ground up--to do what God meant you to do in this life--to do it on faith and from your spirit, despite the small audiences and the absence of fame, and then to have fame be a by-product rather than a goal--ah, yes. That is what depth is about.

Abby: Yes, Sam. We both know it. Some people say that you and I are really just a reflection of Mom and Dad--that ultimately, the way domesticated dogs interact is a mirror image of how their humans act. It is one of life's fascinating little puzzles, because it is partially true. The system that Mom and Dad create from day-to day is, indeed, what puts into play how we treat each other. Dad has often used us as an example when he does professional training about relationships.

Sam: I know, Ab. He describes how we cuddle up together--legs intertwined--and how we look out the sliding glass doors at the winter scenery, side-by-side, old friends, like in the Simon and Garfunkel song, as in the pictures of us at the top of this web page; and how once in awhile, every ten days or so, I provoke you--I bite at the back of your leg, you nip at me, I charge at you with my face down at ground-level, my butt up in the air, growling and barking and charging you and retreating, and how you finally have enough--you're such a calm, sweet, dear animal, you know--and you go ballistic! You finally bark and growl and chase me around the house--do you remember that big house we had in North Oaks?--you scare them with how angry you finally get. After all, I am 20 pounds and you are 60 pounds, and in all reality, it was you who broke my leg when  I was a puppy, it wasn't because I jumped over Dead Dog's Gorge.

Abby:  And then just as suddenly, we stop, curl up together, go from nipping at each other's snouts to licking each other's faces, and then we take a nap together in the bright, warm, Fall afternoon sun, as content as any two creatures on this earth could be. The depth and spirituality and power and tenderness and intimacy and meaning in all of those connected moments makes up a life that is, when all is said and done, a life worth living.

Sam: Which is a very long-winded way to introduce what we offer to all of you parents, as this school year begins...
     
                      1.  HAVE DINNER TOGETHER AS A FAMILY at least five nights per week--come hell or high water. DO NOT let hockey practice, Bible study, band, AA meetings, or anything else come in the way of that. YOU know, and WE know--whether you want to admit it or not--that the number one mental health and academic problem in America today is that families in America are disconnected due to over-scheduling that serves to help people avoid being emotionally connected.  The one common thread that runs through the families of all National Merit Scholarship winners is that they eat dinner together as a family. The National Institutes of Health say without equivocation that the number one protective factor against teen drug and alcohol abuse in America is a family that cares about and creates structure and connectedness amongst family members.  In other words, if you need to be your child's "pal," and if you need your child's performance to help you prove to your neighbors that you are "okay," then you're setting up your children and yourself for years of misery. In dog terms, it's called...GET A LIFE.

                      2.  DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD EVER HAVE A TELEVISION SET in his or her bedroom--EVER.  The same goes for a computer, if it means he or she is constantly disconnected from the rest of the family. Dylan Klebold (Columbine Killer) was SO disconnected from his family, because his family let it happen--based on the evidence we've seen.

                      3.  Develop the GUTS to do two things at once--a) set just a few limits for your kids but hold to them no matter what, with only an occasional exception, and b) be kind yet firm as you set those limits.

Abby: And by all means, remember to listen to Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion on your local Public Radio Station every Saturday evening (or Sunday noon, if it is re-broadcast then). You'll learn a lot about the difference between shallow comfort and enduring, spiritual depth.

Sam: We love you all!!  Here comes Fall!!

August 1, 2005 In Which Sam & Abby Go On A Much-Needed Vacation, But Dad And Mom Don't!

July 1, 2005 In Which Sam & Abby Reproduce A Poem By Langston Hughes, The Famous African-American Poet/Writer http://www.redhotjazz.com/hughes.html

Let America Be America Again

     By Langston Hughes

     Let America be America again.
     Let it be the dream it used to be.
     Let it be the pioneer on the plain
     Seeking a home where he himself is free.

     (America never was America to me.)

     Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
     Let it be that great strong land of love
     Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
     That any man be crushed by one above.

     (It never was America to me.)

     O, let my land be a land where Liberty
     Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
     But opportunity is real, and life is free,
     Equality is in the air we breathe.

     (There's never been equality for me,
     Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

     Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
     And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

     I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
     I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
     I am the red man driven from the land,
     I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
     And finding only the same old stupid plan
     Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

     I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
     Tangled in that ancient endless chain
     Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
     Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
     Of work the men! Of take the pay!
     Of owning everything for one's own greed!

     I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
     I am the worker sold to the machine.
     I am the Negro, servant to you all.
     I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
     Hungry yet today despite the dream.
     Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
     I am the man who never got ahead,
     The poorest worker bartered through the years.

     Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
     In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
     Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
     That even yet its mighty daring sings
     In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
     That's made America the land it has become.
     O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
     In search of what I meant to be my home--
     For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
     And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
     And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
     To build a "homeland of the free."

     The free?

     Who said the free?  Not me?
     Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
     The millions shot down when we strike?
     The millions who have nothing for our pay?
     For all the dreams we've dreamed
     And all the songs we've sung
     And all the hopes we've held
     And all the flags we've hung,
     The millions who have nothing for our pay--
     Except the dream that's almost dead today.

     O, let America be America again--
     The land that never has been yet--
     And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
     The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
     Who made America,
     Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
     Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
     Must bring back our mighty dream again.

     Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
     The steel of freedom does not stain.
     From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
     We must take back our land again,
     America!

     O, yes,
     I say it plain,
     America never was America to me,
     And yet I swear this oath--
     America will be!

     Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
     The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
     We, the people, must redeem
     The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
     The mountains and the endless plain--
     All, all the stretch of these great green states--
     And make America again!

     From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994
     the Estate of Langston Hughes.


February 1, 2005 & March 1, 2005 & April 1, 2005 & May 1, 2005 & June 1 2005 In Which Sam & Abby Reproduce An Invitation From Walter Cronkite To Join The Interfaith Alliance, And Then Decide That It Is So Crucial To Consider Balance In Society For A Change, That They Decide To Keep Stressing It At Least Until May--Sam & Abby Love God. They Are Simply Sick And Tired Of People Hating Each Other In His Name.

 

 

  Walter Cronkite   Walter Cronkite at CBS
in New York

Dear Friend,

When I anchored the evening news, I kept my opinions to myself.  But now, more than ever, I feel I must speak out.  That’s because I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous and growing influence of people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on our nation’s political leaders.

Especially after Robertson and Falwell both shamefully blamed America’s courts and the highest levels of our government for the horrific September 11 attacks on our nation. They said it happened because we “insulted God.” Falwell went on to blame feminists, pro-choice Americans and other groups he despises. 

Like you, I understand that freedom of speech is a founding principle of our nation, and I respect people with the courage to speak their minds.  As a concerned person of faith, however, I have watched with increasing alarm as the Christian Coalition and other Religious Right groups manipulate religion to further their intolerant, political agendas.  Over the years, Robertson and Falwell have gained considerable influence on local school boards, in the administration, and in Congress. They have shrewdly twisted the traditional healing role of religion into an intolerant, political platform.

Using religion as a tool to push their personal political beliefs – especially, in a time of national tragedy – not only insults people of faith and good will, it also diminishes the positive healing role religion can and should play in public life.  This is why I am speaking out today, and why I urge you to speak out, too.  It is time we challenge those who equate religious beliefs with partisan  politics, and if you agree, there is something you can do about it today. 

Join me as a proud member of The Interfaith Alliance today.

