Monday, April 25, 2022

Look for the Small Delights


My Mentor

Here’s a photo of my mentor taken last winter while I  was undergoing six weeks of heavy-duty radiation and chemotherapy at Mass General  I was on auto pilot until I met him, neither up or down, happy or sad. All my energy was spent running the exhausting treadmill of treatment. Part of that regimen was my personal commitment to get exercise, no matter what, often by taking walks with Russet to a nearby park, part of the Emerald Isle along the Muddy River. On one of these journeys, walking woodenly along – I met the swan.

I felt an immediate kinship with him because of my past close relationship with a formidable alpha goose I had owned. But this was more than that: I was mesmerized by this indomitable bird who apparently felt the same way, shuffling over to get close to me, staring me in the face. In that instant, all my sterile preoccupations evaporated, replaced with pure joy. And maybe something more.

It was like this magnificent bird was carrying a message from the universe to wake me up: to spring me from the dungeon of my medical malaise to bask in the joys of just being alive. I felt tears running down my face as it hit me that this was as good as it gets: I’ve got to stop squandering such moments because I might not have that many of them left.

The renowned psychologist Carl Jung understood this, writing in his Red Book, “Joy at the smallest things comes to you only when you have accepted death…Therefore I behold death since it teaches me how to  live.”⁠1

In an additional bit of synchronicity, after I returned home to recuperate, a good friend sent me a Taoist meditation for that day of the year that said in part: “After long self-cultivation, one’s accumulated energy reaches a threshold and then bursts out full, breathing, and vibrant. When one’s spiritual energy emerges, it feels like a swan rising from the water.” It included this poem:

Like shadows color of cold,

Willow branches weep ice.

Swan rises dazzling in the sunlight.⁠2


Still today, I rise in the sunlight with my swan, captivated by the small joys of life: a reflection in a puddle, a baby’s smile, a pleasant interaction with a store clerk. This discovery is, of course, not mine alone. As the poet Ross Gay writes in his bestseller, The Book of Delights: “My advice to the person suffering from lack of time and from apathy is this: Seek out each day as many as possible of the small joys.”⁠3“The more you study delight, the more delight there is to study…Not without sorrow or fear or pain or loss. But more full of delight.”

Yes, life will, at times, be difficult, stressful, and traumatic. But even amidst the thunder and lightning, a ray of sun can unexpectedly pierce the clouds, giving birth to a stunning rainbow. There’s something cosmic and divine about a rainbow – or a swan–  that can wake a person up, as it did for the poet Mary Oliver when her swan flew by:

Did  you too see it…

And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?

And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?

And have you changed your life?⁠4



1 Carl Jung: Red Book; page 275.

2 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Ming-Dao: 1992 HarperSanFrancisco


4 Swan by Mary Oliver, 2010. Beacon Press. p. 15

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Remembering Donella Meadows on Earth Day


My copy of Meadows' book with Jenness Pond as backdrop

Donella Meadows is one of our own: She taught at Dartmouth for 29 years before her untimely death at 59 in 2001. Back in the day, I was honored to serve with her on the Monitor's Board of Contributors. She was the lead author of Limits to Growth, a pathbreaking book that sold over 30 million copies. In a sequel, Beyond the Limits, published in 1992, Meadows was our modern-day Paul Revere, calling out the alarm that our global industrial system had exceeded the earth's ecological limits.⁠1

By the year 2000, the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day, Meadows had lost patience: “Earth Day is beginning to remind me of Mother’s Day, a commercial occasion upon which you buy flowers for the person who, every other day of the year, cleans up after you.⁠2 Yet Meadows’ influence lives on: in a real sense, she is the mother of the modern degrowth movement, which spurns our obsession with endless growth in favor of ecological sustainability. 

The degrowth movement first gained momentum in the 1990s until Republicans counter-attacked, making Al Gore a laughing stock for his fierce defense of the environment while declaring in lock-step that the climate crisis was "fake news." But after the Great Recession, although the Gross National Product (GDP) began rising again, wages plateaued while inequality grew. This was further evidence to those in the degrowth movement that our current economic model was broken.

And broke, it is! 

Our current brand of capitalism premised on ever-increasing growth is a malignant cancer that, if unchecked, will be the ruin of us all. We all know that doing the same old things that don't work, over and over again, is the definition of insanity. Luckily brilliant innovators, able to think outside the box, have stepped up with practical solutions. Two of them stand out to me.

