In Sickness and In Health

Disease can be the result of many things. Health is the result of just a few.


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Takin’ It To The Streets–And Into Legislation

The recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, and around the country in response to the rash of police-involved homicides of unarmed citizens are the latest incarnation of a vibrant American tradition: if we don’t like something that’s going on in our society, we take it to the streets.

The origins of this can be traced back to the Boston Tea Party, which happened on this date, December 16, in 1773. Protests continued with women demanding the right to vote in 1913. The 1960’s were crackling with anti-war and civil rights marches. More recently, Occupy Wall Street called out income inequality. And now, citizens are protesting the killing of their neighbors, family members, and fellow citizens by law enforcement officers.

The one thing that seems to be lost in the recent social media storm is the communication of articulate, specific demands that citizens want lawmakers to initiate in order to change the way things are now. This is the hard work of progress: “We think there is injustice, and here is what we want you to do, as our elected or appointed representatives, to correct it.”

The rage expressed by protesters is understandable: unarmed citizens are dying and those involved in these homicides seem to sidestep the normal judicial process of assessing responsibility for their actions.

This is due, it appears to many, to the cooperative, and some say cozy, working relationship that prosecutors in local district attorneys’ offices around the country have with police departments. They work in tandem most of the time to convict people of crimes. But what happens when a police officer is involved in what may be a crime? ¬†What happens is the appearance of favoritism and special treatment, and what results is the appearance of injustice. And make no mistake, in a democracy we most not only have justice, we must have the appearance of justice as well.

It is impossible and illogical to believe that a district attorney’s office that works daily in cooperation with a police department can be expected to be objective in presenting evidence to a grand jury against a police officer of that same department.

It is time to change the way this part of our judicial system works, and it is the responsibility of protesters, civil rights leaders, and lawmakers to do the hard work: demand legislation which affects the change we want to see in our world.

In addition to all police officers wearing video cameras while on duty, that legislation might read something like this:

When there is an officer-involved shooting in a local municipality, the local police department and local district attorney’s office will be immediately prohibited from conducting an investigation of the crime scene or interviewing witnesses.

Instead, a newly-created and wholly independent regional or federal Special Prosecutor with no ties to the local police department or local district attorney’s office will be appointed to use its agents to secure the crime scene, gather evidence and testimony, and make arrests as necessary.

Regardless of the strength or weakness of evidence or testimony obtained by the Special Prosecutor, all cases of officer-involving shootings will go to a Special Jury Trial, and all evidence and testimony pertaining to such cases will be made public.

The members of the Special Jury will also be required to provide a Statement of Findings, explaining their verdict based on the interpretation of evidence and application of the law. This will also be made public. If the Statement is found lacking, an appeal process may be initiated by the Special Prosecutor or the defense counsel. (This will discourage local juries from giving local law enforcement a pass, just because they’re local. It will also discourage vigilante-ism by juries, just because a police officer is involved.)

If the victim of an officer-involved homicide was determined to be unarmed at the time of the shooting, regardless of whether or not the officer or officers involved are found guilty of a crime, the family of that victim will be entitled to receive a compensation in the amount of $1 million, payable by the police department’s municipality. (Hitting City Hall in the pocketbook is a great motivator for reform.)

These proposed reforms will help citizens who feel victimized by their local police. It will also help the district attorney’s offices around the country to continue to do their job in convicting real criminals. And finally, it will help honest, reasonable, hard-working police officers do their job, hopefully with new-found support from the people they protect. And make no mistake, they have an impossible job that most do admirably under difficult circumstances.

But, as I’ve said, to get reforms implemented and transformed into legislation and law, we must communicate specific demands to our public officials. We also have to be fair and not paint all law enforcement officers with the same brush.

A Special Prosecutor for police-involved shootings is a straightforward, logical step in our efforts to honor that part of our commitment: “…and justice for all.”

Take it to the streets. Peacefully.



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Princeton Man

Princeton Man

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Why We Dress The Way We Do…No, Really

Member of the Tribe

Member of the Tribe

I know very few people who can honestly say that they don’t care what they wear. There’s the occasional professor, who’s perpetually preoccupied with higher thoughts; the farmer, who toils in the soil all day and simply needs clothes to cover his skin and not impede his movements; a scientist in the jungle, who simply needs pockets for her equipment and fabric that isn’t too hot.