When you do, you’ll join a diverse group of people of faith and good will who promote tolerance, respect and the inherent dignity of all human beings.  The Interfaith Alliance is a non-partisan, grassroots organization of people  from more than 70 faith traditions. It’s the only organization working full time to  challenge religious political extremism, while promoting the healing role of faith in  public life.

In short, The Interfaith Alliance offers a mainstream alternative for people of faith and good will to stand in opposition to the extremism of the Religious Right.  The Christian Coalition has more than two million members and a growing  coffer of funds, helping it influence elections and political candidates.  In response, many members of Congress are forced to cave into its  demands. Even politicians – who privately dislike its tactics or are uncomfortable  with its political agenda – have been scared into submission.

So, I ask you today to stand with The Interfaith Alliance to challenge the intolerant influence of the Religious Right in civic life.

I am proud to stand behind The Interfaith Alliance – a courageous group of  people of faith and good will led by my good friend, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy,– and I know you will be proud, too.   Please take a moment to see how your support will be used to counter the dangerous influence of the Religious Right.

Please join me in this critical effort with a special contribution today.

Thank you,

Walter Cronkite Full

Walter Cronkite

P.S. The Religious Right’s influence over America’s politicians has gone too far.  Please join me in offering a voice of tolerance, civility and true compassion  in the political process by supporting The Interfaith Alliance’s mission.

The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation - the national non-partisan advocacy voice of the interfaith movement. Our 150,000 members are from more than 70 faith traditions and people of good will united to: Promote democratic values, Defend religious liberty, Challenge hatred and religious bigotry and Reinvigorate informed civic participation.

We are The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation. Founded in 1994 by an interfaith group of religious leaders, we work to promote interfaith cooperation around shared religious values to strengthen the public’s commitment to the American values of civic participation, freedom of religion, diversity, and civility in public discourse and to encourage the active involvement of people of faith in the nation’s political life. We are local religious leaders and activists, some with years of political experience, some just starting out. We work in our communities, in state capitals, in Washington, DC and wherever else our voice is needed.

Our 150,000 members across the nation represent diverse religious and spiritual traditions – Jews, Christians,Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – 70 faith traditions in all, as well as many Agnostics and Atheists. In Washington, DC, our national office works on Capitol Hill and with the White House, in coalition with denominational bodies and other activist organizations to make sure our unique message is communicated when and where it matters most. Our 47 local Alliances are active in their communities on local issues, carrying The Interfaith Alliance message to decision-makers, the media, and the public at large.

 

January 1, 2005  In Which Sam & Abby Discuss The New Book About Abelard & Heloise, And Urge Us All To Keep Our Eye On Our History Now And Then

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, I have been reading a fascinating review of a new book, Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography (HarperSanFrancisco) by James Burge, which draws on 113 letters discovered in 1980 by New Zealand scholar Constant Mews. Prior to their discovery, there were only eight known letters, all of which were written after the famous couple had been separated.  These new letters were written in the midst of their passionate love affair.

Sam The Cockapoo: What a find, Abby! The time-frame was somewhere around 1100 AD, wasn't it?

Abby: Yes, Sam. Peter (Pierre) Abelard was born in 1079 in a little village in Brittany. He moved to Paris in his teens and began a meteoric rise in his brilliant career as teacher and philosopher. After a series of "victories" in philosophical debates with colleagues and mentors, he set up his own school in Paris at the age of 22. He was awarded a chair at Notre-Dame in 1115. It was while at Notre-Dame that he met Heloise, a beautiful young girl who was also inellectually gifted. Heloise lived with her uncle who, like Peter, was a canon there. Peter became her mentor, and eventually she became his mistress. According to the citation in Wikipedia, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Abelard)...

"Becoming tutor to the girl, he used his power for the purpose of seduction, and she returned his devotion. Their relations interfered with his public work, and were not kept a secret by Abelard himself. Soon everyone knew except the trusting Fulbert. When he found out, they were separated, only to meet in secret. Heloise became pregnant, and was carried off by her lover to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. To appease her furious uncle, Abelard proposed a secret marriage, in order not to mar his prospects of advancement in the church; but Heloise opposed the idea. She appealed to him not to sacrifice the independence of his life, but reluctantly gave in to pressure. The secret of the marriage was not kept by Fulbert; and when Heloise boldly denied it, life was made so difficult for her that she sought refuge in the convent of Argenteuil.

Immediately Fulbert, believing that her husband, who had helped her run away, wanted to be rid of her, plotted revenge. He and some others broke into Abelard's chamber by night, and castrated him. The priesthood and ecclesiastical office were canonically closed to him. Heloise, not yet twenty, consummated her work of self-sacrifice and became a nun. It was in the abbey of Saint-Denis that Abelard, now aged forty, sought to bury himself with his woes out of sight. Finding no respite in the cloister, and having gradually turned again to study, he gave in to urgent entreaties, and reopened his school at the priory of Maisonceile (1120). His lectures, now framed in a devotional spirit, were once again heard by crowds of students, and all his old influence seemed to have returned; but he still had many enemies. No sooner had he published his theological lectures (apparently the Introductio ad Theologiam that has come down to us) than his adversaries picked up on his rationalistic interpretation of the Trinitarian dogma. Charging him with the heresy of Sabellius in a provincial synod held at Soissons in 1121, they obtained an official condemnation of his teaching, and he was made to burn his book before being shut up in the convent of St Medard at Soissons. It was the bitterest possible experience that could befall him. The life in his own monastery proved no more congenial than formerly. 

Life in the monastery was intolerable for Abelard, and he was finally allowed to leave. In a desert place near Nogent-sur-Seine, he built himself a cabin of stubble and reeds, and turned hermit. When his retreat became known, students flocked from Paris, and covered the wilderness around him with their tents and huts. When he began to teach again he found consolation, and in gratitude he consecrated the new Oratory of the Paraclete.

Abelard, fearing new persecution, left the Oratory to find another refuge, accepting an invitation to preside over the abbey of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, on the far-off shore of Lower Brittany. The region was inhospitable, the domain a prey to outlaws, the house itself savage and disorderly. Yet for nearly ten years he continued to struggle with fate before he left. The misery of those years was lightened because he had been able, on the breaking up of Heloise's convent at Argenteuil, to establish her as head of a new religious house at the deserted Paraclete, and in the capacity of spiritual director he often was called to revisit the spot thus made doubly dear to him. All this time Heloise had lived respectably. Living on for some time apart (we do not know exactly where), after his flight from the Abbey of St Gildas, Abelard wrote, among other things, his famous Historia Calamitatum, and thus moved her to write her first Letter, which remains an unsurpassed utterance of human passion and womanly devotion; the first being followed by the two other Letters, in which she finally accepted the part of resignation which, now as a brother to a sister, Abelard commended to her. He soon returned to the site of his early triumphs lecturing on Mount St Genevieve in 1136 (when he was heard by John of Salisbury), but it was only for a brief time: a last great trial awaited him. As far back as the Paraclete days, his chief enemy had been Bernard of Clairvaux, in whom was incarnated the principle of fervent and unhesitating faith, from which rational inquiry like Abelard's was sheer revolt, and now the uncompromising Bernard was moving to crush the growing evil in the person of the boldest offender. After preliminary negotiations, in which Bernard was roused by Abelard's steadfastness to put forth all his strength, a council met at Sens (1141), before which Abelard, formally arraigned upon a number of heretical charges, was prepared to plead his cause. When, however, Bernard had opened the case, suddenly Abelard appealed to Rome. Bernard, who had power, notwithstanding, to get a condemnation passed at the council, did not rest a moment till a second condemnation was procured at Rome in the following year. Meanwhile, on his way there to urge his plea in person, Abelard collapsed at the abbey of Cluny, and there he lingered only a few months before the approach of death. Removed by friends, for the relief of his sufferings, to the priory of St Marcel, near Chalon-sur-Saone, he died. First buried at St Marcel, his remains were soon carried off secretly to the Paraclete, and given over to the loving care of Heloise, who in time came herself to rest beside them (1164). The bones of the pair were moved more than once afterwards, but they were miraculously preserved even through the vicissitudes of the French Revolution, and now lie in the well-known tomb in the cemetery of Père Lachaise at Paris."

