Bill Vesterman sent an audio of his country song, “Flip Side,” for which he co-wrote the lyrics.

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He notes:

I wrote "Flip Side" lyrics with a friend of mine from graduate school, Bob Atwan.  An undergraduate student of mine, Beth Zelnick, is the singer.  Her name isn't exactly down-home, so we changed it to Beth Montgomery in the attempt to sell the project.  A student friend of hers wrote the tune.  I produced the song by finding a pedal-steel man from a bar band and he led me to the rest of the derelict members I put together. I rented a recording studio after some rehearsals in my basement.  "Keep going with that fiddle note!" "I'm running out of bow!" I tried to find a distributor, but ended up giving it to a couple of guys who said they'd cut us in if they could sell it.  They made a 45 from my tape, and I have a copy, but I never heard from them or anything played on the radio.  The flip side of "Flip Side" is my "Honky-Tonk Christmas." The theory was that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is the greatest seller of all time, so you have to cover Christmas. "The only white's the foamy white/ On the beer the barmaid draws./The only bells are the jangling bells/ On a rhinestone Santy Claus./'Cause I'm out in the bars of Memphis/ Just havin' a Honky-Tonk Christmas."  This gets worse, but not as bad as others I have written, but not produced. For example, "Normal Love":

At the drive-in "Alice in Wonderland" is rated X;

While on downtown they just opened The House of Sex.

In the drugstore all the books are dirty too;

Make's you wonder what our country's coming to.


O give me Normal Love, I want some Normal Love--

Give me Normal Love the Normal way!

Don't want no fancy stuff, I've had me quite enough--

O where O where is Normal Love today?

Or how about another Christmas venture that acknowledges the heartbreak of today's divorce culture: "I want my dad for Christmas (That's all I want this Year)."

No more free lyrics! I'm afraid people will steal my ideas and go to Hollywood!

Other lyrics include “The King of Saturday Night” (All week I work the assembly line/ And I guess I work alright./ But I can't wait till the week end comes/'Cause I'm the King of Saturday Night.)


Bill also has a new book, one that works the other side of the literary street:

How have twentieth-century writers used techniques in fiction to communicate the human experience of time? Dramatizing Time in Twentieth-Century Fiction explores this question by analyzing major narratives of the last century that demonstrate how time becomes variously manifested to reflect and illuminate its operation in our lives.

Offering close readings of both modernist and non-modernist writers such as Wodehouse, Stein, Lewis, Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner, Borges, and Nabokov, the author shares and unifies the belief, as set forth by the distinguished philosopher Paul Ricoeur, that narratives rather than philosophy best help us understand time. They create and communicate its meanings through dramatizations in language and the reconfiguration of temporal experience. This book explores the various responses of artistic imaginations to the mysteries of time and the needs of temporal organization in modern fiction. It is therefore an important reference for anyone with an interest in twentieth-century literature and the philosophy of time.


Here is a link to the product page.  The price is for the library edition!  Cheaper soon.<>





Audio icon Flip Side of My Heart.mp33.2 MB

Prison Poems by Ric Hyland



my brother

     is soul deep


              skin deep.


It tugs

across the pulse

     of hearts

to join

     not part

that kindred spark

of inner being which links

us all --

      nor bold

          nor small --

with hooks to earth

as sacred soil




in our common toil.


Soledad 1966



If pain is the path

which leads mere mortal Man

across the metamorphous

into Poet,


then I am Plutarch,

chronicler of my time.



                                     On the first day of Watts, 1965

When in the course of human events

The nomad cleans his gun and packs his tent

To steal away across his native land

In search of other Meccas, other bands

Before whose lair he'll drop on bended knee

To swear with blood and tears his fealty --

     Then, O calmly unsuspecting nation mine,

     You might as well to hell your soul consign,

Because your body's gonna burn, baby, burn!



Jehovah laid bare the sand

for Moses and his people --

now, even if not then.


Thus from the strength of time

do the few

pass madness

unto seed yet unsown.



Poetry of Mark Gibbons

Bill Vesterman sent a link to the poetry of Mark Gibbons (1942-1981):


                           How I Love My Life!

Each morning I awake amid the soothing aftertaste of dreams in which I am peacefully omnipotent and am pleasantly surprised that my wakeful life is so much like my dreams.

My wives and children are singing aubades by the mist-shrouded pool in the orchid conservatory; they beam like little suns when they see me.

For breakfast each wonderful day I eat only my favorite foods. This morning an ellipsoidal, roseate mango - perfectly ripe. Its juices gush cool sweetness on my lips and tongue but never drip on my shirt or make my hands sticky.

My newspapers (decorated with delicate graphics) are filled with amusing and informative feature stories and news articles praising all my friends for what they are doing. What I said and did yesterday is the subject of a special, dedicatory editorial. The weather report is always just as I had hoped.

What a surprise! My dressing room has been redecorated in transparent pastel materials; the floor is opalescent and the curtains are fashioned of living flowers that move aside as I walk through them.

All my favorite costumes are still there though -- and even some new fashions with which I'll set the pace. But not today; for this morning, in disguise I'm to distribute gifts among the citizens I'll talk with while pretending I am a visitor from another planet. They will appreciate my wisdom and be grateful for my generosity.

My bowel movement was vastly pleasurable. My hair falls gracefully in place over my tanned shoulders. Eyes and teeth gleam. I laugh when I again remember that though forty I still look eighteen.

Two birds of paradise drape my cloak on my arm; my pet dogs open the door and the happy servants sing praise as I step to the rigged catamaran and begin a brisk sail to the city gleaming in the distance.

Not merely pleasure, but arousing adventure awaits my many disguises. Thrilling danger that ends in safety and honor! Brilliant abstract conceptions and immortal witticisms! Consuming love affairs that end end in friendship just as other love affairs begin! Every thought and action to be proud of! How I love my life!


