Following Ben Franklin’s 13 virtues of a good life

Benjamin Franklin lived an astounding life. The founding father in his day was a leading author, printer, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. His resume is so long that I could continue for days.

Franklin’s probably best known today for drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and for his experiments with electricity. The legend though started small.

When Ben Franklin was a young man, he came up with and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues.


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‘Do you believe in miracles?’

I was crammed on top of the two kids on either side of me in line. We had very little room between us and kept taking turns stepping on each other’s toes. Fortunately all three of us were on the smallish size, otherwise one of us would’ve surely taken a pointed elbow to the eye or mouth. I remember too that one of the kids was chewing gum, because I could smell the Chiclets Gum he had in his pocket.

Our teacher had brought our class out on the cold February Friday evening to sing for the residents of a local nursing home. As we had at past events, we would sing a few church hymns and folk songs like “America the Beautiful.” We were positioned in two lines in a semicircle in front of the residents who were seated in their rockers and lounge chairs. The residents seemed happy to see us. They waved and had big smiles. We, on-the-other-hand, were nervous and shy and couldn’t wait to get back to the car to listen to the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team take on the Soviet Union.

We didn’t know much about my hockey. None of my friends nor I grew up playing or watching professional ice hockey, but we had been following the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid on TV and knew that this was a big game. The minute we finished up singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the wind,” we didn’t need to be told twice to get our jackets. I had come with several other students with my teacher and jumped into his car and settled down right away to hear the game on the radio. (Of course, we watched the game on ABC later that night when the network ran a tape-delayed version of the game.)

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The State of the Union with a family twist

A new take on a historically political event: President Donald Trump will give his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The event will draw the attention from both his supporters and critics.

Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution commands the president to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Past presidents have traditionally brought special guests and used the address as a chance to highlight policy wins and goals for the coming year.

Most state constitutions and many cities now have the same requirement.


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50 Shades of gray

As I get older I find that I’m becoming a contrarian. Well, I suspect I’ve always been one, I’m just becoming even more of one.

When everyone goes left, I go right. Whenever everyone goes right, I go left. It’s that way with big and little decisions

Here’s what I mean:


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Barcelona on my mind

backpack-1482611_640The leather strap first caught my attention. I next noticed the intricate flower design cut into the side of the handbag. We had been walking down Las Ramblas, the tree-lined 1.2 kilometer pedestrian street in Central Barcelona for only a few minutes but I had promised my wife that I would bring her back something special from the trip. Spain is famous for its homemade leather products, including wallets, belts and shoes so the handbag jumped out at me right away.

When I attempted to ask the the woman manning the kiosk about the price of the handbag with the little bit of Spanish I still remembered from high school and college, she gently rolled her eyes, gave me a mischievous smile and told me in the in the best Queen’s English that the handbag would be priceless to the right person.

She went on to compliment me on my exquisite taste and extolled the craftsmanship of the handbag maker. We went back and forth for a minute or two, but I inevitably ended up passing on the bag. I was looking for a different style of bag and her asking price, as I suspected, was too high. However, the woman and I continued to talk for another five minutes with a familiarity that surprised me. She joked with me that I looked like a shorter Harry Connick Jr. — she obviously needed glasses, my wife will get a good laugh at that one — and in a motherly tone, warned me to watch out for the hordes of people and the occasional pickpocket in the street. While relatively safe, Las Ramblas still has its share of pickpockets who feast on the tourists wandering aimlessly up-and-down the street.


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Superman versus Batman? Who ya got?

We jostled each other in line to go back into school from our morning recess. The bell always seemed to ring too soon. I’m not sure who started it, but everyone started chiming in with an opinion on their favorite superhero. One kid cried out Superman. Another yelled Batman.


When together, comic book publisher DC Comics called them “The World’s Finest” as they worked to fight the Joker and Lex Luthor and all that’s wrong in the world. When against each other, they each brought something different to the fight.

The Man of Steel was “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” and to boot he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. On the other hand, Batman possessed no superpowers; but relied on his genius intellect, physical prowess, martial arts abilities, knowledge of science and technology, vast wealth, and indomitable will.

Hence, my classmates’ fight.

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Fifteen years later, the memories remain fresh

When I think about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fourth plane that crashed in Western Pennsylvania fifteen years ago, I’m struck by the smallest of details that I remember about the day.


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Speaking up for what’s right

How do you judge what’s in another person’s heart?