Tim Jackson, an ecological economist in England, is, perhaps, the pied piper of the degrowth movement. He sees capitalism not as fundamental but only a phase of human development, a myth that no longer works. And I think most of us, at the intuitively level, recognize the truth of what he says: “People are persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about.”⁠3

Jackson’s stated mission is to look beyond this myth of growth, “to dare to see beyond capitalism itself.”⁠4 His latest book, Post Growth, is a captivating, lyrical account of how things could be done better. Each chapter has a main character, a person whose life embodies a viable post-growth theme, ranging from Robert F Kennedy to Emily Dickinson.⁠5 

Another visionary is Peter Barnes, an entrepreneur who lives in Point Reyes, CA. He believes capitalism played a valuable role in human development but now must be reined in. His premise is that most of today’s wealth is co-inherited from nature and past human efforts, not individually earned. With that in mind, he proposes a new class of property rights, which he calls “universal property,” to protect our land, watersheds, and atmosphere. Instead of letting a few investors privatize the benefits, the idea is to create trusts to manage our natural resources.  The beauty of this approach is that it generates reliable revenue streams to be shared by every citizen⁠6 while at the same time protecting the environment.

These trusts exist and are spreading. Perhaps the first and most successful was created in Alaska over forty years ago when oil was discovered on the North Slope. The governor, Jay Hammond, persuaded legislators and voters to create a trust, The Alaska Permanent Fund, to invest oil revenues from oil leases for future generations. The fund has now grown to $64 billion and paid out, on average, $1,600 annually to every resident in the state.

I want to close by making amends. I am guilty of the crime confessed to by Barnes: My generation—the generation born in the mid-twentieth century—has had a grand party.  We have consumed more resources and created more environmental destruction than all previous generations combined.  We are leaving behind one horrendous mess for our children. But we haven’t departed quite yet. We still have time to leave a legacy.⁠7

On this Earth Day, what better legacy could we leave than incorporating permanence and greater equality into our runaway economic system.





3 Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet

4 Jackson, Tim. Post Growth (pp. 32-33). Wiley. Kindle Edition.




Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I got war on the brain

Everywhere on the media and in my dreams, I see corpses “carpeted through the streets”⁠1 and neighborhoods reduced to rubble. It takes me back to Vietnam. I limit what I view, but some veterans cannot stop watching. Is it an unconscious attempt by those with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to make sense of what happened to them in combat?

I know my own life has been soaked in war since I was little. I remember walking with my family through the Harvey Lake Cemetery in Northwood on Memorial Day to watch my father’s  WWII buddies, still mainly young men in in their twenties, fire final salutes to their dead comrades over the lake, scaring birds out of the trees and causing babies to cry.  

Before I was in my 20s, I found myself in my own war in Vietnam. Afterward, I co-founded the Merrimack Valley Chapter of Veterans For Peace (VFP) to educate the public about the costs of war, particularly immoral wars of choice like Vietnam. Our slogan was "Never Again," which now sounds so pathetically naive.

How can any of us not be traumatized from the unspeakable violence force-fed into our psyches around the clock? It's not just from this war in Ukraine, but the cumulative effect, starting from being held hostage to reliving 9/11 endlessly, to watching the nightly carnage of countless conflicts around the world; to bearing witness to what seems like an endless loop of our kids being gunned down in their schools by other kids. One could make a good case that we now all have PTSD.

And what do folks with PTSD do? 

They obsessively attempt to control their lives to avoid further trauma. It's an unconscious reaction, often irrational. Look at us in N.H., one of the safest places on earth. Yet, because of PTSD, we live in fear, afraid of the bogeyman, the dreaded Other who doesn't really exist: Like the feverish hallucination that democrats are satanic pedophiles who eat babies, that our teachers are indoctrinating kids to feel guilty about being white, or that brown-skinned immigrants, fleeing death squads, are drug dealers and serial rapists.

And what is the most common American response to these bogie men of our dreams? 

Buy more guns – lots of them. According to the 2018 “Small Arms Survey,” U.S. civilians alone account for 46 percent of the worldwide total of civilian-held firearms, which breaks down to "120.5 firearms for every 100 residents."⁠2

Today, most of us buy guns not for hunting but for protection against that evil Other. Toward that end, we've repealed regulations prohibiting military-stye assault rifles with big clips; we've loosened laws to allow practically anyone to carry loaded weapons openly; and we've passed new laws in many states, allowing the gun owner to "stand your ground."  At the crux of these ‘shoot first” laws –like reliving the wild west – is the notion that lethal force should be used on first instinct, instead of saving it as a last resort.⁠3

And what is the predictable result? 