Bernard Witholt on Growing Up in Brazil


Way back in my Brazilian days my father who had once had some horses, a gun, and a snake to protect him at night, and dreamed of canooing up the Amazon into Peru, all this from 1935 to 1940, before he went back to Holland to marry my mother (talk about shitty timing; they married two whole weeks after the Germans walked in and took charge), and then took his family, now with 4 kids, back to Brazil in 1949, to run a dairy factory set up by some of his former buddies. Having sold everything left over post-war in Holland, using the proceeds to pay the ship fares, his reserves definitely less than fantastic, and hearing his friends explain that he now being the new Director of the company, they saw no need for a salary since he was a co-owner… we ate a lot of bananas, rice and maybe an occasional chicken, and when after 4 or 5 years he started selling the Encyclopaedia Britannica (English in Brazil??? guys with names like Eduardo Barreto liked them, probably because of the 24 volumes, in their own bookcase…, carefully done in Moroccan Leather, embossed with a golden EB), and to find these and other clients, lots of mail needed sending out, so we too kneeled on the floor and stuffed envelopes, licked them (or was it a little sponge?), sorted and sent… And then waited for him to come home to find out whether he had sold any, two maybe???  One day he had sold 5, and we kids, fully aware of the beauties of selling on commission only, immediately had visions of bikes and maybe more… can’t even remember what else we were able to imagine in those days.



Vesterman/Veblen on Commercializing Higher Education

Commercialize and corporatize higher education?  The idea is not as new as one might think.  Over a hundred years ago Thorstein Veblen, author of The Theory of The Leisure Class, wrote another book about the business of Higher Education. Bill Vesterman explores this idea in an article published in the September-October issue of Academe (for the American Association of University Professors). The article is copied below:

Rutgers, Inc., or How Thorstein Veblen Explains Today’s Policies in Higher Education

By William Vesterman

On April 3, 2013, Rutgers University head basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for abusing his players. The university’s president had discovered the abuse in November 2012. This delay is representative of the wider institutional culture in modern American universities.

When Robert L. Barchi became president of Rutgers in September 2012, he proposed a year of university self-study. But after two semesters of strategic planning sessions, online surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, and other dog and pony shows, nothing has changed. Barchi announced that Rutgers’s goals were still those he had proclaimed on his inauguration—teaching, research, and service. Entirely obvious and general functions for a university, these are hardly worthy results of a year of institutional soul-searching. They do remind one of Virgil’s pretending to take seriously the advice of his slaves for the improvement of his farm—it made them more efficient by making them feel more important.

General goals take their specific meanings from the policies designed to achieve them. What are the specifics of goal-defining policies at Rutgers, and how are they manifested?

As in other American universities, the powers of defining policy at Rutgers are vested in its board of governors. If the goals of those policies are teaching and research (leaving service aside), why, then, are there almost no teachers, scholars, or scientists among the policy makers?

The Rutgers board is composed almost entirely of CEOs, directors, managing directors, and corporate lawyers. The two token faculty representatives both come from solidly vocational departments offering eminently “useful” courses—one is from the School of Business and the other from engineering. Another board member, though not directly from the world of commerce, is still very much concerned with finance. He is the speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, which has maintained support for the state university at the funding levels of the early 1990s—despite increased enrollment. Though the single student representative hasn’t had much experience in teaching or research, he can’t lag far behind the CEOs and corporate counsels.

A final member, M. William Howard, pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church, has a spiritual calling, at least. Perhaps he has been appointed to pray for the plutocrats, that they may come to terms, as someday they must, with that famous admissions policy to come, the one featuring a camel and the eye of a needle.

Business and the Board

That the governing board of an American university should be dominated by people from business is hardly unique. In 1907, the economist Thorstein Veblen explored the issue inThe Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Businessmen (revised and published in 1918). Veblen’s book begins by stating that every civilization contains an organization concerned with its esoteric knowledge and “the systemization of fundamental and eternal truth.” Further, all systems of knowledge come out of “two certain impulsive traits in human nature: an Idle Curiosity and The Instinct of Workmanship.” By an idle curiosity he means not a lazy one, nor one without focus, nor an undirected musing, but disinterested curiosity, without any ulterior motive behind its search for new knowledge. What is discovered by “Idle Curiosity” may be acted on by “The Instinct of Workmanship,” the natural desire to make something new from new knowledge. A person’s passionate interest in mold might be laughed at as the oddity of an egghead. But penicillin and other antibiotics were created, one of them at Rutgers (streptomycin, the conqueror of tuberculosis), after the instinct of workmanship led to action on a discovery about mold made by an idle curiosity in Britain.

In any event, “the University is the only accepted institution of the modern culture on which the quest for knowledge unquestionably devolves.” In medieval universities theology was the queen of sciences, and the “fundamental truths” then systematized were largely religious ones. American universities developed from the earlier American colleges, institutions also largely religious in foundation, which existed mainly to train Protestant ministers. Their governing boards, like their faculties, were mainly from the clergy of their particular denominations—Congregational (Harvard), Presbyterian (Princeton), and Dutch Reformed (Rutgers). As Veblen says, “Higher learning takes its character from the manner of life enforced on the group by the circumstances in which it is placed.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, America had been industrialized and its values had become much more secular. “The place in men’s esteem once filled by church and state,” Veblen wrote of this period, “is now held by pecuniary traffic, business enterprise. So that the graver issues of academic policy which now tax the discretion of the governing powers, reduce themselves in the main to a question between the claims of science and scholarship on the one hand and those of business principles and pecuniary gain on the other hand.” Yet that is not why boards are packed with businesspeople. As Veblen observed over a century ago, “The reason which men prefer to allege for this state of things is the sensible need of experienced men of affairs to take care of the fiscal concerns of these university corporations.” But the business affairs of any university and its endowment are handled internally by full-time administrators so that the “governing boards of businessmen are quite useless for any businesslike purpose.” Of course, a board member might also be appointed in hopes of inducing a large donation. Alas, on the banks of the old Raritan, we know the dangers of this approach to board appointments. The 1825 renaming of Queen’s College didn’t turn out as expected when Henry Rutgers’s will was read five years later: no more money was given. The good colonel had maximized his benefit and minimized his cost.

Veblen says that businessmen dominate boards of governors because “business success is by common consent, and quite uncritically, taken to be conclusive evidence of wisdom even in matters that have no relation to business affairs.” We see “the directorate’s solicitude for a due and creditable publicity, a convincing visible success, a tactful and effectual showing of efficiency reflected in an uninterrupted growth in size and other tangible quantitative features. This is good policy as seen from the point of view of competitive business enterprise.”

