JANUARY, 2000 THROUGH MAY, 2004


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

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Article about Lee Thorn's Jhai Foundation

Article on cluster bombs in Laos


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Sam & Abby Cuddling

April 1 & May 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby Herein  Share  John's Rationale For Conducting Men's  Groups...

WHY MEN’S GROUPS?
John C. Friel, Ph.D.

     At a national conference on anger and rage held in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, you could hear a pin drop in a room of 500 therapists when I said, “Many women say that, above all, they want a man who is sensitive, gentle, and aware of his feelings. The problem is that most women don’t want to marry a guy like that.”
    After the pin completed its trip to the floor, I explained what I meant. If a “sensitive and gentle” man is unable to hold a job or to move along in his career, and if he is
so afraid of conflict and his partner’s anger, or his own, that he is unable to provide the healthy resistance required to keep the relationship from stagnating, he is going to engender a lot of disappointment, anger, and ultimately contempt from his partner not because he’s sensitive, but because emotionally he’s still a little boy. If a woman (or the other partner in a gay or lesbian relationship) is constantly angry, disappointed, and contemptuous of that partner whom she sees as passive and ineffectual, she is equally “little” emotionally. She is perpetrating on him as much as he is embracing his victimhood, and so around and around they go.    
    We have found that many men don’t know how to relate to other men, and therefore they find it next to impossible to relate well to a woman in an ongoing romantic relationship. The phrase in bold type is the key. These same men often find it almost too easy to relate to women in general. The complementary problem exists for many women, too.
    According to historical facts presented in Iowa State University educational materials on domestic assault and rape, the word “family” comes from the Latin word “familia,” which refers to a group of slaves that belongs to a man.  “In 2400 B.C., if a woman was verbally abusive to her husband, he engraved her name on a brick and knocked out her teeth with it.” In the 1960's and 1970's, 4300 years later, there was an increasing awareness of the inequality of power between men and women, and of the terrible toll taken by domestic violence in intimate relationships. “Victim” and Perpetrator” were often assumed to be interchangeable with “Woman” and “Man,” which eventually created as many problems for clinicians as it solved.
    About the same time, an entire “cottage industry” of sorts arose in the academic world around Sandra Bem’s (1976) pioneering research on “psychological androgyny,” in which men and women were seen as being healthier and more adaptive if they also embraced some of the traits of the opposite sex. Many people began to believe that boys and girls could and should grow up to be pretty much the same, psychologically. If we would just keep little boys from playing with toy guns when they were little, they would become more peaceful and gentle and less aggressive and competitive when they were older. An entire generation of parents tried to keep their little boys from playing with toy guns, only to discover that their little boys simply used their fingers instead.
For nearly 20 years, Linda and I have chosen to conduct separate men's and women's therapy groups for our long-term, ongoing groups because:
         1) One of the key symptoms of coming out of an unhealthy family is that we have trouble relating to our own gender.  Many men from troubled families say it is easier to be close to women, and women say it is easier to be close to men.  As a result, we lack a sense of safety with members of our own sex and we lack respect for ourselves as men and women.
         2) Before clients have clear boundaries around intimacy and sexuality, they tend to get the two confused, the latter actually a subset of the former. We have found it to be much more efficient to help repair this foundation of intimacy in same-sex groups than in mixed groups.
3) In natural settings, boys and girls segregate themselves for much of childhood; which appears to be both normal and healthy.  Something very crucial is learned during this time of bonding with one’s own gender, and if that process is not completed, it makes it difficult for men and women to complete their intimacy work later on.
    In her landmark review of sex differences in the April 1990
American Psychologist, Eleanor Maccoby noted that boys and girls averaging under three years of age clearly demonstrated more social behavior when with same sex peers than when with opposite sex peers (Jacklin & Maccoby, 1978). In the same study,  little girls were not more passive than little boys, but they were much more passive when paired with a little boy than when paired with another little girl. Maccoby & Jacklin (1987) found that at age 4 1/2, children spend up to 3 times more time with peers of the same sex.  By age 6 1/2 they spend up to 11 times more time playing with others of the same sex.  In a summarizing statement, Maccoby (1990, p. 514) wrote that “Gender segregation is a widespread phenomenon.  It is found in all the cultural settings in which children are in social groups large enough to permit choice." Research findings show that boys are much more “into” competition, dominance, and rough play than are girls.  In their attempts at influencing others, girls tend to be much more “into” influencing by polite suggestions rather than force or domination.  Boys are more likely to ignore girls' attempts to influence them, but girls do not ignore boys' attempts.  In fact, girls seem to find boys' influence styles to be noxious, and choose to play with other girls rather than be dominated by boys, which makes perfect sense.
    Boys also prefer to play with other boys rather than with girls, they prefer to play outside more (Kraft & Vraa, 1975), and they tend to form friendships around mutual interests (Erwin, 1985) rather than sharing personal confidences. When girls' relationships break up, they feel more pain and stress than boys feel when their friendships break up. Maltz and Borker (1983), found that boys are more aggressive and commanding when they “hang out” together. They threaten, brag, command, direct, joke, try to outdo each other, and interrupt more than girls do in all-girl groups.  As Maccoby (1990, p. 516) put it so well, for boys, “speech…is used to establish and protect an individual's turf.  Among girls, conversation is a more socially binding process.”
    As they enter adulthood, men and women look at each other, scratch their heads, and say, "I don't understand you.” Whether they are gay, straight, or bisexual, people need to first come to terms with, bond with, identify with, and make friends with people of their own sex.  Men need to be comfortable with and proud of their maleness. Women need to be comfortable with and proud of their femaleness.
Only then can they learn how to interact well with a romantic partner.
A lot of the guys with whom I work are either 1) over-masculinized and unable to communicate with or understand women much at all, or, 2) they say they don’t like guys because “guys are just beer-guzzling, NASCAR-racing, football playing bullies.” Many of the women with whom my wife works say that they would 1) rather interact with guys because “guys are out in the world doing real-life things, not just talking about superficial, shallow things like clothes and hair;” or, 2) they only associate with other women, and see men as goons for whom they have little understanding and a lot of contempt.
    I have had heterosexual men, gay men, young men, old men, gay priests, straight men, and bisexual men all in the same group at various times, and they all say the same thing—“When I was a kid, I never got enough of whatever it is that is happening in this group that is now allowing me to feel okay about myself as a man.” Many of the gay guys say that they didn’t need their fathers to like interior decorating, they just needed their fathers to like
them. If that isn’t a social leveler and grounds for a common bond between straight guys and gay guys, I don’t know what is. The straight guys just wanted their fathers to like them, too.
    Some of the men with whom I work tend more toward the perpetrator side—they deal with their anxiety by putting up walls and by scaring people with their anger. Instead of beating them up, I might say to them, “I can see how concerned you are about your family,” which often results in the first tears they’ve shed in front of others since childhood. Some of the men are way too “nice,” more towards the victim side of the continuum, and they deal with their anxiety by yielding and by avoiding conflict. I sometimes tell them: “Show me a man who is passive-aggressive, and I’ll show you his partner being controlling and rageful.” It tends to put things in perspective for them, and gets them to stop blaming and start looking at their own part in what isn’t working in the relationship.
    My goal in couples therapy is not to keep reducing the couple’s anxiety by imposing exercises on the couple that ultimately just make
me feel less anxious. Rather, one of my primary goals is to help each of the partners, individually, but within the context of their relationship, keep “bringing their better part forward,” thereby acting with more and more integrity and strength.
    It’s a scary proposition. The only way to do it is to grow up—there
is no other way.

March 1, 2004 In Which Sam & Abby simply ask you to follow Minnesota's Republican Governor as he continues to stand up for the citizens of the State, despite the threatening letter he received from the Food And Drug Administration telling him to shut down his web site. http://www.startribune.com/stories/587/4634728.html
http://www.startribune.com/stories/362/4627975.html
http://www.startribune.com/stories/362/4625620.html
http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/4618945.html


February 1, 2004  In Which Sam & Abby Wonder What Is Happening To Our Senior Citizens These Days, To Health Care, And To Things In General. You can send them an e-mail at sam&abby@clearlife.com

"90% of all Minnesotans feel that health care should be available to all Minnesotans, regardless of income or employment status." Former Republican Senator Dave Durenberger headed a blue-ribbon commission--the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs--the results of which are on their web site.

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, I have been looking through this information on the Minnesota Senior Federation that has been laying here on the desk for a couple of days. It's very interesting.

Abby The Labrador: I noticed that the other day, Sam. What's it all about?

Sam:  Well...I think it's related to why so many people tore up their memberships to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) after that organization lobbied for the new Medicare and Prescription Drug legislation that was pushed through Congress recently. Supposedly, AARP has turned into a great big lobbying machine for insurance carriers.

Abby: Is that why we are constantly getting ads from them promoting one kind of insurance or another?

Sam: Partially. They started out trying to get better deals on things for seniors, but this last effort sure appears to be a real sham. This bill will put billions of dollars into the pockets of drug companies, and will eventually make it illegal for Americans to get their medications much more cheaply from Canadian pharmacies. The bill allows such sales, but only if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems the Canadian supplier to be safe. And it appears that they simply aren't going to do that. So in effect, there will be no ability for seniors to legally buy medications from Canada.

Abby: Clever. They can say they're allowing it, but then not allow it, thereby making the drug companies very happy.
How safe are these Canadian medications?

Sam:  How safe are U.S. medications? There are disreputable sources here in the U.S., and likewise in Canada. In other words, no less safe than here. The whole argument is preposterous. The new Republican Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, strongly supports a state-sponsored program to import drugs from Canada for Minnesotans. In fact, the Minnesota State Web Portal for the program was launched just two days ago, after Governor Pawlenty announced the startup of the program.

Abby: It is my understanding that other states and/or cities around the U.S. are doing much the same things. It looks like there will be a major collision between them and the Bush administration in a few months.

Sam: Yes. The political climate in this country is very, very interesting, if you ask me, Ab. At one level, it's a split between people who see themselves as very strongly practicing their Christian religion vs. those who may be Christian, or may not be, but who are not nearly as fervent about it. That's how The Red States and The Blue States (from the 2000 election) actually divide up, according to recent research.

Abby: Hmmmmmmmm. 
But if you call yourself a fervent Christian, why would you want a government that leaves 40 million people without basic health insurance? Isn't that kind of the core of Christianity? To care for your fellow human beings? Isn't that sort of the bottom line? Care for the least of these?

Sam: I don't understand, either, Ab. Why would you want to give all the breaks to the people who clearly do not need them, and deprive aid to the people who need it the most. The current strategy of nearly bankrupting the government with huge deficits has been called "Starve The Beast" by some inside the government who hate things like Social Security and Medicare. "Starve The Beast" means make the budget deficits so bad that the only action left to do is to cut back programs that show care for humanity.

Abby: Good God, Sam. That sounds downright cruel. Is there a happy medium somewhere? Is there a way out for so many people who are so polarized? This country is more divided and more angry than ever before, save for during the Civil War.

Sam: There always is. It just requires a populace that decides to do it differently, and then it drifts away, on an afternoon breeze, as if it had never been there at all.

Abby: But sometimes it takes decades and decades before this happens.

Sam: True enough, Abby. True enough. I guess it just depends on when a few more than half the people have had enough, and decide to act with their hearts and souls instead of their fear and hatred.


January 1, 2004 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

Article about Lee Thorn's Jhai Foundation

Article on cluster bombs in Laos

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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

Press Contacts:
Jesse Thorn
Ph. +1 415 225 1665,
splangy@splangy.com
Earl Mardle
Technology Empowerment Network
earl@techempower.net

Dear friends,

I just wanted to wish you happy New Year and express our thanks for all your support this past year! I also want to ask you to support us again, if you wish, as part of your end-of-the-year giving. And to pass this message on, if you wish. What we've done this year was done on budget of about $150,000, plus coffee loans directly to the farmers. It is hard to imagine how we could have been more cost-effective! We are actually too lean and need continuing support. Here's a complete update:

Jhai PC and Communications System
We are succeeding in quite new ways, now. With your help what we are doing is technically and socially responsible ... and revolutionary. We are creating the beginning of a communications appliance for use in a market - the rural poor - that have no access to ways to communicate that just about any of us in this conversation take for granted. And it is designed specifically to create income and education for its owners - poor villagers themselves.

This year we have tried twice, as you know, to install our equipment in Phon Kham village. The first time we lost all our data on our development computer's two hard drives due to human error. The second time we got stopped by the Lao military. Since then we have demonstrated full functionality of the system both in San Francisco and in Geneva. Before that we proved the system's wi-fi network on site.

My good news is that in Geneva we met with Minister Dr. Professor Bountiem who works directly with the Prime Minister of Laos in a very high, official capacity and also is the lead person on technology for the entire country. He invited Vorasone and me to work with him to solve our challenge with the Lao authority who is questioning our technology. I return to Laos in a few days. Minister Bountiem assured us that he thinks we will overcome this challenge. He is on the left of the attached photo taken in Geneva. Vorasone, my friend and colleague, is on the extreme right.

In the meantime, we have established the first draft of a long-term vision for this project. In 10 years we expect to be part of the people who drive open source infrastructure development in both energy and information technology. We will be very active in areas where people are very poor to help provide them with communications and information tools that will help them gain significant income as they wish. We will do this through collaborative efforts with villagers who will own the technology. We will do this in an innovative, absolutely open, sustainable, humble and honorable way. We will work with partners of villagers where the values of the reconciliation process - respect, equality, careful listening, and long term commitment - are most evident. We will have developed processes that allow us to share our knowledge freely, quickly and continuously, while maintaining the integrity and reputation of the Jhai name and methods. And we will highly value humor as an important quality in our relationships. Finally, we will always look at the quality of our relationships from the viewpoint of our own responsibility in them and with a humble sense of our own failings.

We are also developing ways to communicate freely our research and development results. We are documenting carefully our hardware and software. We are designing and implementing ways to monitor them well both in Laos and with techies worldwide.

In Geneva three ministers of state rode the bike/generator and we were visited by at least seven ministers. The three riders were from Sweden, Laos (who will help us 'unblock the block'and has the power to do so), and the Philippines. The other ministers visiting were from Germany, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The Germans and Filipinos were talking large money in a general way. The others were talking about the potential for deals. German investment bankers visited several times with a representative of a project in Cambodia and they will be visiting Laos when we install.

We were also visited by high officials from UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank (InfoDev, ICT section, IFC), and ADB. I had a long talk with a representative from Microsoft and from other corporations from Hewlett Packard. I spoke briefly with John Guage from Sun and expect to meet with him here. We were visited by Gremeen Bank, the biggest Foundation in India, Asia Foundation, and several other funders of this type. All expressed great interest and the possibility of support.

We have had inquiries from Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Finland, France, Guiana, Gabon, Germany,Ghana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jerusalem, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru,Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, UK, Uraguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and Indian tribes in the U.S. and the American State Department. (This is a cumulative list; not just from Geneva.) This adds up to 87 countries. My earlier estimate was 1/2 of the real number. The most persistent have been Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Uganda, and UK. If I missed listing your country, please let me know.

Jhai Coffee
The Jhai Coffee Farmers Association presold last year's 10 tons of Lao Arabica Typica coffee to our partner InterAmerican Commodities and through them to our partner Thanksgiving Coffee. The farmers' leadership were trained in pruning, organic fertilization, and weeding for increased yields. This leadership then trained the members. The leadership was also trained in the rudiments of organic and Fair Trade certification. This season we have a similar deal with our US partners. Jhai Foundation is grateful to report that we have received several thousand dollars worth of donations from Thanksgiving Coffee this year in addition to the generous price they gave the farmers (via InterAmerican) for their coffee. Please buy our coffee at www.jhai.org Next year we intend to make it more widely available at the retail level to both restaurants and other outlets. We are ahead of our business plan. The farmers are committed to becoming Fair Trade this year and to taking formal steps towards organic certification.

Internet Learning Centers In High Schools
We are working with four groups: World Links, World Bank, UNESCO, and the government of Malaysia (initial contacts in Geneva) to greatly increase the number of *sustainable* internet learning centers in high schools in Laos. Our model of development in this regard is being copied widely in developing countries. A big piece of this money is in the pipeline (initial MOUs have been signed), but none has arrived to date. We expect the beginning of this flow this coming Spring and are looking for more partners on this effort. We are very grateful for the openness and generosity of our new partners.

Reconciliation
We are very grateful that our way of doing our reconciliation work is receiving so much attention and praise. We're also a bit embarassed. We know what we do is not new. It is the fruit of long time work by people bringing their whole selves to relationships with others in difficult circumstances. It is informed by what I think of as the best of religious traditions of all kinds and of socialism and democratic institutions in their best forms.

At the same time, we believe the conscious use of the reconciliation process
- overcoming denial about our side of things,
- willingness to listen carefully to each others' stories,
- willingness to mourn together or separately, as appropriate,
- and willingness to stay in the room and work through our problems
together, however fitfully, however clumsily, with whatever tools it takes - including taking time out, if necessary, and with humility ...

... really works when you are from a 'developed' country and you work with poor people in villages in a 'less developed' place and we take pride in what we have done. We know it is working for us. Our projects produce revenue and are sustainable. Our projects are truly owned by the people who need them most by their own assessment of their needs. And our projects all have wide impact.

I actually think pretty much everyone has experience with these methods - if they've been in any long term relationship at all with a degree of success - marriage, parenthood, business, community - any kind. All we are saying is that you can apply this in so-called 'development' work, too. And it works.

Bounthanh and I have been asked to speak on reconciliation and shame by the Desmond Tutu Peace Center as part of a program at Robbins Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) off the coast of South Africa. I will be speaking in February at the Lockheed Martin facility in Dallas on 'making complicated things simple'. Vorasone Dengkayaphichith and Steve Okay will be speaking in Trieste in February on using WiFi as part of a system that economically empowers poor rural communities.

I believe fervently that reconciliation is the opposite of war and that we are blessed who take part in a reconciliation effort - whether with a partner or a country or someone you just meet.

It is like coming home.

And this old vet is home, now, like you ... and I wish you a happy, happy New Year!

And if you wish to support us now, with a gift of cash, a purchase of coffee, please go to www.jhai.org and follow the directions for donations or buying coffee. If you wish to send a check dated this year, please send it to the below address. And if you wish to give us a car or other major asset, please contact me below.

Thanks again.

Yours, in Peace,
Lee Thorn, chair
Jhai Foundation

921 France Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112 USA
lee@jhai.org
www.jhai.org
in US 1 415 334 2100

Jhai Foundation is supported in part by Project IDEAS, a joint initiative of the Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), a Swiss Charitable foundation, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), IDRC (Canada), SIDA (Sweden), World Council of Churches, Marra Foundation, Haughton Family Fund, McKnight Foundation, IPDeliver, QuickNet, CompuMentor, and Tri-M. Most of our funding, however, comes from individual donors and volunteers like you. Thank you ... and keep it up. We need your support everyday.

December 1, 2003  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.


November 1, 2003  In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Their Evening With Simon & Garfunkel, And A Little Bit About How We're All So Much Alike

(Two weeks ago...)

Abby The Labrador: I have to find my Canine Computer Keyboard Gloves® that we patented a couple of years ago, Sam. Have you seen them anywhere?

Sam The Cockapoo: No. Why do you need them?

Abby: Oh...uh...here they are. They were under the desk, behind the waste basket. Uh...what? Oh, yes...I need them to order two tickets for the Simon & Garfunkel Concert at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. When you mentioned it last month, I thought we should go, to honor our long friendship. I am 84 years old, after all, and you are 70. We are, by all definitions, old friends.

Sam: Do you think we can still get tickets?

Abby: I don't know. We can use Mom & Dad's membership to Minnesota Public Radio--that might help. Here we are. Ticketmaster. October 26, 2003. 8:00 p.m. The $260 tickets are gone. (Abby clicks and moves the mouse and clicks some more) Sam! Bingo! Two tickets, Main Floor, Row 30, Center Left!

Sam: I don't believe your luck. The luck of the Labradors. Wait a minute, Abby. Today is October 26th!

Abby: What time is it?

Sam: 6:15 p.m. Follow me, Abby! We're leaving right now!

(Sam high tails it into the garage, hits the button on the garage door opener, turns on the engine of the old Camry, waits for Abby to jump in, and pulls out of the garage. As they race down Interstate 35E toward downtown St. Paul, Abby looks at Sam and says...)

Abby: You're a great driver, Sam. Go for it!

Sam: We're here! I'm going to pull into the River Centre Garage. That electronic sign back there said there were 10 parking spaces left. This should work. (Sam whirls the car downward in a spiral, to the 7th floor, and parks as smoothly as a Canada goose alighting on a Minnesota pond on a calm summer morning. The two of them go unnoticed as they saunter through the skyway with hundreds of other fans, find their seats, and "sit-stay" 30 seconds before the lights go down and the thunderous applause begins. 16,000 people jump to their feet and start to cheer. Abby gets up on her hind legs and plants her paws on the back of the man sitting in front of her. The man looks around, sees a distinguished Yellow Labrador, smiles, pats her on the head, and cheers some more. The woman next to Sam reaches down, picks him up, and raises him to where he can see, too)

Abby: They seem to be getting along pretty well, Sam. The writer in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today wondered if they were getting together just for money, or not, but this looks like the real thing.

Sam: It does indeed. Did you know that they met when they were in 5th grade, I think. Two kids from Queens. And they got their first record on the Top 50 List when they were 15, under the name of Tom and Jerry. In 1964 they released their first album, Wednesday Morning 3 a.m., which contained one of their most famous songs ever--The Sound Of Silence. They began writing that song in November, 1963--the month when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In 1965, The Byrds came out with a rock version of Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man. Tom Wilson, who also produced Bob Dylan's early albums, took The Sound Of Silence and dubbed in an electric guitar and rhythm section, and lo and behold, the single rocketed to number 1 on the charts!

Abby: It never ceases to amaze me how so much of this depends on hard work, and then on something else--some kind of genius--being at the right place at the right time, but also knowing what the right place and time are--and then a generous sprinkling of luck.

Sam: Listen to these guys, Abby! They are IN-credible! Wait! What's this! The Everly Brothers! The two Everly Brothers!

Abby: Simon & Garfunkel loved their music, and patterned their first single in 1957 after them.

Sam: Abby, look! The crowd is cheering and cheering and cheering! The four of them are up there singing Bye, Bye Love. It's bringing the house down!

Abby: Sam, listen. Listen to that guitar that Paul Simon is playing so softly up there. I think they're leading into our song.

Sam: (with a tear in his eye) They are...

Old friends,
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends.
A newspaper blown though the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends.

Abby: You know, Sam, it is such a joy to be here with you tonight. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs. Robinson, and the clips from The Graduate up on the screen--Dustin Hoffman looks so young up there--Scarborough Fair/Canticle, and The Boxer...

Now the years are rolling by me, they are rockin’ even me
I am older than I once was, and younger than I’ll be, that’s not unusual
No it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same

La la la...

And I’m laying out my winter clothes, wishing I was gone, goin’ home
Where the new york city winters aren’t bleedin’ me, leadin’ me to go home

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
’til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

Sam: This was such an excellent idea, Abby. You are something else. You know, as I read through this program, I am struck by a couple of quotes here. Paul Simon said...

"You can still hear a sound from a certain era and get chilled from it.
It can make you cry. Sound is, I think, the most powerful of the senses."

And Art Garfunkel said...

"I loved Simon and Garfunkel. I loved that time of my life, the music, all the meticulous care that it took, going through so many takes of songs and the fussing with the dials and polishing the songs."

Abby: You can freeze any given moment in time and then look at it from millions of different angles, which is exactly what we canines and humans do. After all is said and done, that is what makes being alive, and part of a world community, so wonderful. Look around us, Sam. 16,000 humans and two very intelligent dogs. Each one of us is responding to this fantastic experience differently. Look over there! A couple of teenagers with their grandparents. They are clapping and swaying and singing along with the music, but can you imagine how different it must be inside of their brains?

The teenagers live in a world of increasing polarization, religious extremism in every corner of the globe, video games, high speed internet connections, schools that often stress empty, inflated self-esteem instead of competence, parents suing schools because their kids have to write a difficult term paper. And those grandparents, who grew up literally with fire in the streets, race riots, the Free Speech Movement, Patty Hurst and the SLA, 50,000 Americans dying in Vietnam, 100's of thousands of Vietnamese dying, and at the same time, those grandparents were from one of the most indulged, self absorbed generations of that century.

Sam: As you say that, I realize that while they came from very different eras, those eras aren't all that different after all. People are people. Dogs are dogs. We will always have the same challenges as we traverse the very brief path from birth to death...

To live life with dignity,
to celebrate and accept responsibility
for your presence in the world
is all that can be asked of anyone.
--August Wilson
Two Trains Running

Abby: I'm glad Simon & Garfunkel decided to do a brief reunion tour. It made today just a little more poignant, and a little brighter.


October 1, 2003 In Which Sam & Abby Talk About Fall, Old Photographs, Einstein's Dreams, And Some Of Life's Little Peculiarities

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, I think Fall is finally in the air.

Abby The Labrador: Yes, Sam. There is that hightened anticipation of change--it is indeed in the air.

Sam: Garrison Keillor had a live performance of A Prairie Home Companion this past Saturday, from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul--he always returns to St. Paul in the Fall, after his summer jaunts.

Abby: Yes. And the leaves are beginning to turn. We could take some awesome photographs when we step outside this afternoon, if we chose to.

Sam: Speaking of photographs, did you notice that big pile of them over there in that corner of the office?

Abby: Yes. I think Dad and Mom are sorting through them prior to putting them into albums.

Sam: I see.  I'm going to trot over there and....Ab! Look! It's a picture of you, racing along Pleasant Lake, in North Oaks.

Abby: I remember that! And look here! It's you, racing right along with me, your ears flying straight back in the wind, the fur on your face smoothed flat by the sheer force of the air. That's when we had the house with the swimming pool! I was afraid to go down the wooden stairs from the deck to the pool area, so you patiently went up and down those stairs, showing me and encouraging me, until one day I was able to overcome my fear of open stairs, and down I went, by myself.

Sam: Life is funny, isn't it? You jumped over Dead Dog's Gorge when we first met up in the Canadian North Woods, but you had trouble with those stairs.

Abby: You're right. Life is peculiar at times. I leaped across that chasm without  even a shiver of anxiety, over and over again, as I brought your herd of wild cockapoos across--but those stairs gave me the chills.

Sam:  Yes. Sometimes the sense that life makes escapes us the first time around. But...wait a minute...hey!Here is that photograph of you and me, staring out onto the snowy deck of the townhouse, in sillhouette, looking like...

Abby: ...Old friends, sitting on the park bench like bookends...

Sam: Yes, Ab. We have been such dear, dear friends for these many years.

Abby: Mom and Dad say that we should try to live each moment as if it were our last, because we never know when it will be the last. It's definitely a Zen notion. In fact, it reminds me of one of the little chapters in a wonderful little book entitled Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman, the guy at MIT who also wrote The Diagnosis. In the former book, which is gift-sized, he writes several short little vignettes that represent what Einstein might have been dreaming as he was first grappling with his theories of time and space, while he was a patent clerk in Switzerland. But even more than that, each story is actually a poignant commentary on human nature--on humans' foibles, shortcomings, depth, and grace. The story I recall is about what happens when the world ends on September 1906, I think. What makes it interesting is that everyone knows it is going to happen, and so they prepare for it--primarily by doing more of what they always wanted to do in life, and by treating each other better.

Sam: That does sound like a wonderful litle book, Abby. And I agree. And even though you and I snap and snarl at each other every once in awhile--just like Mom and Dad do--we do try to live each moment with kindness and care, for each other, and for other creatures, like they do.

Abby: You're right, Samuel J. Friel. Nobody's perfect. Sometimes you annoy me, but most of the time, we are dear old friends.

Sam: Speaking of old friends looking like bookends...Simon & Garfunkel have joined up again to do a tour, and they will be in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center, October 26th.

Abby: Wouldn't you just love to go?

Sam: Indeed. They had an indelible impact on the American music scene while they were together. It's impossible to think of the 1960's and '70's and not hear their music playing in the background.

Abby: You know, looking through these photographs makes me feel a little nostalgic. Think of all we have been through, all the places we've been, the things that we've seen...

Sam: You're sounding a little like Dr. Seuss, Abby.

Abby: I remember the Christmas Eve when Dad suddenly threw on his down jacket and went out into the 15 below zero winter night to find a copy of Green Eggs And Ham. When he returned, victorious and enthused, he sat down on the couch with you in his lap and read it to you from cover to cover...."Sam I am."

Sam: I remember that. He calls me a goofball every once in awhile, but he can be a goofball, too.

Abby: Did you like it when he read to you, Sam?

Sam: Uh...er...well...of course I did! There's nothing like it. Do you like it when he gets on the floor and wrestles with you, Ab?

Abby: Of course I do.