Sam: What an amazing, passionate, painful, romantic story, Abby. Wasn't Pere Lachaise Cemetery the one that Dad and Mom visited when they went to Paris a decade ago?  They mentioned Abelard & Heloise then, as I recall.

Abby: I think you're right, Sam. And, yes, it's an amazing story filled with sexuality, religion, power, fear, tragedy, and romance. In his December 18, 2004 review of  James Burge's new book, Priya Jain, writing for Salon.com, stated that...

" Burge deftly analyzes the two trials, which were built on fear and anti-intellectualism similar to what we face today, and casts them as absurdist plays that would be funny if the future of Christian morality had not hung in the balance. In the first, Abelard stood accused of claiming that there was more than one god, because he had written a book that applied logic to the Trinity. His accuser could find nothing in the work that suggested heresy, except for a single sentence that wasn't Abelard's writing but a quote from St. Augustine. Still, Abelard was condemned and ordered to burn his book."

" In his second trial, Abelard faced his archenemy, Bernard of Clairvaux, the head of the Cistercians. They were a reformist monastic order that would become the most influential in Christendom, and Bernard was the George W. Bush of their movement. He "was accustomed to having people listen to him and then eventually agree," Burge writes. Bernard was deeply anti-intellectual, casting Abelard as elitist, overeducated and anti-religious. He charged that in Abelard's theology "the faith of simple folk is laughed at, the mysteries of God forced open, the deepest things bandied about in discussion without any reverence." In another letter, Bernard used the logic of preemptive war to persuade the pope to condemn Abelard and his friends: "They have each drawn their bows and filled their quivers with arrows; now they lie in ambush ready to fire at unsuspecting hearts." Bernard would eventually persuade Europe to launch the second crusade -- a military expedition in the Middle East, built on an abstract moral idea, that would result in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Muslims."

Sam:  Good grief, Abby! That's rather frightening! It's as if history is repeating itself in certain ways.

Abby: Remember, Sam...in 80 B.C., Cicero wrote that "Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child."

Sam: I am reminded of  that old saw that people who have no knowledge of history are doomed to repeat it. But it seems that it is part of the nature of humans--as opposed to canines--that even when they appear to have a sense of their own history, they continue to repeat it.

Abby: It would appear so.

Sam: And, I must say, castration is not only an unbelievably sadistic, gruesome thing to do, but it also seems like a catastrophically symbolic, archetypal response on the part of Heloise's uncle. There is something grandiose and narcissistic about it--as if her uncle's feelings might actually have justified that kind of revenge, in his own mind.

Abby: You'll get no argument from me, Sam.

Sam: I thought that the purpose of religion in humans' lives was to help them rise above their human limitations--to help them bring their better part forward.

Abby: Well, you'd like to think so, wouldn't you, Abby? But you know, it doesn't always work that way.

Sam: I admire human beings for trying.

Abby: As do I, Sam. As do I. By the way---Happy New Year!! Let's hope for some new and interesting aspects to 2005.

December 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Discover Another (Partial) Chapter From Dad's 1993 Book, Rescuing Your Spirit.

If Jesus Christ had Wanted Us to Think He Would Have Spoken to Us in Parables

Therefore I speak to them in parables, because

seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not

hear, nor do they understand.

Matthew 13:13

How Kids Learn

The late Jean Piaget revolutionized our understanding of cognitive development in children and adults. His work, which began when he was a boy growing up in Switzerland, is considered to be the most important work on intellectual development in this century.1 What Piaget did was to systematically study, document, and then organize the inner world of the child's mind so that for the first time in history we were able to see and feel what it is like for a child to try to make sense out of the world around him. And what Piaget discovered has been fascinating scientists and laymen alike ever since his earliest publications.

His theory of cognitive development states that the human mind is "wired" to adapt to the environment for survival of the individual and of the species. The way that the mind adapts is similar to the way that the body adapts...

ASSIMILATION

1) our minds either modifiy what they take in, to

better fit their pre-conceived notions about the

world or...

ACCOMODATION

2) our minds actually modify themselves, to better

fit new information about the world.

When we modify what we take in to better fit our current cognitive structures, Piaget called it assimilation. When we modify how we view the world to better fit new information, Piaget called it accomodation. These two mental processes, assimilation and accomodation, are thought to be going on all the time; but one or the other will be more dominant in any given mental activity.

Let's say that a child has a concept of "doggie". To her, a doggie is anything that has four legs and fur, at least at first. She is 18 months old, riding in the car with her mother, and she spies a cow chomping on some grass by the roadside. She smiles and her eyes light up in a flash of recognition. "It's a doggie!" she exclaims to her mother.

Well, it isn't a dog, and wanting her daughter to understand the world as it truly is, her mother says gently, "No, honey, that's not a dog. That's a cow. It walks, and it has four legs and fur, but it's a different kind of animal. It doesn't eat dog food, for one thing. And it's larger than our dog. In fact, the milk we have in the refrigerator comes from cows," Mom comments, thoughtfully. The little girl looks at her mother, looks at the cow, looks puzzled, stares off into space for a moment as the wheels of her mind turn furiously, and then she shouts excitedly, "DOGGIE!" It's too much for her to handle at this tender age, so she assimilates the cow into her existing mental structures. She makes the cow fit into her notion of "dog."

Is this little girl dumb? Is there something wrong with her brain? Certainly not. She is making sense out of her world the way she is supposed to for her age. As she encounters more cows and more walking things that aren't dogs, she will eventually accomodate to the reality outside of her. Eventually, she will change her existing mental structures to better fit the world. In other words, her mind will become more complex and better organized, and will include the notion of "walking things" that has subcategories of "dog", "cat", "cow, "sheep", "lion," and so on.

One of Piaget's greatest accomplishments was to show us all that the thinking of a 4-year-old is qualitatively different than the thinking of an 8-year-old, and that the thinking of an 8-year-old is qualitatively different than that of an 18-year-old. This means that a 4-year-old is not dumber than an 8-year-old. The 4-year-old simply lives in a different reality than the 8-year-old. The 4-year-old constructs a different universe. If you are following all of this, you will see that your own understanding of the world goes in stages. From birth to age 2 you view the world one way. From 2 to 7 you view it in a new way. From 7 to 11 you view it in yet another way.

Let's look at another example. If I take two equal lumps of clay, show them to you, let you prove by weighing them that they're equal, and then I roll them up into two equal-sized balls, you'd say they were equal, right? Then, if I flattened one of the balls of clay into a sausage shape, and then asked you if the two chunks of clay still had the same amount you would hopefully say "yes." If you perform this little experiment in front of a typical 4-year-old he will say that either the sausage or the ball shape now has more clay in it even though it doesn't! Is our 4-year-old dumb? Is there something wrong with his brain? No. He's just viewing the world the way that a 4-year-old does. He's being normal.