Mike Rice and the Captains of Erudition

Many think of the university in part as a locus for sport. The policy here again is to promote creditable publicity, though a coach might feel the need to beat his players to ensure that they beat their opponents. In the case of Rutgers coach Mike Rice, the man was fired not when the facts became known to the administration (in the fall) but when they became known to the public (in the spring)—and hence became discreditablepublicity. Even in 1907, Veblen could write, “one may find a football or baseball coach . . . carried on the academic pay-roll, in a university that practices a penurious economy in the equipment and current supply of materials and services necessary for the work of its scientific laboratories, and whose library is in a shameful state of neglect for want of adequate provision for current purchases and attendance.”

To the business mind, real estate is an asset while books and wages are expenses. It isobvious that the one should be increased and the other kept low. So it is at Rutgers that a library budget, inadequate in the first place, has remained static—but we have no trouble building enormous new high-rise welcome centers and sports venues while creating greenways. As the unseen has no creditable publicity value, the elegant “colonial” exteriors of the campus dormitories have interiors that are overcrowded, incommodious, and ugly.

Besides controlling budgetary policy, the board’s greatest power is to select a president, and when “it delegates powers to the university’s governing head, it delegates those powers to one of their own kind, who is somewhat peremptorily expected to live up to the aspirations that animate the board. . . . As to the requirements of scholarly or scientific competency, a plausible speaker with a large gift of assurance, a businesslike ‘educator’ . . . some astute veteran of the scientific demi-monde, will meet all reasonable requirements.”

“Conceived as a business house dealing in merchantable knowledge,” according to Veblen, the university isplaced under the governing hand of a captain of erudition, whose office it is to turn the means in hand to account in the largest feasible output. . . . He is held to such a conspicuously efficient employment of the means in hand as will gratify those who look for a voluminous turnover. To this end he must keep the academic administration and its activity constantly in the public eye, with such “pomp and circumstance” of untiring urgency and expedition as will carry the conviction that the university under his management is a highly successful going concern, and he must be able to show by itemized accounts that the volume of output is such as to warrant the investment. So the equipment and personnel must be organized into a facile and orderly working force, held under the directive control of the captain of erudition at every point, and so articulated and standardized that its rate of speed and the volume of current output can be exhibited to full statistical effect as it runs.

Under this rule, “the faculty is conceived as a body of employees, hired to render certain services and turn out certain scheduled vendible results.”

In the spirit of such polices we see at Rutgers no change relating to the announced goals of teaching and research, but instead the creation of an army of chancellors, provosts, assistant vice presidents, and associate deans forming a well-tempered chain of command for the transmission of top-down orders. This chain shows its weakest link, the top one, in the case of Mike Rice. The president claims he didn’t bother to view the film that made up the basis of his initial decision, imposing a brief suspension and a fine of $50,000 designed to teach the coach a lesson without embarrassing the “teacher.”

When the film became public, the price went up. It cost more than $1 million to get rid of the offending coach, another $1.2 million for the athletic director to go, and more than $400,000 to see the last of the university counsel who had advised the president. They join another former athletic director and other former coaches and former administrators, people who continue to cost the university millions of dollars while its library cancels subscriptions to learned journals and its catalog shows it cannot afford to buy all of the books written by Rutgers faculty members. Meanwhile, multimillion-dollar contracts, subsidized houses, and summer camps are “needed” in the search for replacement coaches and athletic directors to restore the creditable publicity of sport. More than $6 million for a coach who lied on his résumé about being an alumnus; half a million a year for a new athletic director who was immediately accused of Rice-like abuse in a previous position. But this discreditable publicity was met by an old public relations standby—“We must move on and work to put all this behind us.” Over $10 million. That could buy a lot of books and periodical subscriptions.

As to the academic staff, an efficient president, according to Veblen, will see to it that “a goodly number of the faculty will be selected on grounds of businesslike fitness, more or less pronounced . . . the special aptitudes and proficiency that go to the making of a successful advertiser.” In the spirit of advertising rather than in that of the liberal arts and sciences, we see the creation of Institutes of Whatever, Centers for Stuff and Nonsense, Special Certificate Programs, and so on—all full of funding potential and run by apprentice captains of erudition. One of them recently discovered, announcing it in his institute’s inaugural address, that, gasp, the views and values of the younger generation differ from those of their elders.

For any captain of erudition, Veblen says, “expediency and practical considerations have come to mean considerations of a pecuniary kind; good, on the whole, for pecuniary purposes only; that is to say, gain and expenditure for the sake of further gain and expenditure with nothing that will stand scrutiny as the final term for this traffic.”

“This perfect scheme of low-cost perfunctory instruction, high-cost stage properties and pressagents, public song and dance . . . is never fully rounded out.” Thus, Veblen argues, “The felt need of notoriety and prestige has a main share in shaping the work and bearing of the university at every point. Whatever will not serve this end of prestige has no secure footing in current university policy. The margin of tolerance on this head is quite narrow; and it is apparently growing incontinently narrower.” So much for, say, the study of comparative literature, which has lost the requisite prestige since the days when Sputnik was driving federal funding and Hyman Rickover, father of the atomic submarine, recommended the study of foreign languages as a way to catch up with Russian science. That was then; this is now.

In intercollegiate relations, the captain of erudition assumes that “universities are competitors for the traffic in merchantable instruction, in much the same fashion as rival establishments in the retail trade compete for custom. Indeed, the modern department store offers a felicitous analogy.” This competition for traffic, for ever-increasing enrollments, is heard today at Rutgers most loudly in presidential clamor for increasing the number of out-of-state students.

The great university Barchi calls for is assumed to be a “large” one with a greater “market share” for its “brand” and a volume of educational trade outdoing sister institutions. But “since learning is not a competitive matter; since, indeed, competition in any guise or bearing in this field is detrimental to learning; the competitive maneuvers of the academic executive must be carried out surreptitiously, in a sense, clouded as a non-competitive campaign for the increase of knowledge without fear or favor.”