My son and I were talking with a college representative about my son’s chances of earning a scholarship or grant money for college. The man talked about how tough the fight for scholarship dollars can be. In a nonchalant fashion, he continued, asking if we had an “ounce of diversity in our blood? Even a little?”

The comment was said quickly and I didn’t detect any malice in his tone. As I drove home from work the next day, however, I got to thinking about the conversation and a small part of me wished that I had probed for more information.

I told a friend a few days later that I wished that I had asked the man to be more clear in his statement. His comment was generally benign. He said it and moved on. His reaction and the look on his face, however, implied something altogether different, like he wanted to say more, but stopped himself.

Was he simply checking off a box? Was he looking to help my son get the most out of the system? Or was he trying to say that minority candidates were not up to par and getting an undeserved leg up on my son?

My son would love to earn the scholarship. He has strong grades and would seem to be good candidate, but he’s also realistic and recognizes that his chances for that particular scholarship are slim. He also wants to earn what’s his. When I brought it up to him, my son explained that he doesn’t want a handout. And he doesn’t want to take away opportunities from someone equally deserving.

I came away feeling great about my son. I also came away feeling more determined to respond to questionable comments in the future. My hope is that the man meant nothing by it. I suspect that’s the case, but to leave it unsaid is wrong too.

In the end, my son and I both learned a lesson.


On the campaign trail, there’s lies, damn lies, and then Donald Trump-sized lies

My mother was wrong.

She taught me that you should always tell the truth and think before you speak. If you didn’t know an answer, you didn’t make one up. And while gossip and rumors are all around us, you should try your best to not repeat outside of the house what you heard, lest the next rumor be about you.

I know that that all bets are off when it comes to politics and seeking out the truth. They have about as much in common as me and Michael Jordan on the basketball court, but I’ve learned in recent weeks that my mother was flat out wrong.

Bold statements and lies, despite what you might think, are actually good. Who knew?

Lies, lies and more lies

My mother was wrong. You don’t need all your facts. Just say what’s on your mind. Think someone’s a jerk, just say it. Think a particular ethnic or religious group is the root of all problems, then get it out. The facts don’t matter. What matters is speaking “the Truth.”

If the person you called a nasty name gets mad at what you say, look shocked and with all the bravado you can muster, say that you’re just speaking your mind. You’re speaking on behalf of the little guy. And then the pièce de résistance: Go on the offensive and say that you’re offended that they’re offended by your original remark.

The politician of the future and the new world order

Think I’m crazy. Here’s just a small sampling of Trump’s communication plan in action. Last week, Trump went off on George W. Bush’s administration for starting the Iraq War, stating that “they lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none.”

When pressed for details days later, Trump stepped back from his comments, saying: “I’m not talking about lying. … Nobody really knows why we went into Iraq.”

My natural inclination is to ask: Which is it? But in this new world order, the truth just doesn’t matter. It gets better. On Thursday, Trump was in a huff that Jeb Bush didn’t return his call. Classless on Bush’s part, probably. However, Trump called Bush everything but a buffoon for the past six months. Um, I wouldn’t want to talk to you either.

Now George W. and Jeb deserve everything they got from Trump. They’ve been around long enough and walked over enough people that I shed few if any tears for them.

So my mother was wrong. Or was she? There’s a part of me that understands Trump’s appeal in giving it to the establishment. He’s found a way to put into words the worries and concerns that everyday folks have in today’s society.

In the end, I want my leaders to lead. I want them to lead on fact, not a statement they made up the previous day. I want them to believe in what they’re saying and come with real plans, not just broad statements.

Back it up please

I also want them to not lie. For example, I call myself a Christian, but I could care less if Trump attends weekly Bible study. I’d like it, but I’m more concerned that my president be a moral leader. God knows I have my faults, I certainly expect that Trump or any of the other candidates to have their own.

However, don’t try to convince me that you’re a bible-thumping evangelical one day, and then the next get confused referencing Second Corinthians or get into a fight with the Pope, calling him the closest thing to a thief and a liar.

What do I expect of my president. I expect him or her to look at the facts. Research the facts some more. Surround themselves with smart people. And then build strong believes based on those facts. And then and only then speak up.

In short, say what you mean, mean what you say.

Unfortunately, that’s just never been Trump’s way. He has a few good ideas, but he fails to surround his ideas with real plans and makes a mockery of the process. He’d much rather make a Reality TV splash than serious significant change. What’s next “The Presidential Campaign: The Reality Series.”

Excuse me, but I’ll pass.