In Search of Honor and Excellence

While perusing an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on the meaning of liberty in the works of the English utilitarian philosopher of the 19th Century, John Stuart Mills, I came across a sentence by the author of the Op-Ed piece which gave me pause.

After explaining that Mills’ belief in liberty and democracy was a “civilized belief that there are clear distinctions between honor and dishonor, excellence and laziness.” The author goes on to say that many cheapen democracy by believing that they practice democracy by being nice, voting occasionally and having opinions. That is the sentence that got me.

Those three phrases, being nice, voting occasionally and having opinions are so insipid. They have nothing to do with “honor” or “excellence”.

We are nice when we want others to like us. The central thought is “me”. When we are polite and/or kind, the central thought is of the other. We recognize the value, the worth of another human being. This is being honorable.

When we vote occasionally we are being lazy and irresponsible. We expect the votes of others to maintain our freedom to choose.

Worst of all, especially in the United States with the dawn of so called “reality shows” fostered by social media (facebook, etc.), every body has an opinion which he/she shares. Most of these opinions are emotional responses, which can be very persuasive, like the sophists, but not true. To be lazy in the search for truth is to be dishonorable.


Those who value a free democracy are kind, responsible and seek the truth. They honorably seek excellence.




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To Blog or not To Blog

For the first time in four years I deliberately did not write for Monday Morning Blog. I seem to be moving into a new life phase that leaves me experiencing a bit of ennui about events, people and places that I use to find exciting. I still peruse the NY Times every morning, attend Mass several times a week, say the Rosary daily, exercise, cook when necessary, pay my bills, schedule dinner with friends, and have a preplanned calendar of concerts, operas, plays and trips. But, the only thing that I regularly look forward to is watching certain mystery shows on Netflix or Amazon.

Hopefully, this is just a passing phase. Very few people read my blog anyway. The blog is, however, important to me (or was) because it gave/gives me an opportunity to argue with myself. Writing a blog helps (helped) me to think seriously, but not to take myself too seriously. Netflix is calling.

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Women Friends

Coming of age in the 1950’s was an era never to be repeated. It was a time when the couples that got pregnant on prom night, if they lived on the North East Corridor, got married in Elkton, MD right after graduation. It was a time when girls who slow danced together did so because they liked to dance with no concern about what others might think of their sexual orientation. It was a time when, in high school, girls wore skirts below their knees, their hair in pony -tails and carried text books in the crook of their arms.

Girls who didn’t get married right after high school, became secretaries, nurses or teachers. They aspired to brief careers before settling down to keep house and to raise children. Time saving devices like electric vacuum cleaners and washing machines gave them time to meet other young mothers for walks in the park or lunch at a modest local spot. They discussed child rearing tips or what to make for dinner before hugging each other and promising to meet again soon. It was a time when women were nice to women, when women tried to help each other. It was a time when women’s best friends were other women.

The other day I was reminded of those days while reading about a group of young women in Egypt who play at roller derby. Unlike the US women of the 1950’s, these 21st Century middle-eastern women are professionals. Like the young wives of the 1950’s who found companionship at lunch. These young professional women use roller derby to experience a sense of warm camaraderie. In fact, close buddies, call each other, “derby wives.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation rated Cairo as the most dangerous megacity for women in the world. Sexual harassment in the work place is common. The roller derby women find the physical movement and physical contact with other women a stress reliever. These women can be competitive with each other in a sisterly way. After playing, the members of the group go out for pizza, etc. Eating together is a universal way to build friendly relationships.

In my opinion, we women in the US who have had it all – competitive careers, homes, family and leisure time may want to learn from the “derby wives”. The lives of women are fuller, richer and more generous when experiencing the warmth and camaraderie of close women buddies. US women in the 1950’s knew it. Hopefully, we can, too.



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In Search

In late November, one of the Hallmark television channels announced that for the month of December, It would show Christmas movies only. Some movies would be old favorites, other would be new originals.

As a story person, the concept intrigued me. Forgetting that the Hallmark channel is a commercial channel full of advertisements, I began watching it. The stories were simple tales of human quests for justice, compassion and/or personal love, always ending happily, usually in the bosom of family or long lost friends. Sometimes the stories included community Christmas tableaus or lighting of a Christmas tree in the town square. Of course the stories were melodramatic and or sentimental, what would one expect given the season and the network?

After a few evenings, I switched channels. One might think that I had enough sweetness and light. Actually, I had enough commercialism. Eight to ten twenty second spots of advertising between scenes drove me to PBS, my regular stand by.

A few days before Christmas, as I flipped through the New York Times, heading for the Op-Ed page, I stopped dead at a full-page advertisement. Low and behold, the add was placed by the Hallmark television channel announcing that it, the Hallmark channel, which featured all Christmas stories during the month of December, was the most viewed commercial network. It beat out ABC, NBC, CBS and a few cable channels! Granted, this information was presented in an advertisement. But, it gave me pause.