The president’s first duty, Veblen says, “is to see to the organization of an administrative machinery for the direction of the university’s internal affairs, and the establishment of a facile and rigorous system of accountancy for the control and exhibition of the academic work . . . a rigorous parcelment and standardization of the instruction offered . . . because of the difficulty of controlling a large volume of perfunctory labour, such as is involved in undergraduate instruction, the instruction must be reduced to standard units of time, grade and volume.” So it is that we all know that an advanced course in biophysics is worth the same number of credit hours as Eating Right: The Ethics of Food Choices and Food Policy, just as we all know that 120 credit hours qualifies one for a degree of BA or BS. And we all know where the idea of a credit hour comes from and what it means—don’t we?

“Sane competitive business practice,” Veblen writes, “insists on economy of cost as well as a large output of goods. It is ‘bad business’ to offer a better grade of goods than the market demands, particularly to customers who do not know the difference, or turn out goods at a higher cost than other competing concerns . . . [so] a species of skilled labor [is] to be hired at competitive wages . . . letting the work of science and scholarship to the lowest bidder.” And so, some 30 percent of Rutgers courses are taught by part-time, low-wage instructors, mostly graduate students.

“The manifest aim, and indeed the avowed purpose, of these many expedients of management and concession to fashion and frailty is the continued numerical growth of the undergraduate school—the increase of the enrolment and the obtaining of funds,” Veblen observes. But “whatever expedients of decorative real-estate, spectacular pageantry, bureaucratic magnificence, elusive statistics, vocational training, genteel solemnities and sweat shopped instruction may be imposed by the exigencies of a competitive business policy, the university is after all a seat of learning devoted to the cult of idle curiosity—otherwise called the scientific spirit. And stultification, broad and final, waits on any university directorate that shall dare to avow any other end as its objective. So the appearance of an unwavering devotion to the pursuit of knowledge must be kept up.”

According to Barchi, the university needs to balance teaching and research with the need to “generate revenue”: “Everyone recognizes that we want to raise the level of excellence in the institution. We don’t want to lose one when we’re trying to get the other. And we’re certainly not going to go for excellence by doing away with one.” Certainly not! Here we see the chop-logic juggling of metamorphosed “wants” and “needs” so common to captains of erudition. As president of Thomas Jefferson University, Barchi sold that institution’s most prized artistic possession, Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic, to “generate revenue.”

Veblen does not end on an optimistic note: “Nothing but the same continued contact with the relevant facts could persuade any outsider that all this skillfully devised death of the spirit is brought about by well-advised efforts of improvement on the part of men who are intimately conversant with the facts.”

“But a good rule works both ways,” he observes. “If scholarly and scientific training, such as without shame be included under the caption of the higher learning, unfits men for business efficiency, then the training that comes of experience in business must also be held to unfit men for scholarly and scientific pursuits, and even more pronouncedly for the surveillance of such pursuits.”

The captain of erudition might reply that many of the arts and sciences “need” to support themselves by “generating revenue,” by attracting significant “outside funding,” and by guaranteeing solid “career paths” for their students. Of what use is teaching and research in poetry when what is “wanted” are ways to pay off student loans?

Veblen replies to this self-styled “pragmatic” line of reasoning by citing the great pragmatist Benjamin Franklin in response to a similar objection: “Of what use is a baby?”


In September William Vesterman began his fiftieth year of teaching English at Rutgers. His e-mail address is


Joe Wilson on the Dangers of Fracking: What the Frack?

Joe wrote the letter below, which was published in Harvard Magazine Online, March-April 2013:

When you live on top of the Marcellus Shale as retiree in a home which is major part of your nest egg as my Wife and I do, you study fracking from a different perspective than if you lived in Cambridge 02138 as authors McElroy and Lu apparently do.

My three year's of study have made clear that my state's regulations and environmental impact statement are woefully inadequate to protect the health, safety, and economic foundation of us Up-State New York residents. By attempting to participate in this process as authorized by state law, I have found that the regulatory process is dominated by the very industry that is to be regulated and governed by politicians who live in parts of the State where by Governor Cuomo's fiat, fracking will not be allowed.

The value of my home is at serious risk when fracking comes to my area. This is because history shows that residential property values drop significantly in the proximity of fracking, and sales become difficult. Although I will not allow my property to be leased, under New York law it can still be fracked against my will by any corporation which induces owners of sixty percent of the land area (NOT sixty percent of the adjacent residents) to enter into fracking leases.  Fracking leases themselves abrogate the terms of most or all of the secondary mortgages which most home owners count on to finance their residences, and those who do lease will be liable for damages to their neighbors when fracking related accidents and damage occurs.  (These facts are NOT typically disclosed by the “land men” who negotiate the leases one owner at a time.) At least one large national homeowner's insurance carrier has already announced its policies do not cover injuries or damages from fracking.

When these realities are combined with documentation by independent researchers of the extreme effects on global warming caused by methane release during the production, processing, and transporting of shale gas and the burdens placed on local taxpayers to pay for infrastructure destruction, intensified demands on public services, and the negative public health effects of air, noise, and light pollution which ALWAYS accompanies fracking, there is nothing good to be realized from fracking at the local level unless you own enough leasable land to earn a large signing bonus and move away. Local communities and taxpayers in New York cannot force advance off-setting contributions from would-be-frackers or recoup their costs because their taxing powers are either inadequate or non-existent.

The hundreds of years of the history of natural resource extraction in small rural communities like those overlaying most of the Marcellus Shale demonstrates that they are always worse off economically after the boom-bust extraction cycle than similar communities which never experience extraction. Moreover, the boom-bust cycle for Marcellus Shale gas in nearby Pennsylvania is proving quite short—a matter of a few years rather than the decades or 100-year cycles touted by industry flacks and  industry-supported politicians.

Finally, the energy giants which dominate the fracking industry are seeking permits to export shale gas. This will raise the domestic price of natural gas dramatically when it is made available on the world market where Japan and China are now paying four to five times the U.S. price. According to a report to the U.S. Department of Energy, the profits will go to the shareholders (and top executives) of the energy companies already notorious for being subsidized and avoiding U.S. taxes rather than back to the communities, regions, or States which pay so dearly as the sites of production. So much for “energy independence” via shale gas or a boost to the U.S. economy.

In short, fracking is not part of the solution; it is looming ever larger as a part of the problem. The only real solution is to curtail further expansion of fracking and move expeditiously to renewable energy sources.