If this seems pretty elementary, let's move up the age/intelligence scale a long way, to an understanding of time and space as Albert Einstein understood them. To most of us, time and space are independent of each other, but to Einstein, they were not.2 Does this mean that our reality is invalid and that we are hopelessly retarded and incapable of functioning on this earth? No. It just means that we still have things to learn and that we don't know it all. It's fair to say that when you know it all, you're God.

Time, space, weak nuclear force, unified field theory, quarks, black holes, you name it. There are many things which are beyond the comprehension of the average person and which are still true. At some point we simply have to take it on faith that reality as "the experts" see it is true. We make this leap of faith every time we use a telephone or watch something on television.

Through his brilliant work Piaget taught us that at each stage of human development we need to be challenged by the thinking of the next highest stage. In the example of the clay being rolled out into a sausage shape, the child needs to gradually experience through hands-on example that the amount of clay remains the same even if you change the shape. And here is the critical piece of this challenging notion--if we challenge a child's thinking with concepts that are more than one stage ahead of where he is, the child will become overwhelmed, shut down, and he will get stuck in immature thinking indefinitely. If I throw concepts of Einstein's Theory Of Relativity at a 4-year-old he'll get overwhelmed and shut down, and not want to think anymore at all.

Piaget's impressive work also shows us that children and adults learn through hands-on experience first. This means that if you want your child to grasp the reality of Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself, the worst way to do it is to make him memorize it, spout the words at him all the time, abuse him emotionally with it, and then go out yourself and treat other human beings abusively as well. His hands-on experience will tell the child that this Love Thy Neighbor stuff is crazy!

The best way to teach a child the value of Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself is to treat yourself, your family, your children, your friends, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, you-name-it, with the respect, dignity, and value due any human being. If we do this, our children will experience the feelings of warmth, love, tolerance, and respect, and then when it comes time for them to deal with the abstract concept of Love, they will know what it means because they have experienced it day after day as they watched you. In other words, if you want to raise healthy, spiritual children...

1. CHALLENGE CHILDREN, BUT NOT BEYOND THEIR CAPABILITIES

2. LIVE IT, DON'T PREACH IT

 

The Challenge Of Separation

When children become teenagers it suddenly becomes their life risk to challenge much of what they have been told during childhood. This questioning and searching that makes up so much of adolescence is crucial to their later success and emotional adjustment as adults. Jesus Christ knew this, Erik Erikson knew this, Jean Piaget knew this, Jane Loevinger knew this, and in my heart-of-hearts I believe that every parent knows this, too. I just know that deep down inside, even the most abusive, controlling parent knows that this questioning is part of being a clear, whole, healthy human being. Parents may fear it because they haven't done it themselves or because it means their children will grow up, but I believe that they somehow know it.

If you're having a hard time understanding this period in your teen's development, think back to when he or she was two years old. Do you remember the "terrible two's"? They weren't all that terrible. They were exciting. They were the "exciting two's" because it was the time when your children stated clearly for the first time that they were separate from you. They said the word "no!" They ran away from you. They got into things in ways you never imagined, which explains why the term "childproof" is a metaphysical impossibility. They were saying to you, to me, and to the world, "I am me! I am not you! I am separate!" The "terrible two's" are so marvelous because they offer a subtle hint to the ultimate goal held by both parents and children in a healthy family--inevitable separation.

From those exciting first stirrings of separateness in our children when they are two years old, through early childhood, elementary school, and then junior highschool, healthy parents get more and more excited about their children's independence of thought and action. At the same time, unhealthy, un-spiritual parents get more and more frightened of their children's thinking and independence. The thought of being without dependent children is too much for some parents. Fear of abandonment is what usually breeds totalitarianism, and that's what happens in families where Dad and Mom haven't grown up themselves yet.

Little Ralph: What Happens When Kids Don't Get To Think?

If kids learn what we do, and if they can only become mental adults if we nurture their minds in the right ways, at the right rate, and in ways that are healthy and whole, then what happens when kids aren't encouraged to separate and grow up? I mean, how do they get stuck, and what are they like later?

Ralph grew up in what appeared to be a warm, loving family. His parents were active in the community, they volunteered to help the poor, helped out with hospital fund drives, both had respectable jobs as a teacher and a nurse, and participated in most of the activities at their Christian church. In fact, as a family, they were admired by a majority of the folks in their community. They were model citizens, model friends, model parents, model partners, and model Christians. They prided themselves in being deeply devoted to their religion and their religious beliefs, and they sorely desired to have their children be equally religious and committed to their religious beliefs.

From the time little Ralph was 18 months old, his parents began to teach him about the life of Jesus Christ, about Christ's suffering, about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and about all the other mysteries of Christianity. They loved to talk about all of these things with Ralph, and Ralph seemed to love to talk to them, too. When Ralph was five years old, they sent him to Sunday school where he learned even more about Christianity. Being five, though, meant that a lot of what they were trying to teach him went right over his head. He simply assimilated all that he learned into what he already knew about the world. As much as they tried to get him to understand the spiritual mysteries of their religion, all little Ralph could do was think of God as a man with a beard who sits on the clouds and watches us and rewards or punishes us, which is all most five-year-olds can conceptualize about God.

As Ralph grew older, he took in more and more of what they taught him, but it seemed that the more he took in, the less it meant to him in any personal way. In fact, what he discovered later was that he only believed what they were telling him because he wanted to be a good child and to be loved by his parents. He was eventually too caught up in this "parent-pleasing" to ever let on that he didn't understand what his parents were telling him; or even worse, that he wasn't always sure if he believed it. And so he went all the way through childhood looking like the perfect little Christian, making his parents' dream come true, and making his parents look even more wonderful in public than they already did.

Something else happened, too. In their zeal to be good Christians and to have little Ralph be one, too, they did some things that weren't good at all. Ralph's parents had had some big problems with sexuality, for example, which left Ralph's parents feeling a lot of embarrassment and shame about sex. Instead of working this shame through, they disguised it within their religious system, and made it seem as if it was part of Christianity to be afraid of and disgusted with sex. They unconsciously passed this belief on to Ralph, too, just by being around him during his childhood.

Somewhere they also got the distorted idea that a good Christian never gets angry or raises his/her voice; and that a good Christian works him/herself to death taking care of everyone else in the community first, even if it means neglecting one's own children, spouse, and marriage. And so little Ralph also learned that to be a good Christian one must never get angry, and one must always give of self first, until there's no self left. In other words, little Ralph learned to be terribly self-neglectful because his parents had been terribly neglectful, and they didn't even know it!

And lastly what happened through all of this is that Ralph became spiritually numb and spiritually stuck very early in life. He heard people say "love your neighbor as yourself," but what he saw people do was to neglect the self and get burned out for the sake of looking perfect and not growing up into mature, adult, spiritual beings. His parents had four-year-old morality in adult bodies, and so that's what he learned to do, too. He never learned to question things or to use the marvelous powers of his God-given brain to search for the Truth in a way that would be personally meaningful for him. He couldn't admit it publicly as an adult, but in his heart-of-hearts, big Ralph still thought of God as a man with a beard who sits on the clouds and dispenses rewards and punishments, and who occasionally goes into a blind rage and punishes everybody for the mistakes of a few, because this is what his father did.

The coup de grace in all of Ralph's troubles is that in his desperate search for real love and acceptance, and because of the sexual shame that he learned from his parents, Ralph was terrified of relationships, especially with women. In other words, he was one among many men who feared and hated women. What better profession could there be for such a man than the ministry? He had been trained and encouraged since early childhood. He was gently seductive in such an ever-so-nice way. He never expressed his anger directly, which endeared him to all of those in his flock who were powerless and waiting to be seduced. He could quote the Bible backwards or forwards, and do it in his sleep. And he'd never thought about or questioned any of it! To many people he seemed like such a safe haven in such a dangerous world. Ralph was ready for a stint in the ministry.