Sam: It is fascinating to see what we notice, after all is said and done.

Abby: The little things. The moments. The looks or glances. The acknowledgment. The tail wagging. The cocked ear.

September 4, 2003 In Which Sam & Abby Go On Vacation. They Will be Back Here On October 1st.

August 1, 2003 In Which Sam & Abby Share A Really Paradoxical Article That They Read On The Last Tuesday In July...

Governor calls tax hike a Christian duty
By Phillip Rawls

July 29, 2003  |  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's new governor is trying to persuade voters to approve the biggest tax increase in state history by telling them it is their Christian duty. And for a state in the Bible Belt, that might seem like a winning strategy.

Instead, Republican Gov. Bob Riley's $1.2 billion tax package is alienating even the Christian Coalition and other supporters, who see Riley as a Judas. Riley had consistently opposed new taxes while in Congress.

Riley says the tax increase is needed to erase Alabama's biggest deficit since the Depression and improve education. The plan also seeks to help the poor by raising the income level at which people have to begin paying state taxes.

Alabama's threshold for paying state taxes is the lowest in the nation at just $4,600 for a family of four and has been remain unchanged since 1982.

Riley, a Southern Baptist, says Alabama has taxed its poorest too harshly for too long.

"According to our Christian ethics, we're supposed to love God, love each other and help take care of the poor," he said. "It is immoral to charge somebody making $5,000 an income tax."

Two of the governor's cabinet members who resigned after Riley made the proposal. One of them, Labor Commissioner Charles Bishop, now leads opposition to the tax plan, saying Alabama voters thought they were getting one kind of governor last year, but instead have another.

"Working people, once they catch you lying, are never going to support you again," he said.

Voters will decide in a referendum Sept. 9. In a statewide poll of 500 registered voters last week, 49 percent said they would vote against Riley's plan, 39 percent for it and 12 percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The poll by The Birmingham News and three TV stations also found that voters in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 oppose the plan by about 2-to-1 -- even though it is designed to cut their taxes.

"People who are getting a tax cut don't believe it," Riley said.

The package would boost the income tax threshold for a family of four to $17,000 next year. It also would offer property tax breaks to small family farms of less than 200 acres -- a category that covers most of Alabama's farms -- while mandating big increases for the 500 or so farms and timber tracts with more than 2,000 acres each.

The plan is opposed by agriculture and timber groups that supported Riley's campaign, the state Republican party chairman and party steering committee, and the conservative Christian Coalition.

"To give tax relief to the less fortunate is something we can all agree upon, but all families deserve tax relief," said the coalition's state president, John Giles.

Alabama's biggest banker, SouthTrust Bank chief executive Wallace Malone, says Riley's package is too much for Alabama as its economy struggles to recover.

"The truth is that the governor's net tax package very probably will result in the loss of 30,000 jobs or more as business and people scramble to pay these taxes," he said.

The state is facing a $675 million deficit, and without new revenue, Riley says, it will have to release prisoners, cut medicine for the mentally ill and end Medicaid payments for many nursing home residents.

The plan adds money for new programs, including extending the school year to the national average, expanding reading programs and providing college scholarships for "B" students. It also includes accountability measures, such as streamlining the process for firing incompetent teachers.

But while Riley has lost some of his supporters, he has gained allies from the people who once opposed him, including the Alabama Education Association, a powerful teachers group that fought him last year. He also has the support of the Democratic party chairman.

"It's a critical moment in our state's history when we need to take this moment to move ahead," said Redding Pitt.

July 5, 2003 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 8, 2003 (From January 1, 2000)...How It All Began -- In Which Sam And Abby Reflect On
How They First Met, While On A Hunting Journey In Labrador, And How Letting Go Opens New Doors

Abby The Labrador:  So here we are, Sam.  1999 was one of the warmest years in recorded history.  Just a few months ago, weather folks were predicting that this would be a cold, snowy winter, but so far it's been incredibly dry and delightfully warm.  After all, it has not been uncommon for it to be 15 degrees below zero on New Year's Eve, but it's nowhere near that.

Sam The Cockapoo:   It has been a very pleasant winter so far.  And the holidays were wonderful.  All kinds of small but wondrous things happened in our family over the past two months.  We have so much to be grateful for.

Abby:  Sam, it's the beginning of a new millennium, I know, but that pales in comparison to everything that we have experienced in our long lives.  We could have died yesterday, and our lives would have been worth more than either of us ever imagined when we were little.

Sam:  Yes.  Life is so simple, so elegant, and so unpredictable.  Who could have known, years ago, what magical twists and turns our lives would take?

Abby: No one could have known, and that's why life is so mysterious and wonderful.  Life is a risk over which we all have some control, and therein lies the key.  If we could control it all, each and every one of us would be a pitiful little tyrant.  If we had no control at all, each would be a hopeless victim.

Sam: Okay.  So, Abby, here's my question of the day.  Do you have any New Millennium Resolutions?

Abby:  No.  Life goes on.  I have things I've been working on for years.  I will continue to do so.

Sam:  Good.  Guess what?

Abby: What?

Sam:  Dad and Mom are working on a new book, and they asked me if I'd ask you if they could use our story...

Abby: ...For what?

Sam:  To illustrate how life works.

Abby:  Oh, dear.  I am deeply honored.

Sam:  As am I.

Abby:  Yes, I give my consent.

Sam:  As do I.  Herein hangs the tale...

The Cockapoo And The Labrador

By perseverance the snail reached the Ark

C.H. Spurgeon, Salt Cellars, 1889

    Once upon a time there was a 20-pound Cockapoo named Sam, and a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Abby.   Sam and Abby met when they were two years old-14 in dog years.  They met in the Canadian North Woods under the most extreme conditions.  Sam was running with a herd of wild Cockapoos that was heading towards the region called Labrador, in search of better hunting grounds.  It was the end of Autumn, the nights were very cold, and there was a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. As the alpha male of the herd, all of the other Cockapoos
looked up to and admired Sam.

    Abby The Labrador had been scouting out new hunting territory herself when she heard the thundering paws of the mighty Cockapoo herd as it broke through a clearing in the woods and headed toward Dead Dog's Gorge.  The herd suddenly stopped at Sam's command, and he paced back and forth with an intensity that Abby had never seen before.  He was contemplating jumping across the gorge.  The other Cockapoos looked worried.  Sam felt they had no choice because the weather was getting so poor, and to go around the gorge would add two days to their journey.  But he knew it wasn't called Dead Dog's Gorge for nothing-only larger breeds were consistently able to leap across it.  For Sam and the other Cockapoos, jumping it
would be an unparalleled achievement.

    Abby thought to herself, "Don't do it. It would be a crying shame to see such a fine looking animal take a dive into that gorge."  But just as she was saying that, Sam backed up, trotted about 20 yards away from the edge, turned, faced it, and then burst into a full lightning-fast sprint, becoming airborne in a flash, sailing dramatically in an arc, and landing front-paws-first on the other side with a solid whumpfgh!!  The other cockapoos burst into thunderous cheers that echoed eerily as if the forest itself was an Olympic stadium.  Then Abby looked toward Sam again and noticed that he was favoring both front legs.  "Oh, no," she said.  "He's hurt."

    The other cockapoos looked shocked and afraid.  Sam stood tall, faced his herd across the gorge, and said in his most commanding bark, "You will have to go on without me.  The survival of the herd is of the utmost importance.  It has always been this way, and always will be."  The others began to weep, some shouted protests.  Sam was unwavering.  Then Abby emerged from the forest and stepped softly but confidently into their midst, saying, "I jump this gorge every Autumn, sometimes with fresh kill in my mouth.  First, I will take each of you across the gorge.  Then I will nurse Sam back to health.  A nobler male I have yet to see in my two years."  The silence was stunning as every head whipped around and faced Sam, who with the most regal countenance, thought for a moment, then said humbly, "Make it so."

    As Sam stood by, watching Abby carry each member of his herd across the gorge, tears welled up in his eyes.  He held his head high as, one by one, Abby sailed gracefully through the air, her muscles glistening in the low, late afternoon sun, landing confidently on the other side with a grunt and a "thud." His head was in a whirl of ambivalence.  It was crucial that he allow himself the luxury of his tears, his regret, as well as his relief and hopes for the safety of his herd.  In the same instant, he found himself entranced by the vision of this powerful, graceful female of a different breed.  Her physical beauty was surpassed only by her unbelievable
athletic prowess and generous heart.  "A more compassionate female I have yet to see in my two years," Sam said to himself. 

    Sam and the others said their "goodbyes."  On the journey to Labrador, a new alpha male would emerge from the herd.  Sam knew that would take care of itself. And then the haunting words of his father suddenly entered his consciousness.  His father had told him that the only way to enter into the full depth of adulthood was to experience a nearly heartbreaking disappointment, deal with it graciously, and move on.  He had said that every Cockapoo was capable of entering this level of existence, but that it was a choice to do so.  He had said that every creature on earth is presented with at least one major disappointment in life, and that the choice was therefore not in whether one can avoid disappointment or not, but in how one
chooses to handle it when it arrives. Sam knew what his father had meant, and he was deeply grateful for his father's counsel. "Abby," Sam began, with a calmness he didn't know existed inside of him, "I am quite accustomed to being a leader, solving problems quickly, knowing how to assure others, knowing just what to do.  I must admit, I am stunned."

    "Sam, I saw something distinguished in you the second I spotted you.  My heart actually fluttered for a moment," Abby started. She would have blushed, were Labrador Retrievers wont to blush.  "And from what I have witnessed of you and your herd, the choices you made are consistent with what I thought I was first seeing."

    "They weren't easy choices, Abby."

    "I was in agony, myself, as I watched the drama unfold.  I see no other way it could have worked out, either.  All of you were likely to be doomed had you not been able to get across that gorge."

    "Yes.  Despite the current length of our winter manes, Cockapoo fur does not have the insulating properties of Labrador fur. Had you not come along, we all very well could have perished."

    "My coming along at just the 'right' time is one of those unexplainable and uncontrollable mysteries of creation.  Coincidence.  Fate.  Luck.  Grand Design.  It's hard to say for certain. Nonetheless, each of us must choose how to respond to these twists of fate.  You could have stubbornly rejected my offer of help, getting caught in your own ego, and ultimately proving that you were not the leader that your herd thought you were."

    "I considered all of the possibilities."

    "As only one of your depth and wisdom would.  Of course, you could have chosen to go with the herd after I carried all of them across the gorge."

    "I thought of that, yes. But their loyalty to me would have slowed them down, again endangering all of them."

    "Yes, Sam."

    "Thank you for your kind compliments, Miss Abby.  They soothe the sting of this nearly unbearable loss." (He couldn't believe he had just referred to her as Miss Abby.  It was way too familiar.  At least, among Cockapoos.)  And then Sam said, with a flutter in his heart equal to hers, "I am in awe of your power and gentility, of your agility and strength.  Of your compassion.  And of how stunning, how beautiful you are." (Again, words flowed from his lips that he could scarcely believe).

    "Sam, thank you," she said, simply.

    As happens to all of us now and then, whether we want it to or not, their lives began to turn in a new and unexpected direction, and not without harrowing new challenges.  They were somewhere in the Far North Wilderness.  Sam's front legs were injured.  Abby had a heartbreaking decision of her own to make.  She knew that the chances of Sam's survival would lessen with each day that they spent in the wilderness, whereas if she were to carry him into civilization, she would be clever enough to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed.  But she also knew that two dogs as exceptional as them would most likely become domesticated. She had heard of this human practice, and although it would always be possible to return to the wilderness, she also knew that the draw of canine loyalty was difficult once it came into play.  If they were befriended by someone cruel, it would be easy to leave.  But if they were befriended by a kind person, it would be very difficult.

    She gently picked up Sam in her mouth, being careful not to hurt him with her powerful jaws, but making sure that she had a strong enough hold so she wouldn't drop him.  Maintaining the balance between these two took more energy and concentration than she had ever mustered.  It was getting colder, and Sam was getting weaker. After three days of what amounted to a forced march, Sam finally asked Abby, "Where are we going?"

    "To a hospital.  If we don't, you'll die."

    Sam knew.  He understood exactly what Abby was doing, and what a sacrifice it was for her.  He knew she didn't need to feel guilty on top of it all, so he said, "We'll get through this.  I can feel it in my bones."  Abby felt warmer and stronger than ever, as they curled up together for the night in another animal's abandoned lair. They were two hours from civilization, and their new lives together.  As they dozed on and off the rest of the night, they both knew that their chance encounter in the woods would turn out to be a transforming experience.  Despite the pain, hunger, and cold, they were as grateful as two heroic dogs could ever be...... 

.… They awoke the next morning and Abby picked up Sam very carefully. She was losing strength and she didn’t want to make any mistakes when they were this close to their goal. A couple of hours later, they came to a clearing in the forest again, only this time, what they saw were cars. They went a little further, along the road, and then they saw buildings. As they approached one of the buildings, a woman came out and seemed to be walking toward them, so Abby quickly wheeled around and jumped behind some trees. She put down Sam, and they both peered around from the tree to see what the woman was doing. She was putting something into a container, and making a whistling noise. Suddenly a big German Shepherd bolted from behind another building, raced over to the container, and began to eat. The woman patted him lovingly on the head and he wagged his tail.

"Doesn’t look too threatening to me, Sam."

"No. I think it’s time we came in from the cold."

It was really as simple as that. They took a deep breath and then walked out from behind the tree and toward the woman and the other dog. Sam was limping, but he had wanted to do this last stretch on his own. The dog finished the last bite of his food, looked up from his bowl, and wagged his tail as he saw them approach. The woman looked at Abby and Sam—one limping, both tattered, cold, haggard, and hungry—and she nearly burst into tears. They could feel her warmth and compassion. They breathed more easily.

She approached them carefully in case they might be aggressive, and they wagged their tails as best they could. She knelt down and patted Abby on the head, looked at Sam, and said, "Oh, you poor thing. Let me help you." And with that, she lifted Sam up in her arms and tried to feel the bones in his front legs. Sam yelped in pain. "We need to get you to a doctor right away. Those legs need to be x-rayed," she said, solemnly. "But first I‘ll see if you two want some food and water." With that, she brought them right into her house, filled two bowls with water, and placed them on the floor. Sam and Abby took long, long drinks. Then she placed two bowls on the floor, inside of which was some kind of squishy meat, which they devoured in almost an instant.

Suddenly, they were overcome by exhaustion. Abby went over to the corner of the room where there was a rug on the floor that was drenched in morning sunlight, and she curled up in a ball and started to doze off. Sam hobbled over and curled up against her, with his head in the opposite direction, resting his head over her legs, and he dozed off, too. "Well." The woman said to the German Shepherd, who had been patiently watching this whole drama unfold from a spot next to the woman, "I guess the vet can wait. Those two must have some story to tell." The German Shepherd looked lovingly up into her eyes and wagged his tail. She smiled warmly, patted him on the head again and said, "You’re such a good boy."

Sam and Abby slept for most of the day. Around 4:00 p.m. they were alert enough for the woman to put them in her car and drive them to the vet, whose office, it turned out, was only five minutes away. There, Sam and Abby were both given a clean bill of health on their internal organs, with the vet saying he hadn’t heard hearts and lungs that strong in his entire career. Sam’s front legs were broken. The vet said they might heal okay without surgery, but because Cockapoos were so accustomed to springing into the air to climb and jump, he put Sam under, pinned the bones back together, wrapped the legs firmly, and was soon amazed to see Sam come out from the anesthesia long before expected, and wagging his tail no less. "There is something exceptional about these two dogs," he said, shaking his head in amazement. "There is something very deep and grounded about them. Something spiritual."

The woman agreed. And she knew just what she was going to do with them, too. She knew of two people down in Minnesota who would be the perfect ones to care for these two. She brought Sam and Abby back to her house, where they curled up together, in that same way, and slept. She placed a call to the United States. A few days later, a car pulled into her yard and a man and a woman emerged. Sam and Abby ran up to greet them, wagging their tails. Sam darted away and as male Cockapoos are accustomed to do, returned with one of his newly acquired toys in his mouth to show his guests. They looked at Sam and Abby, then at each other, then to the woman, and said, "These two dogs are astonishing."

It was as simple as that. And so they loaded Sam and Abby into their car and began the leisurely drive down to Minnesota. When they arrived, they brought Sam & Abby into their home and let them explore their new surroundings. The two dogs stood at attention when they went out onto the deck overlooking the back yard and forest beyond. The smell of the oak trees and all of the animals living in the forest monopolized their senses. A small herd of deer was munching away on some leaves. Geese were honking overhead as they were preparing to fly south for the winter. Squirrels cavorted in the trees to the left, to the right, and in front of them. There were squirrels everywhere. They could hear dogs barking everywhere, too. Sam whispered to Abby, "There are worse places on earth." Abby nodded peacefully.

They went back into the house and searched for the man, who turned out to be at his desk, typing on a laptop computer. Sam and Abby trotted quietly into the office and sat next to the man, who turned around for a few moments and petted both of them on the head very affectionately, before finishing up his work. Abby looked at Sam and Sam looked at Abby, then they both looked at the computer screen again. Sam began, "What does that say on the screen? Something about Pet Supplies?"

"Yes, Sam. It’s some sort of place to order food and supplies for animals. Here, if I stick my head up close to the screen…wait…there, I can rest my head on his arm and see perfectly."

The man looked down at the big Yellow Labrador Retriever head resting on his arm, felt the warmth of Abby’s affection, and patted her on the head again, saying, "You’re such a good girl, Abby." Abby could now read the screen perfectly. So she just watched as the man typed away at the keyboard, entering commands that caused different pictures and words to appear on the screen. It went from Pet Supplies to political candidates to the late-breaking news, and then with a click of a button, the screen went blank and the man got up and walked out into the living room.

"Sam. I think I know how to work this now," Abby said.

"But Abby, how can we make the keys work? We have paws, not fingers."

Abby came back, "I know. But there’s always a way. Remember your dilemma back at Dead Dog’s Gorge. There’s always a way if you’re willing to be flexible enough."

Suddenly Sam looked almost enchanted. "‘Flexible enough.’ That’s the key! We need something that’s flexible enough but also strong enough so that we can attach it to our paws somehow and then manipulate those keys on that keyboard!"

"Sam, that’s brilliant!"

"Thank you, Miss Abby. But your unconscious mind was working overtime on this one. The key was that phrase, ‘flexible enough.’"

"Do you really think the unconscious works that way?" Abby asked.

Sam replied, "Oh, not all the time, I suppose. But I think it works that way enough of the time that it’s worth suggesting it as a hypothesis in a case like this."

"Well, Sam, you continue to be quite the gracious young alpha Cockapoo. Giving me some of the credit for that brainstorm was very generous." Sam wagged his tail briefly, licked Miss Abby on the face, and then they found their way into the garage, where there resided all manner of tools, wires, copper tubing, canvas, old gloves, and glue, among other things. No one knows exactly how they did it, but when they emerged several hours later, each of them carried an odd-looking pair of gloves. They were later to be mass-produced for all the dogs in Minnesota, where the literacy rate is perhaps the second highest in the world, next to Ireland. Yes. As you might have already guessed. They were Canine Computer Keyboard Gloves.

"Abby!"

"What!"

"I’m on! Hurry up! Get in here quick!" Sam had booted up the laptop computer and was already connected to the internet."

"Sam. I saw him click on that symbol there…yes…the one with the Black Labrador with his paw up. What is that?" Abby asked.

"Lycos. Let’s see what happens." Sam clicked the symbol and up popped a screen with a blank box, in which he typed the word "Labrador," and then he pressed "Enter." Up popped a long list of web site URL’s related to Labrador, including Labrador Retrievers and the region of Labrador in Canada. Sam said, "Abby, I think we’ve found what we’re supposed to do in our next life, here in Minnesota."

Abby queried, "What, Sam? Play on the internet all day long?" She wagged the tip of her tail coyly, and then looked out the window with a disinterested gaze, intending to catch Sam off guard.

Sam almost barked, "Abby! You don’t care about my idea? Abby! What’s wrong with you this afternoon?!" He was really rather perturbed at her sudden loss of interest.

Abby wagged the tip of her tail again, then jumped up on all fours and twirled around to face Sam, who was up in the chair, paws on the computer keyboard. "Sam! I think I’m following you. And it’s a great idea!" Now Sam was taken aback. How did she know exactly what he meant? Maybe she didn’t. Abby spoke again. "You’re thinking we should get our own web site and then write about our lives back in the Far North, before we became domesticated, and then integrate the wisdom we acquired there with the new-found wisdom we acquire here, in civilization. Is that what you were thinking, Sam?"

Sam was dumbfounded, but thrilled. "Yes, Abby! That’s exactly what I was thinking! Not only are you strong, graceful, compassionate, and beautiful, but with a piercing, unmatched intuition." Abby would have blushed again, were Labradors wont to blush. I think we should give this some serious thought."

"As do I, Sam. I think we could actually become authors if we worked as diligently at it as we have pursued everything else in life." Sam wagged his tail, licked her on the cheek again, they curled up together in the late afternoon sun, and began to snooze.

When Abby awoke, she noticed that Sam was already awake and had carefully taken some tissues out of the waste basket in the office and had begun to shred them with his teeth, pushing them gently into a corner beneath the desk. "Sam!" she barked. "What are you doing?"

Sam replied very nonchalantly, "I am building a Cockapoo nest. What does it look like I’m doing?"

"A Cockapoo nest? What on earth is that?"

"It’s what my breed sleeps in when we’re in the wilderness," Sam explained. "Because we can’t get outside where I could use leaves and moss, I discovered that these tissues make perfect nesting materials. What do you think?"

"Sam, I think you’re very resourceful.

"Do you think they’ll mind?"

"Tissues shredded up in a pile under the desk?"

"Yes."

"I suspect they’ll mind."

"But…" Sam sputtered, "…it’s instinctive. Like them caring for their young. I’m not sure I can help myself."

"You may not be able to. Can you limit it, though? You’re so handsome. They may let you get away with it now and then if you don’t get out of hand with it."

"I’ll try. There. That nest is done, anyway. Now, where were we?"

"We were discussing our potential new life’s work here," Abby said. Sam turned to look at her. "Sam, isn’t it wonderful how the patterns in life are so fascinating. How closing one door often allows others to open. And the trick to it all is that before the others can even begin to open, you have to risk closing the door, not knowing if others will ever open or not. It’s like jumping off a cliff in the pitch black of night and not knowing whether it’s a three-foot drop or a three-thousand-foot drop, until you do it. Think of it."

Sam added, "I am thinking. I’m thinking of what would have happened if…well…you know…if we hadn’t met."

"We wouldn’t have gotten to where we are right now had we not made all the choices along the way that we eventually made," Abby observed.

"You do realize, Abby, that our faith is what got us through this. We could have given up anytime, but we didn’t. We could have blown it right at the end. When we saw civilization for the first time, we could have let our fear dictate our actions, instead of our wisdom and faith. We could have high-tailed it out of there and back into the wilderness…"

"…where you may or may not have survived," Abby solemnly noted.

"I might have. The vet said I might have. I heard him say that."

"That’s true. You might have. And you might have spent the rest of your life getting more and more feeble and crippled by the day. Arthritis would have set in. It could have been pitiful."

"But we would have been in the wilderness, where we supposedly belong."

"Yes. There are always trade-offs in life, Sam. I guess it’s all in what you do with the hand that you’re dealt. Are you aware that every morning when you get up, you stretch like I do, with your front legs outstretched and your head down. But then, unlike me, you stand up and then extend your left hind leg straight out, stretching it for an especially long time. Why do you do that?"

"I broke it when I was a puppy. It healed okay, but it’s been a little stiff ever since."

"Did it stop you from jumping over Dead Dog’s Gorge?"

"No. But it was stiffer than usual after that jump. Actually, it’s a reminder of things—of my puppyhood, of what’s important in life and what isn’t, of how far I’ve come along life’s path."

"So you don’t regret it?"

"No. It’s part of who I am now," Sam said peacefully.

"Well, this is who we are now, Sam. We live in Minnesota. We are domesticated. And we have begun a most exciting new life that neither of us could ever have imagined just a few short months ago. Had we turned back into the woods that day, we may have made it and that could have been okay, too."

"Yes, Abby. But this is going to be such an exceptional life. I can feel it in my bones."

"I believe you do, Sam. I believe you do."

"Abby, have you ever noticed that saying up on the wall above the desk? The one over there, on the right side?"

"No. What does it say?" They both sat there, staring up at the saying on the wall, reading it silently to themselves, reflecting on the momentous changes in their lives. They each had a little tear forming in the corner of their eyes. It said:

Creatures usually fail when they are on the verge of success, so give as much care to the end as to the beginning, then there will be no failure

—Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, 6th Century B.C.

May 1, 2003  In Which Sam And Abby Express Their Outrage Over The Suppression Of Free Speech In America

Abby:  Sam, I can no longer stand by and be neutral about what is happening in my beloved country. I love America too much. I hereby ask you to join me in support of the freedoms that so many men and women died for throughout this nation's history--especially the freedom of speech. I don't have many more years to live on this earth. I don't want to die, knowing that Dad, Mom, our human brother and sisters, and nieces and nephews, have fallen victim to life in what amounts to nothing better than a totalitarian state.

Sam:  I think we should reproduce here the text of actor/director Tim Robbins' speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D. C., on Tuesday, April 15. 2003. As you may recall, Mr. Robbins was to be the guest at a 15-year celebration of the film in which he starred, Bull Durham, at the Baseball Hall Of Fame, but it was cancelled due to his opposition to the war. In introducing Mr. Robbins, the National Press Club moderator said, among other things:

 "Not known for understatement, Mr. Robbins fired back with a letter to the President of the Baseball Hall Of Fame, saying that 'You belong with the other cowards and idealogues in a National Hall of Infamy and Shame.'" Herein is his speech...

A bully can be stopped. So can a mob
I had originally been asked here to talk about the war and our current political situation but I have instead chosen to hijack this opportunity and talk about baseball and show business. Just kidding. Sort of.

I can't tell you how moved I have been at the overwhelming support I have received from newspapers throughout the country these past few days. I hold no illusions that all of these journalists agree with me on my views against the war. While the journalists' outrage at the cancellation of our appearance in Cooperstown is not about my views; it is about my right to express these views. I am extremely grateful that there are those of you out there still with a fierce belief in constitutionally guaranteed rights. We need you the press, now more than ever.
This is a crucial moment for all of us.

For all the ugliness and tragedy of 9/11 there was a brief period afterwards where I held a great hope. In the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at ground zero, in the midst of my children's terror at being so close to this crime against humanity, in the midst of all of this I held onto a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of all this. I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat vs. Republican, white vs. black or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public
discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television, telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero we can't. But there is work that is needed to be done all over America. Our help is needed at community centers, to tutor children, to teach them to read, our work is needed at old age homes to visit the lonely and infirm, in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots into baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit, and create a new
unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11. A new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a phoenix, out of the fire we will be reborn.

And then came the speech. "You are either with us or against us." And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbor for any suspicious behavior.

In the 19 months since 9/11 we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the sanctity of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided and a world opulation that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state.

This past weekend Susan and I and the three kids went to Florida for a family reunion of sorts. Amidst the alcohol and the dancing, sugar-rushing children there was, of course, talk of the war. The most frightening thing about the weekend was the amount of times we were thanked for speaking out against the war because that individual speaking thought it unsafe to do so in their own community in their own life. "Keep talking. I haven't been able to open my mouth."

A relative tells me that a history teacher tells his 11-year-old son, my nephew, that Susan Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition to the war. Another teacher in a different school asks our niece if we were coming to the school play. "They're not welcome here," said the molder of young minds. Another relative tells me of a school board decision to cancel a civics event that was proposing to have a moment of silence for those who have died in the war because the students were including dead Iraqi civilians in their silent prayer. A teacher
in another nephew's school is fired for wearing a T-shirt with a peace sign on it. And a friend of the family tells of listening to the radio down South as the talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent antiwar activist.

Death threats have appeared on other prominent peaceniks' doorsteps for their views against the war. Relatives of ours have received threatening e-mails and phone calls. My 13-year-old boy, who has done nothing to anybody, has been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes, or rather, scratches, his column with his fingers in the dirt. Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers and by their "fair and balanced" electronic media cousins 19th Century Fox. Apologies to Gore Vidal. Two weeks ago, the United Way cancelled Susan's appearance at a conference on women's leadership and both of us last week were told that both we and the First Amendment were not welcome at the Baseball Hall of Fame. A famous rock and roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. "They promote our concert appearances," he said. "They own most of the stations that play our music. I can't come out against this war."

And here in Washington Helen Thomas finds herself banished to the back of the room and uncalled on after asking Ari Fleisher whether our showing prisoners of war at Guantánamo Bay on television violated the Geneva Convention.