Joseph M. Wilson, MPA '89 

Ric Hyland on Roger Sale

In response to Joe Wilson's "Who was your favorite prof" question designed to elicit responses for our Class Notes, Ric Hyland wrote the following -- edited down for the Notes, but here it is in full:

Dear Joe:

This is an easy call for me:  Roger Sales, overwhelmingly!
It was the first day of classes and a couple dozen of us were anxiously awaiting the English 101 professor.  I think the bell had rung a couple of minutes earlier, but no teacher was present.
Suddenly a couple of books sailed through the open window at the front of the room and thudded on the floor, followed by a loafer and white athletic sock attached to what appeared to be a fellow student in a tweed sports coat with the de rigour leather patches on the elbows. He grinned at us, picked up his books, and sat down behind the desk.  "Sorry I'm late," he smiled, "but it's such a beautiful day I couldn't resist walking around."
So. Not a student but he didn't seem to be any older than me, and I knew as a veteran that I was older than the other guys. For an assistant professor to be that young meant he must be mucho brilliant. As it turned out, with his Swathmore PhD at age 23, he was!
That got him the nomination as my favorite Amherst professor. He cinched the title later in the semester.  In a response to something he asked I used the word "finat" instead of "fineite." The other guys of course laughed at mymispronunciation. Prof. Sales slammed his hand on his desk and said something to the effect of "Don't anybody dare laugh! That proves he's smart enough to be self-educated. He has heard people pronounce infinite but never finite." 
I would have given him the same elevated status even if he was defending someone else's mistake. I think it reflects the same grounding in humanity that brought Stiglitz the Nobel and Legion d'Honneur.
Prof. Sales' subsequent adventure in the snowy woods, as discovered by the cross-country ski team, of course, earned him the right to have his "My Favorite Professor" jersey hung up in the old DKE House bar right next to where I hung Raymond Battacchi's "My Favorite Friend" jersey!
Aloha, Ric

More from Harvey Sheldon on Climate Change

 Harvey sent me the PDF file below shedding more light on the Climate Change debate. Click on the little red icon:


2011 Paul Offner Lecture

Below is the invitation to the lecture series named after our own Paul Offner:

You are cordially invited to the 2011 Paul Offner Lecture hosted by the Urban Institute.

 Guest Lecturers: Former Congressmen Dave Obey and Steve Gunderson,


Challenges for Public Leadership in Today’s World

 Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Noon-1:15 p.m. 



To attend this Washington, D.C., event, go to http://www.urban.orgXXXX, e-mail, or call (202) 261-5709.

Scholar, state legislator, congressional adviser, and educator, the late Paul Offner left a special legacy of applying solid, evidence-driven research to public policy development, especially for society’s disadvantaged. Offner’s dedication to public service is celebrated with an annual lecture sponsored by the Urban Institute and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.  For more information on the lecture go to

The 2011 lecturers will be the distinguished Dave Obey, one of the longest-serving chairmen of the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and a 42 year veteran of the House, and Steve Gunderson, former Congressional colleague, past CEO of the Council on Foundations, and a current member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellows.  Obey and Gunderson will address the challenges for public leadership in today’s world from the vantage point of their long political careers in Congress and Wisconsin state government, as colleagues, and as members of different political parties.


Obey’s book, Raising Hell for Justice , The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive, is thought to be, according to Thomas E. Mann the Brookings Institution, “…a powerful and enlightening political memoir by one of America's all-time great legislators. Obey is one of a vanishing breed in Congress whose entire career in public life has been committed to both advancing a principled agenda and working constructively with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to hammer out agreements that advance that agenda… .His compelling memoir demonstrates how ennobling and satisfying a career in the first branch of government can be.   

Gunderson, after nearly a twenty year political career with leadership in areas of agriculture, employment policy, and human rights, has tackled challenges in private sector management and philanthropy.  While at The Greystone Group he coauthored an important work on employment policy, The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works. And as the CEO of The Council on Foundations he launched the foundation’s Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative, significantly expanding and enhancing the foundation’s leadership role in government relations as the public policy voice of philanthropy toward the public good. .


At the Urban Institute

2100 M Street N.W., 5th Floor, Washington, D.C.

Lunch will be provided at 11:30 a.m.

The forum begins promptly at noon.



David Parker: Of War and Music: Reflections on War Requiem

 Of War and Music: Reflections on War Requiem 

In the summer of 1963, the Boston Globe published a glowing review of the American premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at Tanglewood. I had never seen so positive a review of any performance, let alone of a premiere of a major contemporary work. I still haven’t. I purchased the first available recording and began listening attentively at the earliest opportunity. It is a profoundly moving composition, without question one of the most significant of the 20th century. The work was commissioned to celebrate the 1962 dedication of the rebuilt St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry, England, the original building having been destroyed by the Luftwaffe in a WW II bombing raid. 

As War Requiem received its first performances the Cold War was heating up, with threats as immediate as the Cuban Missile crisis and a deteriorating situation in Vietnam. A few years later I would leave the first recording of the work with the all-but-fiancée of a Navy shipmate recently killed on a river patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. In 2012, performances celebrating the 50th anniversary of this immense work are scheduled in cities throughout the world. Two of these relatively infrequent offerings will take place in Boston and Providence. 

Some of Britten’s harmonies reflect the interest of earlier 20th century composers in as yet incompletely explored applications for dissonance or even atonality. Like theirs but with more specific focus, Britten’s dissonance in War Requiem creates a disturbed mood that he apparently associated with various troubling conflicts and uncertainties of his times. As a whole, however, the piece is well grounded in traditional literary and tonal structures, though sometimes in unusually innovative ways. In fact, it’s fair to say that much of the considerable impact of this great work derives from Britten’s imaginative exploitation of the tension between traditional and innovative elements that are both literary and musical. 