More shootings, more violence, more killing. Around and around we go. Worse yet, this same insanity is happening on the national level. Just look at Ukraine, fighting for its very existence against the Russian Bear. Of course, we have to support them: Arm them, we must. But that doesn’t mean raising the defense budget.

That would be the same mistake individuals make by buying more weapons. Yet, both Republicans and Democrats are guilty, bidding against each other to increase the Pentagon budget, even though, by the most conservative estimates, we already spend four times more on arms than Russia.⁠4

Like Americans buying more guns, spending more money on the military does not supply security, only more death. The honest solution is to give Ukraine whatever they need to defend their country while, at the same time, reducing our overall defense budget. We can start by scrapping the  Pentagon's program to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, projected to cost two trillion dollars.

We already possess thousands of nuclear weapons we don't need. New research shows the "pragmatic limit" of atomic weapons any country needs is only 100. That's because any nation, unleashing more than that, would create a nuclear winter blowback, destroying their society as well.⁠5 

It's time to commit America for mandatory therapy to address our irrational behavior. Our survival depends upon it.



1 Associated Press reported in





Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The FSP and the tangled web from which it sprung


Copied from:

The Free State Project (FSP) has been recently in the news for what it accomplished at the last Croydon town meeting, taking down its first public school system by reducing the school budget by more than 50%. The FSP is, of course, the libertarian outfit that voted 15 years ago to come to NH to take us over by abolishing most governmental services.

As Michael Ward, a local author, has written: The FSP “reject the concept of ‘the common good’ as being a socialist principle. In their worldview, you are only responsible for your part of the planet. You have no obligation to pay for anything that you don't directly use or control. In short they embody the state motto, “Live Free or Die” on steroids.”⁠1

The last column I wrote for the Monitor was about my shipboard life in the ‘brown water navy’ in Vietnam. It was about how a diverse cross-section of Americans were able to bridge our differences to come together as close-knit group. Just as my ship was a vehicle for forming community in Vietnam, our schools are a primary vehicle for creating community in NH.

The FSP knows what it is doing: Demolishing our public schools is the surest way to dismantle our community. Supporting our schools is one of the few times we come together, climbing out of our specialized silos for the sake of our children's future. That is how we come together with other parents, that's how the community comes together by rooting for local school sports, and that's how children come together to become lifelong friends,  not enemies, no matter what their differences.

According to their website, over 6000 FSP members have already moved here, and 45 now hold public office. Interestingly enough, FSP specifically listed, as a reason for choosing NH, our state motto, "Live Free or Die.” 

Too many folks, including the FSP, have been hornswoggled into believing our motto represents the essence of who we are. But that would be wrong. Essentially the FSP was lured here under false presences. 

The truth is that our motto is only a recent afterthought, not adopted until 1945. Before that, we got by perfectly fine without one. When we finally decided to adopt a motto, it was done with the same sense of urgency we brought to bear when we picked the purple finch as our official state bird.

There were several candidates: The "Live Free or Die" entry came from a letter written by General John Stark, revered as our own NH-born war hero who fought the British in our American Revolution. His meaning was crystal clear in the same sense Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, proclaims it today to stiffen his country's spine as it fights for its life against a formidable invader.

It’s not a statement about politics, but war.

NH's motto wouldn't be newsworthy in any state in times of war. Likewise, NH was similar to her neighbors in times of peace: Our joint survival depended on the community working together for the common good by building roads, schools, and libraries. Sometimes NH was even ahead of the pack: Peterborough founded the first public library in 1833, 19 years before Boston established theirs.

After our motto was adopted, it was pretty much ignored until Meldrim Thompson became governor in 1972. Remember him: he was the governor who wanted to arm the NH National Guard with nuclear weapons. Thompson won by pledging to ax any broad-based tax. Backed by the fierce advocacy of William Loeb, the arch-conservative publisher of the Manchester Union-Leader, this pledge has become "a central part of New Hampshire's political lexicon"⁠2 by merging it with the feel-good patriotism of live-free-or-die.  

Combining our state motto with the pledge has created a formidable juggernaut combining two disparate groups into a grand alliance: the business community, who want less regulation, and working people who don’t want to be told what to do. Since then, no governor has been elected  without  “taking the pledge.”

Therein lies the story of NH's tangled politics, starting with the extremists hijacking our war hero's words and making them into a political cudgel. And then weaponizing "The Pledge" by making it our patriotic duty – like pledging allegiance to the flag –  to tax working folks four times more than the rich. All of which was catnip to the FSP.