As suspicious, snide and secular as our society has become, it is still in search for moments of guilessness, honesty and belief, virtues often associated with children, maybe even The Infant.


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A Special Taxi with a Special Driver

What would you do if you inherited a taxi and the license to go with it? In 2001, Caterina Bellandi inherited a taxi, Milano 25, from her deceased partner. At the time, Milano 25 looked like most Tuscan taxis although it was primarily used to take sick children to and from hospitals. Applying her own personal touches, Caterina, who believes, “My children may be sick, but they can be happy,” dresses in flower and pompom festooned hats, flowing colored capes and red lipstick. Her sense of style is somewhat Mary Poppins in dress and in the decor of her taxi.

Over the years, Caterina arranges outings and play dates for the children she drives. With the support of community businesses and individuals, this unusual woman brings shut-in children and their family members pizza. Her excentric style and caring heart brought her to the notice of other members of the Tuscany community to the point that when a new Monopoly Game was developed, much of the play money used in the board game featured Caterina’s picture.

The people of the community know that Caterina’s passengers must be sick young people. Occasionally, a tourist will approach Caterina’s vividly painted taxi requesting a ride. This 21st Century Mary Poppins responds, “Oh, sweetheart, you can’t, but we will meet if it is meant to be.” Then she honks her horn, which plays “La Cucaracha”.

Over the centuries Tuscany has produced great artists and famous scientists. Today it has produced a beloved character with a very big heart, Caterina Bellandi.

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A New Velvet Glove

Ever since Adam donned a fig leaf, human beings have practiced modesty, even in cultures where the members do not wear clothes. Over time the prevailing religion reinforced modesty in a society. Eventually, in countries where the rule of law was and is promulgated and practiced, modesty and appropriate social/sexual behavior prevailed.   The female exhibitionist or nymphomaniac and the male predator (“dog”) were and are exceptions to the rule. That is until the last 50 years or so.

The women’s movement and the pill have aided women in shifting from the church hall to city hall. In other words, more and more women are entering what use to be male dominated roles of power. Insecure men think that women in formerly male dominated positions tacitly agree to “locker room” language and to unwanted, unsolicited sexual advances. Unfortunately, many modern male predators are no longer put-off by withering looks or scathing remarks. Nor is the complacent silence of co-workers enough to ward off accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct, which, most recently, led to predator males being fired or forced to resign from prominent positions.

And, that’s in a society where the rule of law is known and enforced. What happens in countries where only lip-service is given to the rule of law? An example is 14 year-old Falmata, kidnapped and raped repeatedly by Boko Harm fighters, escaped after three years only to be raped again by officers at a camp for refugees.

Like Western males who rationalize inappropriate sexual advances by convincing themselves that women who put themselves in positions of authority are “asking for it”, these officers rationalize raping a female who has already been raped as using someone who has “already been spoiled”. The people of Nigeria must not only make laws that protect the innocent, but the means to enforce those laws.

Women of the Western world, modesty and kindness can be the velvet glove to your iron fist of wisdom and stealth.



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A Little Surprise

On Monday while crossing the street to get to Mass, I had an incident which made me think that I was having a mini-stroke.  I suddenly lurched to the left.  While my legs wanted to continue crossing the street, my brain wanted to sit in the middle of the road.  I made it across by sheer will power, sat on the curb to catch my breath and pulled out my phone.  By then, a few people had gathered.  One, a nurse, put me through the stroke indicator exercises.  It appeared that I did not have a stroke, but I still couldn’t stand or walk on my own.  A very nice young man offered to drive me to Lourdes, which you know is about 5 minutes from my apartment.  I took him up on it and arrived quickly at the hospital.  He insisted that he go in to the emergency to get a wheel chair for me.  To make a long story shorter, a medical team met me, whisked me off the CAT scans, MRI’s and assorted other mechanical tests.  Because of the symptoms, the doctor informed me immediately that I would be held over night for observation.  So there I was.

For the next 24 hours, I was examined, pinched, stuck, and manipulated by assorted health professionals.  All of whom concurred that I did not have a stroke.  The final diagnosis is “Ataxia-(inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements symptomatic of central nervous system, not muscular) without weakness, likely labyrinthitis (love the word ’likely’) an infection of the inner ear which can be caused  infection from head or respiratory systems.”  So, I am home resting and taking antibiotics along with Lipitor, not for high cholesterol, but to keep plaque from building up then dislodging from my arteries.

Life is full of little surprises, good Samaritans being one of them.  The hospital protocol for patients exhibiting stroke like symptoms was excellent.  I feel humbly blessed.

Discharged after twenty-four hours, my recuperation continues at home. Between periods of rest, I manage to get a few things done around the house or on my computer. By bringing in take-out, I entertained a few friends one evening. There presence gave me a psychological boost. Sunday morning for the first time since the incident, I drove myself to church. No recurrences. Yah!!

Advent blessings to all.

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