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Purple State of Mind



If you like The Village Square, you’ll love the new movie Purple State of Mind. The website is worth checking out and you can buy the DVD online as well.

Hat tip to Lea, who has her finger on the pulse of – well – everything.



On civility and a conservative icon



Today’s New York Times editorial page honors William F. Buckley Jr. who died yesterday at the age of 82:

There are not many issues on which Mr. Buckley and this page agreed or would agree – except, perhaps, the war in Iraq, which Mr. Buckley regretted as “unrealistic”and “anything but conservative.” Yet despite his uncompromising beliefs, Mr. Buckley was firmly committed to civil discourse and showed little appetite for the shrillness that plagues far too much of today’s political discourse.

For a time back in the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Buckley and the liberal columnist Murray Kempton were something of a traveling road show. And they were friends. Yale’s angry young man turned out to be not so angry after all. He hated most of what the liberals stood for. He didn’t hate them.

He didn’t hate them.



There’s baby, then there’s bathwater



I’m reading the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, recommended to me by my conservative friend Lea. The book talks about “Level 5 leadership” being one of the required conditions for a company to achieve greatness.

Level 5 leadership isn’t at all what you’d expect it to be. Level 5 leaders are humble, a little awkward when it comes to slick media sound bites. But behind the scene, they demonstrate single-minded determination to achieve solid results. Once exceptional results are achieved, they tend to be leaders who give credit to their employees or even luck. They build things that are solid, that last. They’re the best of what American capitalism offers. They’re kind of American like apple pie.

According to Collins:

The recent spate of boards enamored with charismatic CEO’s especially rock star celebrity types is one of the most damaging trends for the long term health of companies and if this trend persists – if we see a triumph of celebrity over leadership and we maintain our misguided mix-up between those two concepts – we will see very few great institutions the next century.

It occurred to me as I read this passage that this zillionaire show-off CEO is substantially part of the picture I think many liberals have in their brain when they think of big business. They notice what’s wrong with big business, not what’s right with it… not the “Level 5 leadership” that’s out there and does capitalism proud. Slick zillionaire leader boy (or girl) isn’t good for anyone, if you follow Collins thinking; not for America, not for capitalism, not even for their company. This person is a distortion, an aberration, an example of the excess that tends to always create trouble (in River City, that starts with “t” that rhymes with “p” that stands with pool).

That got me thinking that maybe liberals tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they’re talking what’s wrong with big business. They develop a hostile tick about “big business.” And I’m thinking that conservatives tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they’re talking what’s wrong with government… “big government.”

All this baby throwing out when really the problem we all share isn’t either the business or the government but the excess that exists in both?

What would happen if liberals attended to the excess that exists in government and conservatives attended to the excess that exists in corporate America? What would happen if we demonstrated “Level 5 leadership”, reaching for greatness within our own general sphere of influence? Where might we be then?



“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.”



A great quote from Doug Floyd via The Village Square’s very own purveyor of great quotes, Lea.

That’s all.



“…a president matters. And so do we.”



This week brought us a typical brain-dead political discussion about who did what in the civil rights movement. King! Johnson! King! Johnson!

Politics played to our lizard brains, replayed endlessly in incomplete soundbites on the 24-hour cable news do-loop station of your choice, repeatedly asks us to pick “either/or”.

But reality is nearly always about “and.”

As a tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King today, I want to share Bill Moyers nailing that concept.

As this day ends, the day we set aside to honor Dr. King, if I don’t miss my bet, he would have been all about sharing credit with President Johnson… possibly with one or two others…

Here’s to what real leadership is all about.

Moyers on the signing of the 1965 Civil Right Act:

Martin Luther King had marched and preached and witnessed for this day. Countless ordinary people had put their bodies on the line for it; been berated, bullied and beaten, only to rise and organize and struggle on against the dogs, the guns, the bias and burning crosses. Take nothing from them. Their courage is their legacy.

