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Think of all the cool things you could be doing

I was struck by a couple of comments on my last post about bringing civility back to social discourse. Folks were making the point that we all need to have more manners, especially our children, the vast majority of whom, apparently, have no manners at all. I'm not sure I want to dispute any of this, although I know quite a few well-mannered adolescents, and quite a few ill-mannered adults, but it seems to me that devoting a blog post to the state of our manners is not the best use of my time, inasmuch as writing goes, nor is it of yours, inasmuch as reading goes.
The fact of the matter is that people had bad manners 300 years ago, they have bad manners now, and they will always have bad manners. If you don't think this is true, and that there's some golden age when people were more polite than they are now, have a look at John Strausbaugh's review of John Kasson's monograph, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth Century Urban America, which appeared in Ameri…
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Let's all remember our John Locke

Yes, it's seventeenth century time. Back in 1689, the English philosopher John Locke published his two Treatises of Government. I bring up a writer who's been dead for more than 300 years because I believe that his understanding of government is more relevant today than ever. For those of you who care, Locke has recently come into the limelight as the result of Steven Pinker's new book on the Enlightenment and the resulting criticisms of it (one, in fact, in last week's Wall Street Journal). I'm happy to go into this in more detail if you would care to do so. For the moment, however, let's stick to Locke's essays and their current relevance.

Ok, so way back when, Locke argued that human beings, whereas they may have tendencies to selfishness and egotism, are generally reasonable, endowed with goodwill toward others. In other words, like you and I think of ourselves. This being so, people established governments to cooperate with each other and facilitate so…

We should be reading the Westerly Sun (Part II of II)

I started this piece with a description of the life of Joseph Pulitzer, but I didn't think it would keep your attention, so I dropped it. While I was researching his life, however, I came upon an interesting fact that is germane to the topic at hand: in the 1890s, for a city with a population of 1.5 million people (the size of today's Phoenix, AZ, more or less), New York City had 19 daily, English-language newspapers. That's right, 19, a figure that doesn't include the foreign-language dailies or weekly papers or specialty publications that served a particular political, social, or religious audience.
Obviously, there was no alternative media back then. If you wanted to know what was going on, you had to read a newspaper. So, let's assume you chose to read the New York Call every day (I'm fudging on chronology a little bit, because the Call didn't come out until 1908), which was one of the three English-language dailies in the United States associated with t…

We should be reading the Westerly Sun (Part I of II)

I suspect that Eliot White will be pleased with the title of this post. Mr. White, the publisher of the Sun, as well as the Meriden Record-Journal in Central Connecticut, is a bit of a rarity in modern America. He is the publisher of a family-owned newspaper, among just a handful of folks in the United States still to do so. This is too bad. Newspapers published by people who have a vital interest in their local community are the first thing you should be reading. Here are four reasons why:

1)  They are less likely to have an agenda that you can't readily suss out. Put differently, if they do have a secret agenda (for example, "that guy at the Sun really wants to get a casino in town,") chances are it will become apparent. A local paper can end up with a credibility problem if it pushes an agenda.

2)  They put local perspective on national issues. How does the recent tax legislation affect local businesses? What do changes in healthcare legislation mean for local healthc…

Where have all the public servants gone?

I've been putting off writing in the effort to formulate a piece on the media, but Chelsea Manning's decision to run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, reported in Sunday's Washington Post, prompted me to get back in the game. Maybe I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, because Ms. Manning has yet to file with the Maryland State Board of Elections, so this could be a non-story. Be that as it may, in seeing this article, I was reminded of a disturbing trend in American politics. I was also reminded of the guy who is digging a big hole for himself, hits rock bottom, looks up, and asks for a pick.

Who's the guy in the hole? It's the American voter.

For numerous, complex reasons (which is no excuse), we have increasingly permitted our politics to be conflated with entertainment. I'm not sure how this began, but I'm old enough to know it hasn't always been like this. Maybe it started with Bill Clinton, who was then the governor of Arkansas, playing saxophone …

George Towery -- An American Hero

A couple of weeks ago, Northern Virginia lost a man of great decency and dignity in George Towery. I knew George since 2011, when we hired him to serve as a facilitator in our after-school program of civic engagement for low-income, immigrant youth at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. George was the anchor of that program as he later came to be at our Wakefield High School in Arlington, VA. His relationships with our teenage participants, everyone of whom he knew by name, was based on his profound respect for the individual and his high regard for basic human dignity. In return, the youth respected and admired him, treating him as a surrogate grandfather. He was the classic example of intergenerational bonding at its best.

There was an obvious reason for this. George was a lifelong educator. Before he retired from Fairfax County Public Schools in 2010, George served as the principal at Cameron Elementary School for 30 years and before that he was the principal of Lorton Ele…

It's not as bad as folks say

Really, it's not. All you need to do is type, "What makes America great?" (or some permutation thereof), into your Internet search engine. You will be presented with millions of results featuring list upon list extolling the benefit and value of our Republic. Some of these lists are light-hearted (but not without merit, have a look at any of the 100 great things about America that was published, up until recently, by Forbes.com), but others are entirely thoughtful and compelling (see, for example, Daniel Krauthammer's excellent essay in the May 8th issue of The Weekly Standard, "What Makes America Great? The question at the heart of the debate over nationalism").

I bring this up because I've just been re-reading Geoff Kabaservice's op-ed from the Saturday, June 10th edition of The New York Times, "Our Failing President's Great Performance." Kabaservice, who has his degree in American History from Yale and is currently a research consul…