A chill wind is blowing in this nation. A message is being sent through the White House and its allies in talk radio and Clear Channel and Cooperstown. "If you oppose this administration there can and will be ramifications." Every day the airwaves are filled with warnings, veiled and unveiled threats, spewed invective and hatred directed at any voice of dissent. And the public, like so many relatives and friends I saw this weekend, sit in mute opposition and in fear.

I'm sick of hearing about Hollywood being against the war. Hollywood's heavy hitters, the real power brokers and cover of the magazine stars have been largely silent on this issue. But Hollywood, the concept, has always been a popular target.

I remember when the Columbine High School shootings happened, President Clinton criticized Hollywood for contributing to this terrible tragedy. This as we were dropping bombs over Kosovo. Could the violent actions of our leaders contribute somewhat to the violent fantasies our teenagers are having? Or is it all just Hollywood and rock and roll? I remember reading at the time that one of the shooters had tried to enlist to fight the real war a week before he acted out his war in real life at Columbine. I talked about this in the press at the time and curiously no one accused me of being unpatriotic for criticizing Clinton. In fact, the same talk radio patriots that
call us traitors today engaged in daily personal attacks on their president during the war in Kosovo.

Today, prominent politicians who have decried violence in movies, (the "blame Hollywooders" if you will), recently voted to give our current president the power to unleash real violence in our current war. They want us to stop the fictional violence but are OK with the real kind. And these same people that tolerate the real violence of war don't want to see the result of it on the nightly news. Unlike the rest of the world our news coverage of this war remains sanitized, without a glimpse of the blood and gore inflicted upon our soldiers or the women and children in
Iraq.

Violence as a concept, an abstraction. It's very strange. As we applaud the hard-edged realism of the opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan, we cringe at the thought of seeing the same on the nightly news. We are told it would be pornographic. We want no part of reality in real life. We demand that war be painstakingly realized on the screen but that war remain imagined and conceptualized in real life.

And in the midst of all this madness, where is the political opposition? Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time passing, long time ago? With apologies to Robert Byrd, I have to say it is pretty embarrassing to live in a country where a five-foot-one comedian has more guts than most politicians. We need leaders, not pragmatists that cower before the spin zones of former entertainment journalists. We need leaders who understand the Constitution, Congressmen who don't, in a moment of fear, abdicate their most important power, the right to declare war, to the executive branch. And please, can we stop the congressional sing-a-longs?

In this time when a citizenry applauds the liberation of a country as it lives in fear of its own freedom, when an administration official releases an attack ad questioning the patriotism of a legless Vietnam veteran running for Congress, when people all over the country fear reprisal if they use their right to free speech, it is time to get angry.

It is time to get fierce. It doesn't take much to shift the tide. My 11-year-old nephew mentioned earlier, a shy kid who never talks in class, stood up to his history teacher who was questioning Susan's patriotism. "That's my aunt you're talking about. Stop it!" And the stunned teacher backtracked and began stammering compliments in embarrassment.

Sports writers across the country reacted with such overwhelming fury at the Hall of Fame that the president of the Hall admitted he made a mistake and Major League Baseball disavowed any connection to the actions of the Hall's president. A bully can be stopped. So can a mob. It takes one person with the courage and a resolute voice. The journalists in this country can battle back at those who would re-write our Constitution in the Patriot Act II (or Patriot, the sequel, as we would call it in Hollywood). We are counting on you to star in that movie. Journalists can insist that they not be used as publicists by this administration. The next White House
correspondent to be called on by Ari Fleischer should defer their question to the back of the room to the banished journalist-du-jour. Any instance of intimidation to free speech should be battled against. Any acquiescence to intimidation at this point will only lead to more intimidation. You have, whether you like it or not, an awesome responsibility and an awesome power.

The fate of discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands, whether you write on the left or the right. This is your time and the destiny you have chosen. We lay the continuance of our democracy on your desks and count on your pens to be mightier. Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope. Hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism. Our ability to disagree, and our inherent right to
question our leaders and criticize their actions, define who we are. To allow those rights to be taken away out of fear, to punish people for their beliefs, to limit access in the news media to differing opinions is to acknowledge our democracy's defeat. These are challenging times. There is a wave of hate that seeks to divide us, right and left, pro-war and antiwar.

In the name of my 11-year-old nephew and all the other unreported victims of this hostile and unproductive environment of fear, let us try to find our common ground. Let us celebrate this grand and glorious experiment that has survived for 227 years. To do so we must honor and fight vigilantly for the things that unite us. Like freedom, the First Amendment and yes, baseball.

"We Can No Longer Sit On The Sidelines And Be Neutral About The Current Insults To The U. S. Constitution..."--- Minnesota Sam & Abby

 

April 1, 2003  In Which Sam And Abby Decide To Pray For Peace In The World

Sam:  I am reading in many of the newspapers on the web that people on both sides of the question about the war with Iraq are demonstrating in the same locations at the same time, here in the United States.

Abby:  Yes. It has become a repeat, of sorts, of the 2000 election, with Americans polarized--split into two.

Sam: Some people are accusing George W. Bush of being one of the worst and most divisive presidents in the history of this nation, despite the fact that he ran using a slogan that he was "a uniter, not a divider."

Abby: And the other half of the nation sees him as the savior of the free world--as a saint, of sorts.

Sam: It's not exactly half and half, of course. There is a middle ground where people have more moderate opinions about Bush and the war.

Abby: Yes.

Sam: I saw a notice somewhere on the web, which describes what the sponsors hope will be a world-wide effort on Tuesday, April 1, 2003 to have as many people as possible pray for George W. Bush...

A Prayer Vigil for George Bush

There is so much energy against President Bush that we are not helping him make decisions
for the highest good of every person on the planet. The more we focus on what we don't like, the more it increases. They suggest that we See him as God would, and focus on the Light in the President, thereby amplifying the Light. The children believe that if hundreds of thousands of people do this at the same moment, then the effect on his consciousness would be profound. I have to agree.
Therefore, we have decided to conduct an emergency "Great Experiment IV" and are asking all the Spiritual Peacemakers around the world to join us in this important project.

Here are the details:

April 1, 2003, 11 AM New York time, 8 AM California Time (determine your own time zone based on this) Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, will join together for fifteen minutes as one mind and pray for President Bush (and all those who influence his decision making) to make all his decisions based on the highest good of all beings on earth. The Children suggested that we begin by imagining him as a little boy, and use our energy to empower his heart. They say that the boy is still within him, though he is very afraid. He doesn't need to be attacked for what he is doing, but loved, not for his actions, but for the Truth within him. We call this: "Seeing as God Sees and Loving as God Loves." If possible, gather with other people during this vigil, and please pass this message on to as many people as you can to help spread the word.

Abby: Sam, what group is this?

Sam: I haven't a clue. But even if they are a bunch of charlatans, if well-intended people actually follow through with the prayer vigil at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, it can't hurt, can it? I mean, the worst that would happen would be that some of the people who are really angry at Bush would have a moment of peace in their hearts. And, at best, who knows? There is so much we don't know about the universe.

Sam: Okay, Ab. Let's set Dad's computer alarm. He and Mom will be at work. If we really want to join in and include our formidable canine spiritual energy in this endeavor, we'd better do it at the right time.

Abby: I do hope that the fear that is so prevalent around the globe begins to diminish. It makes me so sad to see the hatred and bigotry that flows from it.

Sam: Amen.

March 1, 2003  In Which Sam And Abby Wonder What Is Going On

Abby:  Do you understand at all what is going on in the world right now?

Sam:  Well, I read three newspapers every day and watch the news for an hour on CNBC every night, so I see and hear what is going on in the world right now. But I don't understand why it is being allowed to happen.

Abby: Nor do I.

Sam: I don't want to write anything else this month.

Abby: Nor do I.

February 1, 2003  In Which Sam And Abby Elaborate On And Clarify Their Message From Last Month's Column

Sam:  Abby, we received a couple of faxes from a few of the dogs in the neighborhood, asking us to clarify what we meant in last month's column.

Abby:  We did?

Sam: Yes. Right here. Look.

Abby: Hmmmmm. A fax from Gracie. And one from Freddie. And Duke? I didn't think Duke even read our column!

Sam: Shall we elaborate on what we said last month?

Abby: Sure.

Sam: As I understood your premise, Abby, you were arguing that the "angst" so many people are feeling these days is less about war and terrorism, and more about the human condition in general--that immediate crises like that can become distractions, or even convenient excuses, to stray from a higher purpose . I think you were saying that deep down inside, humans care about each other, and feel bad that there are so many that are sick, starving, and dying across the face of the planet.

Abby: That was the message from the Dave Matthews song..." Oh, say....late at night, with tv's hungry child, his belly swells....well, for the price of a coke or a smoke, I could keep alive those hungry eyes..." For the mere price of a can of coca-cola or a pack of cigarettes, you could keep alive one starving child somewhere on earth. And yet, humans in America worry so much about the price of gasoline, or if they will have "enough" money to buy their children what many feel are an excessive number of Christmas presents; or if they have "enough" to buy an expensive car so that they can "keep up with" their next door neighbor.

Sam: So, at one level, humans are worried about some terrorist setting off a nuclear bomb in the heart of Minneapolis or Denver or Phoenix; but for many, it simply becomes a convenient way to ignore the much more important issue of how humans treat each other on a daily basis.

Abby: Yes. And that's where the fear comes in. Anxiety. Worry. Fear. Fear is part of life, because death is part of life. When people lose perspective--when they lose sight of the Big Picture--they do things for which no one would be proud. They let selfishness and greed fill in the anxiety-laden parts of themselves, instead of peace and hope and compassion and care. And when that happens, things just get worse and worse.

Sam: The ultimate loss--the ultimate thing that sentient creatures fear--is their own death, followed closely by the death of their loved ones. The paradox of being a creature with a big brain is that humans can reflect on this and even modify it to some degree--they continually discover ways to lengthen their lifespans. But they can never put an end to death. Death is part of the life-cycle. And so, the way in which humans deal with their powerlessness over death determines how they treat each other on a daily basis, is that correct, Ab?

Abby: Right. If people have a way of dealing with the overwhelming and  uncontrollable and unpredictable in life, then they tend to keep things in perspective. When they don't, they tend to do terrible--or at the very least, selfish and heartless--things to each other. This ability to transcend is called spirituality by many.

Sam: So when you mentioned the supervolcanoes that erupt now and then and throw the planet into chaos (http://www.volcanolive.com/supervolcano.html), you were trying to put it all into perspective, is that it?

Abby: Yes. Look. You can lay around day after day, worrying about whether or not you'll be killed in a terrorist attack or if the whole population of the planet will be exterminated by a natural disaster. Or, you can decide to live each day of your life with integrity and love and care. It is a choice, every single day. You can wake up today and be scared, and focus on the fear, and spend your entire day twisted in its grip, and make every choice based on it, in which case you may very well treat others poorly, and then justify it because you are in "raw survival mode."

Sam: Or, I can wake up today and decide that no matter what happens today, I am going to live my life with integrity and care .

Abby: Right.

Sam: So, where does that idea of "enough " come in?

Abby: When an entire community of people gets out of whack in this area, they begin to confuse what is necessary with what is desirable. Then they get confused about the value of life. It is easy for an entire group of people to convince themselves that their children "need" a pile of expensive presents for Christmas or birthdays. When you confuse needs with desires, it is then easy to equate the pile of unneeded birthday presents with the food or medicine that a dying child needs in order to live.

Sam: Oh, dear. I see what you mean, Abby. All of a sudden, some people actually believe that the tragedy of millions dying of starvation equals the tragedy of not getting a new Lexus for Christmas .

Abby. Yes.

Sam:  And in really wealthy societies, people become so self-absorbed that they often equate their psychological and emotional struggles with the struggles for basic physical survival engaged in by people in poorer societies. And while I understand how people can come to think this way, I find it difficult to fathom how having your child die in your arms from starvation is the same as having a messy divorce.

Abby: Agreed.

Sam: Fear is a powerful motivator of human behavior, and thus it takes a great deal of faith and hope and spirituality to live each day with as much integrity as possible, despite the constant threats to our safety that come at us from every quarter.

Abby: I still believe that at one level, many people are worried about terrorism around the globe; but at a much deeper level, they are worried about the terrible disparity between rich and poor. And no matter how many times we go to war, or how secure we try to make our homes or neighborhoods with gates and alarms and semi-automatic weapons, we know that we can't keep ourselves apart from the rest of the world ; and we know that if we could, it would harm us more than it would help.

Sam: And so we can either 1) pretend that gross injustices do not exist in the world, but then be haunted by gnawing guilt and pervasive anxiety about it; or we can 2) acknowledge that there are things that each one of us can do to create more balance and justice in the world, and then whether we die in our sleep at the age of 99, or in a terrorist attack at the age of 33, or from a snake bite at the age of 52, or a natural disaster at the age of 40, we can die knowing that we lived a life of integrity, and that we left the world just a little bit better place than when we came into it .

Abby: Ahhhhh, Sam. I think you've got it.

 

January 1, 2003 In Which Sam And Abby Ponder Life According To  The Dave Matthews Band, And In Which They Hope That We Can Each Rise Above Ourselves Now And Then, Despite Our Fear

Abby: I've been thinking a lot about what we discussed last month. It's been haunting me, in a good sort of way.

Sam:  That was what I was thinking, too. I can't quite put my paw on it, Abby, but there is something in the air that gnaws at the back of my mind, like a dog gnawing on a bone. There's something...

Abby: ...Do you think it's the threat of another terrorist attack? Could that be the cause of our unease?

Sam: Or would it more aptly be called "dis-ease?"

Abby: A challenging thought, Sam. 

Sam: My intuition isn't wrapping itself around another terrorist attack as what is gnawing at us. I think that's a red herring. There's something much more important. There's a stirring in my heart. I was listening to Dave Matthews' song, "Seek Up," the other day, and I found myself weeping softly as he sang..." Oh, say....late at night, with tv's hungry child, his belly swells....well, for the price of a coke or a smoke, I could keep alive those hungry eyes..."

Abby: I know. I think it has something to do with perspective. Danger is always a part of life. I remember watching a show about snakes on The Discover Channel a couple of years ago, and the narrator pointed out that something like 1,000 people in Malaysia die of snake bites each year. I think it was Malaysia. I'm almost 84 in human years, so I could be mistaken about the country, but I distinctly remember the number. I did a quick search on Google the other day, and in the United States, only about 8 people die of snake bite each year.

Sam: There was a program on television just a few days ago about supervolcanoes http://www.volcanolive.com/supervolcano.html --volcanoes so massive that they leave a huge caldera, almost like a giant sink hole, on the earth rather than a volcanic mountain. It turns out that the entirety of Yellowstone National Park is actually the result of several of these over hundreds of thousands of years. What really fascinated me is that by tracking mitochondrial DNA in the cells of human beings, geneticists are pretty sure that something so catastrophic occurred around 74,000 years ago that the entire human race was reduced to a few thousand. Unbeknownst to the geneticists, some geologists determined that a giant supervolcano erupted in Toba in Sumatra around that same time that humans were almost extinguished. They put 2 and 2 together and realized that the "volcanic winter" resulting from such a massive eruption would do just that--destroy much of life on earth.

Abby: That puts things in perspective.

Sam: Well, yes, it does. Terrorists, snakes, war, asteroids hitting earth, you name it. 380,000 people die every year in the U.S. from smoking-related diseases. You can't stop a supervolcano, but you could stop smoking. We can either live in constant fear of our impending demise, or we can choose to live each of our days with integrity and mutual care. Someone recently asked an American official if he was concerned about the possibility that 200,000 innocent Iraqis might die if war breaks out there, and he said that all he cared about were the 3,000 people who died at The World Trade Center. Why can't we be concerned about both? In that same song, Dave Matthews sang, "You're looking for a monster for him to fight your wars for you, but when he finds his way to you, the devil's not going 'Ha ha. Ha ha.'"

Abby: Humans are odd creatures, Sam. They are such contradictions. They want to blame the devil for the results of their own misdirected attempts to find security in the world. They can be deeply compassionate one moment, and ruthlessly selfish the next. They are the ultimate pack animals, which I find especially ironic, seeing as how they take such delight in the fact that we canines are pack animals. But the cruel things that we do in packs pales in comparison to what they do in packs that have spun out of control.

Sam: The difference, in theory at least, is that occasionally they are able to rise above their purely animal instincts. And when they do, they are as close to angelic as I suppose is humanly possible.

Abby: I see them struggle so much to move into that higher realm, but it isn't easy. It's easy to care and appear compassionate when things are going well, but when things get scary...well...that's the only true test--How they will act when things are really scary.

Sam: When they can rise above their own limitations, they can glimpse just for a split-second how fragile life always is---for themselves, their own immediate families, and for the 6.5 billion other human beings on this highly unpredictable planet. They can grasp, just for a split-second, how every being on earth has the same goals, the same hopes and desires, fears and sorrows, pain and joy.

Abby:  And then, paradoxically, the scarier things get, the more true and whole and peaceful they can all become.

Sam & Abby: We wish you peace and integrity for this new year, and for all the new years that come, for you and for all of your descendants.

 

December 1, 2002  In Which Sam And Abby Talk About Bowling For Columbine, And The Importance Of Mutual Care

Sam: I keep hearing everyone talk about Michael Moore's new documentary film called Bowling For Columbine. What's up with that?

Abby: I heard that it is the only documentary film that has ever received a 13-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival when it was shown there.

Sam: And the title comes from...?

Abby:...The fact that on the morning of the day that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed all of those kids at their school in 1999, they went to their bowling class. After their bowling class, they got their weapons, went to the school, and started shooting.

Sam: Oh.

Abby: Yes. "Oh." That was my first response. Numbed confusion. Then, I was intrigued. What is this film about? So I walked and limped over to the movie theater the other day and snuck in as someone was leaving through the emergency exit, and I watched the film from start to finish.

Sam: You did?!

Abby: Yes.

Sam: Where was I?

Abby: You were taking a nap with Mom, with the winter sun warming you as it  streamed through the glass doors leading out to the deck. I didn't have the heart to awaken you.

Sam: Tell me more about the movie, Abby.

Abby: Michael Moore develops a very interesting thesis, and he does it in a very interesting way. At various times throughout the film I found myself laughing, crying, feeling outraged, sad, ashamed, scared, guilty, and lonely. I heard many of the humans saying the same things during and after the movie.

Sam: I have to go see this movie, Abby.

Abby: I'll go see it again with you, Sam. It's worth seeing twice. What I found so surprising is that one of the main problems in the United States is that we are afraid of the wrong things, and on top of that, or partially because of that, we don't trust each other. Moore did an interesting experiment. He went to Canada, found out that most people there don't lock their doors, and then to make sure it was true, he went from door to door, opening doors--with his camera crew filming it, of course--and when people were inside, they simply said "Hello" and were cheerful, rather than raging or pulling a firearm on him.

Sam: That is amazing. You'd be lucky to be alive if you did that in certain parts of the U.S.

Abby: And the other thing is that people there seem to assume that it is each human being's job to care for other human beings--that getting basic human needs met, like the needs for basic medical care and food and shelter, are to be expected as part of a civilized society. There are millions of Americans who still have no health insurance, and this is supposedly the wealthiest nation in the world.

Sam: Abby, it sounds sort of mean-spirited, if you ask me. Selfish and mean-spirited. I recently read an article about how this is not a very friendly country in which to die, either. Do you suppose it's related?

Abby: I am uncomfortable saying it, but I do. There is something inherently troubling about the "Every man for himself" approach to living that is so prevalent here. I don't think it's healthy. I think creatures need to be able to rely on and care for each other in order for it to work.

Sam: Well, it isn't healthy. We've written columns about that in the past. Now there is even more evidence. In the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in October, I believe it was (Vol 70, No. 3, 537-547), there is a big article about the recent developments in psychoneuroimmunology--how the immune system is affected by psychological events and states, such as stress, or feeling close and connected to others, or not. Some of the findings are stunning.

Abby: Like...?

Sam: Like the fact that wounds actually heal 24% - 40% slower if you are under stress.

Abby: That's more than amazing, Sam. It's almost unbelievable.

Sam: Except that it's true. Here, let me read these items from page 539 of the article to you...

"For example, higher NK cell activity and stronger proliferative responses of peripheral blood leukocytes to mitogen stimulation were associated with higher social support in women whose husbands were being treated for urologic cancer than among those with less support. Medical students who reported better social support mounted a stronger immune response to a Hep B vaccine than did those with less support. Individuals with fewer social ties were more susceptible to respiratory viruses. Spousal caregivers who demonstrated poorer augmentation of NK cell activity to two cytokines reported lower levels of social support and described less closeness in their important relationships than did caregivers who showed greater NK augmentation....[and]....pervasive differences in endocrine and immune function were reliably associated with hostile behaviors during marital conflict among diverse samples that included newlyweds selected on the basis of stringent mental and physical health criteria, as well as couples married an average of 42 years."

Abby: Does this mean what I think it means? Does this mean that in a society where it's "Every Man For Himself," people actually get sicker?

Sam: That's what it means. We live a long time here, but I wonder how much longer and how much healthier we'd be if we cared for each other more. Given that we are the most powerful nation on earth, and that we have the best medical system on earth, and that we use by far the most natural resources per capita of any nation on earth, you'd think we'd be much happier campers than we are.

Abby: This whole discussion reminds me of what Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said at the GOP Convention on August 1, 2000. It sent chills down my spine, it was so inspirational...

  Excerpts From Senator John McCain's Remarks at the GOP Convention

Sen. John McCain
Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Yet I think each of us senses that America, for all our prosperity, is in danger of losing the best sense of herself: that there is a purpose to being an American beyond materialism

When we quit seeing ourselves as part of something greater than our self-interest then civic love gives way to the temptations of selfishness, bigotry and hate. Unless we restore the people's sovereignty over government, renew their pride in public service, reform our public institutions to meet the challenges of a new day and reinvigorate our national purpose then America's best days will be behind us.

To achieve the necessary changes to the practices and institutions of our democracy we need to be a little less content. We need to get riled up a bit, and stand up for the values that made America great.

Rally to this new patriotic challenge or lose forever America's extraordinary ability to see around the corner of history. Americans, enter the public life of your country determined to tell the truth; to put problem solving ahead of partisanship; to defend the national interest against the forces that would divide us. Keep your promise to America, as she has kept her promise to you, and you will know a happiness far more sublime than pleasure.

It is easy to forget in politics where principle ends and selfishness begins. It takes leaders of courage and character to remember the difference.

Sam: Well. I guess that says it all.

Abby: Indeed.

 

November 1, 2002

            Goodbye Senator Wellstone.

 

October 1, 2002  In Which Sam And Abby Reprise Their Column From February 1, 1997

                                         FEBRUARY 1, 1997

Abby: Sam, we've had some of the coldest, snowiest weather in history this past month. When will it ever end?

Sam: I don't know, Ab. Dad says not until June, but I think he's just exaggerating because he's had it with winter, too.

Abby: I hope so. I couldn't take this until June. We've already had 52 inches of snow, which is more than our seasonal average of 50 inches. And the snowiest month of the year, April, is still a long way off.

Sam: I don't even mind the snow that much. But when it's this cold, we don't go for our run. And then we get really squirrely. When Mom gets home from work, we greet her at the door with our toys, our tails wagging so fast that if it could be harnessed, we could light up the whole house with electrical energy.

Abby: Well, maybe. Do ya' think ya' might have a touch o' th ol' Blarney in ya', Sam?

Sam: Perhaps. Dad's Irish, you know.

Abby: Yes: And he just talked to his Irish friends on the phone this morning. So now he's dreaming of going back there for a visit. But I don't like it when he and Mom go to London and Ireland, because then we don't see them for such a long time.

Sam: I know. I think we should plan to take our own trip while they're over there. Where should we go this year?

Abby: Let's see...hmmmm...how about somewhere where there will be a lot of dogs!

Sam: You mean, like....the kennel??!!!

Abby: No, silly. It's fun there for the first few minutes when we walk in and greet all of the other dogs, but after awhile, it gets lonely.

Sam: And we don't get to walk all over the place. It's pretty confining.

Abby: Right. I was thinking of going back to Labrador to visit some of my friends and relatives, but I think by the time we get there, it will be pretty cold for you, old Sammy.

Sam: I could probably handle it if I brought my new coat and booties that Mom and Dad bought me for Christmas.

Abby: Really? You'd go with me to visit friends and relatives in Labrador? Sam, you're a real prince.

Sam: Anything for my princess, Ab!

Abby: Aw, shucks! Now let's see. Where else might we go?

Sam: I've always wanted to go to China. And Vietnam, too. You know what we should do? We should try to start up that computer Dad uses, and see if we can connect to that Internet he keeps talking about. I'll bet there's a lot of travel information in that thing.

Abby: No doubt. But did you see the keys on that keyboard? There's no way we'd be able to type on it. We don't have fingers or thumbs. In fact, I don't even think we could open up the cover to that computer, let alone type on it.

Sam: You're right, Abby. What shall we do? What shall we do?

Abby: Let's go downstairs and see if we can start that treadmill that Dad runs on when it's cold outside.

Sam: We'll have to figure out how to open the door to the front part of the house, first.

Abby: And then we'll have to figure out how to push in that plastic safety device on the treadmill that deactivates it in case of an accident.

Sam: And then we'll have to figure out how to program it to run at the proper speed. If we jump on it when it's going too fast, it could really knock us on our rear-ends!

Abby: Boy, Sam..This could keep us busy all winter. That's a lot of figuring to do!

Sam: Well, let's take our nap in the sun first. And then when we wake up, we'll start figuring.

Abby: Good thought, old boy. Cheerio!

Sam: Bye!

September 1, 2002  In Which Sam And Abby Are On Vacation And Will See You All Next Month!!

August 1, 2002  In Which Sam And Abby Talk About August, August Wilson, The State Fair, And Life & Death

Sam:  August is an interesting month. For some people, it's when they take their summer vacation. Some people take long summer vacations. In the Upper Midwest, like here in "Lake Wobegon," as it were, it is also a time when the summer heat begins to drag us unmercifully through each day. But toward the end of August, even though we can have stifling, humid days right through the duration of the State Fair in St. Paul, the sun is at a low enough angle that there is just the slightest hint of Fall in the air, and with it, the excitement and anticipation that comes with the change in seasons, heralded by cool crisp evenings, warm Indian Summer days, and ultimately, the intense colors of the leaves as they lose their lives but not without creating an unparalleled, spectacular show.

Abby:  Anticipation of change. Change of seasons. We want things to stay the same, but we want change, too. Like we said last month, life is bigger than us, and certainly this is one of the more interesting puzzles life throws us. We want change, but then we find ourselves not wanting the consequences of change. If you grow up and become an adult, you gain all kinds of new opportunities and powers, but you also have to surrender some pretty familiar patterns and habits, which isn't always easy. It's even difficult to surrender the painful ones sometimes.

Sam: And then once you've adjusted to the new changes, it becomes just as hard, or harder, to consider going back to the way things were, even though you may have been kicking and screaming about making the changes in the first place. And there are always regrets and disappointments.

Abby:  "Remembrance and regrets. They, too, are a part of friendship." That was a line from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think it was Patrick Stewart's character, Jean Luc Picard, speaking to the young Wesley Crusher, played by Wil Wheaton.

Sam: Good memory, Ab. That was quite sometime ago.

Abby: Ah, yes. I think my longterm memory far surpasses my shortterm memory these days.

Sam: Mine, too.

Abby: As far as change goes, Mom and Dad often talk about the value and utility of making one small change and holding it consistently for 6-12 months. They say that in many cases, doing that will produce more change in one's life--and even in the system in which one is embedded--than all kinds of dramatic but incomplete attempts to change a big chunk of one's life or system.

Sam: I think it's true, Ab. Change happens slowly. People get so anxious once they realize that they need to change, that they let their very anxiety get the better of them, so that the real change that they need to make in order to have a better life--learning to manage their own anxiety--never happens. It is quite the conundrum.

Abby: People talk about Spring being a time of renewal, and I think it is. But I also believe that each season holds the promise of renewal in its own unique way. Dad and Mom often refer to the quotation by Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American playwright August Wilson, in his play,Two Trains Running:

There are always and only two trains running.

There is life and there is death.

Each of us rides them both.

To live life with dignity,

to celebrate and accept responsibility

for your presence in the world

is all that can be asked of anyone.

It embraces the ultimate paradox that life and death are part of the same process, part of the same system--that they are continuous rather than discontinuous, just like the seasons.

Sam: And to continue from one season to the next renewing and/or deepening our relationships with each other and with creation, is what life is all about.

Abby: Whether or not you have the best State Fair in the whole United States?

Sam: Yes.

 

July 1, 2002  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Fires And Floods Of Late, The Minnesota Twins, The House Un-American Activities Committee, And The Fourth Of July

Abby: The dog days of summer are here already, Sam.