This tension, so palpable throughout War Requiem, is a clearly a function of Britten’s deliberate compositional craftsmanship. Grounded in the literary juxtapositions and wonderfully reinforced by the musical settings, the effect of the tension is twofold. First, it calls into question some of the more comforting expectations raised by cultural traditions that have been at best misleading. Musical, literary, religious: no traditions seemed to have dealt adequately with either the anti-romantic realities of war that eventually killed soldier poet Wilfred Owen or the potentially more catastrophic threats that were emerging even as Britten worked on War Requiem. As Owen had written, “All a poet can do today is warn”: a proposition that to Britten may have seemed even more appropriate to the horrific destructive potential of the Cold War than to the trench warfare of WWI. But secondly, the tension highlights an imperative continuing need to address more effectively the same general human fears and concerns that originally gave rise to our traditions. War Requiem is thus both a warning and a protest that manages at the same time to be a fervent prayer. It is a prayer, moreover, in a musical setting that, despite serious reservations of both poet and composer with respect to present relevance of tradition, provides at least promising indications of an expectation that someone might be listening. 

By the time he received the War Requiem commission Benjamin Britten was already internationally renowned for his work as a composer of operas with librettos based on works of serious literary merit by the likes of George Crabbe (Peter Grimes), Herman Melville (Billy Budd) and Henry James (The Turn of the Screw). The texts for War Requiem -- the requiem liturgy and the Wilfred Owen poems -- were chosen and arranged by the composer himself with the apparent intent to highlight not only the contrasts between their different viewpoints, but also the compelling need for each to be informed in more positive or realistic ways by the other. The liturgical text of the traditional mass for the dead provides a general structural framework for War Requiem. Its perspective is that of the religious and cultural establishment, the rituals of which have offered consolations from time immemorial to both the living and the dying in the face of death and eternity. The Owen poems that Britten sets against this liturgy, however, are intensely individual, personal and firmly rooted in the cruel experience of early 20th century warfare. In the context of these juxtapositions, the perspective of the establishment seems comforting at some times, but at others inappropriate or out of touch. Nevertheless, the more comforting passages of the mass text come at strategically significant locations, where, reinforced by their musical settings, they give at least some sections of the liturgy more credibility than they might otherwise have in relation to Owen’s work. 

It is certainly by design that the most jarring of these interpolations is the first, which flatly contradicts the liturgy’s opening prayer for the dead (requiem aeternam dona eis Domine or “Lord grant them eternal rest”) with the blunt first line of Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” –‘What passing bells for these who die as cattle?’ Most central to both the structure and the message of War Requiem, however, is Owen’s “Parable of the Old Men and the Young”, a revised but hardly standard edition of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. The poet paraphrases most of the original but shockingly reverses the ending. Instead of offering up the “ram of pride” provided by God as a substitute for Abraham’s proposed sacrifice of his firstborn son, Owen’s version has Abraham deliberately spurn the substitution and instead carry through with his original plan: ‘... the old man would not so, but slew his son, /And half the seed of Europe one by one’. This unnecessary and inappropriate sacrifice thus vitiates God’s promise to Abraham (Quam olim Abraham promisisti...) that his seed (semini eius) will be brought from death into life (de morte transire ad vitam), as related by the childrens’ choir in the Offertory section of the mass text. So Isaac’s death, like that of the countless young men subsequently killed in the world’s many wars, becomes a consequence of the all too familiar sin of pride that humankind, like Abraham, has been unwilling or unable to give up. 

Interestingly, the phrase Quam olim Abrahae promisisti is presented fugally at some length immediately both before and after “Parable,” as if to emphasize the broken promise of the poem itself by bracketing it with the version contained in the sacred Latin text. But the brokenness of that promise is represented in other ways as well. In the iteration that follows the poem, this text, previously sung only by the mixed choir, is preceded by a passage in which the two male soloists alternately repeat the final phrase of the poem, “half the seed of Europe, one by one” in increasingly fragmented form, above which the children’s choir sings the text of the Hostias: 

Hostias et preces tibi Domine                                    Sacrifices and prayers of praise 

Laudis offerimus                                                        We offer to you, Lord 

Tu suscipe pro animabus illis                                     Receive them for those souls 

Quarum hodie memoriam facimus                             That we commemorate today, 

Fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam             Make them, Lord, to pass from death to life 

Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini eus.             As was promised to Abraham and his seed. 

In the musical setting of this sacred text we actually hear the promise to Abraham breaking into pieces --“one by one”—as sung by the soloists presenting the English words of Owen’s poem. But something even more interesting goes on in Britten’s setting of the children’s choir material. Ironically enough that choir itself, in all the innocence of youth, is repeating the Mass text version of the same promise that is breaking up in the soloists’ presentation. Against the children’s voices, in the portable organ part accompanying them, we hear an incessant, slowly rhythmic oscillation between middle C# and the D just over an octave above. This is a very wide and dissonant interval that sounds like a nightmare’s distorted version of the slowly oscillating low-to-high siren pitches of European ambulances. The distortion is compounded by the fact that this oscillation is actually set against the organ’s steady holding of a disturbing and increasingly familiar F# -C tritone chord that is extremely dissonant in its own right. The F# is as far from the C as it is possible to be within a single octave of a C major scale, and their incompatible frequencies are profoundly uncomfortable, particularly when sounded together. 

We first heard the F# and C pitches in the sequence of full chorus entrances at the very beginning of the piece, where, applied to the words Requiem aeternam dona eis requiem, the conflict between them suggested the urgent present need for the requested eternal rest. Later, the biting dissonance of Britten’s harmonies in his setting of the Hostias represents musical irony of the first order. The resemblance of the oscillating pitches to an ambulance siren seems to reinforce musically the troubling idea that the innocents (boys in the Anglican tradition with which Britten was familiar) of the children’s choir are, all unknowingly, possibly being conveyed to their deaths while growing up to become (as soldiers) the very “sacrifices” (hostias) that they here sing of, as the “one by one” of Owens’ “Parable” has already suggested. The Offertorium ends with the subject of the reiterated Quam olim Abrahae promisisti fugue dying away from a ppp to a pppp dynamic before the words actually disappear altogether from the final 5 measures (a descending scale), apparently to illustrate the death process not so much of the children themselves as of the original promise to Abraham concerning them. 