By the time he went to inpatient treatment for his sexual acting-out with all of the women in his flock, Little Ralph was ready to start growing up. But what a painful way to learn and become spiritual!

If Jesus Had Wanted Us To Think, He Would Have Spoken To Us In Parables

The simple truth is that we learn by example. We learn to love one another if we see our parents love each other and us. We learn to take care of ourselves if we see our parents take care of themselves and us. We learn compassion, humility, dignity, wisdom, and grace if we see adults around us model those feelings and behaviors. And we learn to think, question, wonder, separate, and grow up, if our parents have done the same in their own lives. No one knew this better than Jesus Christ.

He wanted us to think. Much of His teaching was in metaphors and parables. He has left us to struggle with their meanings ever since. As Mortimer Adler noted, "Two things should be pointed out about the Golden Rule. One is its vacuity as a precept of conduct unless it is filled in with an understanding of what is really good for any human being and, in consequence, an understanding of what is right for all others."3 In other words, we are supposed to struggle and think. That is the essence of the human drama. In totalitarian systems throughout history, people's minds are manipulated with simple, pat answers that play to our fear of survival, and our hatreds. Black-and-white thinking is how a child thinks. Tell a child that all men are evil, and it makes life much less complicated. "I don't have to deal with men at all," I say to myself. "Mommy taught me that all men are bad." See? When it's this simple, I don't have to think anymore. I simply fear and hate instead.

Maturity, holiness, and true Christianity require much more than pat answers that play on fear and hatred. Jesus' method of teaching--by His example and by metaphors and parables--makes that very clear to me. It is more difficult to think rather than to simply have pat answers. But it is also the road to a mature spirituality and relationship with God.

November 5, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Discover Chapter One Of Dad's 1993 Book, Rescuing Your Spirit, And Decide To Share It With Their Readers...

Chapter One

My First Encounter With "Christian" Hatred

And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil          

John 3: 19

     As I travel back through my own life I am reminded of one of the first times I was personally touched by the contradiction between a person's purported beliefs and his actions. I was in the eighth grade in 1961. I was in a public school and was an Episcopal then, but my sister and brother were fast converting to Catholicism. I learned an awful lesson about Catholics, and especially all-boy Catholic highschools that year. My eighth-grade teacher was a good and decent man who was slightly effeminate in mannerisms. He wasn't the best teacher we had in grammar school, but he certainly wasn't the worst, either. We liked the guy, basically. He lived in San Francisco and commuted to the town where we went to school. Apparently the fact that a man is somewhat effeminate is enough for some people to believe that they can strip him of his human rights. So a bunch of boys from a local San Francisco Catholic highschool beat up my eighth-grade teacher and left him in the middle of the street, on the streetcar tracks, where a streetcar ran him over and killed him. My eighth-grade teacher died at the hands of some Catholic highschool boys. My classmates and I were young, but not so young that we couldn't be outraged, disgusted, and appalled.

     When I went to the University of San Francisco four years later I realized that there were some male students there who were popular and appeared to be extremely confident, even cocky. For some reason they scared me a little. I attributed it to my own insecurities at first, but as I stood within earshot of them at the Student Union one day I finally heard which highschool they came from. It was the same all-boys highschool in San Francisco that my teacher's killers had come from. Looking back, I now realize that some of these guys were homophobic, rageful, and abusive, and that their obvious popularity with their peers had made me believe that there was something wrong with me for fearing them, instead of the other way around.

     I struggled with that for a long time. In the naivete and fear of my youth, it seemed as if there was a whole cult of guys who had been altar boys, who had become sexually repressed, who hated women, who went to all-boys highschools, who were macho and cruel, and yet were destined to become the successful leaders of tomorrow. Or so that's how my mind connected it all at the time. By then, I too, was a Catholic; and so I was doubly confused. Even though I am a psychologist who specializes in working with survivors of abusive families, and even though I understand how these things can happen, I still flinch inside when I think about that teacher's death. It was so senseless and pointless. Killings by "nice middle-class kids" were unheard-of back then.

     For me, there was only one good thing that came out of my teacher's death, because in my struggle to make sense out of such a senseless act, I eventually had to ask myself what Christ would have done in that situation. The internal struggle was very good for me. Most internal struggles are. No matter how I framed it for myself, I simply could not see how Jesus Christ meant for us to hurt, beat, or even kill people because they walk, talk, or look a certain way.

     I couldn't fathom how being a good Catholic boy gave one the license to kill certain people because of their mannerisms or lifestyles. But I kept seeing guys like that become community leaders and even church leaders. I didn't know what to make of it. In fact, what I did was to internalize their shame by assuming that there was something wrong with me, not because I disapproved of killing innocent strangers, but because I wasn't manly enough to fit in with this kind of guy.

     You might think that this example is extreme; that this doesn't happen anymore. That was 1961. This is 30 years later. In truth I suspect it is happening more today than it was in 1961 for a number of reasons, including the economic stress of The Recession. Perhaps you'll counter with the argument that it's happening more today with gay people. After all, the guy who taught me in the eighth grade wasn't necessarily gay, he was just "slightly effeminate." But what's the difference? They thought he was gay. That's why they beat him up.

     It's the 1990's now, and I still can't find anywhere that Christ said that we should go around hating people, beating up people, shaming people, or killing people because they are foreign, domestic, tall, short, fat, thin, intellectually gifted, intellectually disabled, religious, atheistic, gay, or anything else.

     How far have we progressed in terms of human rights from 1961 to 1991? Quite a way, actually. We have done a darned good job in improving ourselves. But we still have a way to go. On July 26, 1992, here in sleepy, safe Minneapolis, Minnesota, five men "chased a man they thought was gay near Lake Calhoun Sunday afternoon and bashed his car with tire irons and steel pipes when he tried to escape. Witnesses said a group of about 15 men had been walking along the lake carrying baseball bats and tire irons and yelling: `The score is one-nothing, let's get the fags,'" according to a story in the Minneapolis StarTribune. As I read that story in the newspaper, all I could think was that they surely couldn't have been Christians. Christians would never do anything like that.

               

August 1, 2004 & September 1, 2004
& October 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Decide To Pack It In And Move Forward Into The Future...The Election Is Over

 

July 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Reproduce A Poem By Langston Hughes, The Famous African-American Poet/Writer http://www.redhotjazz.com/hughes.html

Let America Be America Again

     By Langston Hughes

     Let America be America again.
     Let it be the dream it used to be.
     Let it be the pioneer on the plain
     Seeking a home where he himself is free.

     (America never was America to me.)

     Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
     Let it be that great strong land of love
     Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
     That any man be crushed by one above.

     (It never was America to me.)

     O, let my land be a land where Liberty
     Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
     But opportunity is real, and life is free,
     Equality is in the air we breathe.

     (There's never been equality for me,
     Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

     Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
     And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

     I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
     I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
     I am the red man driven from the land,
     I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
     And finding only the same old stupid plan
     Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

     I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
     Tangled in that ancient endless chain
     Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
     Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
     Of work the men! Of take the pay!
     Of owning everything for one's own greed!

     I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
     I am the worker sold to the machine.
     I am the Negro, servant to you all.
     I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
     Hungry yet today despite the dream.
     Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
     I am the man who never got ahead,
     The poorest worker bartered through the years.

     Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
     In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
     Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
     That even yet its mighty daring sings
     In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
     That's made America the land it has become.
     O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
     In search of what I meant to be my home--
     For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
     And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
     And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
     To build a "homeland of the free."

     The free?

     Who said the free?  Not me?
     Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
     The millions shot down when we strike?
     The millions who have nothing for our pay?
     For all the dreams we've dreamed
     And all the songs we've sung
     And all the hopes we've held
     And all the flags we've hung,
     The millions who have nothing for our pay--
     Except the dream that's almost dead today.

     O, let America be America again--
     The land that never has been yet--
     And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
     The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
     Who made America,
     Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
     Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
     Must bring back our mighty dream again.

     Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
     The steel of freedom does not stain.
     From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
     We must take back our land again,
     America!

     O, yes,
     I say it plain,
     America never was America to me,
     And yet I swear this oath--
     America will be!

     Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
     The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
     We, the people, must redeem
     The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
     The mountains and the endless plain--
     All, all the stretch of these great green states--
     And make America again!

     From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994
     the Estate of Langston Hughes.


June 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Honor All Of Our Veterans, Living And Dead, With The Following, From The Washington Post. It Is Long, And You Will Most LikelyBe In Tears At The End, And We Cannot Urge You Enough To Take The Time To Read It...

The Wall Welcomes Him Home:
POW Who Killed Himself Shortly After Return Is Enshrined on Memorial
By Monte Reel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 22, 2004; Page A13

The stonecutter peeled the tape from the Wall and wiped away the granite dust with a wet cloth.

Within that polished swath near the top of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he revealed the newly engraved letters -- E Alan Brudno -- that restored permanence to a name that had begun to fade 31 years ago.

Edward Alan Brudno was captured by the North Vietnamese in 1965 and endured the next 7 1/2 years in prisoner of war camps. Dreams of a perfect homecoming allowed his mind to escape from the gray stone cells, but reality at home couldn't match his imagination. Things there had changed as much as he had.

One of the first things he did when released was to ask for a tape recorder. He wanted to clear his head of a poem he had been mentally constructing for years, an epic that took 45 minutes to recite:



It's so hard to express how that mental duress

Played a specially torturous role --

Like the termites that fed on the boards in my bed,

It was gnawing away at my soul. . . .



Four months after Brudno's homecoming, his in-laws found his body, fatal traces of phenobarbital in his stilled veins. He was the first of the 566 returned Vietnam POWs to die. It was national news.

This month, he became the first veteran who committed suicide after returning home to have his name engraved on the Wall. Some maintained that veterans who committed suicide did not belong on the memorial and might open the door to thousands of additions. To sort through the debate, Defense Department officials reopened Brudno's file.

They mined the memories of former POWs who lived closest to him during imprisonment. They consulted military doctors who dug out classified debriefings, medical records and psychological evaluations. They interviewed officials who met with him after his release, and military historians.

They decided that his psychological wounds were a direct result of his being in the camps, qualifying his name for the Wall. The Defense Department issued a statement differentiating Brudno's "unique circumstances" from those of thousands of other veterans who have committed suicide. His psychological records, anecdotal evidence from other POWs and the short period between his service and his death allowed them to draw a straight line between cause and effect.

Near the foot of the stonecutter's ladder, a reflection shimmered in the Wall's gloss.

It was Bob Brudno. While his older brother was held prisoner, Bob suffered secondhand wounds: the cumulative weight of daily uncertainty, thinking about the coercion and torture, the rancor of wartime politics. When Alan died, guilt and anger and helplessness built up.

Bob put his hand on the shoulder of a woman standing near him -- Alan's widow, Debby, who has her own set of wounds. The casual gesture would not have happened before the reopening of Alan's file. Their relationship, essentially dormant for three decades, had been another casualty of war, strained by the emotions that had haunted Bob since 1973.

He confronted them this year by spoiling what he believed was his brother's final wish. Alan Brudno had sought oblivion. But by persuading the government to engrave those 11 letters into the memorial, Bob Brudno gave him a lasting presence instead.
October 1965


The four F-4 Phantoms cruised over the green peaks of the highlands, above sparse clouds that couldn't obscure the target: a bridge spanning a thin ribbon of water in the valley.

Air Force Maj. Tom Collins and his backseater, 1st Lt. Alan Brudno, watched two leading jets plunge toward the bridge and drop their unguided iron bombs -- an attempt to disrupt supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Years later, Collins recalled that he and Brudno watched the bombs fall wide. Then the view outside their window tilted 45 degrees as they took their dive.

They were an odd pair, thrust together at George Air Force Base in California. Brudno was Jewish, 25 years old, the son of a doctor from suburban Boston, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the proud owner of the first Beatles records. Collins was a country boy, a few years older, a swaggering fighter jock from Mississippi who liked to kick back and let his drawl carry him through a round or two at the bar.

What they did share was a pilot's stick-and-rudder sensibility. Weeks before they were deployed in the summer of 1965, they visited the test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base and met a couple of heroes, Chuck Yeager and John Glenn. For Brudno, it was hallowed ground. When he recounted the trip for Debby, he was elated -- they had implied he could get into the space program.

He needed to log combat hours and then return to Edwards for flight tests. His planned entry to the space race seemed well-timed: When he was at MIT, a chimpanzee sat in the first U.S. vessel to orbit the earth. By the time he was combat ready, stars were aligning: The Mercury astronauts were fixtures in Life magazine, President Lyndon B. Johnson seemed committed to the vision of a man on the moon and an American space probe was taking close-up pictures of Mars.

That's where things stood when Brudno and Collins went into the bombing dive -- their 35th mission in two months. Then something hit the back of the plane. The view blurred instantly.



"Get out! Get out!!" I heard Tom shout,

As we made our dive for the ground.

We were out of control -- we started to roll.

The earth was spinning around . . .



They yanked their ejection fuses, and cannon shells exploded under their seats, rocketing them out to parachute toward tangled vegetation 1,000 feet below.

Collins's vertebrae compressed like an accordion when he hit ground. Villagers seized him and later led him blindfolded down a road, hobbling. "I just shouted, 'Al, you around here?' " Collins remembers. "And I heard him, a couple hundred yards behind me. He yelled, 'Yes!' Then they beat me up a little, and we kept going."

They were separated two days later. They were shuffled through different camps and didn't see each other again for 7 1/2 years.
Getting the Word


Bob Brudno was in his fraternity house at Tufts University when he heard the news.

Missing in action -- at least there was some hope. Then hope became a daily, then weekly, then monthly ordeal.

As the number of planes shot down more than tripled from 1965 to 1966, people knew pilots were being held prisoner. But U.S. officials instructed families to stay quiet, advising them that publicity might prompt punishment in the camps or make the POWs pawns in peace negotiations. So the Brudnos waited in silence, writing to Alan and waiting for responses that never came.

Then on Feb, 10, 1966 -- Bob's 21st birthday -- Debby got a letter confirming that Alan was alive.

"It's your birthday present," Debby remembers telling Bob.

More than a year later, they learned that Alan's wit had survived, too. Bob, then in the Navy, got a call from the Pentagon. Prisoners had been recorded reading forced statements on Radio Hanoi. They had been given a Christmas dinner, and the North Vietnamese wanted to publicize that. Bob heard his brother's recorded voice:

"It was a BFD," Alan said in a singsong voice, a thick strain of sarcasm imparted. "That's 'Big Fine Dinner' in Brudno talk."

The acronym told Bob it was definitely Alan. He told his mother that a "BFD" was a Brudno staple: The B stood for big, the D stood for deal, and the F -- that was a modifier his mother would never condone.