Sam: It's not supposed to be this way, Abby. It's only July 1st. We had the typical Wet-Minnesota-Spring-And-Sort-of-Summer-Sort-of-Not-Summer for so many days that I thought we'd simply float away in a torrent of crazed, random flood waters before too long.

Abby: The rains were awe inspiring, Sam. Friday before last it rained nearly 3.5 inches. Do you remember that?

Sam: How could I forget? It started pouring early in the morning and then just when we thought it would lighten up and go away, it just rained some more, and then some more. It just never let up. It rained and rained and rained and rained.

Abby: And out West it burned and burned and burned and burned. It makes one wonder what the plan is. You know, like what the rhyme or reason is to all of this. If scientists could get all of this water out to those parched lands in the western states, it would feel more balanced. Life would feel more balanced.

Sam: But right now, at least, that isn't going to happen. Life may be balanced in the end, but while we're hunkered down in the process of it, things don't always turn out as we think they should. That's why you and I decided to put that quote from William Shakespeare up above, at the beginning of our web page:

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

Abby: That quote is so...

Sam: ...So painfully and annoyingly yet hopefully true?

Abby: Yes.

Sam: One of Mom's and Dad's therapist mentors says that "Life is inherently ambiguous." Dad sometimes tells his clients that he's going to have a banner made up some day with that quote on it and then attach it to the wall of his office, up high, near the ceiling, as a reminder and focal point for the therapy that he does.

Abby: I like that. I mean, it isn't comfortable, and so I don't always like it when it's happening to me, but in general, I like it. Mom says that "Life is bigger than all of us," and I suspect that's related to this whole question, too.

Sam: Yes. It's why we have to struggle, and why struggle is a good thing. It's a good thing because life is ambiguous and bigger than us, and if we weren't able to struggle, we'd be gonners. Struggle is good in and of itself, because it forces us to grow up and deepen in wisdom and gratitude and graciousness. If we never had to struggle with the parts of life that don't yet make sense to us, we'd never grow.

Abby: So are you saying, Sam, that it's flooding here, and it's parched, dry, and burning up out West, and there's not much we can do about it right now? And we can either accept it and submit to the mystery that is life, or be miserable in a fight we can't win?

Sam: Yes. That is what I am saying.

Abby: I thought so.

Sam: Moving on in our discussion, Abby, you may have noticed that up here in the Minnesota North, it is now hot and humid. Really hot and humid. Like Florida or South Texas. That's why Dad only takes us for a mile run in the morning instead of two or three miles.

Abby: I can't go three miles anymore, Sam. He hasn't taken us for three miles in a long time.

Sam: I know. I was just saying...

Abby: ...You were just being kind, Sam. You were being gracious...you are very dear, Sam.

Sam: It has been so hot and humid, Abby. And the Minnesota Twins, who were on the verge of becoming extinct, are in first place! Just a few short months ago, they were falling prey to the dreaded Contraction Monster. But a judge granted them a reprieve for a season--through 2003. It's rumored that Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has a vested interest in seeing the Twins die out, as described in more detail in this quote from an article in the April, 2002 edition of Salon Magazine on the web:

"Bud Selig is this town's [Minneapolis] Simon Legree. He came to the commissioner's job from his position as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, a team he turned over to his daughter upon taking his current job. Twins fans note that the Brewers, the closest team to the Twin Cities geographically, would benefit from the Twins' elimination, as they've benefited more than any other team from Selig's revenue sharing plan. They also note that Selig and Pohlad are pals. Pohlad made Selig a loan, in violation of baseball's conflict of interest rules, several years ago, and Selig's contraction proposal called for the other owners to pay Pohlad a cool $120 million to liquidate the team." http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/04/15/twins/

Abby: That's pretty nasty, if it's true. It reminds me of all of this corporate dishonesty in the newspapers of late--Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Arthur Andersen, Halliburton.

Sam: Well, there's a chance that the city of St. Paul will build the new open-air baseball stadium that will insure the Twins' safety for years to come.

Abby: That would be cool. St. Paul is a charming little town. It would be a pleasant ending to this tricky little tale.

Sam: Yes. Life is convoluted at times. And then just when you thought it would be the end of the world, it all turns around. Like the near-annihilation of the Constitution by the House Un-American Activities Committee, described in Infoplease.com:

"The committee's methods included pressure on witnesses to name former associates, vague and sweeping accusations against individuals, and the assumption of an individual's guilt because of association with a suspect organization. Witnesses who refused to answer were cited for contempt of Congress. A highly publicized 1947 investigation of the entertainment industry led to prison sentences for contempt for a group of recalcitrant witnesses who became known as the Hollywood Ten."

Abby: They almost destroyed the Constitution, but they didn't, because the American people finally came out of their hypnotic stupor and realized that even the greatest fear imaginable does not justify using the same tactics as the ones used by those you fear most. The House Un-American Activities Committee's tactics were the same as that of the KGB, and eventually the irony of that fact did not escape Americans.

Sam: Right, Abby. So, as we celebrate this Fourth of July, 2002, let's be thankful for our baseball team, for the hot summer weather which will soon give way to the chill of Fall with it's glorious bright golds and reds and yellows; and more than that, let's be sure that we all protect the freedoms that made this such a great nation in the first place.

Abby: Here! Here!
 
 

June 1, 2002 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss How Humans Always Pair Up With An "Emotional Equal" In Their Long-Term Love Relationships

Sam: Abby, I've been watching humans for nearly nine years now.

Abby: It's been nearly eleven years for me.

Sam: We're getting older, Abby.

Abby: Yes. The humans might call us "gray beards" if they applied the same nomenclature to us as they do to themselves.

Sam: Or more accurately, "gray whiskers."

Abby: Yes. And as far as watching humans goes, the research on dogs suggests that we canines spend most of our waking hours watching our humans when they're around.

Sam: It's funny how we do that. And while doing all that watching, I've noticed something very interesting. I've noticed that when humans are in long-term bonded relationships...

Abby: ...like Dad and Mom...?

Sam: ...yes, like that. In those long-term romantic relationships, humans always pair up with someone who is emotionally equal to themselves. It appears to be a universal rule of nature in the human world.

Abby: If you're right about that, Sam, your observation is stunning.

Sam: I was wondering about that, Ab.

Abby: Think of all the things it helps to explain, Sam.

Sam: I am. Consider a man who is always sure of himself, who knows exactly how things should go for his family, who arranges all of their social events and family outings, who worries about things going according to plan, who really cares about his family as evidenced by how much he does. His wife is quiet and kind and agreeable and tries to calm the waters within the household by being extra nice and by deferring to everyone. Their friends "wink" sometimes and say that he is sort of a jerk at times, and that at times, she lets him run over her. At the same time, the other humans know that these two love each other.

Abby: And, Sam, what else do you, the family dog, see?

Sam: I see two people who could be a lot happier with themselves and each other, if they weren't so caught up in each other's lives--tangled up, that is.

Abby: Tangled up?

Sam: If they were a little more separate, they could be a lot closer.

Abby: Huh?

Sam: Sure. It's what's called "a paradox."

Abby: There's a joke here, Sam.

Sam: No. Not a "pair of ducks." It's a "paradox."

Abby: Right.

Sam: Deep intimacy requires two humans who can stand alone as separate people--two humans who can stand on their own two feet. But, paradoxically, it requires two humans who, at the same time, can be deeply close and intimate with each other at the same time.

Abby: Separate and close at the same time?

Sam: Yes. That's the magic key in all truly intimate relationships.

Abby: As opposed to ones that appear intimate but are lacking depth?

Sam: Yes. Drs. James Maddock and Noel Larson, and Dr. David Schnarch, say that real intimacy is too intense for many people. They say that many people can't tolerate the closeness of true intimacy, and so instead they do things to avoid it, like pouting, getting rageful, being "nice" when they are actually angry, saying nasty, cruel things to each other instead of just being clean with their anger, being "scary," or being too yielding, or "martyrs."

Abby: I'm just a simple Labrador Retriever, Sam, but I think I'm beginning to see it.

Sam: I'm just a little twerp of a mongrel Cockapoo, Ab, but it's starting to be clear to me, too.

Abby: You're a mongrel, Sam?

Sam: Yes. There are groups that are trying to establish my blood line as pedigree, but let's face it, Abby, there's no such thing as a true Cockapoo. But that's neither here nor there, Abby. I am me. And that's all I need to know.

Abby: Indeed. You are you.

Sam: And you are my dearest friend in all the world.

Abby: I like that, Sam. I like that you are you--totally you, and nobody else. And, that you also like me more than any other dog in the world. If you weren't just you, and nobody else, it wouldn't mean as much.

Sam: I feel the same about you, Abby. Humans look at us and laugh sometimes. I mean, look at us. We are as different as different can be. You weigh 65 pounds and I weigh 21 pounds. Your fur is straight and thick and you shed, and mine is thin and curly and I don't shed. You are calm and sweet and agreeable, and I am engaging and intense at times, and interactive. You are sneaky, I am pretty transparent. But when we are out on our 3-mile run with Dad, people chuckle because we are almost the same color despite the fact that we look so different in every other way imaginable.

Abby: At that moment, we look like twins, but in truth we are completely different in almost every other way.

Sam: It's a very good feeling to be this close to another dog, and to know how different we are from the outside right down to the core.

Abby: Yes, it is.
 
 

May 1, 2002 In Which Sam And Abby Ponder The Handling Of Child Sexual Abuse Cases In The Catholic Church

Abby: Sam, what do you think about what is happening in the Catholic Church right now?

Sam: Are you talking about the sexual abuse cases?

Abby: Yes, Sam.

Sam: It is very complex.

Abby: Yes, Sam. What do you think about it?

Sam: I think that it is horrible, of course. And, I think that it isn't confined to the Catholic Church, by any stretch of the imagination. And, I think it is being handled in the oddest of ways.

Abby: That is an interesting way of categorizing it.

Sam: Yes. But it is so peculiar that I can't think of another word to describe it.

Abby: You're right, Sam. Nearly ten years ago, as the Father James Porter case came to light in the media, Dad wrote about it in his book, Rescuing Your Spirit: When Third-Grade Morality Isn't Enough For Christians. Father Porter was the charismatic Catholic priest in New England who sexually molested hundreds of children in various parishes out east, and then, after what experts now say was useless "treatment" in New Mexico, and where he continued to molest children, he was sent to a parish in Bemidji, Minnesota, where he continued to molest children. The bishop in charge of that diocese was outraged that Porter had been sent to him with a letter stating that he was more or less "cured," despite the fact that pedophilia is not a curable disease. Porter finally left the priesthood and moved to Oakdale, Minnesota--a Twin Cities suburb--where he got married, had children, and continued to molest children. After a conviction here in Minnesota was overturned, authorities out east were able to try him for those earlier crimes in the 1960's. He is still in prison as of this writing, having been denied parole the last time he was reviewed for it.

Sam: We didn't know much about pedophilia back then.

Abby: But in a 1991 interview with a Church spokesperson, Diane Sawyer of ABC News asked him if authorities needed to know about pedophilia in any sophisticated kind of way in order to realize that children's lives were being ruined. The priest answered, "No, they didn't need to know about it in any sophisticated kind of way."

Sam: What else came out a decade ago?

Abby: Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, the man at the center of the storm right now, publicly decried the abuse of children. But from the pulpit, caught on camera by ABC News, Cardinal Law said to his parishioners, "By all means, let's call down God's power on the media."

Sam: I feel sick.

Abby: Yes. It's the classic response that happens in incest families, too. The shame and horror of incest are so great that quite often, when a boy or girl comes forward to say that he or she is being sexually abused by Dad or Mom or Grandpa or Stepdad, the family will rally around the perpetrator of the abuse, and attack the victim. By "Calling down God's power on the media," Cardinal Law was basically saying, "Don't you dare talk about this. Only I have the power in this matter, and I choose to cover it up! The victims are bad for coming forward and accusing the Church, and the media is bad for helping them do it!"

Sam: I feel very sick.

Abby: Now we come to find out that Cardinal Law has been shuffling pedophile priests around from parish to parish for ages. What's worse, when the U.S. Cardinals went to the Vatican last week to discuss this matter with the Pope, one of their public statements was that the most notorious pedophiles would be dealt with immediately, implying that less notorious ones would not be dealt with immediately. It's almost as if they are still more concerned with the Church's image than with the safety and mental health of the children in the Church. It is hard to fathom how these old men's minds work, but it is apparent to many people that these old men are just that--rigid, frightened, embarrassed old men who have had the luxury of hiding behind their roles for centuries, and now find themselves unable to hide.

Sam: It is sad. It is sad for all concerned.

Abby: Indeed.

Sam: What did Dad write about this in his Rescuing Your Spirit book?

Abby: He wrote the following:

When the case first broke into the press, I was as horrified as anyone else despite my familiarity with sexual abuse cases. But what really caught my eye and horrified me to the depths of my soul was the public reaction by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who angrily and gruffly snapped into the 10 O'Clock News reporter's camera something to the effect that all the press was doing was making it hard on all of the good priests out there! His "official statement" quoted in the Los Angeles Times was that it was "the tragedy of a priest betraying the sacred trust of priestly service." But the cameras of PrimeTime Live show Cardinal Law preaching from his pulpit, presumably at Mass, and saying "By all means, let's call down God's power on the media." If I were a victim of sexual abuse, and a Catholic, this remark from a high Church official in such an angry, accusatory tone would probably fool me into feeling ashamed of my outrage. I would probably nod in agreement, my eyes glazing over in the dissociation that goes with being abused, and then I would comfortably go back into denial about the horrors that these scores of adults experienced and are still experiencing.

But that wasn't my reaction. My reaction was outrage. How dare he try to gloss over such an infinitely disgusting betrayal of children's faith and innocence by trying to dump the shame back onto those who have a duty to expose this kind of abuse! How dare high Church officials sit back and hope that it all blows over! How dare a bitter, frightened, angry old man of a Cardinal claim to be a representative of Jesus Christ! How dare he! It is true that one bad apple doesn't mean that the whole barrel is rotten. But Cardinal Law missed an incredible opportunity for accountability and healing--especially for the survivors of Father Porter's sexual atrocities.

What **if** Cardinal Law had said the following? "What Father Porter did was atrocious. It never should have happened. There is no way that we can undo it, but as a representative of the Catholic Church, I apologize from the depths of my soul for what a fellow clergyman did to you. I applaud the press for exposing these abuses so that we can all know about them, so that the survivors can feel believed and begin to heal, and so we can increase our very early, tentative efforts to treat our priests who are sexual offenders."

If he had said that, he would have been a model of true Christianity. But he didn't. He chose to indirectly shame the victims by attempting to shame the press who were, by reporting these atrocities, allowing the victims to begin to be believed and heal. I pray that Cardinal Law is just another bad apple and that the Church as a whole takes its rightful place of spiritual and moral leadership for millions of Catholics before too much additional damage is done. Looking the other way is not what leaders or Christians do. In this case, looking away is so awful that we can hardly believe it ourselves. But we must not look away from those who looked away, or we will be just as morally bankrupt.

Writing on April 26, 2002 for Salon magazine, Eugene Cullen Kennedy said that:

Ordinary American Catholics bear a wisdom within them that was hauntingly absent in their cardinals as they announced on Wednesday, to the melancholy taps of an uncertain trumpet, their unfinished plans to deal with the church's roiling sex abuse scandal -- a plague that they do not understand, although it has long afflicted their people, whose advice they have not sought. There is something poignant about good men bumbling solemnly in public, as travelers with 19th century tickets might on finding themselves on the concourse of the 21st century -- what place is this, what is that noise overhead, what are those devices people murmur into as they hold them to their heads?

The American cardinals' stunned out-of-synch surprise at finding themselves standing in postmodern Rome in medieval robes convinces everyday Catholics that the current crisis is not of the church as a great religious faith but rather of the church as a hierarchical organization -- clanking, clumsy and good only for museum display. This is how we lived in the days of the divine right of kings.

Sam: Do you think the Church can repair this and heal, Abby?

Abby: Human beings are always capable of repair and healing. It begins with the first step--admitting the problem instead of hiding behind roles. As soon as they stop hiding and sweeping various parts of this under the carpet, the healing can begin.

Sam: I shall pray for them, and for all of us creatures here on earth.

Abby: I shall, too, Sam.

April 1, 2002 In Which Sam And Abby Print Another Exerpt From Dad & Mom's New Book: The 7 Best Things (Happy) Couples Do.

Chapter Sixteen

Let Disappointment Enrich You

"...we don't believe that you should offer it for publication. It is diffuse and non-integral with neither very much plot development nor character development."                                                   --Rejection letter to William Faulkner
 
 

Please The Teacher And Win The Prize?

Psychologist Stephen Gilligan recalled a wonderful personal story from when he was a nineteen-year-old psychology student attending a small five-day workshop at the Arizona home of world-famous psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Wanting so badly to be liked by Erickson and to be invited back to study with him, the young Gilligan stayed up each night, working on a fable that he then courageously read in front of everyone. Erickson used a lot of metaphor and storytelling in his work, and Gilligan waited anxiously for a positive reaction from this man he idolized. As he finished his fable, the reaction was...

...Silence. Erickson looked at me for a long time, said nothing, then looked away and almost casually started talking about something else. For the rest of the meeting, he ignored me. I was utterly devastated.

As everyone was leaving, and "in a quavering voice," Gilligan asked, "What is your answer?"

Erickson came back with, "What is the question?"

"May I come back and study with you?"

Gilligan wrote that Erickson's face warmed and he beamed as he said, "Of course. Why didn't you just ask?"

The brilliance of this tale sends chills down our spines because it captures so many things in such a small space. Gilligan used it in his article to help show how for a therapist to be truly effective, she needs to be able to "reach out to the client from her own deepest core." He pointed out how Erickson had "demolished my pretensions" by reacting the way he did to Gilligan's attempts to please.

We like the story for many reasons. One reason we like it is that it demonstrates the immeasurable value of disappointment in our lives. It is only through disappointment that we are able to grow. Had Erickson said, "I like your fable. It is a lot like the ones I use in therapy. You have learned well, Grasshopper," what would Gilligan have learned?

The Analyst

Narcissism is a natural part of being human. What we do with it determines the depth and peace of our lives. In one of the most touching stories we have ever read, Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, shared elements of his lengthy psychoanalysis, which he introduced as:

...one of the last times a German-born analyst, with a direct laying on of hands from Freud, spent forty-five minutes twice a week for six years discussing, in a small room on Park Avenue decorated with Motherwell posters, the problems of a "creative" New York neurotic.

Gopnik proceeded to describe, in elegant, understated terms, one of the most subtle and finest relationships that we have ever been privileged to witness. With an uncanny ability to portray the paradoxes and ironies involved by writing with the same structure and style as that of this unfolding relationship, he ended his engaging story with a description of his own angry disappointment with the much awaited "final wisdom" of his longtime mentor, which turned out to be profoundly simple: "In retrospect, life has many worthwhile aspects."

After his analyst's death, Gopnik tenderly noted that

He is inside me. In moments of crisis or panic, I sometimes think that I have his woolen suit draped around my shoulders, even in August. Sometimes in ordinary moments I almost think that I have become him.

The Power Of Embracing Disappointment

The power that permeates the stories above resides in the universal experience of being a vulnerable human being who desperately wants to be connected to those whom we value "because we need them." We don't care if the nerdy kid in school likes us. We want the cool kid to like us. We don't need every adult to like us. We want our Dad to like us. We are essentially very powerful, very "big" creatures, who have a very "little" part inside of us who wants an even bigger creature to lay on those hands.
 
 

March 1, 2002 In Which Sam And Abby Print An Exerpt From Dad & Mom's New Book: The 7 Best Things (Happy) Couples Do.

Chapter Fourteen

Manage Your Fear, Hurt, Shame, And Loneliness

I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It's the light of grace for me. Never do I close the door behind me without being conscious that I am carrying out an act of charity towards myself.

Peter Hoeg

Smilla's Sense Of Snow

Shame And Hurt In The Front Yard

You are outside shoveling the snow off of the stone walkway leading up to your home. Your husband has just opened the garage door and is rolling the trashcan out to the curb for the weekly pick-up. As he turns and walks back toward the house he sees you there, and suddenly he feels a wave of anxiety sweep over him. He approaches you hurriedly and says in a mixed bark and whine, "Why don't you toss the snow over there?" as he points a commanding finger at a spot between the low growing evergreens and the sugar maple you planted five years ago. "If you pile it where you're piling it now, you're gonna smother those evergreens!"

As if you have been shot directly into your aorta with a syringe of pure adrenaline, your blood pressure skyrockets, your heart races, your breathing quickens, and you feel a rage in your belly the likes of which you've never felt before. You wheel around and face him with fire in your eyes and shout,"Why don't you shut the f---- up!" I never swear, you tell yourself, horrified. You glare at him as he shrinks before your very eyes and then sheepishly skulks back into the house.

Fear And Loneliness In The Dining Room

You and your wife are having dinner together on a quiet Thursday evening. The week is almost over, and it's been a long one. And tougher than usual. Neither one of you is in top form, and you're enjoying being with each other without major distractions for the first time all week. You're peacefully discussing plans for the weekend. Suddenly you remember that you promised one of your good friends that you and your wife would go to the opening of the play he is in at the local community theater. The opening is tomorrow night. You genuinely forgot, and you're hoping beyond hope that your wife will look up, smile excitedly, and say, "Oh, great! I'm so glad we get to go! I'm so excited for him!" But she's not likely to say that. You know her better than that.

In the first place, she's an introvert, and so she recharges her batteries by puttering around the house by herself, not by going out and mixing with crowds of people. Second, you both just shared with each other how tired you are and how you were looking forward to a quiet weekend together. Third, as an extravert who has developed his introverted side pretty well, when you heard the words leaving your mouth, a wiser part of you was saying,"You should have said 'Damn! I just remembered I promised Bob that I'd go to his opening tomorrow night. Would you be okay if I just went and came right back after the play is over?'" But the part of you that wants to try to make everybody happy held sway, and now the words were out and the tension was in the air.

"You what?" she began, angrily. "What the hell were you thinking? I am exhausted!" She stood up from the table, whirled around, and as she stormed out of the dining room she yelled back, "You are so inconsiderate! I can't believe you!" You become engulfed by anxiety as you hear the bedroom door slam. Because you're tired, you can't soothe yourself. The fear gets bigger. It feels like the marriage is suddenly over. The gulf between the two of you is unbearable. Instead of settling yourself down, which would give her some room to do the same, you head upstairs to the bedroom. The door is locked. Your fear gets bigger. You've flooded.

You pound on the door and in desperation try to reason with her in a voice you hope is loud enough to pass through the door. She yells, "Stop yelling! Just go away! I just need some space!" Well, to a person who is on the verge of emotionally flooding, the phrase "I just need some space" is code for "I am locked in here because I am about to pick up the phone and call my associate from work who is divorced and who talks all the time about how much fun she's having dating and having sex with all these exciting new men she's found." You finally slip across the boundary between upset and flooded.

"Open this door right now! I mean it! OPEN IT!!" You pound harder and harder until the door jam starts to split.

"That's it! I'm out of here!" she screams.

The Feelings Beneath The Rage

Let's stop here and catch our breath. Scenes like the two above are played out all across the country in homes peopled by doctors and lawyers and plumbers and bricklayers and drug dealers and prostitutes and school teachers and psychologists and everyone in between. They demonstrate two critical facts:

1) our violence and rage occur as a reaction to our own fear, hurt, shame, loneliness, or some combination of the four, and...

2) the violence and rage that we perpetrate on others happens, not because of something the other person does, but because of something we do not do.

For this reason, this may be the most important chapter in the book for many people. Fear, hurt, shame, and loneliness are pivotal emotions because they are involved in both the deepest connections between partners as well as the most damaging wounds inflicted by partners on each other. As with so many other things in human affairs, there is a powerful paradox surrounding these primal emotions. It is said that the deepest, most penetrating intimacy between people occurs at the level of their vulnerability. We have also said the same thing in our statement that "the deepest experience of intimacy takes place at the level of our weakness."

Being vulnerable versus being out of control. But that's a very qualified statement, because in order to have truly deep intimacy at the level of our weakness, a person must be very strong. Strength, of course, is the ability to experience one's emotions while keeping them relatively well contained so that they do not spill over and flood everyone around us. Thus we note the profound difference between being with someone who is shedding tears deeply, sobbing with gut wrenching grief, but who we know is able to contain himself, versus being with one who cries uncontrollably but leaves us with the fear that at any moment he will go off the deep end. The problem in trying to explain this, especially in a media "sound bite," is that on the surface the two instances look exactly alike, especially to someone who lacks emotional intelligence.

"When she'd come up and sit by me, I felt myself recoiling inside. I just assumed it was because I was a guy--you know, guys aren't supposed to be comfortable with feelings--but it wasn't because I was a guy. It was because she had no boundaries inside of herself. It was like her intestines were spilling out into my lap and onto the floor, and I was supposed to sit there calmly and take it all in, or be accused of lacking the ability to be intimate! Good God! I am so glad I talked to a therapist about this. It was me, but not in the way I first thought. It was me doubting my own perceptions.

The more at ease we become with the beauty of the complex parts of ourselves, the more distinct is the line between what that man just described, and what this next man described. "We were having breakfast one Saturday morning and I started reading an article to her from the newspaper. It was an emotional story, and my lip started to quiver as I took a breath and looked up at her for a second. Her eyes had begun to well up with tears. I stopped. She started to speak and her voice cracked as the tears trickled down her cheeks. 'My father was so cruel,' she began. 'I don't know what was wrong with him. And my mother to this day has never acknowledged it. When I was a little girl he made nasty, snide remarks to me for no reason. I was a sweet little girl trying to be good all the time. He said 'You think you're so smart. Well, I know better.' I looked up in my mother's eyes hoping for something, anything, some acknowledgment that what he said was wrong, and she just looked down at the potatoes she was peeling and said, 'Come over here and help me. I always have too much work to do.'"

This man continued. "One of the things that I admire and appreciate so much about her is how she can do that. In all our years together, I have never felt smothered or engulfed by her feelings, and yet she is remarkably open without being out of control. Vulnerable without being needy. I have learned so much from her. She is such a gift."

The difference between "having a breakdown" and having one's feelings. To understand what we are trying to get across here, you must realize that quite a few people would describe the women in both stories above as "having a breakdown!" If it weren't so confusing for him, it would almost be comical to hear a man say that "I almost had a breakdown during our sales meeting when that SOB singled me out and started blaming me for the company's poor third-quarter performance. The two VP's and the entire sales force were at that meeting. Despite the fact that my sales exceeded everyone else's, I felt two inches tall!"

"You almost had a breakdown?" we asked.

"Yes. I could feel my lip start to quiver, and it was all I could do to keep my emotions in check."

"What happened next?"

"I composed myself and then I said, 'My sales figures are the best of the entire team. I think we can recover our performance if we look at what's really going on in the marketplace.'"

We thought, "What a great way to handle it!" And then we asked, looking just puzzled enough not to be sarcastic, "So, where was the near-breakdown?"

"You know. I almost cried."

In other words. Fear, hurt, shame, and loneliness are normal, healthy emotions. They are also very powerful emotions. When they are not contained, or when they aren't identified and acknowledged, they can lead to rage and violence or to extreme manipulation and smothering. When they are integrated and contained, they lead to the deepest levels of intimacy imaginable. People who get confused by this 1) have a hard time separating their own reactions from the reactions of others, and 2) tend to clump all emotional reactions into one category, getting flooded by even the healthy emotions of themselves and others, and/or not being able to distinguish between emotions that are "over the top" and emotions that are expressed with integrity and grace.
 
 

February 1, 2002 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss The Warm Minnesota Winter, And How We Can Get Blind-Sided In Our Relationships Even When We Consciously Tell Ourselves We Won't, Which Is One Form Of Arrogance

Sam: This has been a peculiar, intriguing, mystifyingly warm winter. This is supposed to be the absolute coldest few days of the year, right now; and we had temperatures of near-50 degrees above zero the other day. And while it got down to 15 above zero the other night, it's nothing like the normal 20-30 below zero that we have this time of year. I have been able to do our run with Dad without wearing my fleece coat most days this month.

Abby: I have to agree with you, Sam, it has been quite the enchanting January. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Is it Global Warming, or is it just a fluke of some kind? It's a little unsettling at the same time that it's simply a relief that it's not so bone-chilling, breath-freezing cold.

Sam: Life is like that, Abby. You can be in the middle of something that seems pretty good only to find out later that it was a prelude to something not so good. Sometimes, no matter how clever and thoughtful we are, we still get blind-sided by what the future has in store for us.

Abby: I guess the question is whether or not we can reduce the degree and severity of some of these "blind-siding episodes" by paying attention to what has happened before. I realize that we can't avoid or reduce them all.