It is difficult to overstate the power of this profoundly bitter and ironic musical representation, consistent as it is with what both the poet and the composer felt about warfare. For practical purposes war is the Dies Irae that human beings, in their pride, have brought on themselves. Much of Britten’s orchestration of his Dies Irae accordingly reflects the imagery of war through the inhuman sounds of massed musical instruments. The light of flashing shell-bursts is represented by brass fanfares, the rifle fire is sputtering snare drum rhythms, the wailing of incoming shells is rendered by a shrill woodwind choir, and heavy timpani and other percussion represent the sound of exploding shells. In effect, the day of judgment becomes ground zero of a truly terrifying orchestral artillery barrage. Against this onslaught, the plaintive massed human voices of the children’s choir, adult mixed choir and soprano soloist sing the Latin text of the Requiem, mostly prayers and pleas for mercy alternating with description of the terrors of the day of judgment, while the soldier-soloists present the more realistic and immediate perspective on the horrors of human warfare that the Owen poems so strikingly provide. 

Within the long Dies Irae section (and elsewhere), transitions to the embedded Owen poems are handled by the composer with great sensitivity and care. The “last trumpet” announcing arrival of the day of judgment morphs into the bugle calls that sadden the evening air the night before battle in the baritone soloist’s rendition of “Voices”, the Owen poem that follows, eventually becoming the “voices of old despondency, resigned” of that poem’s penultimate line. And the “Lacrimosa” text of the Latin requiem, which refers both to the lamentations associated with the day of judgment and to the resurrection of the dead to face that judgment, is heartbreakingly interwoven between the English lines of Owen’s moving poem “Futility” (on the discovery of the body of a fallen comrade). The Latin text, probably not coincidentally, is set in part in a rhythmic pattern reminiscent of one used by Mozart in the sobbing “Lacrimosa” of his own famous Requiem. 

The performing forces of War Requiem are grouped into three ensembles that play or sing for the most part separately until they combine to build to the final climax and resolution of this masterful work. The full orchestra, large adult chorus and soprano soloist form one unit to which is assigned the traditional Latin text of the Requiem. The second unit presents the Owen poems from the perspective of WWI infantry soldiers (the tenor and baritone soloists), accompanied by a smaller chamber orchestra. The third unit consists of a boys or children’s choir that sings certain sections of the Requiem Latin text accompanied by a small portable organ. This ensemble is placed at some distance from the other forces in order to enhance an effect that is sometimes of human innocence, sometimes of angelic or heavenly perspective, and sometimes of both. When these three groups combine at the end, it is to deliver what amounts to a gentle but climactically beautiful lullaby (the male soloists are singing “Let us sleep now"), not unlike the final choruses of the great Bach Passions, that leads into the unaccompanied choral Requiescat in pace. Amen with which War Requiem ends. 

This remarkable, chorale-like a cappella music actually appears twice previously in the War Requiem, but to different words: once at the end of Section I Requiem Aeternam to the words Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy), and once at the end of Section II Dies Irae to the words Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen (Merciful Lord Jesus, give them rest. Amen). The remarkable quality of these passages has to do with an harmonic device that Britten has used to good effect throughout this work, and not only in these locations: the uncomfortably dissonant tension of the same C natural - F# tritone described above in connection with Britten’s setting of the Offeratorium. The frequencies of these notes are at war with each other. Sound them together at a keyboard and need for relief from the dissonance is palpable. The omnipresence of this dissonant tritone throughout War Requiem thus contributes to an atmosphere of edgy harmonic tension that appears to represent a conflux of sociopolitical and cultural tensions which, like the tritone, urgently require resolution, but instead blossomed into World Wars I and II, the Cold War, and Mutual Assured Destruction. As we have already observed, the first words the chorus sings – requiem aeternam and dona eis requiem,are sung first to the F# and next to the C, framing and undermining both of these pleas for rest between the poles of the unsettling tritone interval at the very outset. The musical setting of the plaintive “at all” in the memorable last two lines of Owen’s “Futility” ( ‘O what made fatuous sunbeams toil/ To break Earth’s sleep at all?'), involves a descent between the two poles of the tritone from C to F#. And near the end of the piece, when the two dead soldiers of Owen’s eerie “Strange Meeting” greet each other in the desolate landscape that passes for an afterlife in Hades, the first words addressed one to the other (“Strange Friend”) are set to C natural and F# respectively so that this same inescapable dissonance musically defines the strangeness of the relationship between the two former enemies, now friends, who may have killed each other. 

One normally expects that dissonance in a musical composition will eventually resolve into harmony of some sort, but nowhere in War Requiem is there in fact such a resolution of the tritone dissonance except, quite surprisingly and suddenly, at the very end of each of the 3 related chorale-like passages that we must now consider more closely. It is hardly comforting that the actual C-F# tritone chord is jarringly sounded in chimes or bells that introduce all three of these passages. For none of the three, moreover, does Britten provide an actual key signature, though the chromatic chord progressions seem to suggest that an harmonic resolution, if there is one, will involve a darker minor key more or less consistent with the chromatic dissonance that we have heard throughout. And indeed, as if to emphasize its tenacity, the C – F# tritone is sounded again in the chimes just before the last 3 measures of each of the three chorales. But then, just when we seem to have been forced to surrender all hope of resolution, a resolution not only occurs at the very last moment but takes the form of a simple but beautiful F major triad without a trace of dissonance! The comforting relief of the harmonic resolution comes as such a surprise that it registers strongly even upon a first hearing and even in the context of a diminuendo to a pppp dynamic that seems to make the warmth of the major triad stand out even more. It is the harmonic equivalent of a radical change from cold into warmth or darkness into light, almost like the sun emerging suddenly from a long total eclipse that did not include a corona. The warmth of the resolution is the last sound that we hear: not only at the end of the first two a cappella chorales, but also at the end of the entire piece. In all three locations, it seems to come unexpectedly but nevertheless in answer to a prayer. 

The British conductor Andrew Massey, for a time music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, recalls listening to the BBC broadcast of the War Requiem premiere as a teenager: 

Consistently starting with, and returning to, the tritone; then suddenly, completely unexpectedly, granting us the balm of the F major triad. An interrupted cadence indeed. But what a difference! Instead of the hoped-for, expected resolution being frustrated, (as in . . . the last movement of Mahler 9), here we have given up all hope of true rest or resolution – the tritone is the central thematic fact of the work – and then, interrupting our acceptance of denial, suddenly, from nowhere, peace is granted. It occurs to me that it is a musical depiction of the doctrine of grace. . . . 

I was just a kid in High School, but with my musical friends . . . sat around an AM radio and heard it, and within days we had all worked out and memorized that awesome a cappella cadence. It amazed us.