Otherwise, we do care what we wear. We do have a reason for dressing the way we do, outside of occupational requirements, and we are probably not even aware of it.

We dress the way we do, anthropologists tell us, in order to show that we belong to, or aspire to belong to, a certain tribe. We dress in torn jeans, sneakers, and an ironic t-shirt in order to belong to the Hip Tribe. We sport a Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger to be preppy. Patagonia, we’re the rugged, outdoorsy type. If we’re going Goth, we’re going all black. Fashionista, any of the season’s latest trends or must-have accessories will do, at least for the moment.

And of course, all these tribes have their implied set of values: anti-establishment and non-traditional, probably liberal; establishment, traditional, perhaps conservative; individualistic, adventuresome. These are the values or character traits that we seek or seek to express to others when we dress a certain way. “I’m artistic.” “I’m reliable.” “I’m a risk taker.” “I’m sophisticated.”

(Of course, the occasion for which we’re dressing also plays a part. We dress more formally and more traditionally for funerals and weddings. If we don’t, we’re making a statement about our values or perspective on the event. If we agree to wear a tux to the Academy Awards and look like most everyone else, we’re acknowledging that the event is more important than our personal preference of how we’d like to dress. It may also let others know that we’re secure enough not to have to draw undue attention.)

We may think we’re “expressing our individuality” when we choose our clothes for a typical day, but we’re not. We’re applying to be a member of our tribe, or confirming our membership in it.

And as a side note, if more people would set aside “expressing their individuality” and take on “doing their job”, the world would be an infinitely better place, with just as much diversity.

Old Money is its own tribe. It has its own way of dressing, as I’ve noted in The Old Money Book. Unlike other tribes, this way of dressing is not an obvious expression of its values, as modesty and discretion are two of those values. (There is very little irony in Old Money.) But it is noticeable to other members of the tribe.

Dressing the part is, however, only a small part of the culture of Old Money. It will not cut any ice with the other members of the tribe absent manners, education, and a work ethic, just to name a few.

So dress as you please. Express yourself if you must. Just know what you’re really doing. And why.



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Patch Me If You Can

Elbow Patches

I know: I’m having too much pun.

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Black Friday Alternative

If you’ve followed this blog at all, or if you’ve read The Old Money Book, you know how I feel about rampant consumerism. Aside from the obvious effect of crippling many Americans financially, it’s also eroding our personal relationships.

I feel that many people have substituted shopping for having real interests like reading, travel, mentoring, and simply sitting down with someone you care about and having a conversation.

I’m not a grump old man (yet), and I enjoy buying something new–occasionally–as much as the next person. Alright, probably not as much because most of things I buy tend to get better with age, but let’s not quibble: I’ve taken no vows of poverty, and certainly none of silence.

But trampling each other and fighting over toys the day after Thanksgiving is beneath us all. It’s an embarrassing, media-induced hysteria that sends otherwise sane people out into the streets and malls to buy merchandise of generally poor quality, which many of them cannot afford, to be given to friends and family to show them that we love them.

I have a not so novel idea: instead of buying someone something (which they may or may not like or use), invite them to a coffee shop or restaurant, far from a shopping center. Enjoy something hot to drink or eat, and, at some point in the conversation, pull out a piece of paper. On this piece of paper you’ll have written a list of the five or ten things you appreciate about this person, what they’ve meant to you, and the positive impact they’ve had on your life. You’ll read this list out loud to the person you’re with. And that will be your gift to them this holiday season.

I can assure you this: you will probably spend less and get more out of giving this gift than out of any transaction you could make at any store in the world. It will be appreciated more deeply. It will be remembered more fondly, for a much longer period of time. Throw in a smile, which is always a “must-have accessory” and a hug, which seems to warm everyone regardless of the weather, and you’ve got a very fine gift indeed.

To put a bow on it, you can add, as a last mention, that you’ve made a donation to Heifer International in your friend’s honor. (You can donate as little as ten dollars, and as much as you want.)

That’s the Old Money Black Friday Alternative. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Pass it on.


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November 22, 1963

eternal flame

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