Sam: Agreed. It takes a certain degree of maturity to be able to learn from one's experience. To actually apply that learning can often take a herculean amount of awareness and self-discipline. For example, it is fairly easy to say, "I have learned my lesson. I should never get involved with a woman or man like that again." But it is a whole different matter to head in the other direction the next time you find yourself sliding into that same old trance, in which you let yourself get deeper and deeper into a relationship that at some unconscious level you know will be destructive. It feels so good in the beginning and all the while, a little voice in the back of your brain is saying, "Run like the wind!!"

Abby: Why do we get blind-sided in the first place? If we can consciously say, "I shouldn't get involved with someone who is going to constantly criticize me or lie to me or manipulate me," why do we go ahead and do it anyway? It doesn't make any sense.

Sam: On the surface it doesn't make any sense. But you must realize, Ab, that when we are puppies--or children, in the case of humans--we live with the people who care for us day in and day out, and over the many years of our youth, our brains are forming templates of what a close relationship is supposed to feel like. If the template for a close relationship includes being ignored, or belittled, then no matter how painful it was for us to experience that, we will unconsciously pick a partner who will ignore or belittle us. Some of us will do it over and over again until we make conscious what is unconscious. Even then, we will still pick a partner who is similar in certain ways to our parents, but the similarity will not be as severe.

Abby: Fascinating. I'm beginning to see how it works. It's sort of like this Global Warming business. The factors that go into determining what the temperature is today are so complex and so intertwined, that it can take decades, if not a century or two, to see if an actual trend is occurring. When we are embedded in the middle of a complex system we can look at one part--the presence or absence of an El Nino or El Nina out in the Pacific Ocean--and conclude that the warm temperatures this January are due to that, when they could be due to something else entirely. In picking a partner, you might look at someone and say to yourself, "This person hardly ever raises his voice, and therefore he is not like the painful part of my childhood at all." You could be right, but you could also find yourself blind-sided a few months or a year or two down the road when you discover that he is a rager just like your Dad or Mom, except that he does it silently.

Sam: Ouch! That would be painful. There are few things more shaming or more frightening than having someone you love punish you with extended periods of silence. So, I think you've got it, Ab. It's like the blind men trying to figure out what the elephant is by touching different parts of it. The man touching the elephant's leg might think it is a tree. The man touching the elephant's tail might think it is a snake. Until they put all the pieces of information together, they won't know what it is. It's the same way with family systems, and how our history determines our choice of a romantic partner.

Abby: There is another piece to this little conundrum that we are unraveling here, Sam. And that is the fact that when we repeatedly spit into the wind, each time believing that we won't get spit in our faces, we are being arrogant.

Sam: Aha! Brilliant, Abby!

Abby: Yes. It is one of those paradoxes of being human, or human-like canines like us. We have the ability to reflect on ourselves and our own experience. We have the ability to learn from our past experiences and avoid the same mistakes in the future. But we also have the ability to over-ride all of that and just spit into the wind, all the while deluding ourselves that it will work out better this time.

Sam: One of the keys to making this all work out is to acquire the capacity for true humility. Another paradox is that we become more powerful when we can admit that we have limitations. It is only then that truly have the capacity to learn from our past experiences, and have wonderful relationships.

Abby: Well done, Sam old boy. Let's move carefully into February, then.

Sam: Ja, shure, yew betcha, Ab!

January 1, 2002 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss The Paradoxes Of Growing Older, And The Deeper Psychology That Can Be Understood By Enjoying Literature And Film

Abby: Happy New Year, Sam!

Sam: Happy New Year to you, too, Ab!

Abby: How old are you going to be this year, Sam?

Sam: I will be 9 years old--63 in dog years. How old will you be, Ab?

Abby: I will be 11 years old--77 in dog years. Well, sort of. Cockapoos live several years longer than Labrador Retrievers, Sam, so I could be a bit older and you could be a bit younger.

Sam: I think about the two of us sometimes, Abby. I think about which one of us will die first, and how it will be for the one who survives. Do you ever think about that, Ab?

Abby: Oh, yes, of course I do, Sam. It is one of the most poignant aspects of life and of love--that the former doesn't last forever; and that while the latter does, it does so in the absence of the beloved who has died and left this world.

Sam: The older I become, the more I appreciate and savor every tiny bit of life and of love--how you luxuriate in my daily efforts to clean your ears and your eyes, how with obvious concern on your gentle face you wait for me when we're out on our run and I linger behind for a moment to sniff one last tree before scampering along to catch up with you and Dad, the smell of fresh spring rain, how silly we get when we get out in the snow--there must be a genetic switch in dogs that makes us get goofy in the snow...

Abby: ...Yes, I feel the same--the fragility of life entangled with its infinite depth and power. It is such a paradox, such a puzzle. Which accounts for the exquisite mixture of joy and sadness that accompanies the wisdom of old age.

Sam: It reminds me of Shakespeare's observation about life, in Macbeth: "My plenteous joys, wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves in drops of sorrow."

Abby: When Dad was in college at the University of San Francisco, he and some of his friends asked their clinical psychology professor what courses they should take to better prepare them for work as psychologists. Dad never forgot his answer. He told them to take literature courses, because it is in literature that we come to truly understand human beings in all of their complexity.

Sam: I noticed that Dad was reading a book called Motherless Brooklyn a couple of months ago. Do you remember what it was about?

Abby: I overheard them talking to some friends about it one evening. It's about a two-bit mobster/detective who grew up in an orphanage in Brooklyn and had Tourette's Syndrome. The author, Jonathan Lethem, takes the reader directly to the center of the protagonist's mis-firing brain, and in the process, elicits a level of empathy from the reader that is entirely devoid of pity. Not only that, but the man's struggles to contain, understand, manage, and capitalize on his physical tics and verbal outbursts was woven into an engaging detective story that could have stood on its own.

Sam: Sounds brilliant.

Abby: Yes. That describes it.

Sam: The quirky brain disorder in that book reminds me of that movie Mom and Dad rented the other night. It was called Memento, I think. The man in that film suffered what appeared to be a rare condition in which he no longer had short-term memory. His wife was being raped in their home and he was knocked unconscious in the ensuing struggle to protect her. He remembered everything that occurred prior to the crime, so his longterm memory was intact, but he was unable to build any new memories from that point forward. The movie begins at the end and then slowly builds itself back to the beginning, fragment by fragment, just as the man had done in his attempts to compensate for his lack of short-term memory. It was fascinating.

Abby: Don't say anything more about it, or you'll ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Sam: Don't say anymore about what, Abby? What? What are you talking about?

Abby: Funny, Sam. Very funny. You still have your short-term memory.

Sam: Yes. But I was entranced by how powerfully that was depicted in the film. It's something we so take for granted, and yet without it, there is no continuity, no identity, no ability to create bonds, history, community. Something that seems so simple and so unimportant...

Abby: ...Like the little things in life, the value of friends, small kindnesses, textures, sounds; and all the people who come into our lives, touch us in some unique way, and then move on. Even the ones we don't like very much.

Sam: Yes. Let's try to remember how valuable our lives are every moment, and how important is our relationship with each other, even when we're having one of our little spats.

Abby: Yes, Sam. That's the perfect way to start out a new year. Putting the emphasis where it belongs. Good show, Sam.

Sam: Thank you, Abby. Happy New Year!
 
 

December 1, 2001 We wish you warmth and companionship and love and tolerance over this holiday season. We express our gratitude to George Harrison for his brief, 58-year presence in this world, and express our condolences to his family and friends. And until January 1st, 2002, when we resume our regular column again, we leave you with this quote from our Mom, which will be on the back cover of Dad's & Mom's new book, which will be released in April, 2002:

"It is through connecting one heart to another, around seemingly small things, that love grows."--Linda Friel

November 1, 2001  We pray for those who have died or who are suffering as a direct or indirect result of the recent terrorist acts and the response to them, and also for a thoughtful resolution to both this war on terrorism and to the continual, daily tragedies resulting from poverty, disease, ignorance, and fear throughout the world. We are reminded that the purpose of religion is to help each of us rise above our own human limitations and frailties. We are trying to ask ourselves what we are doing to relieve the suffering of others in the world, rather than how we can pass judgment on others. If you believe in a Higher Power, we hope that you are able to leave the judging to that Being.
 
 

October 1, 2001 In recognition of the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters last month, we ask that everyone pray for those who died, for their family and friends, and also for a thoughtful resolution to both this war on terrorism and to the continual, daily tragedies resulting from poverty, disease, ignorance, and fear throughout the world.
 
 

September 1, 2001 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Their Relationship A Little Bit, And Then The Psychology Of Anger

Sam: What do you know about the psychology of anger?

Abby: Anger?

Sam: Yes.

Abby: Well, I was reading some of the stuff Dad and Mom wrote about it recently. Actually, it was for their new book on "Relationships" that will be coming out in April, 2002. They just finished it in July, and a copy of the manuscript was sitting on the coffee table in the family room downstairs. I was able to put on a pair of those reading glasses that they have laying around the house, and then I read the whole thing in two sittings.

Sam: You did? Why did you put on the reading glasses, Ab?

Abby: Because I'm getting older, Sam. I'm ten years old, which puts me at around seventy in human equivalent years. That's why I'm starting to have a little trouble getting up the stairs after we go out in the back yard to sniff around and visit with that terrier next door. I'm beginning to wear out a little bit, Sam.

Sam: You'll always seem young and beautiful and graceful to me, Abby. I guess love is like that. True love, as opposed to infatuation, isn't blind. With the passage of time and the increasing understanding of one another, our perception of each other is actually much sharper and clearer, but it is deeper and more experienced, and thus we often miss the superficial aspects of each other, like failing eyesight or arthritic joints. Life is what we choose to focus on. There is a price and a payoff to everything upon which we choose to focus.

Abby: Sam, you have such a soulful heart sometimes.

Sam: Thank you, Ab. But, getting back to the topic of anger, I do get a little riled up when there's another dog around; or those pesky squirrels; or those sneaky rabbits. I go into my "attack dog" state pretty quickly.

Abby: That's true, Sam. You are a fierce warrior and hunter, and a fine specimen of an animal. I have always admired that aspect of you. Remember when we met, long ago, in the Canadian North Woods?

Sam: How could I ever forget. It was so...so...legendary...

Abby: ...so heroic.

Sam: So, what were you reading about anger, Ab?

Abby: A couple of interesting things caught my eye. For one, anger is a protective emotion, and it is always preceded by a more vulnerable emotion, especially fear, hurt, shame, or loneliness.

Sam: Or all of the above?

Abby: Yes, Sam, good point. Or all of the above. So, another dog threatens your territory and you feel a shot of fear running through your nerves, but it is quickly converted into an anger response, as in: "Hey! Get out of my territory! This is my territory! I peed on it already! Go away!"

Sam: I get it.

Abby: Or your friends humiliate you in front of a whole pack of other dogs. The shame is almost overwhelming, but you quickly convert it into an angry, defensive reaction.

Sam: So, Ab, what should someone do if he or she has an anger problem? In other words, if someone has too much anger all the time, or too little protective anger, what should he or she do?

Abby: It was once believed that the best thing to do, especially if you had too much anger, was to express it loudly and dramatically. Therapists used to have their clients hit a pile of pillows with a bat while yelling and screaming. It was believed that expressing the anger would purge it from the person's psyche so that he wouldn't be so angry in the future.

Sam: What do experts believe now?

Abby: There is a lot of research evidence to suggest that yelling and screaming when you are angry just makes you angrier. The therapy is very dramatic, and so narcissistic clients are especially drawn to it. But the drama is either unnecessary, or in the case of more fragile clients, not very helpful, or even overwhelming at times.

Sam: What should angry people do?

Abby: Mom and Dad help them do a few things. 1) First, they try to help people identify the softer, more vulnerable feelings beneath the anger. Many chronically angry people have a hard time identifying their hurt, shame, fear, and loneliness. 2) Then, they try to help the person by teaching cognitive behavioral techniques, in which the client learns to use his or her own "self-talk" to re-frame the event and make better choices. For example, if you get a flat tire, you could rage on the freeway and kick your car. Or, you could re-interpret the event as a normal annoyance of everyday life that everyone experiences, and ask yourself "why do you think you're more special than anyone else that you aren't subject to an occasional flat tire, and will it really be the end of the world if you are legitimately late for that meeting?"

Sam: Wow! I can see why that would help! Does it help, Ab?

Abby: Indeed. It works most of the time. When people learn to both express and also contain their emotions, they gain mastery over their emotions, and then they can enter the much more rewarding world of competent, fulfilling, enjoyable, effective adulthood.

Sam: And on that note, we wish you a pleasant end of summer and beginning of fall.

Abby: See you all next month!
 
 

August 1, 2001 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss Double Binds, And How To Get Out Of Them

Sam: Abby, the weather in July was something else! The first two weeks gave us the driest for that two-week period, in all of recorded Minnesota weather history!

Abby: And then it rained like cats and dogs for the next two weeks, and was so humid that I thought for a moment we lived in Southeast Asia!

Sam: It was bad. There were a couple of days in there when we could only run a mile with Dad because we got so hot. And then there was that one day when we literally wanted to stop as soon as we hit the street.

Abby: I'm glad Dad speaks Dog. He caught on right away and brought us back in the house. Thank God for air conditioning!

Sam: I wonder what the electric bill will look like when it comes?

Abby: I don't know, but I'm glad I don't have to pay for it. It would take a lot of dog biscuits to cover that! We'd be in a real bind.

Sam: Speaking of binds, Abby, do you remember that discussion we were having about double binds the other day?

Abby: Yes, it was fascinating.

Sam: I overheard Mom and Dad discussing double binds just yesterday. They were talking about how the brilliant anthropologist Gregory Bateson first coined the term to help describe the kind of unhealthy interactional patterns that occur in families where there is schizophrenia.

Abby: I thought schizophrenia was a genetic-biological disorder.

Sam: It is, but remember, what's in our genes--especially the negative stuff--doesn't always get manifested in our phenotype. Sometimes the genes can be there but the disorder doesn't show itself.

Abby: So, what were Mom and Dad saying about double binds?

Sam: They said that with a double bind, you're forced to choose between two uncomfortable alternatives, as in "You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't."

Abby: It could also be two positive but uncomfortable choices.

Sam: Like....?

Abby: Like a therapist saying to a client, "You can call me at home, but only if you need to and are ready to go to the hospital." It's what's called a therapeutic double bind, because it forces the person into a position where the only two choices are ones that will promote further growth--I either have to take adult responsibility for my own safety and make the call to go into the hospital for a few days until I am stabilized, or I need to wait until my next appointment with the therapist and learn how to soothe myself in the meantime. Either one causes me to grow by leaps and bounds.

Sam: That's cool! You're so smart, Abby!

Abby: Thanks, Sam.

Sam: The example of an unhealthy double bind that I often hear Dad use is the parent who is in recovery from alcoholism, or whose parent was alcoholic, and who then anxiously hounds and pesters and nags and cajoles and lectures his or her child about the evils of alcohol from the time the child is old enough to sit in a high chair and listen.

Abby: Yuck!

Sam: Yuck is right! Most definitely. The parent's intentions are very good, but the effect is actually the opposite of what is intended. It's an example of what Mom calls "It looks like love, but isn't."

Abby: If I had somebody nagging me anxiously like that for 17 years, I'd want to drink!

Sam: Exactly.

Abby: But where's the double bind?

Sam: Suppose this child becomes alcoholic, which has a higher-than-average probability of occurring simply because of the heritability of alcoholism. Suppose this child is having problems with his or he life, goes to see a psychologist, and in the routine initial evaluation is asked about chemical use. Suppose this child, who is now an adult, realizes that his or her chemical use is very scary and dangerous.

Abby: Aha! I see where you're going with this, Sammy! Here's the double-bind: If this person does not admit to being alcoholic, his life will ultimately be ruined by the disease. But if he does admit to being alcoholic, in his primitive unconscious logic that we all have, he believes he will be admitting that his parents were right in nagging and cajoling him all of those years.

Sam: You got it, Ab!

Abby: Of course, the way out of the bind is to separate a couple of things that he is currently lumping together.

Sam: Right. THE WAY OUT OF A DOUBLE BIND LIKE THIS IS TO USE THE WORD "AND." His parents were right in fearing that he might be susceptible to alcoholism, and that alcoholism is something to fear. But they were wrong in nagging him about it all those years. That kind of nagging and projection of one's own anxieties onto one's children is not appropriate. The way out of the bind is for him to say: I am an alcoholic and I need to go to AA or Treatment so that I can stop using and save my life, AND, my parents were terribly inappropriate in how they lectured and nagged and dumped all of their anxiety on me for so many years. They had no right to do that.

Abby: This is brilliant, Sam. By the way, what should the parent have said?

Sam: Almost nothing. What I believe the parent should have done is to wait until the child was the age when experimenting with chemicals begins, and then say to him,"We want you to know a couple of things. One is that you are at higher risk for addiction because it runs in the family. Second, because we love you so much, if we ever see you getting in over your head with chemicals, we're going to step in and make sure you get the help that you need."

Abby: That's it?

Sam: Of course, you would probably say those two things in the context of a longer conversation--as opposed to a lecture--but those are the two points to get across.

Abby: And how often would you say those two things? As a parent, your anxiety about chemical use by your child will go up more than once during his adolescence.

Sam: You would say it no more than twice--once when you had the initial conversation, and the second time only if you saw your child getting in over his head and you had decided to intervene.

Abby: Wow, Sam! And what is a parent to do with all of that angst that comes up along the way?

Sam: It is a primary task of adulthood to learn to soothe one's uncomfortable feelings in appropriate ways. So the answer is, soothe yourself and keep your anxiety to yourself, or share it with other adults, but don't dump it on your child. Dumping your anxiety on your child will only make him want to drink or use drugs to reduce the anxiety he is carrying for you.

Abby: This sure makes a lot of sense. I am so glad we had this conversation. And I hope our readers will be able to use this to improve their lives.

Sam: Me, too, Ab. In the meantime, have a nice August. Before you know it, Fall will be here in the great Land of 10,000 Lakes!
 
 

July 1, 2001 In Which Sam & Abby Repeat Their 1999 Column In Honor Of The Fourth Of July.....

.......July 4, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Freedom, History,  And The Fourth Of July

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, do you realize what this e-mail says?

Sam The Cockapoo:  What e-mail?

Abby:  This one on Dad's desk.  From a friend of his in Florida.  It's about what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration Of Independence.

Sam:  What does it say, Ab?

Abby:  I'm nearly in tears, Sam.  I don't know if I can read it aloud.  It's so touching.

Sam:  Go ahead.  Take your time.

Abby:  It says that five of the signers were captured, tortured, and died at the hands of the British.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned, two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, and another two had sons who were captured.  Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the War.

Sam:  My God, I had no idea.

Abby:  There's more.  It says that these were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing, ruffians, but men of education and means who sacrificed all they had, for freedom.  Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners.  Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Sam:  This is unbelievable, Abby.

Abby:  At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British general Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters.  He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on his own home.  The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.  Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed, the enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.  John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.  Their 13 children fled for their lives.  His fields and gristmill were laid to waste.  For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife
dead and his children vanished.  A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Sam:  This is incredible.  It is so important that you found this e-mail, Abby.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we ever lost sight of what the Fourth Of July was really about?  It would be a terrible tragedy.  It would be awful.  It would be the end of reverence.

Abby:  It reminds me that Dad and Mom quoted Cicero (80 B.C.) in The Soul Of
Adulthood: "Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child."

Sam:  Or much worse.  To be without historical perspective is to be dangerous and shallow, too.  The less we remember, the more we repeat, including our mistakes.

Abby:  Or, especially our mistakes.

Sam:  Hey.  What's this?!  Another e-mail.  From Dad's sister in Southern California.  Listen to this!  She has added some additional facts about the American Revolution.  Deborah Sampson enlisted as Robert Shirtliffe and served for five years, being wounded twice!   In 1804, Paul Revere assisted Deborah in successfully petitioning the Massachusetts state government for a pension.  Molly Ludwig Hayes was 24 and pregnant when her husband collapsed at his post, and Molly took his place.  Women like her accompanied their husbands or lovers into battle, loading guns, tending wounds, and carrying water both to cool down cannons and to refresh the men.   These "Molly Pitchers" were often drafted to replace wounded or ailing artillery men.  Women were also spies!
Anna Strong and her Culper Ring of Long Island, N.Y., provided a crucial link between Connecticut and New York, where fighting was fierce and British occupation was long.

Abby:  Females are often ignored in the history books, Sam.  I'm glad you found this. Now, everyone who reads our column this month will know.

Sam:  Yes.  I hope that everyone who reads this column this month will think a little bit about how much it costs to win and keep one's freedom.  And that every once in awhile it is good for the soul just to be still and reflect on the sacrifices that ordinary people have made throughout history in order to improve our civilizations.

Abby:  Sam, in all honesty, what do you think those great men and women of the American Revolution would think about the number of guns that exist in the United States right now?

Sam:  Abby, I can feel their tears softly falling to the earth right now.

June 2, 2001 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Anchorage Marathon, The Dipsea Race, And Alcoholics Anonymous

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby, we were wrong! We didn't jump right into summer.

Abby The Labrador: No kidding, Sammy! The past month has been pretty cold and wet.

Sam: A couple of weeks ago, Dad took us for our run in the morning and he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The next day it was so cold that he wore some of his winter running gear.

Abby: I like it when it's cooler, though. For running, anyway. Remember, I'm nearly ten years old now. I'm not the young pup I used to be.

Sam: I'm almost eight. I think I have a little more stamina than you do.

Abby: I think so. We used to go five miles at a time, even when it was pretty hot out. Now, we go three at the max, and usually two. And if it's really hot outside, I can barely do the two.

Sam: Yes. We're slowing down a little bit. But I'm glad Dad still takes us out. Can you imagine how we'd feel if we didn't run most days?

Abby: I'd hate to think about it.

Sam: It's hard, though. When he brings us back and makes sure we have a big cold drink of water, he then goes back outside to finish his five-mile run. I wish I could go with him, but I know I need to cool down.

Abby: We have a pretty good life all-in-all, Sammy.

Sam: Without question.  Speaking of running, Dad got into The Dipsea Race (http://www.dipsea.org) again, and this time Dave got in with him. They're running as a father-son team, but I overheard Dad say that he doubted if they'd be competitive. They're just running it for the fun of it and for the exercise.

Abby: It's quite a race. The second oldest foot race in the United States, after the Boston Marathon.

Sam: And after Dad finished in the middle of the pack last year, he said that it was pretty grueling--more so than he'd trained for. I guess those 676 stairs that begin the race, followed by another few miles up the side of Mt. Tamalpais, were quite the challenge.

Abby: Someday I'd like to go out there to Northern California and run that course. It's 7.1 miles, so we'd have to stop for a rest and some cold water several times. But I'd love to do it. Mom is running in the Anchorage Marathon this month, too! The Team from the Twin Cities has already raised $203,000 for the Leukemia Society!

Sam: That's incredible! Is Mom ready for the race?

Abby: Oh, yes. Despite a few minor aches and pains, she's trained hard for it. I think she's ready. She and her friend went about 20 miles yesterday, and when she and Dad were at Lake Tahoe over Memorial Weekend, they went about 10 miles. I'd like to run that Dipsea Race and that Anchorage Marathon someday.

Sam: You would? You're amazing for an old girl, Ab! Speaking of old, I was looking on the web the other day and I ran across a site for Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/), and I was reading some of the information there.

Abby: What did it say?

Sam: The following is a quote from their web site...

AA had its beginnings in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between Bill W., a New York stockbroker,  and Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon. Both had been hopeless alcoholics. Prior to that time, Bill and Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by the noted Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Under this spiritual influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Ebby T., Bill had gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics, though none of these had actually recovered. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob's Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to achieve sobriety.

When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had made good. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill's convincing ideas, he soon got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been struck.

Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron's City Hospital, where one patient quickly   achieved complete sobriety. Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group. In the fall of 1935, a second group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober alcoholics in the three founding groups.

Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous. The text, written by Bill, explained A.A.'s philosophy and methods, the core of which was the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery. The book was also reinforced by case histories of some thirty recovered members. From this point, A.A.'s development was rapid.

Abby: That is so cool, Sam!

Sam: Truly, it is. What's also cool is to see in how many countries it exists. Right now, you can go to an AA meeting in any of the countries below, and fit right in, even if you don't speak the language!

ANGOLA / BENIN / BOTSWANA / CAPE VERDE / EGYPT / ETHIOPIA / GHANA / KENYA / LIBYA /MADAGASCAR/MALAWI / MALI / MAURITIUS / MOROCCO / MOZAMBIQUE / NAMIBIA / NIGER / NIGERIA/REUNION / SENEGAL / SIERRA LEONE / SOUTH AFRICA / SWAZILAND/TANZANIA / UGANDA / ZAIRE / ZAMBIA / ZIMBABWE/BANGLADESH / BURMA / CAMBODIA / DIEGO GARCIA / HONG KONG / INDIA/INDONESIA / JAPAN / KOREA / LAOS / MALAYSIA / NEPAL / PAKISTAN/   PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA / PHILIPPINES / REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE/SRI LANKA / TAIWAN / THAILAND / VIET NAM/AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, PACIFIC ISLANDS & ANTARCTICA/AMERICAN SAMOA / AUSTRALIA / COOK ISLAND / FIJI / GUAM/JOHNSTON ISLAND / MARSHALL ISLANDS / MICRONESIA / NEW CALEDONIA/NEW ZEALAND / PAPUA NEW GUINEA / SAIPAN / SOLOMON/ISLANDS / TAHITI/TONGA / VANUATU / WESTERN SAMOA/           BERMUDA & CARIBBEAN ISLANDS/ANGUILLA / ANTIGUA / ARUBA / BAHAMAS / BARBADOS / BERMUDA / BONAIRE/CAYMAN ISLANDS / CUBA / CURAÇAO / DOMINICA / DOMINICAN REPUBLIC/GRENADA / HAITI / JAMAICA / MONTSERRAT / NEVIS / SABA ISLAND / ST. BARTHELEMY/ST. KITTS / ST. LUCIA / ST. MAARTEN / ST. VINCENT / TORTOLA / TRINIDAD & TOBAGO/                   TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS / VIRGIN GORDA / ( U.S. ) VIRGIN ISLANDS/                 AUSTRIA / BELARUS / BELGIUM / BOSNIA HERCEGOVINA / BULGARIA /         CROATIA / CZECH REPUBLIC / DENMARK / ENGLAND / ESTONIA/                 FAROE ISLAND / FINLAND / FRANCE / GEORGIA / GERMANY / GIBRALTAR/        GREECE / HUNGARY / ICELAND / IRELAND / ITALY / KAZAKHSTAN / LATVIA/       LITHUANIA / LUXEMBOURG / MACEDONIA / MALTA / MOLDOVA / MONACO/     NETHERLANDS / NORWAY / POLAND / PORTUGAL / ROMANIA / RUSSIA/             SCOTLAND / SLOVAKIA / SLOVENIA / SPAIN / SWEDEN / SWITZERLAND/       UKRAINE / WALES/BELIZE / COSTA RICA / EL SALVADOR / GUATEMALA / HONDURAS / MEXICO/NICARAGUA / PANAMA/BAHRAIN / BRUNEL / CYPRUS / ISRAEL / KUWAIT / LEBANON / OMAN / QATAR/SAUDI ARABIA / TURKEY / UNITED ARAB EMIRATES / YEMEN ARAB REPUBLIC/CANADA / GREENLAND / UNITED STATES/ARGENTINA / BOLIVIA / BRAZIL / CHILE / COLOMBIA / ECUADOR / GUYANA/PARAGUAY / PERU / URUGUAY / VENEZUELA

Abby: How do you know if you fit in?

Sam: You just have to not want to drink today, and that's your credential to go to the meeting.

Abby: Do you have to say anything?

Sam: Nope. Dad and Mom tell people that they can go and keep to themselves for as long as they need to, in order to feel comfortable.

Abby: Does it work for everyone?

Sam: Nothing works for everyone. Humans are so diverse. But it's a great deal, and worth a try if you feel you might have a problem. Dad and Mom believe, like a lot of other professionals, that there are many people who are truly alcoholic, and they can't ever drink safely. There are others who are currently abusing alcohol, and it is possible for them to go back to responsible drinking someday.

Abby: But it's really important to know that there's a huge difference between the two. Consider that woman who wrote the book on alcoholics going back to controlled drinking.

Sam: Yes. Ten years later, she got so drunk that her blood alcohol level was close to 0.30, which could have killed her.

Abby: Unfortunately, she killed some people with her car, and is now in prison for a long, long time.

Sam: Alcohol is great for some people, but for others, it isn't at all. Dad and Mom suggest that people quit entirely for 6 months, and go to some AA meetings, if they aren't sure they're alcoholic or not.

Abby: If they aren't, it won't bother them a bit.

Sam: And if it bothers them a bit, then....

Abby: ...Then they need help.

Sam: We'll see you all in July! Have a good First Day Of Summer!!