But take nothing from the President who once had seen the light, but dimly, as through a dark glass and now did the right thing. Lyndon Johnson threw the full weight of his office on the side of justice.

Of course the movement had come first, watered by the blood of so many championed bravely now by the preacher-turned-prophet who would himself soon be martyred. But there is no inevitability to history. Someone has to seize and turn it. With these words, at the right moment – “We shall overcome” – Lyndon Johnson transcended race and color – and history too – reminding us that a president matters.

And so do we.



America, go to your room.



No matter your candidate in ’04, no matter your candidate in ’08, no matter your party, this isn’t good news: ugly South Carolina political tricks are baaaccck… This time with this piece of high-minded political discourse targeting Senator John McCain from a group calling themselves “Vietnam Veterans against McCain.

Last spin through South Carolina for the Senator, pro-Bush groups conducted push-polls asking voters how they would feel if they knew McCain had fathered a black child out of wedlock. Truth? The Senator and his wife adopted an Indian ORPHAN from MOTHER THERESA’S ORPHANAGE, no less.

Then there is this smear against Mitt Romney a “mailer in heavily evangelical South Carolina, purporting to be a holiday card paid for by the Mormon Temple in Boston, wishing fond holiday wishes from the Romney family,” beginning with this sentence: “We have now clearly shown that God the father had a plurality of wives…” The FBI is investigating, though a lot of good it will do candidate Romney as a postscript months down the road.

Then there is this anti-Romney mailing out to Florida voters:

“Help me sound the alarm that one day the Mormon Church plans to replace the Constitution with a Mormon theocracy. Mitt Romney’s political success indicates this may be sooner than most have thought…”

Then there is email, this breathless Obama as undercover radical Muslim screed that’s been arriving in in-boxes for months. One version even mentions that email fact-checker www.snopes.com had verified the story when it had, in fact, done the exact opposite.

And, now, a Village Square pop-quiz. Referencing our last post, do you suppose these tactics target our:

    1. Human brain
    2. Lizard brain
    3. Our inner second-grader?



Hint: My apologies to second graders for impugning their intelligence.



Civility 101: A draft



We’ve been thinking for a while now about just how this civility thing might go, and all that thinking has produced some ideas. Just to confuse you, here’s our tickler:

Bring your human brain.
Hold opinion lightly at times.
Eat potato salad, make potato salad.
Recognize horse manure before tracking it.
Find the wedge. Lose the wedge.
Fight like Founding Fathers.
Get (un)personal.
Lose the evil “they.”
Build your vocabulary.
Remove punctuation
Meet your batty brain.
Hold discomfort.
Be a comparison shopper.
Elevate substance over symbolism.
Err on the side of laughter.

Next week we will jump right in to discussion about bringing your human brain and leaving your lizard brain at home (when you come to the Village Square AND – we might humbly suggest as long as we’re being bossy – when you drive and when you vote).



Our radio debut



If you missed The Village Square on the NPR program Perspectives it is now up online here. Click on the “listen now” link for the September 27th show.



9/11 and the tale of Kenyan cows



fdnyangemaxfilesize.jpgThere are always moments amid the wreckage of what is worst in the human race, when we see clearly what is best in it. Even on 9/11.

There were those who walked toward trouble to allow the rest of us to walk away from it – the fire fighters, police officers, and in the case of 9/11, EMTs and Port Authority Police. They, like us on that day, had other concerns. . . kids to raise, bills to pay, oil to change. They put it all down and walked toward the horror to help strangers.

But of all the stories of human kindness following the terror of 9/11, one story in particular stuck with me.

About cows.

The Masai tribe of Kenya had raised money to send their native son Kimeli Naiyomah to medical school in the United States. He happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11. He later returned to tell his tribe of what he witnessed.

“What happened in New York City does not really make sense to people who live in traditional huts, and have never conceived of a building that touches the sky,” explained Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi. “You cannot easily describe to them buildings that are so high that people die when they jump off them.”