"Oh, that is terrible," Ruth Brudno said, Bob recalls. "I told you boys never to use that word."
A Bright Spot


When their blindfolds were removed, prison mates Alan Brudno and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Tschudy found themselves handcuffed together on a hot July night in 1966 in downtown Hanoi, at the very front of a line of 52 POWs.

The North Vietnamese had threatened to try the captured pilots for the massacre of civilians. Now the prisoners were paraded in front of an angry public.

Guards with bayonets lined the prisoners' flanks as crowds pressed closer. Bottles, batteries and gobs of spit arched over the guards. Fists and feet connected. Finishing the two-mile gantlet, almost all the prisoners were bruised, many were bleeding and some had lost teeth.

Scattered reports appeared in the international media the next day. "The Hanoi March" prompted the first serious public discussions of POW treatment. From the United Nations to the Vatican, the treatment was denounced. The North Vietnamese rescinded threats of trials.

But the prisoners had no way of knowing. Brudno and Tschudy returned to Briarpatch, a camp about 35 miles west of Hanoi, to the brick huts and 10-by-7-foot pens with no electricity and a metal bucket for a latrine. Food was a scoop of rice and cabbage soup, twice a day, which dieticians later estimated provided 700 calories a day.

By August, prisoners recalled, their captors tied their wrists behind their backs, stretching their shoulders and pushing their heads forward for long spells, to coerce them to confess to crimes.



Against horrors so chilling, the spirit was willing

But the flesh was too weak to withstand.

Was it really a sin for a man to give in?

Could I better resist each demand?



Brudno told others he agreed to write his confession after handcuffs were ratcheted into both wrist bones. Like others, he struggled with depression. Two pilots, Phillip Butler and Robert Shumaker, later told military historians they tried to kill themselves in Briarpatch by beating their heads against walls.

Brudno built a reputation throughout the camps for outwitting his captors.

After a month alone in an underground pit for communications violations, Brudno continued the widespread practice of tapping on the walls in code: the letters of the alphabet corresponded to a certain number of taps. Air Force Maj. Wes Schierman remembers admiring Brudno's invention of a new way to communicate the code: He tied a sequence of knots in lengths of string torn from a blanket, then sneaked the strings to others.

Brudno also was adept at mocking his captors when forced to read news reports critical of the war over the radio. More than once, his ironic, singsong voice was broadcast through the camps. Prisoners chuckled when he incorporated a mild obscenity into Ho Chi Minh's name.

Marine Capt. Orson Swindle heard a Brudno broadcast from his cell in Hao Lo prison, the "Hanoi Hilton." Swindle remembers it as a bright spot in a dark day.

"I've got to meet this guy," he remembers saying to himself.
League of Families


By the late 1960s, wives of POWs began talking of their struggles, figuring that the policy of silence hadn't done much good. Debby Brudno kept a low profile, enrolling in a graduate program at Columbia University to help lend shape to what seemed like formless years ahead. She soured on the war for reasons more personal than political.

Bob Brudno completed his four years as a naval officer and threw himself into POW-MIA issues.

He grew impatient with protesters and politicians who called for the end of the war and used the POWs as a rationale. He saw it as hypocrisy: Why weren't they worried about human rights when the Hanoi March was in the papers?

He moved to Washington and was elected to the board of the new National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. The league organized letter-writing campaigns to urge Hanoi to comply with the Geneva Conventions.

As more families spoke out, they started receiving more letters from prisoners. The White House was pressured to show that POWs were a priority. On Nov. 18, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed off on a plan to invade a prison camp and rescue about 70 Americans.
Shaving Day


The raid began under a quarter moon that hung over Haiphong Bay and cast a thin light over the countryside. It was early on Nov. 21, 1970, and William Guenon was piloting a C-130 at shakingly slow speeds toward Son Tay, leading a formation of six helicopters flying as fast as they could at its wings. The helicopters carried 56 Green Berets and Rangers. The C-130 was to light up the prison camp with flares before the 56 raiders freed the Son Tay prisoners and loaded them onto helicopters.

Guenon remembers scanning the list of the prisoners. His eye tripped over one of them: Brudno, a friend from flight school.

At 2:17 a.m., Guenon flipped on an internal green droplight to signal loadmasters to release parachute flares. The sky was aglow. The helicopters swooped inside the prison walls, spraying guard towers with 7.62mm guns. The raiders rushed out of the helicopters and swept through the prison.

They found empty cells.

The prisoners had been moved to another camp five months before.

After hearing of the failed raid, some prisoners were overjoyed that they hadn't been forgotten. But Brudno's bouts of depression deepened. He had always been angry at his captors, but now he boiled. Although conditions in the camps -- including food rations -- had improved after 1969, Brudno would go days at a time without speaking. Tschudy watched helplessly as Brudno often refused to eat the food he received, his body carved into harder angles by near starvation.

When his head cleared, he taught math and physics to others. The camp sometimes looked like a university: 96 percent of the prisoners in North Vietnam had gone to college and had sampled a wide range of courses among them. Navy Cmdr. Paul Gallanti tutored Brudno in French. Brudno picked the brains of literature majors and fixated on composing his poem. He mentally designed a dream house down to the last floor joist.



As my dream house progressed, I became more obsessed

With designs for your future with me.

For without you to share all those dreams with me there,

How meaningless living would be.



His depression bottomed out in 1972 at a camp called Dogpatch on shaving day. Guards visited the 20-man room with four double-edged razors and a bucket. The men lined up to shave beards first, then lined up again to shave body hair to prevent fungal infections. Brudno stole one of the blades.

Later, he approached Lt. Col. Elmo Baker, the senior officer in the room. "Mo, I need to talk to you," Baker remembers him saying.

He told Baker he planned to slit his wrist and bleed out by the latrine. So for the next several weeks, Baker stayed close to Brudno, slept next to him, tried to lift his spirits. Brudno seemed to relax. He returned to a detailed blueprint of what things would be like when he got home, Baker said. And he wrote home.
'No More Goodbyes'


The letters that Debby Brudno got and passed on to Bob included instructions: "Write legibly and only on the lines. Write only about health and family. Letters from family should also conform to this proforma."

The Brudnos suspected censorship, and it was sometimes difficult for them get a good read on Alan's health, mental and physical. One letter hinted at cigarette burns: "My old problem of fags has finally disappeared from my skin. You recall how I used to get as many as 3 in a single day?"

Some writing was practically incomprehensible -- apparent attempts to smuggle out information. Once he wrote that "after looking for a long time, we found the Rambler out in a wheat field" -- he had spotted a missing Navy lieutenant, David Wheat, who at home drove a Rambler.

Many letters suggested mood swings.

"I sure hope you have had much happiness at home," Debby read in 1969. "Only a very true love like ours will bring you ever greater happiness in future. Please pray for me. . . . "

Then, in 1972: "Like unlucky players at a game of chance, we may someday have to make the difficult decision to call it quits. It's just not fair to you, that I should ruin your entire life. . . . I'm not worth it, believe me. . . . Perhaps you should consider the possibility of remarrying."

Alan had been transferred to the Hanoi Hilton by the time release seemed imminent, and he envisioned their reunion. He and Debby would travel to Hawaii to a plush resort, then to San Francisco by luxury liner to meet Bob.