May 1, 2001In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Remarkable New Approach To Marital And Sexual Therapy Of Psychologist David Schnarch, Ph.D.

Abby The Labrador: Sam, I am so thankful that winter is finally over. It has been more than the good people of Minnesota could handle.

Sam The Cockapoo: Or any of the good people in the Upper Midwest and other places where it has been colder than you-know-where.

Abby: Yes. Now we can look forward to summer!

Sam: No spring?

Abby: Not much of one I'll bet.

Sam: So, Ab, what have you been reading there?

Abby: A couple of books by Psychologist David Schnarch, on marital sexuality.

Sam: And the titles are?

Abby: Passionate Marriage, written for the general public, and Constructing The Sexual Crucible, for therapists.

Sam: What is Schnarch's main thesis?

Abby: He has revolutionized sexual therapy. He has taken it way beyond what Masters and Johnson developed. They were looking primarily at the physical mechanisms of sexuality, and on technique. Schnarch uses sexual conflict in a relationship as the arena in which the individuals in the relationship grow.

Sam: Good grief. That sounds fascinating.

Abby: It is. And it works. Sexual therapy used to focus on reducing conflict, but by reducing conflict instead of facing it and using it to grow, individuals and the marriages they were in simpy stagnated. The idea is that people need to learn how to be grown-ups, with personal integrity.

Sam: What do you mean?

Abby: Well, there are thousands of examples. One would be the man who is angry at his wife because she is domineering and critical. If he isn't grown up enough, he'll punish her by pouting, by acting hurt or helpless, or by having an affair and bad-mouthing her behind her back. If he has personal integrity, he'll stand up and re-enter the relationship. He'll "go to the wall," so to speak, by facing her and having conflict with her. He won't be a prisoner of having to be "nice" or of always needing her approval. He'll want to be in love with her, but not like a little boy loves his mother.

Sam: Then what happens?

Abby: They have conflict, Sam!

Sam: Oh. Like you and I have?

Abby: Sure. Like every healthy couple has.

Sam: And that's better than the way he was doing it before?

Abby: Don't you think so? Would you like it if I acted like a pouty two-year old?

Sam: Not a bit.

Abby: And I wouldn't like it if you acted like a snarly, critical, angry, disappointed pit bull.

Sam: Of course. So the husband in that scenario would show integrity by being direct instead of passive-aggressive.

Abby: Even if it means having to go right to the brink--to the very end of the marriage.

Sam: And the wife would show integrity by dealing with her displeasure by being direct and true to herself, rather than by being nasty, controlling, and critical. People who respect themselves won't act like perpetrators. If she is that unhappy wth him, she needs to say it. Saying it may hurt his feelings, but that isn't necessarily being a perpetrator. It's the way it's said.

Abby: Right. It takes great courage to stand up and be an adult. You have to be willing to be alone.

Sam: Dad and Mom wrote that in their book, The Soul Of Adulthood: Opening The Doors (Friel & Friel, 1995).

Abby: They wrote what?

Sam: They wrote: "You know you're truly becoming an adult when you can choose the discomfort of loneliness rather than hurting yourself, hurting others, or letting others hurt you."

Abby: Yes. That's it. As St. Paul psychologists James Maddock, Ph.D. and Noel Larson, Ph.D. describe it, having integrity means being neither a victim nor a perpetrator. It means being honest with yourself and your partner. It means declaring who you are and what you want, but also knowing that you can't have everything you want.

Sam: Dr. Schnarch and therapists who are working with his model have had wonderful success in helping people repair what appeared to be hopeless marriages, with hopeless sex lives.

Abby: As so many couples already know, having a vibrant, deeply passionate sex life is part of the joy of being grown up. And as Dr. Schnarch points out so well, humans don't reach their sexual prime when they're teenagers. They may reach their hormonal prime then, but they reach their actual sexual prime in their 40's and 50's and 60's.

Sam: Sounds like his book would be a good one for humans to read.

Abby: Indeed.

Sam: Enjoy it. We'll see you next month.
 
 

April 1, 2001 In Which Sam And Abby Suggest You Write Or Fax Your Representative In Congress

Sam The Cockapoo: I am pleased, but stunned by the recent series of votes in the U.S. Senate for John McCain's and Russ Feingold's Campaign Finance Reform legislation.

Abby The Labrador: I am, too, Sam. It renews my faith that the American political process may be redeemable after all. It was getting awfully dirty and tainted with all of the stuff Bill Clinton did. It's been going on in the Republican party as well. The average voter has less and less of a say in government when this kind of money gets tied up in each election.

Sam: Nobody thought John McCain would be able to pull it off.

Abby: There were just too many rich special interests on both sides of the aisle who didn't want to give up the ability to control the country's political process.

Sam: But somehow they pulled it off. What an amazing feat.

Abby: I guess you shouldn't take a guy like McCain for granted. A guy who spends seven years being tortured as a prisoner of war, and who refuses early release because it would have played into the hands of the enemy, isn't someone to take lightly.

Sam: Whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admire him, I think. The pundits are saying that if this measure passes in The House of Representatives, politics should be cleaner for at least 7-10 years. That's how long it will take the big special interests to figure out how to get around the law, and then the whole reform process will have to start again.

Abby: There are a lot of people who don't want this bill to become law, and it is still far from becoming law. The most powerful man in The House, Tom DeLay of Texas, known as "The Hammer," is the biggest fund raiser in the House. He is dead set against the bill. And Denny Hastert, the Speaker of the House, is against it, too. Dick Gephardt, the leading Democrat in the House has reservations about it, and George Bush is against it as it now stands.

Sam: That sounds disheartening.

Abby: Perhaps. But apparently the American people want it--and they want it in large numbers: "A Zogby International poll of 1,000 voters released Thursday, March 29, 2001, indicated that two out of three likely voters nationwide -- or 66 percent -- agree that soft money should be banned."

Sam: What's more, another recent Zogby Poll "...underscores the potential dangers for Bush in any political tangle with McCain. Zogby asked the following question: 'In the event of a dispute between president George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, which man would you say is more likely to represent your views?' Forty-nine percent said they believe McCain is more likely to represent their views, while just 26 percent chose Bush."

Abby: Yikes!

Sam: "Yikes" is right.

Abby: So what's next?

Sam: If you, I or anyone else out there reading this believe that there is way too much money pouring into federal elections, and if you are sick and tired of the American political process appearing tainted and "spoiled," and if you'd like your elected representatives in Congress to be able to spend more time governing and less time fund-raising, then we implore you to write or fax your elected representatives in The House Of Representatives and in no uncertain terms let them know that you want them to strongly support this bill as is.

Abby: It is imperative that you write a letter or send a fax. They don't pay much attention to e-mails. If you don't know who your representative is, go to the following web site, which lists all of the Senators and Representatives by state, along with fax numbers and mailing addresses. http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/

Sam: And if you think a letter or a fax won't make a difference, think again. It is exactly this that caused the Senate to do what no one thought it would do--the right thing.

Abby: Well, IS it the right thing? I mean, to play Devil's Advocate for a second, what about Free Speech? They're arguing that controlling campaign contributions interferes with free speech.

Sam: That's absurd. What's free about your vote and mine being obliterated because a very small number of very wealthy people want to control the world? And besides, the U. S. Supreme Court has already ruled that campaign funds can be restricted if it is necessary to remove the appearance of dirty politics.

Abby: Okay. That clears it up for me. I'm sending a letter to Betty McCollum in the Fourth Congressional District of Minnesota today.

Sam: So am I.

Abby: Go John McCain!!

March 1, 2001In Which Sam & Abby Read An Article On The Media Effects On Teen Drug Use, Written By Mom And Dad

Abby The Labrador: Sam! Look at this!

Sam The Cockapoo: What is it?

Abby: It looks like an article that Dad and Mom are writing for some journal or magazine.

Sam: What's it about?

Abby: It's about the effects of the media on teen drug use.

Sam: Hey, Ab! I think we'd better read this.

Abby: Me, too. It's an incredibly important topic.

Sam: I'll start reading it to you.

Abby: I love it when you read to me, Sam:

Sam: Here goes...

Drugs, Teens, and the Media

John C. Friel, Ph.D. & Linda D. Friel, M.A.

Licensed Psychologists

Shortly after the Klebold-Harris videotapes were released, syndicated columnist Mona Charen wrote:

Neither Harris nor Klebold came from what the pop psychologists call a "dysfunctional" family. Both had parents who loved them, and siblings who turned out all right. To understand Columbine...we must penetrate the mystery of how non-abusive, ordinary parents can fail to produce civilized offspring.It is fascinating to observe how we all struggle to make sense of the senseless in life. More than that, we believe that it is imperative for Americans in 2001 to ponder Charen's statement and then at least consider the following hypothesis...

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were so unconsciously enraged at the emotional abandonment and extreme double binds they experienced as a result of living in upscale homes where they were smothered with material wealth (at least in Klebold's case) and terribly neglected emotionally, that they projected it out onto the daily world in which they struggled to live. Video games may have taught them how to execute clean "kills" with their guns, and may have had a numbing effect on an already numbed capacity for empathy, as well as a disinhibiting effect on their ability to resist their violent impulses. Television, cinema, and music violence may have had similar effects as well. But when all is said and done, kids from truly healthy families never, ever, ever, do things like this.

In December of 2000, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said of the remarkable film Traffic, in which he had a cameo appearance, "I don't see how they could have made it without violence and still accurately portray the drug culture--and how degrading it is." On one of the cable news talk shows a couple of weeks later, he even said that he thought people needed to see the film despite it's use of "the F-word" throughout, of which he did not approve.

Then in January of 2001, Hatch was quoted as saying, "I was shocked and dismayed at the gratuitous amount of violence and profanity. . .It was more than was necessary to reveal the devastation caused by drugs. I do not condone it. It detracts from [the movie's] anti-drug message."

In our opinion, Traffic is a near flawless portrayal of the ironies that are twisted and wrapped around and inside of one another within this nation's struggle to get a handle on addiction to drugs and alcohol. The White House Drug Czar's own daughter is a central character in the film due to her addiction to cocaine and subsequent descent into prostitution and near-death, and the film suggests, in its finale, that nothing is going to change until the Moms and Dads of America take off their blinders and acknowledge that, indeed, their own children might be addicted, and then set aside work and volunteer commitments to repair the damaged family life that is epidemic in this country as a result of overwork and too many activities on the part of both parents and children.

We sometimes call it "The Disneyland Syndrome"--if we allow our discomfort to cause us to deny that these problems aren't as horrific, degrading, frightening, disgusting, offensive, profane, and profoundly sad as they are, then maybe they won't be as bad as they are, and maybe we won't have to make the small but difficult changes in our own lives that will insure our children will flourish rather than perish. And so the irony of Senator Hatch's flip-flop is exquisite, and further underscores what we're all up against. We sympathize with the strength of the political pressures that can cause one to reverse his position on issues, and we applaud Senator Hatch's courage in being in the film and in initially supporting it despite his conservative reputation. We also strongly recommend that every American over the age of 15 see this film, whether they use drugs and alcohol or not, and whether they have children or not.

Media Effects On Teens' Behavior Or Attitudes

If Pollyanna isn't going to solve the problem of addiction in America, what will? And what role does the media play in contributing to the problem, or conversely, to helping solve it? To answer these questions, we began by looking to see if there has been any solid, controlled research to document the effects of television, movies, music, radio, or video games on teenagers' use of drugs and alcohol. We didn't come up with much. In fact, Michelle Muth at the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) told us that "We don't have a lot on it."

The Board on Children, Youth, and families--a joint activity of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine--convened a workshop in early 1998 to look at adolescent decision making. Here is what was reported about media influences on teens:

The media-television, radio, movies, music videos-are part of the social environment in which today's young people grow up, and they can contribute to setting social norms. Presenter Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, pointed out that young teenagers spend up to seven hours a day watching television and that older teenagers may spend more than seven hours a day listening to the radio and CDs or watching music videos. There is a tremendous amount of sexual innuendo and sexual activity portrayed in the media, and most of that sexual activity is between unmarried people, according to Brown. In her research, presenter Monique Ward, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, found that 29 percent of interactions between television characters is sexual in nature (Ward, 1995). She pointed out that drinking permeates television, with 70 percent of prime time network shows portraying at least one instance of alcohol consumption. There is also some indication that the portrayal of cigarette smoking is on the increase both in movies and on television (Klein et al., 1993; Terre et al., 1991). Little research has been done to document the effect of media portrayals of sexual behavior or alcohol, tobacco, and drug use on the behavior of teenagers. Ward has found some evidence that the media may influence social norms. Her research found that young adults who watch television shows with high sexual content, such as nighttime soap operas and music videos, tend to have more liberal sexual attitudes and to believe their peers are more sexually active than do those who do not watch such shows.

Advertisers spend millions of dollars trying to influence product purchases. A number of studies have shown that tobacco advertising and promotional activities may encourage young people to begin and to continue smoking (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1992, 1994; Pierce et al., 1991, 1998). Pierce and colleagues (1998) estimated that 34 percent of teenage experimentation with cigarettes in California between 1993 and 1996 could be attributed to cigarette advertising and promotional activities (e.g., distribution of t-shirts and other items with cigarette logos).

Surgeon General David Satcher, cited in The New York Times, reported the results of a study on youth violence commissioned after Columbine: "We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior, but the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that's where the science is." At the same time, Newsweek, 2-26-01, reported on a study by Stanford University researchers who asked 3rd and 4th-graders to stop all tv and video games for 10 days, and then to only engage in them for 7 hours per week after that. Eight months later, these kids were rated as significantly less aggressive than the kids in the control group. We do know that watching a lot of non-violent television causes children to become agitated also, due to the type of brain stimulation that it causes, so we presume that effect would have to be teased out in future studies. We also know that families in which parents act as parents instead of pals produce children who have better boundaries and impulse control, so that would have to controlled for, as well. The finding is encouraging, nonetheless. In a doctoral dissertation looking at media effects on teen sexuality, Jeanne R. Steele of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concluded that "...teens' sense of who they are and where they fit in the world (identity) influences the media they [pay attention to], how they experience and make sense of that media, and the ways they incorporate or resist media messages in their everyday lives." In a controlled study conducted by Jean P. Webster of Columbia University, there were no effects of heavy television viewing on adolescents' attitudes about school. The only demographic variable associated with positive attitudes toward school was parental education. But, exposure to positive television messages about school did, indeed, create more positive attitudes toward school. In a study of factors affecting teen sexual experience/abstinence, Mary C. Nelson of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found the most significant factors were the age the teen first dated, quality of television (night/day, soaps, MTV, talk shows, etc.), number of movies, fear of negative emotional consequences, and peer example.

Public Service Announcements (PSA) And Other Media Campaigns

In a January, 2001 news release, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported the most recent, and stunning, results from the Office Of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) $185 million Congressionally-mandated National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign:

Researchers have demonstrated that television public service announcements (PSAs) designed for and targeted to specific teen personality-types can significantly reduce their marijuana use. In a study published in the February 2001 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers report that PSAs with an anti-marijuana use message resulted in at least a 26.7 percent drop in the use of that drug among the targeted teen population. "This study shows that public health messages can have a significant impact if they are prepared and delivered appropriately," says Dr. Alan I. Leshner, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The PSAs were designed to appeal to the 50 percent of teens who tested high (above the median) on sensation seeking. Teens with this personality trait are much more at risk for using drugs, and for using drugs at an earlier age, than are adolescents who test low as sensation seekers. Dr. Philip Palmgreen, head of the University of Kentucky research team that conducted the study, said that sensation seeking is a "personality trait associated with the need for novel, emotionally intense stimuli and the willingness to take risks to obtain such stimulation."

In addition, the "My Anti-Drug" youth branding initiative was launched in September, 2000, developed in coordination with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) and its

member advertising agencies. It is a two-phased advertising and marketing promotion that begins with asking kids to describe their "anti-drug"--what stands between them and drugs. The $22 million, four-month program will then shift to designing and running ads that can be used nationally. The idea is to get across the fact that most kids don't use drugs (among 12-17-year-olds, 72% have never used illicit drugs, according to a 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse), and that there are a lot of other things kids do in place of using drugs.

Further highlighting how no aspect of the campaign to help keep kids off drugs is free from controversy, Newsweek recently reported that "Attorney General John Ashcroft, for one, believes the [media] campaign is a waste of federal money" even though "earlier studies by the University of Michigan, New York University and Johns Hopkins each concluded that anti-drug messages have significantly reduced usage among children in every age group."

What Works?

Just prior to the 2001 Super Bowl, 78 consumer, health, safety, and faith-based groups sent the president a letter urging him to oppose alcohol advertising that reaches kids, and accusing the liquor and broadcast industries of no longer living up to their voluntary agreements. George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that "We have an epidemic of underage drinking in this country. Our children are at risk, and it makes no sense to allow alcohol marketers to increase the pressure on them to drink. We're asking the president to urge distillers to resume their voluntary ban on broadcast liquor ads, as President Clinton did in the past." Paula Kemp, Associate Director of National Families in Action said that "underage people are very much the targets, intended or not, of broadcast ads for alcohol. Those clever and funny beer ads, which have been among the most entertaining Super Bowl commercials in previous games, are especially popular among teens."

In 1997, NIDA awarded its first PRISM Awards for accurate portrayals of drug abuse and violence in films and television. Traffic is one of the winners of the fifth annual PRISM Awards this year. The 1999 results of a study commissioned by the Office of National Drug Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, showed that "people were depicted abusing drugs, drinking, or smoking in 98 percent of the top movie rentals and 27 percent of the most popular songs of 1996 and 1997." In discussing these results, Barry McCaffrey, drug control policy director in the Clinton administration said "We do not suggest that we want to dictate the message. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco are a reality of American life...But we are suggesting they need to be tied to the consequences that are realistic..."

But looking at it from a different angle while commenting on the same study, Neva Chavez, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said that while the media are a powerful influence on teens, parents and the family environment still have a greater impact.

In 1997, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released a comprehensive research-based guide on preventing drug abuse among children and adolescents, based on 14 basic principles gleaned from the research. Pay careful attention to the following lists. They give us the key to a national drug treatment policy, and bring us back full circle to where we started this article.

The three major early developmental risk factors for drug abuse later on are: 1) chaotic home environments, particularly with substance abuse or mental illness in parents; 2) ineffective parenting, especially with children who have difficult temperaments or conduct disorders; and 3) lack of mutual attachment and nurturing.

The five most important protective factors against drug abuse are: 1) strong bonds with family, 2) experience of parental monitoring with clear rules of conduct within the family unit and involvement of parents in the lives of their children, 3) success in school, 4) strong bonds with family, school, and religious organizations, and 5) adoption of conventional norms about drug use.

Dr. Gilbert J. Botvin, Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Cornell University Medical College, is the director of Cornell's Institute for Prevention Research, and developer of the Life Skills Training drug abuse prevention program. In discussing the training of these life skills to kids, he says, "Some of us have learned these things by observing the behavior of adults while we were growing up, but kids are increasingly spending more time with other kids. They're spending less time with adults, so you have a situation of the blind leading the blind."

That is why it so warms our hearts when we see what people like William Doherty, Ph.D. are doing in their communities. Bill is a psychologist in private practice and Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. In 1999 he started Family Life 1st, an organization which is described thus (http://familylife1st.org):

Family Life 1st is a group of citizens building a community where

family life is an honored and celebrated priority. The democratic

theory underlying this work is that the families can only be a

seedbed for current and future citizens if they achieve a balance

between internal bonds and external activities. This balance has

become gravely out of whack for many families of all social

classes, and retrieving family life requires a public, grass roots

movement generated and sustained by families themselves.

As we ponder the beginning of the new millennium, we see four prongs in the so-called "war on drugs" that can lead to positive outcomes. The first is what can be seen in Wayzata, Minnesota and many other communities, as Bill Doherty's program catches hold--parents finally deciding to be parents and leaders again in their children's lives, and choosing to create families again instead of blaming schools, the government, or the media for the problems that their children are experiencing. The second is represented by the stunning results of some of the current anti-drug media campaigns, which are put together pro bono by 200 of the top advertising agencies in America in conjunction with Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The third is for the government to step in and govern, by stopping the advertising of alcoholic beverages, in light of the industry's inability to police itself. The fourth is portrayed in the scene at the end of Traffic, in which Michael Douglas and his wife are finally part of their daughter's life again through the miracle of chemical dependency treatment.

Kids from truly healthy families don't get in over their heads. They may become addicted to something, but they ask for help or help is offered and taken, and then everyone follows through with it. The gut-wrenching scenes in Traffic will stop when we all keep following through.

1. Orrin Hatch quote December 21, 2000 The Associated Press.

2. Hatch Changes 'Traffic' Lanes: Tuesday, January 30, 2001 Los Angeles Times Home Edition Section: Calendar Page: F-2 Morning By: SHAUNA SNOW

3. Michelle Muth, brief telephone conversation with John Friel, February 9, 2001.

4. Adolescent Decision Making: Implications For Prevention Programs, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999. (Report on Board Of Children, Youth, and Families Conference)

5. Surgeon General's Report, New York Times, January 17, 2001.

6. Steele, Jeanne R. "Adolescent sexuality: Negotiating the influences of family, friends, school and the mass media." Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences. 2000 Feb Vol 60 (7-A) 2275.

7. Webster, Jean P. "The role of television as a tool for enhancing adolescents' attitudes about school." Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 1998 Jul Vol 59 (1-A) 0015.

8. Nelson, Mary C. "Community and media influences on adolescent sexual abstinence."

9. Interview with Dr. Gilbert J. Botvin. http://www.usinfo.state.gov/journals/itgic/0799/ijge/gj-06.htm "Confronting Drugs: Community Initiatives" An Electronic Journal of the U.S. Information Agency - July 1999 Volume 4, Number 2.

10. Mona Charen's column found on the web site of The Daily Camera in The Boulder News

11. Newsweek, February 12, 2001.

February 1, 2001In Which Sam And Abby Praise The Nascent Bipartisanship In Washington, Discuss The Weather, And Review The Recent Movies They've Seen

Sam The Cockapoo: Well Abby, it looks like things are settling down in Washington, D.C.

Abby The Labrador: Yes. George W. Bush has had his first full week as president, and he's getting high marks from both Republicans and Democrats, in what the New York Times called the most orderly and efficient transition in 20 years.

Sam: I'm glad things have settled down. Now maybe the government can get something done.

Abby: What is Al Gore doing?

Sam: He took a couple of teaching jobs, including one at Columbia University, teaching journalism.

Abby: Good. So everyone is present and accounted for?

Sam: Looks like it.

Abby: What do you think of this weather, Sam?

Sam: It's great. It was up to 22 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, so Dad took us for our two-mile run twice. I love it. I liked running into those two other big dogs, too. I get so riled up. I'm pretty terrifying when I get all riled up, aren't I, Ab?

Abby: Dad says you're like Jackie Chan when you do that. But you get in such a snapping, snarling, fighting, spitting frenzy that sometimes you almost bite me!

Sam: I know. It's like I get in a trance. I think it's part of the Napolean Syndrome they say we little dogs have.

Abby: What's that?

Sam: It's like overcompensating because we're small.

Abby: Well, just remember not to bite me, Sammy. Speaking of dogs, old boy, how did you like that movie we watched with Dad, Mom, and Dave the other night--you know, My Dog Skip.

Sam: It was a wonderful movie. Did you know that it was a true story?

Abby: No, I stepped out for a moment when they must have flashed that information on the screen.

Sam: Yes. It was written by Willie Morris, the youngest editor ever at Harper's Magazine, about his childhood growing up in Yazoo Mississippi, and how his dog, Skip, changed his life by opening it up for him.

Abby: We were all crying at the end. It was such a good movie. Well written, directed, acted, and edited. And such a powerful statement about humans' childhoods, and the role that we canines can play in their development. We have some pretty admirable traits--intelligence, loyalty, charm, inquisitiveness, playfulness, dedication, and perseverance.

Sam: Yes. We're not half bad, Ab. Another movie we saw was Traffic. Dad and Mom said that everyone in the United States over the age of 13 should see it. In fact, we were watching CNBC the other night, and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who had a cameo spot in the film, said the same thing. It's a gripping, penetrating look at the depth of the drug problem in America, and stars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Miguel Ferrer, and a host of others, excellently cast.

Abby: According to a story on CNN on January 28th, Orrin Hatch is retracting that statement because of the violence and swearing in the film. But I still think the graphic, realistic portrayal of how damaging drugs are to everyone, including the wealthy and upscale, may actually make some people think twice about using drugs.

Sam: And the sheer complexity of the drug problem and the war on drugs was represented brilliantly.

Abby: I liked Chocolat, too. It was fun.

Sam: Romantic.

Abby: A little mystical and magical.

Sam: Definitely a keeper.

Abby: What did you think of Thirteen Days, Sam.

Sam: It was one of the most riveting docu-dramas I've ever seen, and from all I've read, it was quite an accurate portrayal of the behind-the-scenes power struggles and high-level intrigue surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis--the closest the world has come, yet, to all-out nuclear war.

Abby: You know, looking at how John F. Kennedy took such a global political view, despite the more hawkish positions of a couple of the generals advising him, it isn't hard to see why some people believe that the military-intelligence community in America was responsible for his assassination.

Sam: It could be. But regardless, history suggests that Kennedy was ahead of his time in how he handled that confrontation. It was surely his finest hour during his brief presidency.

Abby: It was a very good film. And Kevin Costner did a great job of playing Ken O'Donnell, the Kennedy brothers' special assistant and lifetime trusted friend.

Sam: The United States has come through some amazing periods in its brief history.

Abby: Yes. Can you think of any other films we've seen recently?

Sam: I can't, for the life of me, remember anymore, even though I know we've seen more.

Abby: I can't, either. You'd think we were over 50, like Dad and Mom!

Sam: Abby, we are. I'm 7 1/2 years old, which makes me over 50.

Abby: Oh, that's right. And I'm 9 1/2, which makes me over...63!?!?  Yikes!!

Sam: Yikes is right.

Abby: We'll see you all next month. Pray that January in Minnesota stays unseasonably warm, like it has thus far.

January 1, 2001In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Their Holiday Stay At The Country Club, The Recent Election, And The Future

Abby The Labrador: When do Mom and Dad get back from their trip out West?

Sam The Cockapoo: I think they'll be picking us up this Thursday, the 4th of January, 2001.

Abby: It has been a lot of fun being here with all of our dog friends.

Sam: And the people here treat us so well. They take us out to play several times a day, feed us, make sure we have enough water, talk to us.

Abby: And I love the smells out here in the country.

Sam: Dad laughs every time he brings us out here, because when we get about two miles from here, I smell all those smells, and I'm beside myself with excitement. I stand up, pace, and squeal as we get closer and closer.

Abby: And then when we finally stop and park the car, we nearly drag Dad into the place. We can't wait to get in here.

Sam: And yet, I miss Mom and Dad. It will be good to get home. It will have been two weeks.

Abby: Plus, it has finally gotten above zero degrees during the day--in fact, it's supposed to be up to 22 degrees above zero by next Friday, which means...

Sam:...which means Dad will certainly take us for at least a 3-mile run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! I can't wait!

Abby: Me neither.

Sam: Yes, Miss Abby. It will be good to get home.

Abby: Sam, what do you think 2001 will bring?

Sam:I don't think it will be exactly like the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I was watching a segment on CNN the other day in which they said that some of the things we saw in the movie are beginning to happen.

Abby: Like what?

Sam: Well, in the movie, private corporations were involved in much of the activity in outer space. Today, there are several new corporations that have been established in order to do commercial business in space, including one that hopes to put a colony on the moon. Another one wants to build a space station that is circular, like the one in the movie, albeit much smaller. Their tentative plan is to use the large external fuel tanks jettisoned from Space Shuttle flights as the core of the space station. These tanks are usually allowed to fall back to earth. If they could be brought into earth orbit, then they could link them together, end-to-end, to form a circle. It would be much bigger than the current International Space Station.

Abby: That sounds exciting.

Sam: Yes, truly.

Abby: I have a hunch that there will be some other things that happen this year, too, Sam.

Sam: What do you suppose those will be?

Abby: For one, there will be some pretty interesting political developments going on at a national level this year, as a result of the way the presidential election finished up last month.

Sam: That was a fascinating process, Abby. And I'm still a little puzzled by it. The latest election figures released last week show that Al Gore has a 539,347 vote lead over George W. Bush in the popular vote, and many people feel that when all of those disputed votes are counted in Florida, it will show that Gore won Florida, too. And yet, he isn't president.

Abby: That's a good example of why we have that quote from Shakespeare at the beginning of this column--sometimes no matter how hard we try or how much we feel we deserve something, it slips out of our hands at the last second for no apparent reason. And sometimes, when we are in near-despair and least expect anything good to happen to us, something wonderful happens.