What then did the Masai do for the most powerful nation on earth? They gave us cows. “They gave what is truly sacred to them,” Obajo said.

Across oceans, across language, across culture, their gift could not have communicated more clearly to total strangers.

As we try again today to make sense of this senseless act, I can’t help but think that the task ahead of us, beginning at the moment the first plane impacted the first tower, has a lot to do with summoning in ourselves the generosity of spirit shown us by the Masai, as we walk away from the darkness of human nature exemplified by the terrorists of that day. Even as we are at war, even as we disagree vehemently with each other on how to proceed, we can call on the higher angels of our human nature to reach across miles and language and culture to strangers. It will require everything in us to not become the hatred and intolerance we’re fighting.

I think we’re up to the task.

And maybe while we’re at it, we can save a bit of that generosity of spirit for each other.



50 years.



wedding-small.jpgToday is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. A lot has changed since September 7, 1957, not the least of which is I wasn’t around at all back then and now I’m not so very far from hitting 50 years myself. Between then and now my parents have built a life around each other and their three children. There has never been a moment since when they were not there for us. (Wow, they must be tired.) They’ve got three happy productive adult children to show for it (who have three marriages that seem to have stuck) and four spectacular grandchildren. And, best yet, they’re in Paris at this moment celebrating. They done good.

1957 – a year when Dwight Eisenhower took his second term, Elvis Presley bought Graceland, American Bandstand premiered, Dr. Seuss published Cat in the Hat and (of great family significance) North Carolina beat Kansas in triple overtimes to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

For most of the years of their marriage, it was the family joke on election day when my parents dutifully went to the polls “I’m going to go cancel out your dad’s/mom’s vote”. But they stayed married, go figure. I doubt if political party was even discussed seriously between them before they married – rather common dreams & values, a focus on family and a dedication to community and country. Almost 50 years later, my daughter wanted to date a fine young man. They almost never even considered it because they were of different political persuasions.

A lot can change in 50 years.

I know my parents are concerned with some of those changes, particularly in our civic and political landscape. In honor of their 50 years of marriage and their lives of service to this country (and out of respect for not making this day’s post about much else other than them) I will be starting a blog feature: “50 years.” Every once in a while, it’s worth a constructive look back. (Think we should deep six the “walked 2 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways” posts?)

Stay tuned.

And Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad. We love you.



A Prayer for the Village Square



This weekend I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa repeat a prayer that seemed particularly appropriate to the work ahead of us at the Village Square.

Oh Lord, where I am wrong, make me willing to change, and where I am right, make me easier to live with.



Political Ads: Can’t We Just Grow Up?



NPR Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon:

Do you remember when candidates used to appear in their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures as they made obvious, irreconcilable and insupportable promises.

“I will improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers and lower taxes, create jobs, and get snow, guns and homeless people off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens , regardless of race, creed or hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.”

I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to publicize the names of their opponents just so they can splash mud and slime on them. It’s as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi Cola and spitting it into a gutter.

The candidate used to at least risk rejection by asking, sometimes pleading “vote for me” in his commercials. Now they hide behind hired voices who ask “you aren’t really going to vote for that guy, are you?” Then have the candidate mutter at the end like some nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window “I approved this message.”

There’s an old Madison Avenue adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Many current campaign commercials don’t even try to sell sizzle, they just hurl sleaze. People who create them are using the expensive power of articulation to produce messages that are just about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.

Look, I’m from Chicago, I love covering politics there and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says “I wish we had a high-minded political system like they have in Canada.”

The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is, they work. We might be appalled but we often follow through.

When ads become so personal, intense and insulting it’s difficult for the candidate who survives, I won’t even say “wins,” to climb atop the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman. And difficult for voters to respect or trust who they’ve elected, in spite of what they’ve been told. These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium.

By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.