"I dream every day, my darling, of that magic moment when at last we will meet: There, at ebb tide, I'll find you standing at the water's edge -- your back to me. As I approach with pounding heart, I'll whisper your name, & you'll turn. . . . And til time should ever cease, for us there'll be no more goodbyes."
Homecoming, 1973


New prisoners told stories the long-timers could hardly believe. The counterculture, women's liberation, R-rated movies in mainstream theaters -- hard to imagine. But they would soon see for themselves. The Paris peace accords, formally signed Jan. 27, 1973, called for U.S withdrawal in Vietnam and release of the POWs.

Brudno got his hands on some paper, and he made his own ink by mixing water with cigarette ashes or the dye from diarrhea pills. Writing in tiny print and wasting no space on two full pages, he sketched everything he wanted to do when he got home. The sheets were the breathless chronicle of an overwhelmed mind.

He would get his poem bound in limited edition. He would shave twice a day, wear colorful underwear, take classes in speed reading, public speaking, dance and guitar. He would read old magazines, book reviews, the Bible, the Talmud, "The Power of Positive Thinking" and masterpieces of world literature. He would collect coins and stamps, buy only calf-length or over-the-calf socks, go sailing on the Charles River and paint an oil portrait of Deb. He would take ski lessons, learn origami, try ice hockey. He would avoid buying things -- especially small items -- based on their packaging. He would wear his hat without a tilt, and he would touch the brim when meeting a woman in the street. He would avoid Orlon. He would polish his newly learned French. He would look into seeing a psychiatrist.

Brudno spent his last evening at the Hanoi Hilton getting a haircut, a turkey dinner and a Czechoslovakian windbreaker with the first zipper he had seen in years.

One of those on his Feb. 12 flight was Roger Shields, the Pentagon's man in charge of "Operation Homecoming." Shields had heard about Alan from Bob and sought him out. He found him courteous, somewhat quiet, seemingly happy. Shields later concluded that he was probably the last person whom detainees would want to confess problems to: Any sign of instability, and the military wasn't likely to let them fly.

The prisoners were amazed at their greeting: thousands of people, thousands of flowers, thousands of damp eyes. Wives kissed their faces; children hugged their knees.

Reporters asked the prisoners whether they knew a man had walked on the moon.

Brudno had missed the space race, and a lot more.
The Digital Watch


Bob picked out the family's welcome home gift: a Pulsar watch, the first digital sold commercially and the kind of gadget he knew his brother would love.

Alan Brudno was all smiles, surrounded by family and onlookers when he arrived at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

"Words like 'unbelievable,' 'exciting' and 'unreal' vividly describe the fantastic excitement of being reborn," he told the crowd.

His smile faded quickly. He was despondent, quietly retreating within himself. Some wives had moved on to other relationships, but Debby was waiting to help him. It soon was clear, though, that their relationship could not match the fantasy that had sustained him.

She wasn't the 21-year-old he had fixed in his mind, but an independent woman who had struggled alone and bore her own scars. It was just one of the shocks that he took the blame for. He saw how his parents had aged and felt responsible. The guilt stretched to his memories of the camps: Maybe he could have resisted more; maybe he had not been a strong enough officer. His family couldn't understand how he could believe he let them down. The depression was back, but this time dreams of an idyllic return couldn't buoy him.

With no help coming from the government, Debby discovered that taking care of his depression was a 24-hour job. She loved him but figured they would have a lifetime to work it out. She needed some time for herself.

Bob arranged for Alan to visit him in Alexandria. The itinerary was designed to give his brother a lift. They watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" at the Uptown Theater in Washington. Bob arranged for an airline at Dulles International Airport to let Alan see a 747 and tour the cockpit. But nothing cheered him for very long.

On June 2, two days before many POWs attended a ticker-tape parade and a rally at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Pentagon's top medical officer warned that initial evaluations suggested the returned prisoners were in "worse condition than everyone thought."

The same day, Bob Brudno got a package in the mail. It was the Pulsar watch. There was no note.

"I knew it wasn't good, and I set out to find him," Bob recounted, tears streaking his face. "I can't remember how I managed to find him, but I found him in a hotel in Boston, alone. And I was so scared. And he said, 'Don't worry, the watch was running fast, and I figured it would be best for you to take it back to where you got it. I was going to call you, but I guess it got there faster than I expected.'

"He fooled me. And [if I had realized], I know now what I would have done. I would have called somebody to get him. I would have called the police. I would have called the Air Force. I would have called somebody. But I didn't know what I know now. If he was suicidal, I didn't know -- I wasn't told. And people tell me, 'Well, had you done that, he still might have killed himself.' My response is, 'Thanks for the attempt, but it doesn't make me feel any better.' I had the chance to do something heroic. To save him after all the years. What could be more important to me after all those years?"

Alan was dead the next day. He left a two-line note, in the French he studied in prison. A detective translated it for the New York Times: "It said roughly, 'There is no reason for my existence . . . my life is valueless.' "
The Quest


Bob Brudno was mingling with other guests at a reception at the Cosmos Club in Washington in 1997 when he spotted the longest-held prisoner in North Vietnam, Everett Alvarez Jr.

During the years after his brother's suicide, Brudno had distanced himself from POW issues. He bore grudges: against war protesters who he said degraded the POWs by suggesting they had survived for an ignoble cause; against Debby, who, he thought, failed to understand how essential believing in the war's value was to Alan; and against himself. But on this evening, he approached Alvarez, who recognized the Brudno name.

"I don't understand," Brudno recalls Alvarez saying. "He was one of us. He was tough."

At that moment, Brudno realized that his brother had essentially disappeared, reduced to a foggy memory. He got the idea that his brother's name should be put on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The next year, in 1998, he made a request -- as Debby had separately -- but Jan Scruggs, the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, told him that he did not think Alan fit the requirements: Honorees must have died from injuries suffered in the war.

Late last year, Bob Brudno went to the Air Force, which ruled that Alan Brudno qualified. Scruggs protested. But Brudno had a cast of former POWs in his corner. Orson Swindle, a friend of Alan's in the prison camps, was a federal trade commissioner and made some calls. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fired a letter to Scruggs calling his argument "an affront to the family, friends and comrades-in-arms." McCain said he also placed a call to the Defense Department panel that would make the final decision, saying he had talked to numerous POWs who had known Brudno well and who were convinced that his suicide had resulted from combat wounds.

Robert Hain, a doctor who studied Brudno's medical and psychological records, agreed. The government in 1973 did not appreciate the scope of the problems, he said.

Hain, who has worked with hundreds of POWs, told the Defense Department he believed that Brudno's death was a direct result of the physical and psychological wounds suffered in the camps. Records showed no indications of psychological problems before the imprisonment; his post-release evaluations were full of very clear signs.

Several on the panel said they came to the conclusion that Brudno had exhausted his coping skills in the camps just to make it home. When he got back, they said, he had nothing left.

Scruggs, his mind changed, stood near Bob and Debby Brudno as the stonecutter placed a piece of paper over the newly inscribed name and made pencil rubbings for Debby and Bob.

Both have lived for years in the Washington area. Although they are the closest surviving links to Alan -- whose parents have since died -- the two of them had never really talked. Then, after Debby learned of Bob's push to put the name on the Wall, they reconnected. In one four-hour conversation, they compared memories for the first time and laid misconceptions to rest.

They walked away from the Wall with their rubbings in hand. Debby said she planned to frame hers and display it in her home. Bob said he would do the same, putting it next to the shadow box where he keeps Alan's medals.

Chatting under a grove of trees in Constitution Gardens, Bob used such words as "relief" and "years" and "pain" and "happy" and "honored." The 11 letters he held said more.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

click here for columns from January 2000 through May 2004

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