Sam: At the end of his concession speech, Al Gore said..."As for the battle that ends tonight, I do believe, as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss, defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out."

Abby: What a quote. It's very powerful.

Sam: Yes it is, Ab. Now, what else do you think will happen this year?

Abby: There are a lot of bitter, angry feelings on the part of Democrats, who feel that the election was stolen from them. There is a fear among many people that Bush will run up huge deficits again, like Ronald Reagan did, and that religious extremists will have too much of a say over his policies. Then, there is the fear that the Democrats will be so resistant to anything the Republicans try to do, that there will be another four years of gridlock in Congress.

Sam: How bitter are the Democrats?

Abby: Not all are bitter. Some feel that Al Gore blew a near-perfect chance to become president, and that if he'd just won his own state of Tennessee, there wouldn't have been a problem. But many still are mad. A recent Gallup Poll showed that at least half the population believes that Bush either stole the election or won on a technicality. The anger is summed up in a joke going around the internet, which is a spoof of the writings of the 16th-century prophet, Nostradamus...

In 1555, Nostradamus wrote:
   Come the millennium, month 12,
   In the home of the greatest power,
   The village idiot will come forth
   To be acclaimed the leader.

Sam: Oh. That is quite blunt. Do you think the animosity will subside after awhile?

Abby: Yes. Eventually. And as we wrote last month, the good side to all of this is that human beings are quite resilient. The United States has come through worse problems in its long history, and it will face more problems in the future.

Sam: So, maybe private industry will start to operate in outer space, while Congress battles over how much of the environment to save, and whether or not budget surpluses will be used to completely remove the budget deficit, or to give across-the-board tax cuts.

Abby: And we will continue to write this column for as long as we have our canine computer keyboard gloves, an internet connection, a phone line, and space on a web site.

Sam: We'll see you all next month!

December 1, 2000 In Which Sam And Abby Talk About The Election Of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Over-Dramatization, And How Growing Up Can Temper The Drama

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby, I truly enjoyed Thanksgiving this year. It was so much fun to see everyone in one place all at the same time, so to speak.

Abby The Labrador:  Yes, Sam, it was. The three kids and their significant others, friends, a grandma, a sister, an aunt and uncle--even another yellow labrador, Mountain Maggie. That was fun. And Dad didn't have to travel anywhere, so we got to run every day. You look very smart in your snappy green Fido Fleece Coat, I should add, Mr. Sam.

Sam: Why, thank you, Miss Abby. You looked mighty dapper with your Thanksgiving bandana from the beauty parlor, too. You wore it for several days before it finally bit the dust. I was impressed.

Abby: What should we write about, Sam? The presidential election is still up in the air, and a small number of the humans are still getting all riled up about it.

Sam: Do you remember how riled up everyone got about "The Y2K Problem" last year? But remember, there was a very concerted effort on the part of businesses and governments to update their computers so that there wasn't a disaster when the clocks turned to the year 2000. The more visionary and thoughtful human beings had been working on the problem for at least a couple of years, and so when New Year's Eve rolled around, they were pretty certain that everything would be okay. And everything pretty much was okay.

Abby:  But there was still a good deal of fear and drama surrounding it, right up until the end.

Sam:  Yes, and it wasn't without some basis. Drama is an interesting phenomenon.

Abby: So, is there reason to worry about the stability of the U.S. government right now?

Sam: Not if history is any indication. There have been closer and certainly more contentious elections in U.S. history, one being that of Rutherford B. Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden in 1876. I went out onto the internet and came up with the following fascinating story...

                                                    Election of 1876

In the election of 1876 Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, received a popular majority but lacked one undisputed electoral vote to carry a clear majority of the electoral college. The crux of the problem was in the 22 electoral votes which were in dispute because Florida, Louisiana,
South Carolina, and Oregon each sent in two sets of election returns. In the three southern states, Republican election boards threw out enough Democratic votes to certify the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. While Hayes had been declared the winner, the Republicans still had one problem. They had to come up with the other 19 votes that were actually needed to complete the deed. The party bosses went to work, plying election workers with piles of money and other enticements to look the other way while they "corrected" the vote count. One of the more inventive ideas they had was to "accidentally" ruin ballots. In fact, one such ploy was used in Key West, Florida where a particular precinct had voted for Tilden by a landslide. The certification of the ballot somehow came in second best to a bottle of ink, making it useless. The next day, Republican officials made out a new certificate, only to be "surprised" that the whole box was invalid because the dates didn't match.

Democratic bosses got wind of this, and started to make counter offers, but Tilden called them off stating that if he was going to win, he was going to do it fair and square.

In Oregon, the Democratic governor disqualified a Republican elector, replacing him with a Democrat. Since the Senate was Republican and the House of Representatives Democratic, it seemed useless to refer the disputed returns to the two houses for solution. Instead Congress appointed an Electoral Commission with five representatives each from the Senate, the House, and the Supreme Court. All but one Justice was named, giving the Commission seven Republican and seven Democratic members. The naming of the fifth Justice was left to the other four. He was a Republican who first favored Tilden but, under pressure from his party, switched to Hayes, ensuring his election by the Commission voting 8 to 7 on party lines.

On Inauguration Day, the New York Sun ran a black bordered front page. Other papers printed Hayes' picture with the caption "Fraud", printed across his forehead. Still others referred to him by such names as "His Fraudulency", "Old 8 to 7", and just plain "Rutherford B. Hayes." Finally, Thomas Nast eulogized the campaign with the cartoon in the March, 1877 issues of Harpers Weekly, showing a badly beaten elephant bandaged and leaning on a cane, the caption read "Another Such Victory and I am Undone."

Abby: Wow, Sam! That makes the current election look like a cake walk! Now then, you said drama is an interesting phenomenon. Would you care to elaborate?

Sam: Sure. Excitement--drama--is a necessary part of life, just as is calm and contentment. Like everything else, it's a matter of balance. There are people who live more energized, exciting lives than others; and then there are people who live in and create constant crisis, especially where it is not necessary. There are people who live calmer lives than average, and then there are those who live lives of quiet desperation. In fact, Dad and Mom would say that a person who is paralyzed by the fear of taking risks is in trouble just as much as the person who creates constant crisis in his or her life.

Abby: And the role of history is...?

Sam: Well, as Cicero wrote, "Not to know what happened before you were born is to forever remain a child." It is so much easier to get hysterical about something if you think it has never happened before. If you know that it has happened before and that everyone got through it, then there is much less reason to get scared.

Abby: So, how does this fit in with people's psychological problems?

Sam: Well, there are certain personality disorders that have at their core the tendency to do what the cognitive behaviorists call escalation and catastrophizing--that is, the tendency to blow things way out of proportion. People with Borderline Personality Disorder do this, as do people with Histrionic Personality Disorder, to some extent.

Abby: Don't all people do this to some extent?

Sam: Of course. And it is quite normal for human teenagers to do it quite consistently.

Abby: What are some of the characteristics of Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorders?

Sam: Borderline symptoms include unstable and intense relationships, being impuslive and self-damaging, intense emotional swings, and problems with anger are a few. Histrionic symptoms include needing to be the center of attention all the time, being seductive or sexually provocative, shallow and rapidly shifting emotions, being theatrical and dramatic and exaggerating one's feelings, and believing that one's relationships are more intimate than they really are.

Abby: Where did you get the description of those symptoms?

Sam: From this DSM-IV on Mom's desk. It's the manual used to give a diagnosis in psychiatry and psychology.

Abby: So, you're saying that a certain amount of emotional intensity is okay, or even good. And that after that point, it's not so good.

Sam: Right.

Abby: And that our tendency to over-dramatize and over-react will be greater if we don't know much about history, because few things happening now have not already happened historically in one form or another?

Sam: Right.

Abby: And that as we grow up, we become less susceptible to mood swings, hysteria, and histrionics?

Sam: Right.

Abby: Okay, then. Let's take a nap.

Sam: Right.  See you all in 2001. Wasn't there a space odyssey then--or something?
 
 

November 1, 2000 In Which Sam & Abby Discuss The Origins Of Halloween And Racial Hatred

Abby The Labrador:  Halloween was yesterday.

Sam The Cockapoo:  Yes.

Abby: I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio the other day, and they were talking about the origins of Halloween.

Sam: And?

Abby: You are being awfully stiff and formal today, Sam.  What gives?

Sam: I am in a very pensive mood this week. I have been contemplating the meaning of life, and so far, it has been a rewarding but dampening experience.

Abby: Sam, it's a good thing to stop and ponder the meaning of life every once in awhile. Creatures who never slow down long enough to reflect on their existence and the universe around them remain shallow, and some would say, hollow. It isn't always an easy thing to do, though.

Sam: Yes. It's not always an easy thing to do.

Abby: Well, if I may, let me continue with my story.  Maybe it will add to your contemplative data.

Sam: Yes, Miss Abby.  Please continue.

Abby: They were saying on MPR that Halloween began approximately 5,000 B.C. with the ancient Celts, who believed that all of the souls of those who had died in the previous year would gather together, around this time, in order to select the body of the human or animal that each would inhabit for the coming year.

Sam: Hmmmm.

Abby: To keep from being inhabited by one of these souls, the people would dress up in the most frightening costumes that they could create, and then they would mill around the outside of their homes, screeching and dancing and making terrible noises, to scare off the spirits.

Sam: Very interesting.

Abby: They would also make their homes less hospitable by letting them become very cold that evening.

Sam: So we have all of these people freezing in their houses and dancing around like lunatics because they believed they might be inhabited by spirits.

Abby: Well...yes...but there's one more thing.  They would build a huge bonfire at the end of the evening, and if there was someone in the village whom they believed was the most likely to be inhabited by a spirit, they would pick him or her and burn them to death in the bonfire.

Sam: Human beings can be such savages, Abby. It saddens me.

Abby: I understand your feelings, Sam.

Sam: That was 5,000 years B.C.?

Abby: Yes.

Sam: So, 7,000 years later, the custom has changed a little bit, and people hardly know where the custom came from.

Abby: Right.

Sam: But people can still be savages.

Abby: Yes.

Sam: Like the men who dragged that African-American man to death in Texas.

Abby: Or the men who killed that gay student in Wyoming.

Sam: Have you thought about why these things happen?

Abby: Mistaken beliefs, Sam.  That's the saddest part. If people believe that skin color, or income, or sexual orientation make a human being less of a human being, then it's no different than those ancient Celts burning someone in a bonfire because they fear he or she is inhabited by another spirit. It's just pure ignorance masquerading as a cultural belief.

Sam: Ignorance...and fear.

Abby: Yes. When things are going well for humans, the amount of crime that they engage in, and especially the amount of violent crime, decreases dramatically.

Sam: When their economies are poor, they act poorly, because they're scared.

Abby: I read in one of Dad's books that religion is supposed to elevate human beings beyond their very real human limitations--that religion is supposed to help them do things that are beyond their own petty self-interests.

Sam: History is filled with famous people who have acted with the utmost grace and dignity and respect for all creatures both powerful and weak.

Abby: Sam, I also know that the world is filled with people who aren't famous and yet who live their lives in that same respectful way. When asked what it was like to be a living saint, Mother Teresa said:

    You have to be holy in your position, as you are. And I have to be holy in the position that God has put me. So it is nothing extraordinary to be holy. Holiness is not the luxury of the few. Holiness is a simple duty for you and for me. We have been created for that.

Sam: I like what you have shared with me today, Abby. It gives me a lot to think about.  Thank you.
 
 

October 1, 2000 In Which Sam & Abby Talk About Mom & Dad's New Book: The 7 Best Things (Smart) Teens Do

Sam The Cockapoo: Abby!  Dad and Mom are going away for the weekend to Kristin's wedding!  That means...

Abby The Labrador: ...We're going to the country club...for dogs!

Sam: We'd better update this web page, then.  We won't have access to a computer at the kennel.

Abby: I guess it won't hurt if we do it a few days early.

Sam: No.  And we really need to talk about Mom's and Dad's new book for teens and their parents.

Sam: Yes.  It looks like a really good book.

Abby: What sort of approach did they take in writing it?

Sam: It looks like they talked with a number of teenagers to get an idea of what teens felt were some of the worst things they did, and then they coupled that information with their own expertise in identity development in teens, and came up with these 7.

Abby: What are the 7 best things smart teens do?

Sam: Here are those chapter titles...

1. Become Competent: You Can't Get Self Esteem From Talking To Yourself In Front Of The Mirror Or Being Smothered With Praise

2. Master Your Feelings: Don't Let The Tail Wag The Dog

3. Break The Silence: It Takes So Much Energy To Silently Scream

4. Get Healthy Power: Learn To Respectfully Make Things Happen

5. Face The Serious Stuff: Some Things Are Too Big To Keep Buried

6. Find An Identity: From Accepting Without Question To Discovering Your Own Path

7. Start Learning To Stake Out The Extremes: It's The Universal Skill

Abby: Those sound like like very timely topics.

Sam: I think so. But you know what?

Abby: What?

Sam: We're out of time!  We have to pack and get in the car and go!

Abby: Wait!  I just read the Preface to their new book, and I think we should reproduce it here.  It has a very nice feel to it.  I think this is going to be a very important book.

Sam: Okay.  But hurry up!  We have several days of play with our pals at "the club."

Abby: Here it is...
 
 

Let's work for a culture in which the incisive intellect,

the willing hands and the happy heart are beloved

                                                         --Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia, 1994

Preface:  In The Beginning

Fred Smith was once a student at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He turned in a term paper outlining a business plan for an outlandish concept-to ship things overnight from a central distribution point in Memphis, Tennessee. His professor hated the idea. He thought it was the dumbest thing he'd ever read. Fred Smith got a terrible grade on the paper. But that didn't stop Fred Smith. He went on to found The Federal Express Corporation-one of the most successful businesses in history. He must have had an incisive intellect.

Mother Teresa spent her entire adult life ministering to the sick and dying in the gutters of Calcutta, cleaning up vomit and cooling feverish brows so that the people she ministered to could die with dignity. She must have had willing hands and a happy heart.

Mary Pipher offers us a poignant challenge.

This book was meant to give you some things to think about. It was designed to give you some facts and data and theories and ideas that have helped a lot of other people get themselves successfully into adulthood. It was designed to occasionally entertain you, and if it doesn't, we apologize. It was designed to touch your heart. Above all, it was designed to challenge and support you, and your family, all at the same time.

During the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam War Protests of the 1960's, beloved San Francisco columnist Herb Caen was as supportive of young people as anyone "over thirty" could possibly be. And while there were certainly aspects of the sixties that were nothing more than a generation of indulged kids with nothing better to do than raise hell in public, there was nothing superficial or narcissistic about the horrors of the Vietnam War, nor about the Civil Rights Movement. There were real battles going on, for real principles, that have had lasting, positive effects on American society. Herb Caen sensed that there was something admirable and genuine about the young people of the 1960's, and he wasn't afraid to write about it. It felt good to have at least one "grown up" on our side.

Well, now it's the year 2000. And as we put the finishing touches on this little book, we want to ensure you that there are plenty of "grown ups" on your side, and that we have the utmost faith in your ability to grow up yourselves and make the world a better place for yourselves and your children. We are both over the age of fifty now, and we're pulling for you!

John C. Friel, Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel, M.A. Licensed Psychologists
 
 

September 1, 2000 In Which Sam & Abby Reflect On The Dignity Of One's Labor

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, I've been doing some thinking these past few days...

Sam The Cockapoo:  ...About...?

Abby: ...About the importance of one's labor.

Sam: What have you come up with?

Abby: It seems to me, Sam, that those who learn to value their labor, no matter what it may be, will ultimately have more peace and dignity. I suspect they'll also respect others more, too.  I mean, look around you, Sam. Look at the animals around us, human and otherwise.

Sam: Hmmmmm. There's that young man, Mike, who lives down the block just north of here--he must be about 27 years old. He has a very special presence about him.

Abby:  Yes, Sam.  Well said.  A special presence.  He is such a decent person.  He gets along with people--all kinds of people.  He treats the trash collector and the lawn maintenance crews with the same respect that he shows the surgeon or CEO in the neighborhood. He also knows the difference between respecting each of those people, and pandering to them.

Sam: That can be a difficult distinction to make, especially for middle and upper-middle class kids nowadays.  Many kids have been given so much materially that they grow up with an odd combination of distorted entitlement--thinking they're better than everyone else and that life owes them everything--and an insidious, deeply buried guilt about not having earned what they have been given.

Abby: Right. And this combination can cause them to treat people who are "beneath them" rudely, and in nearly the same breath, to patronize people who are less financially fortunate than they are. It can be very confusing.

Sam: For the sender as well as the person on the receiving end, yes.

Abby: Then there is that other young man, Bob, who lives just west of here.  He panders to and is patronizing toward service people he encounters in the neighborhood, and then he sucks up to his more influential neighbors as if he were a starving puppy spinning in circles and rolling over in the hopes of obtaining a scrap of food for his performance.

Sam: And he gives up at the first sign of adversity.

Abby: At the first sign of resistance on life's part, he throws down the ball and heads for the showers.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy of not learning the value and dignity of one's labor is that this "labor deficit" diminshes one's will.

Sam: That's it, Abby.  That's it.  This loss of will is almost unthinkable.  Imagine what we would be like had we not encountered the heartaches and adversities as well as the exhilaration and triumphs throughout our lives.  Imagine what we would be like had it all been handed to us on a silver platter.

Abby: We'd be pathetic, Sam.  That's all I can say. Can you picture yourself leaping across Dead Dog's Gorge had you been given everything, without having to pay your dues?

Sam: No, I can't.  I have watched many humans and other dogs who have been robbed of the joy and dignity of their labor, and it is not a pretty sight.  Creatures who haven't had to do different kinds of work begin to believe that certain kinds of work are beneath them.  It isn't long before they begin to believe that certain kinds of people are beneath them. And pretty soon, they have no soul left, only an empty sense of themselves as somehow "better," even though it is just that--empty and hollow.

Abby: That nice young man, Mike, who lives down the block just north of here, has never been too proud to work.  He mowed lawns and bagged groceries when he was in high school.  During college, he worked as a laborer on a construction site and during the holidays he worked as a clerk in a department store.  He was grateful for each job that he had, for the people who came into his life, for the money he earned, and for the experience and knowledge he acquired.

Sam: I heard him say that he once worked as a desk clerk in a motel, and the other student his age was only working there because his father half-heartedly wanted him to get some work experience.  Mike said that the other student complained that it was a total waste of time.  Mike, on the other hand, ate it up. He saw each new experience as a chance to gain more competence.

Abby: And so he learned basic accounting, how to greet and work with the public, including difficult people, and how to deal with his superiors, who were corporate middle managers. Now, having successfully navigated the initial years of his career, Mike is not only financially very successful and competent and powerful, but also kind and respectful of everyone he comes in contact with, whether they are more or less powerful than him.

Sam: Bob isn't very happy with his work, isn't very successful at what he does, isn't very respectful of people, and isn't particularly happy.  In fact, I get the sense that he's angry, disappointed, and confused.  It seems like he believes life should have been easy.  He doesn't see life as an exciting challenge.  He sees it as a punishment.

Abby: The labor that we do has dignity inherent in it.  There are times in our lives when we have to do work that we would prefer not to do.  People who value their work, and who see value in others' work, seldom feel like the things they must do each day are beneath them.

Sam: It is so sad to see creatures who don't have ambition, energy, will, and spirit.

Abby: And it is so inspiring and gratifying to see creatures who do.  We hope you appreciate the labor that you do each day--that you are grateful for it, and that you let it enrich your life.

Sam: And we hope you have a good September.  When we return on October 1st, it will already be Fall!

August 1, 2000 In Which Sam & Abby Talk About The Identity Crisis

Sam The Cockapoo:  What is an IDENTITY CRISIS, Abby?

Abby The Labrador:   I hear that term bandied about all the time.  I have an of idea what it means...

Sam: So do I, Abby.  But I wonder if it has a precise meaning?

Abby: Let's look through these papers on Mom's and Dad's desks.

Sam: Good idea. (They shuffle through piles of papers) Hmmmmmmm.... Have you seen anything promising yet, Abby?

Abby: Not yet...wait a minute...what's this?

Sam: It looks like the proof for their new book for teenagers.

Abby: It is!  Let's take a look.  Yep!  There it is! It's one of the 7 best things smart teenagers do--work to find an identity. Let's take a look.

Sam: They cite a lot of the work of a guy named Erik Erikson.  We hit pay dirt, Abby!  Erik Erikson is the one who coined the very term itself!  Wow!

Abby: It's the fifth of his eight stages of human development that start in infancy and go through old age.  In order to get into the identity crisis stage of life, a person has to resolve, fairly successfully at least, the first four stages.

Sam: Which are to acquire a basic sense of trust in life as opposed to a basic sense that life isn't going to work out.  And then to develop enough autonomy, that is, enough separateness and ability to stand on one's own two feet, so that you aren't always feeling shameful, inadequate, and doubting yourself. Then you have to learn to take the initiative, to make things happen, to go into action, to "just do it" as the Nike ad says, rather than getting mired down by inappropriate, unhealthy guilt (as opposed to the healthy guilt that gives us a moral sense--a conscience).  And right before the identity crisis, you have to become somewhat competent, rather than feeling helpless and inferior to everyone else--you have to learn many of the skills that are needed to survive in your particular culture, whether it be working with a computer or learning how to navigate by the stars in a dugout canoe.

Abby: These five developmental stages have to be negotiated fairly successfully--nobody ever negotiates them anywhere near-perfectly--before one can get into the identity crisis phase.

Sam: Right.  This makes sense.  After all, how could you possibly form a clear, healthy identity without these basic building blocks present?

Abby:  You couldn't.

Sam: Now, the identity crisis phase has four identity states that you can be in at any given time.  You can be in psychosocial moratorium, which is the essential searching, wondering, and questioning phase, without which, an adult identity is impossible.  If the teen or young adult gets too rigid or too scared, then he might get stuck in the foreclosed identity state, in which he looks very much like he has a clear adult identity, except he never went through the searching phase.  Sometimes these teens are seen as wonderful because they never rock the boat or seem to have any identity distress, but it is an illusion. Often, people who are foreclosed end up doing their identity crisis when they are 30, 40, or even 50.

Abby:  That must be something to watch!

Sam:  It is.  If you wait 'til you're 40 to do your identity crisis, then you have to combine the identity crisis with the 30's crisis and the 40's midlife crisis.  It can get pretty intense.

Abby:  I should say!

Sam: Anyway, the next identity state is called identity confusion or diffusion, because the person has so little of the first four stages filled in, that he is not just searching and wondering, he's very, very lost, and therefore flits from one thing to the next--from one job to the next, from one person to the next, from one life philosophy to the next--without any direction or structure.  Sometimes teens and young adults who are in the moratorium phase are mistaken for those in the diffused state, but there is a big difference.  The ones who are searching have some inner stability--it seems like they have a rudder, even though the storm is tossing them around.  People who are identity diffused don't seem to have any rudder.

Abby: You and I were searching and confused when we were heading toward civilization, when you broke your front legs leaping across Dead Dog's Gorge in the Canadian North Woods.  But we persevered, and created a very meaningful life for ourselves, here in Minnesota.

Sam: Yes, we did, Ab.  And that's a source of constant joy and relief for me.  I am so grateful that we met, and that we were both strong enough to find our identities.

Abby:  Look, Sam.  That's the last of the four identity states--identity achieved.

Sam: Yes.  I am ever so grateful that we have found our identities.  Hey!  Look at this, Abby!!  Here!!  In Mom's and Dad's new book!! Two of the chapters are about us!

Abby:  Well, I'll be...this is amazing.  It's how we met, and how we came to Minnesota, and how we came to become authors of a monthly column on this web site.

Sam: Will wonders never cease.  That quote from Shakespeare that we use at the top of this column each month is so meaningful, isn't it?  And so appropriate for the day.

Abby: Yes.  Searching and wondering and struggling to find yourself is a hard thing to do at times, and it doesn't always pay off exactly when you'd like it to, but sooner or later, if you keep working at it, and maybe even when you least expect it, something really good happens in your life.

Sam: Have a good August, all.  The State Fair will be here before you know it!

Abby:  See you in September.

July 1, 2000  Dad Finished The Dipsea Race As Planned, Coming In 686th Out Of 1500 Starters And1342 Finishers (http://www.dipsea.org). In Honor Of The Fourth Of July, Last Year's Much-Appreciated Column By Sam & Abby Is Repeated Below...

.......July 4, 1999  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss Freedom, History,  And The Fourth Of July

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, do you realize what this e-mail says?

Sam The Cockapoo:  What e-mail?

Abby:  This one on Dad's desk.  From a friend of his in Florida.  It's about what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration Of Independence.

Sam:  What does it say, Ab?

Abby:  I'm nearly in tears, Sam.  I don't know if I can read it aloud.  It's so touching.

Sam:  Go ahead.  Take your time.

Abby:  It says that five of the signers were captured, tortured, and died at the hands of the British.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned, two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, and another two had sons who were captured.  Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the War.

Sam:  My God, I had no idea.

Abby:  There's more.  It says that these were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing, ruffians, but men of education and means who sacrificed all they had, for freedom.  Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners.  Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy.  He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Sam:  This is unbelievable, Abby.

Abby:  At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British general Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters.  He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire on his own home.  The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.  Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed, the enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.  John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.  Their 13 children fled for their lives.  His fields and gristmill were laid to waste.  For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife
dead and his children vanished.  A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Sam:  This is incredible.  It is so important that you found this e-mail, Abby.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we ever lost sight of what the Fourth Of July was really about?  It would be a terrible tragedy.  It would be awful.  It would be the end of reverence.

Abby:  It reminds me that Dad and Mom quoted Cicero (80 B.C.) in The Soul Of
Adulthood: "Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child."

Sam:  Or much worse.  To be without historical perspective is to be dangerous and shallow, too.  The less we remember, the more we repeat, including our mistakes.

Abby:  Or, especially our mistakes.

Sam:  Hey.  What's this?!  Another e-mail.  From Dad's sister in Southern California.  Listen to this!  She has added some additional facts about the American Revolution.  Deborah Sampson enlisted as Robert Shirtliffe and served for five years, being wounded twice!   In 1804, Paul Revere assisted Deborah in successfully petitioning the Massachusetts state government for a pension.  Molly Ludwig Hayes was 24 and pregnant when her husband collapsed at his post, and Molly took his place.  Women like her accompanied their husbands or lovers into battle, loading guns, tending wounds, and carrying water both to cool down cannons and to refresh the men.   These "Molly Pitchers" were often drafted to replace wounded or ailing artillery men.  Women were also spies!
Anna Strong and her Culper Ring of Long Island, N.Y., provided a crucial link between Connecticut and New York, where fighting was fierce and British occupation was long.

Abby:  Females are often ignored in the history books, Sam.  I'm glad you found this. Now, everyone who reads our column this month will know.

Sam:  Yes.  I hope that everyone who reads this column this month will think a little bit about how much it costs to win and keep one's freedom.  And that every once in awhile it is good for the soul just to be still and reflect on the sacrifices that ordinary people have made throughout history in order to improve our civilizations.

Abby:  Sam, in all honesty, what do you think those great men and women of the American Revolution would think about the number of guns that exist in the United States right now?

Sam:  Abby, I can feel their tears softly falling to the earth right now.

June 1, 2000 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The "Evolution Of Psychotherapy Conference," Disneyland, And Whether Dad Will Survive The Dipsea Race From Mill Valley To Stinson Beach This June 11th!

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby, where in the world did Mom and Dad go from May 25th to the 30th?  That was an awfully long stay that we had at the kennel.  As much as I love going there and being with all the other dogs--Dad laughs about how we can't get in there fast enough--I found myself getting homesick toward the end.

Abby The Labrador:  I overheard them talking the day after they picked us up, and they said they were starting to miss us terribly, too.

Sam: So, where did they go? I saw airplane tickets on the desk again.

Abby: They flew out to Anaheim, California to go to the "Evolution Of Psychotherapy Conference" sponsored every five years by the Milton Erickson Foundation.  They were extremely excited about what they learned.  I heard them talking with a colleague about it.

Sam:  Oh, yes. I heard that, too.  It sounded like they learned things from the very top masters of the psychotherapy field--people like Salvador Minuchin, one of the chief architects of family therapy; and Jay Haley, renowned for family therapy and strategic therapy interventions...

Abby: ...and James Masterson, the top man in treating borderline and narcissistic personality disorders; James Hillman, the Jungian expert; and Thomas Szasz, whose book, The Myth Of Mental Illness, written 39 years ago, revolutionized psychiatric thought.

Sam: Wow!  No wonder they were excited.  Not only that, but the 5,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other psychotherapists who attended all got complimentary tickets for an evening at Disneyland, too!  And Mom and Dad went!

Abby:  Did they see Goofy?

Sam:  Yes.  In fact, they said Goofy has his own restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel, called Goofy's Kitchen.

Abby:  Amazing.  A dog with his own restaurant.  Think of it.

Sam:  But I understand he isn't able to write like we can. In fact, Mickey Mouse said that Goofy was barely literate.

Abby: That's too bad.  But in truth, each of us has unique talents and skills.  He runs a restaurant, and we write.

Sam: Yes.  In any event, it sounds like they had a wonderful trip that was both productive from a professional standpoint and enjoyable from a personal one.

Abby:  Dad apparently even got up at 5:45 every morning to run 5 miles so that he could keep training for the Dipsea Race June 11th.

Sam:  He got in!!!???

Abby: Yes.  He was beside himself.  I overheard him telling Mom that for him it would be one of the most symbolic events of the new decade.

Sam: That's why he had all that material out about the race.  We wrote about the race in our February, 2000 column here.  Don't you remember?

Abby: Of course I do. They only admit 1,500 people to the race each year, and Dad will be one of them.  You can read more about it at http://www.dipsea.org.

Sam: Is he in shape for it?  It looks like such a brutal race.

Abby: He's been running 30-35 miles per week, so he'll be okay.  He's hoping to just do it at a reasonable pace this year because he only increased his mileage a couple of months ago.  He'll get the hang of the course this year, and then hopefully will get in again next year, for which he'll train much harder. He said he did some training on the stairs at the Anaheim Hilton last week--running up the 14 flights of stairs several times--but that it was nowhere near enough to seriously prepare for the 676 steps that come after the first quarter mile of the race.

Sam: I read an e-mail from his brother-in-law, Bill, who said that the stairs are  narrow enough that with 1,500 runners--even with staggered start-times--there is a bit of a wait just to get onto the stairs.

Abby: And then once the runners get to the top of the stairs, the course continues on uphill for quite a ways before heading down into Muir Woods.  From there it goes back uphill very steeply, culminating in a hill called Cardiac at 1,360 feet above the starting point.

Sam: A couple of years ago, one of the runners who was expected to win ended up suffering exhaustion and dehydration about 1/4-mile from the finish line and was taken by ambulance to Marin General Hospital.  That same runner won the race the next year.

Abby: It sounds like a great adventure.

Sam: Yes.  I am so happy for Dad. After all, this is the same mountain and these are the same trails that he hiked with his friends during the early years of his childhood out there.

Abby:  I hope we get a chance to go out to California and run around on those trails and mountains some day.  The views from Mt. Tamalpais are spectacular, I hear.

Sam: Indeed. Looking east, you can see most of San Francisco Bay, and looking west, you see the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. And the weather can be any of a number of conditions.

Abby: Dad's hoping the fog will be in that Sunday morning of the race.  It'll be a lot cooler and less exhausting that way.

Sam: I hope the fog's in.  But in or out, I know Dad will have a fantastic experience. I'm so glad he was accepted into the race.

Abby: Yes. The year 2000 is turning into quite the momentous year. There are kids getting married, races to be run, the new teen book being released in September--all sorts of delightful surprises.

Sam: And we're not quite halfway through the year.  I wonder what will be next?

Abby:  Ah, that is the question, Sammy.

Sam: Which is why we have our favorite quote from Shakespeare at the top of our column.  It's better to let life unfold. That's what Mom always says.

Abby: Mom is very wise.
 
 

May 1, 2000 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Increasing Prevalence Of Therapy Sessions By Telephone And Videoconferencing, And Note The First Goslings Of The Season

Abby The Labrador:  Sam, look at this.  It's the Monitor on Psychology.

Sam The Cockapoo:  Which is...?

Abby: It's the monthly magazine from the American Psychological Association.

Sam: Oh.  Dad's an APA member, isn't he?

Abby: Yes.  This entire issue is dedicated to psychology and the internet, but there are a couple of articles here about doing psychotherapy sessions by telephone or by videoconferencing.

Sam: What are the pluses and minuses of those two methods?

Abby: Well, in a telephone session, the client and psychologist speak over the phone, which means that they can be in different cities, even different countries, and have a therapy or consultation session.  The limitation is that you miss some important nonverbal information from each other, like facial expression and posture, or the presence or absence of tears.

Sam: Dad and Mom occasionally do telephone sessions with clients who aren't able to make it into the office for one reason or another; or with clients who have relocated to other states, and even other countries.  They have an established relationship with the person already, so it reduces those limitations quite a bit.

Abby:  And if someone attends one of their ClearLife/Lifeworks Clinics and then returns to their hometown afterwards, then again, it would be a little easier to work with that person.

Sam: So, theoretically, it would be possible to go to the city where a particular psychologist works, do some sessions with him or her, or do a therapy process like ClearLife, and then go back home and continue the therapy by telephone.

Abby: Yes.  And then there is videoconferencing, which is becoming more and more common, especially to provide services to people in rural or isolated areas. The technology for this is becoming less and less expensive, and the quality of the pictures and sound is getting better and better.  It won't be long before it is a common and very practical way for people to do certain kinds of therapy work.

Sam:  It's a pretty amazing era in which we live, Abby.  I'm assuming that with videoconferencing, the psychologist and client both have to be in front of a video camera with a telephone hookup, and a television monitor so they can see each other.

Abby:  Right now, it's typically done at a clinic or hospital, which is also helpful if the client needs some additional services or evaluations that can be done right there.  The equipment is set up in a certain location there, and the client and psychologist schedule a session just as if it's a face-to-face one.  A hook-up is established between the two videoconferencing locations, and then the session begins.  The psychologist can move the camera around the room, and can zoom in and out, which is helpful if it's a family therapy session.

Sam:  I would think that it overcomes many of the limitations of telephone sessions.

Abby: Most of them. It's still not exactly like real-life sessions, but it's close. It all depends on the kind of therapy that's being done, too.  I would think that cognitive-behavioral therapy or behavior modification would work really well with it.  But maybe deeper types of psychotherapy in which actual human presence is important, wouldn't be so good this way.

          And of course, certain kinds of disorders seem to respond well to teleconferencing, while others do not.  The Monitor articles note that "paranoid schizophrenics who believe television can influence their thoughts may not be good candidates for services provided through teleconferencing.  However, children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder appear to respond well...because they're often fascinated with television." (p.36, April, 2000)

Sam:  What about the internet?  Have people tried doing psychotherapy by e-mail or private chat?

Abby: Yes.  But the limitations there are even greater.  And to date, there is very little research on the effectiveness of any of these methods.  But some psychologists are starting to study it, and the American Psychological Association is looking at some of the tough ethical issues surrounding these methods.  One of the more complicated legal concerns is whether a psychologist licensed in one state can provide services to a client in another state.

Sam:  Wow!  I never thought of that. That's right.  Isn't that fascinating?  Along with every new technology comes a host of wonderful benefits, but also some rather knotty problems. Who would have dreamed...Hey!  Abby!  Look out on the pond!!

Abby: What!  Good grief, Sam!  Don't have a cow!

Sam:  You have such a way with words, Abby.  Look!  Goslings!  The first goslings of the season!  Little fur-balls, swimming behind their parents.

Abby:  Ah...spring has finally arrived in the North Country.  I had a sneaking suspicion they were about to hatch.  There was a rather rambunctious retriever running around the edges of the pond the other day just before Dad left for Sioux Falls, and every last one of the geese started "steaming" over there like a flotilla of battle ships---Dad said they looked like the Spanish Armada---to scare away that dog before she got too close to their nesting spots.  And it worked, too.  She finally raced off towards the open field where her Dad was.

Sam:  Those goslings are pretty cute.

Abby:  That's what Dad and Mom say about us sometimes.

Sam:  I know.  We have to humor them.  Sometimes they forget that we're former wild animals from the Canadian North Woods.

Abby:  Yes.  It's a different life here.  That's for certain.

Sam: And it's a good one, too.  We never would have been able to write a column on a web site had we stayed in the wilderness.  There are always trade-offs in life.

Abby:  Trade-offs.  Yes.  And do you know what?  It's time for our nap.  Dad just returned from Sioux Fals, took us for a run, and gave us our treats and fresh water.

Sam: Last one to the rug is a rotten egg!

April 1, 2000  In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Weather In Minnesota, And How To Talk To Kids About Difficult Things

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, 2000  In Which Sam And Abby Are Grateful That Sam's Back Is Better, And Talk About Impulse Control

Abby The Labrador:  How is your back, Sam?  We've gotten a flood of mail and telephone calls from well-wishers asking how your back is.

Sam The Cockapoo:  I think it's better.  I mean...it's better, much better.  Dad got back from his business trip to Orange County, California Sunday before last, took us for a 3-mile run, and I felt fine...well...except I got something stuck in my paw and I was limping a little on it until Mom gave me a bath and cleaned out my feet.  Now that's better, too.

Abby:  Why did you hesitate when you answered.

Sam:  Well, because I read up on this disc business and found out that these things can come and go, so I'm trying to be a little more mindful of it, and for now I am ever so grateful to not be in pain all the time.

Abby:  You've been bounding up the stairs at your usual 90 mph lately, and jumping down from their bed onto the hardwood floor, and...

Sam:  I know.  I know I'm supposed to take it easy on that stuff.  I got on the web when it first happened and one of the articles said that long-backed dogs like me can injure their backs by jumping off of furniture and so on.  I know I'm supposed to slow down, but it's so hard for me--I'm a Cockapoo, for goodness sakes!

Abby:  I know.  I know.  I have the same problem.  As long as Dad keeps me on the leash when we run, I'm fine.  But if he ever lets me run free, I overdo it and then limp for a day or so.  My hips aren't what they used to be.  Thank God he keeps me on that leash, or I'd be crippled up in no time.

Sam:  Why is it that we dogs have such a hard time controlling our more primitive impulses, like running and hunting and sniffing other dogs?

Abby:  Every creature has certain biological impulses that are "hard-wired" into the brain's circuitry, which means that we just do it--we don't have to learn it.  These things are usually there to improve our chances for survival.  They help us adapt to our environment.  For us, it includes things like hunting and tracking, retrieving, swimming, grooming, mating, and so forth.

Sam:  I was reading one of Mom and Dad's books the other day.  It was written by a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget.  He studied human intelligence his entire life, and his definition of intelligence is "the ability of the organism to adapt to its environment."  He said that some of what we do is "hard-wired", as you say, and the rest is learned.

Abby:  Yes.  And our ability to learn complex behaviors is what sets us apart from lower animals.  We dogs are very clever creatures, you know.

Sam:  Of course.  How many cats have you seen driving cars and typing away on computer keyboards?

Abby:  None that I know of.  But getting back to impulses, I was reading some stuff they wrote.  It was laying out on their desk.  It was about impulse control in humans, and how problems with impulse control have gotten increasingly worse over the past decade or so.

Sam:  That doesn't sound good.

Abby:  It isn't.  When creatures as complex as humans don't learn to control their impulses, all hell breaks loose.  And I don't mean that figuratively.  People are raging at each other on the freeways and screaming at each other in supermarket checkout lines, and it's gotten so bad at kids' athletic events, that some coaches and school systems are requiring parents to go to a seminar on how to behave themselves, before their kids are accepted as participants in the sports.

Sam:  Hmmmmm.  A seminar on how to behave themselves?

Abby:  Yes, I was thinking the same thing, Sam. Obedience School For Impulsive Humans!

Sam:  What a hoot!

Abby:  If intelligence is the ability of the organism to adapt to its environment, then perhaps this is a sign of their intelligence--that is, a problem has arisen, they've identified it, and come up with a solution.  What better way to make parents continually mindful of the need for they themselves to display sportsmanship, than a mandatory seminar prior to their kids' playing baseball or soccer or hockey?  It's brilliant?

Sam:  Yes.  That's a great idea, Abby.  I concur.

Abby:  In this paper they're writing, they talk about how to teach children impulse control, and how some parents make the huge mistake of lecturing and commanding their children about these things, like saying, "Control yourself! What's the matter with you?!  I told you to control yourself!"  It doesn't work.  It doesn't teach kids anything.  It doesn't give them a strategy for controlling themselves.  And, because it's usually yelled at the child by a parent who is out of control, it's downright hypocritical!

Sam:  I see what you mean.

Abby: Yes.  Rather than say something like that, what they suggest, based on years of research by people like psychologist Donald Meichenbaum, is for parents to demonstrate and verbalize their own emotional restraint in real-life situations where restraint is called for.

Sam: Oh!  Abby!  They wrote about that in their book last year, The 7 Worst Things (Good) Parents Do!  Now I remember it!

Abby:  Right.  Your father is driving down the freeway at 65 mph when out of nowhere, a so-called "jerk" cuts in front, almost causing an accident.  This causes Dad to startle, which is simply fear.  Fear leads to a self-protective response, which is anger.  Dad would like to run the guy off the road, but instead, he says, out loud, "What the...!  That guy almost hit me!  Why I...I'd better slow down and move over into the center lane.  I'm way too mad to pursue this.  That's it.  Take my foot off the gas.  Check for cars behind me. Move over slowly.  Relax.  Relax.  Let the jerk go.  Don't do something you may regret for the rest of your life.  That's it.  Good." After he calms down a little more, he then says, aloud, "Maybe that guy had a legitimate reason to be in a hurry.  Maybe there was an emergency at home.  Maybe his house was burning down.  I don't know.  I'm just glad I didn't do something stupid."

Sam:  Yes.  I remember that now.  It's excellent/  It really works, too.

Abby:  The sad part about all of this is that sometimes the parents raising the children aren't emotionally old enough to do it.  They actually believe that harping at children is a good way to teach them, but in fact, it simply does not work!

Sam:  I suspect that if people were to start talking to themselves like you've outlined here, a lot of pain and misery in the world could be avoided.

Abby:  Oh, absolutely.  Now, if we dogs can just use that technique to control our running and jumping behavior, maybe we'll be able to still walk in a couple of years.  We aren't getting any younger, you know.

Sam: I know. Isn't it wonderful?!  We have so much wisdom and insight now, so much accumulated experience and knowledge.  It makes up for any physical decline that we're experiencing, don't you think, Abby?

Abby:  Indeed I do, Sam.  Indeed I do.

Sam:  See you all next month.  As far as the weather goes, it's been like April in February here in Minnesota lately.  I'm curious to see what March brings.

Abby:  Me, too, Sammy. See you all in April!
 

February 1, 2000 In Which Sam And Abby Discuss The Dipsea Race From Mill Valley To Stinson Beach In Northern California, And Adjusting To Sam's Possible Ruptured Disc

Sam The Cockapoo:  Abby, have you ever heard of the Dipsea Race?

Abby The Labrador:  No, Sam, what is it?

Sam:  It's one of the oldest races in the United States, first run on November 19, 1905 in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco. It begins in Mill Valley, goes up the side of 2600-foot Mt. Tamalpais, and then down to Stinson Beach, overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean.  It's about 7.1 miles, and as far as I can read on the web, it's one of the toughest short races on earth...and one of the most spectacular, with breathtaking views of the entire San Francisco Bay Area, as well as the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Abby:  Sounds lovely.  But "short race?" Compared to what?

Sam:  Compared to a marathon or 1/2-marathon, I guess.  Anyway, it began with a couple of guys at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, which was founded in 1860 and is therefore the oldest athletic club in the United States.  Two members, Alfons Coney and Charles Boas, challenged each other to a race over Mt. Tamalpais to Willow Camp, which is now the little resort town of Stinson Beach.  The Dipsea Inn had recently opened there--the year was 1904.

Abby:  And then they organized a formal race?

Sam:  Yes.  Eighty-four men ran in that first race from Mill Valley to the Pacific Ocean.  Now, they limit it to about 1,500 entrants to help prevent erosion on the mountain.
 

Mt. Tamalpais is in the far background, across the Bay, from San Francisco.  You can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the sunset at left

Abby:  It says here that if you ran it last year, you automatically can have your application approved this year.  If you didn't run it last year, then you can donate some money to their race foundation, and the people who make the top donations will be admitted.  And then the rest of the applicants are chosen by a lottery system.

Sam:  It sounds pretty tough, but it sounds pretty wonderful, too.  In fact, Bruce Dern, the actor...

Abby:  Laura Dern's Dad?  The Laura Dern from Jurassic Park?

Sam:  The very same.  Bruce Dern is an actor and a long distance runner, and in the late 1970's he made a film about the Dipsea Race, called On The Edge, which wasn't meant to be a huge commercial success, but it showed the excitement and dynamics of the race exquisitely.  It's still available in some video stores.

Abby: I enjoyed watching it when Dad and Mom rented it.  It was really exciting, if you like to run, like we do.

Sam:  Yes. Which reminds me, Abby.  We need to talk about that.

Abby:  Do you mean...?

Sam:  Yes.  I mean...my back.

Abby:  What happened?

Sam:  I don't know.  Dad was taking me out for a short walk, I stood up, and then I sat back down and screamed because there was this terrible pain in my back. I could barely walk.  I was limping terribly.  It hurt so bad I thought I was going to pass out.  I couldn't sit or lay down anywhere to get away from the pain.  It hurt, but more than that, it was really scary.  He and Mom didn't know what was happening.  They looked scared for me, too.  They called the vet--that nice one we go to--and Dad rushed me over there.  He picked me up and then moved me up and down,  head toward the examining table, so that my front legs hit the table, but there was no problem with my front legs.

Abby:  Did that hurt?

Sam:  No, that didn't.  Then he held me head up, and tapped my back legs on the table, but that didn't hurt, either.  He checked my feet for thorns or thistles, but none were there.  And then as he was putting me down, he said, "Whoa!!"

Abby:  What was it?

Sam:  My lower back muscles were in a tight knot.  He said it might just be a muscle pull, but I think Dad knew it might also be a ruptured disc in my back.  The vet gave me some painkillers, a muscle relaxant, and a course of steroids for a few days, which is the standard treatment for a ruptured disc.

Abby:  But it could be a muscle pull, right?

Sam:  Yes, I suppose you might treat a muscle pull with the same medications.  We'll just have to see.  The good news is that I was feeling better for a couple of days.  The bad news is that as I've begun to taper off of the steroids, which is what you have to do with steroids if you don't want to have serious, major consequences, the pain is coming back.  I think that's more indicative of a ruptured disc than a pulled muscle.

Abby:  What does that mean?

Sam:  Well, from all I can tell from the articles I've read on the internet, this happens more in my breed of dog--poodles, among others--and as long as my symptoms are mild, I'll just have to take it easy for awhile.  But if it gets worse, I could become seriously debilitated, or even paralyzed, in which case the vet would have to do back surgery on me immediately.

Abby:  Dad had surgery on his L4-5 disc.

Sam: Right.  And he's been fortunate.  As long as he runs regularly, he doesn't have any problems with it.  But it may not be the same for dogs. It may be that I have to give up running.

Abby: (Abby's eyes begin to well up with tears) Oh, Sam...I'll  say some prayers for you.  That would be so hard to accept.

Sam:  Thank you, Abby.  Yes, it would.  I've been grieving on and off for the past couple of days, in between feeling pain, scared, relieved, pain, scared, and relieved some more.  I know I can eventually adapt to it if I have to, because I've already adapted to some pretty big life changes.  But I'm only 6-1/2 years old.  It would be a huge adjustment.

Abby:  Yes.  I can understand that.  Sam, I want you to know that no matter what happens to you, I'll always love you and take care of you.  You are such a heroic and courageous dog.

Sam: (Tears well up in Sam's eyes) I love you, Abby. We'll get through this together, no matter what happens.  It's part of life, and we know how to live life.

Abby:  Yes.  We do.  Even when it's hard.

Sam:  We'll see you all next month.

Abby:  Please keep Sam in your thoughts.  He's such a dear, dear creature.
 
 
 

January 1, 2000  In Which Sam And Abby Reflect On How They First Met, While On A Hunting Journey In Labrador, And How Letting Go Opens New Doors

Abby The Labrador:  So here we are, Sam.  1999 was one of the warmest years in recorded history.  Just a few months ago, weather folks were predicting that this would be a cold, snowy winter, but so far it's been incredibly dry and delightfully warm.  After all, it has not been uncommon for it to be 15 degrees below zero on New Year's Eve, but it's nowhere near that.

Sam The Cockapoo:   It has been a very pleasant winter so far.  And the holidays were wonderful.  All kinds of small but wondrous things happened in our family over the past two months.  We have so much to be grateful for.

Abby:  Sam, it's the beginning of a new millennium, I know, but that pales in comparison to everything that we have experienced in our long lives.  We could have died yesterday, and our lives would have been worth more than either of us ever imagined when we were little.

Sam:  Yes.  Life is so simple, so elegant, and so unpredictable.  Who could have known, years ago, what magical twists and turns our lives would take?

Abby: No one could have known, and that's why life is so mysterious and wonderful.  Life is a risk over which we all have some control, and therein lies the key.  If we could control it all, each and every one of us would be a pitiful little tyrant.  If we had no control at all, each would be a hopeless victim.

Sam: Okay.  So, Abby, here's my question of the day.  Do you have any New Millennium Resolutions?

Abby:  No.  Life goes on.  I have things I've been working on for years.  I will continue to do so.

Sam:  Good.  Guess what?

Abby: What?

Sam:  Dad and Mom are working on a new book, and they asked me if I'd ask you if they could use our story...

Abby: ...For what?

Sam:  To illustrate how life works.

Abby:  Oh, dear.  I am deeply honored.

Sam:  As am I.

Abby:  Yes, I give my consent.

Sam:  As do I.  Herein hangs the tale...

The Cockapoo And The Labrador

    Once upon a time there was a 20-pound Cockapoo named Sam, and a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Abby.   Sam and Abby met when they were two years old-14 in dog years.  They met in the Canadian North Woods under the most extreme conditions.  Sam was running with a herd of wild Cockapoos that was heading towards the region called Labrador, in search of better hunting grounds.  It was the end of Autumn, the nights were very cold, and there was a dusting of fresh snow on the ground. As the alpha male of the herd, all of the other Cockapoos looked up to and admired Sam.

    Abby The Labrador had been scouting out new hunting territory herself when she heard the thundering paws of the mighty Cockapoo herd as it broke through a clearing in the woods and headed toward Dead Dog's Gorge.  The herd suddenly stopped at Sam's command, and he paced back and forth with an intensity that Abby had never seen before.  He was contemplating jumping across the gorge.  The other Cockapoos looked worried.  Sam felt they had no choice because the weather was getting so poor, and to go around the gorge would add two days to their journey.  But he knew it wasn't called Dead Dog's Gorge for nothing-only larger breeds were consistently able to leap across it.  For Sam and the other Cockapoos, jumping it would be an unparalleled achievement.

    Abby thought to herself, "Don't do it. It would be a crying shame to see such a fine looking animal take a dive into that gorge."  But just as she was saying that, Sam backed up, trotted about 20 yards away from the edge, turned, faced it, and then burst into a full lightning-fast sprint, becoming airborne in a flash, sailing dramatically in an arc, and landing front-paws-first on the other side with a solid whumpfgh!!  The other cockapoos burst into thunderous cheers that echoed eerily as if the forest itself was an Olympic stadium.  Then Abby looked toward Sam again and noticed that he was favoring both front legs.  "Oh, no," she said.  "He's hurt."

    The other cockapoos looked shocked and afraid.  Sam stood tall, faced his herd across the gorge, and said in his most commanding bark, "You will have to go on without me.  The survival of the herd is of the utmost importance.  It has always been this way, and always will be."  The others began to weep, some shouted protests.  Sam was unwavering.  Then Abby emerged from the forest and stepped softly but confidently into their midst, saying, "I jump this gorge every Autumn, sometimes with fresh kill in my mouth.  First, I will take each of you across the gorge.  Then I will nurse Sam back to health.  A nobler male I have yet to see in my two years."  The silence was stunning as every head whipped around and faced Sam, who with the most regal countenance, thought for a moment, then said humbly, "Make it so."

    As Sam stood by, watching Abby carry each member of his herd across the gorge, tears welled up in his eyes.  He held his head high as, one by one, Abby sailed gracefully through the air, her muscles glistening in the low, late afternoon sun,  landing confidently on the other side with a grunt and a "thud." His head was in a whirl of ambivalence.  It was crucial that he allow himself the luxury of his tears, his regret, as well as his relief and hopes for the safety of his herd.  In the same instant, he found himself entranced by the vision of this powerful, graceful female of a different breed.  Her physical beauty was surpassed only by her unbelievable athletic prowess and generous heart.  "A more compassionate female I have yet to see in my two years," Sam said to himself.

    Sam and the others said their "goodbyes."  On the journey to Labrador, a new alpha male would emerge from the herd.  Sam knew that would take care of itself.  And then the haunting words of his father suddenly entered his consciousness.  His father had told him that the only way to enter into the full depth of adulthood was to experience a nearly heartbreaking disappointment, deal with it graciously, and move on.  He had said that every Cockapoo was capable of entering this level of existence, but that it was a choice to do so.  He had said that every creature on earth is presented with at least one major disappointment in life, and that the choice was therefore not in whether one can avoid disappointment or not, but in how one chooses to handle it when it arrives. Sam knew what his father had meant, and he was deeply grateful for his father's counsel.
"Abby," Sam began, with a calmness he didn't know existed inside of him, "I am quite accustomed to being a leader, solving problems quickly, knowing how to assure others, knowing just what to do.  I must admit, I am stunned."

    "Sam, I saw something distinguished in you the second I spotted you.  My heart actually fluttered for a moment," Abby started. She would have blushed, were Labrador Retrievers wont to blush.  "And from what I have witnessed of you and your herd, the choices you made are consistent with what I thought I was first seeing."

    "They weren't easy choices, Abby."

    "I was in agony, myself, as I watched the drama unfold.  I see no other way it could have worked out, either.  All of you were likely to be doomed had you not been able to get across that gorge."

    "Yes.  Despite the current length of our winter manes, Cockapoo fur does not have the insulating properties of Labrador fur. Had you not come along, we all very well could have perished."

    "My coming along at just the 'right' time is one of those unexplainable and uncontrollable mysteries of creation.  Coincidence.  Fate.  Luck.  Grand Design.  It's hard to say for certain. Nonetheless, each of us must choose how to respond to these twists of fate.  You could have stubbornly rejected my offer of help, getting caught in your own ego, and ultimately proving that you were not the leader that your herd thought you were."

    "I considered all of the possibilities."

    "As only one of your depth and wisdom would.  Of course, you could have chosen to go with the herd after I carried all of them across the gorge."

    "I thought of that, yes. But their loyalty to me would have slowed them down, again endangering all of them."

    "Yes, Sam."

    "Thank you for your kind compliments, Miss Abby.  They soothe the sting of this nearly unbearable loss." (He couldn't believe he had just referred to her as Miss Abby.  It was way too familiar.  At least, among Cockapoos.)  And then Sam said, with a flutter in his heart equal to hers, "I am in awe of your power and gentility, of your agility and strength.  Of your compassion.  And of how stunning, how beautiful you are." (Again, words flowed from his lips that he could scarcely believe).

    "Sam, thank you," she said, simply.

    As happens to all of us now and then, whether we want it to or not, their lives began to turn in a new and unexpected direction, and not without harrowing new challenges.  They were somewhere in the Far North Wilderness.  Sam's front legs were injured.  Abby had a heartbreaking decision of her own to make.  She knew that the chances of Sam's survival would lessen with each day that they spent in the wilderness, whereas if she were to carry him into civilization, she would be clever enough to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed.  But she also knew that two dogs as exceptional as them would most likely become domesticated.  She had heard of this human practice, and although it would always be possible to return to the wilderness, she also knew that the draw of canine loyalty was difficult once it came into play.  If they were befriended by someone cruel, it would be easy to leave.  But if they were befriended by a kind person, it would be very difficult.

    She gently picked up Sam in her mouth, being careful not to hurt him with her powerful jaws, but making sure that she had a strong enough hold so she wouldn't drop him.  Maintaining the balance between these two took more energy and concentration than she had ever mustered.  It was getting colder, and Sam was getting weaker. After three days of what amounted to a forced march, Sam finally asked Abby, "Where are we going?"

    "To a hospital.  If we don't, you'll die."

    Sam knew.  He understood exactly what Abby was doing, and what a sacrifice it was for her.  He knew she didn't need to feel guilty on top of it all, so he said, "We'll get through this.  I can feel it in my bones."  Abby felt warmer and stronger than ever, as they curled up together for the night in another animal's abandoned lair.  They were two hours from civilization, and their new lives together.  As they dozed on and off the rest of the night, they both knew that their chance encounter in the woods would turn out to be a transforming experience.  Despite the pain, hunger, and cold, they were as grateful as two heroic dogs could ever be......

Abby:  We wish you all the best in the New Millennium.

Sam:  We will continue to do whatever it is we are supposed to do in this life, and be as grateful as we can be, for every moment of it.

" ...to announce that there must be no criticism of the President and that we must stand by the President whether he is right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile but morally treasonous."      (Theodore Roosevelt - closing days of WWI -- 1918)

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."-- Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials

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