--Andrew Massey, 2005 blog 

Maestro Massey may very well have something here. In Christian theological tradition, grace is a divine gift, and as such, totally beyond human ability to control, earn, anticipate, or expect. Yet we depend upon it absolutely: its power is beyond measure, and once unexpectedly (indeed, undeservedly) received, it makes all the difference. If this remarkable cadence is indeed associated with Divine Grace, the facts that it both involves a single harmonic triad and occurs three times within War Requiem could even be construed as suggesting an association with the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). At the very least, however, these three musically related passages serve the simpler but essential practical function of providing structural binding power to hold the vast architecture of War Requiem together by their spacing, their musical similarity and their unique reiterations of the warmth and comfort of this unforgettable cadential resolution. 

I too was and still am amazed not only by this cadence, but also by too many other striking features of War Requiem to explore fully here. The title, however, deserves at least passing mention. No doubt familiar with Joseph’s Haydn’s well-known Mass in Time of War, Britten nonetheless chose the simpler title War Requiem. Could this reflect a hope that his work might become a requiem not just for war dead, but even for war itself? An over-reaching, perhaps, whether his or ours, but still a consummation devoutly to be wished. 

---David Parker 

December 2011-January 2012 

The Threat to Personal Liberty by Harvey M. Sheldon

Many believe the 2010 elections will save America from social and economic disaster. However, the progressives are intent on imposing their vision on us, and they will pull no punches in trying to paint their opponents as Neanderthals, racists, or whatever other slander opportunity provides. They will be funded by untold dollars from a variety of sources, from the naïve and still trusting to the dedicated opportunists, well-heeled socialists, Machiavellian billionaires, and profit-seekers. 

An insufficient number of Republican leaders provide a message that appeals to a broad enough public. The Tea Party defines itself as in favor of more limited government, but the progressives are slandering it as a racist moThe self-styled progressive Democrats are oblivious to a multitude of personal liberties protected by the Constitution. Their core tactic is to say they seek only the ideal of "equality." They then twist the ideal to put themselves in the position to define "equality," regardless of the Constitution and the individual rights and immunities from government it preserves. Behind that fiendishly misleading banner, they would impose on us stifling uniformity and strict government control that will degrade all of our futures, whether we are rich or poor. They are willing to ditch the liberty of all for their government enforced visions. In so doing, they have warped the American and classic "liberal" concept of equality -- namely, individual equality before the law and equality of opportunity.vement. Given the media's acquiescence in the budding collective tyranny of the progressives' New Regime, the opposition message is distorted, muffled, and too often unclear. The challenge for those of us who want America to continue as a nation of free people, with a free and robust economy, is to get across to people in the progressives' targeted constituencies the idea that they are being and will continue to be exploited. 

The self-styled progressive Democrats are oblivious to a multitude of personal liberties protected by the Constitution. Their core tactic is to say they seek only the ideal of "equality." They then twist the ideal to put themselves in the position to define "equality," regardless of the Constitution and the individual rights and immunities from government it preserves. Behind that fiendishly misleading banner, they would impose on us stifling uniformity and strict government control that will degrade all of our futures, whether we are rich or poor. They are willing to ditch the liberty of all for their government enforced visions. In so doing, they have warped the American and classic "liberal" concept of equality -- namely, individual equality before the law and equality of opportunity.

The abuse of personal liberties that the New Regime is initiating threatens all Americans, of all colors, creeds, sexual orientations, and religious persuasions. Importantly, however, part of the power base of the New Regime comes from people who have been induced to see their personal liberties as threatened by Republicans, Tea Partiers, other self-styled conservatives, and capitalism. These are people caught up and motivated to vote as a group based on gay rights and other sexual preference issues, racial and ethnic discrimination issues, age, poverty, and abortion-related issues.

Most people in the special constituency groups miss the cynicism behind this elitist effort to acquire power in exchange for favors. To African-Americans, the false message is that there are jobs ahead in the new, government-directed economic future. To Latinos, it is to stick with us while we wink at immigration and cut you in on the swag. To the elderly, overtly, it is that we care about you, while covertly it is that we control your health care and income, so you had better cooperate. And to the poor and members of unions, it is the falsehood that government creates jobs. Each of these pitches is based on economic fantasies and denigration of traditional values of hard work, education, self-reliance, and honesty. In reality, they are making the individuals within each of these constituencies into modern-day serfs. Republicans and Tea Party candidates need to show members of these targeted groups that they will lose their individual self-respect and future of true personal freedom as Americans if they continue to follow the progressive design. They will only gain a new master: Big Government. 

Republicans and Tea Partiers must clearly avow that we owe each other respect for our individuality and freedom to choose. Our liberty under law depends on this. Ronald Reagan himself, in explaining the core meaning of America to the Chinese in 1984, said,

We believe in the dignity of each man, woman, and child. Our entire system is founded on an appreciation of the special genius of each individual, and of his special right to make his own decisions and lead his own life.[i]

Many Americans within the targeted constituencies understand the need for fiscal responsibility, strong defense, respect for the rule of law, and a lean and limited federal government. Even though they may not be "traditional" in their lifestyle, they can vote Republican or Tea Party without fear of losing their dignity or right to choose if their liberty is respected. Similarly, even poor people will vote for an economy that can grow and provide opportunity or competitive health costs instead of one that is bound to fail.

On race relations, Republicans -- and their party principles that declared slavery unacceptable -- should have the upper hand. Until handouts became the tools of Democrat vote-getting, African-Americans voted mostly Republican. To this day, Republicans speak to each other -- black, brown, yellow, and white alike -- in terms of government providing fair opportunity to succeed to individuals. We need to do a more vigorous job of that, denouncing the plantation politics of the big-city Democrats that have put poor blacks into dependency and fear for their daily safetyon the city streets. Plainer and more outspoken rededication of the Republicans to civil rights will start attracting thoughtful black voters. Add to that a hard-nosed effort to end the tolerance of gangs and violence in the inner cities. Demand freedom for all to have and choose a quality education and couple with it creative efforts to reduce the "underclass" and unemployed by serious job training, and a surprising number of people of color will start voting Republican to end their dependency status.

A broader point is that in some respects, civil rights regarding race have a common foundation with privacy and property rights: the right to be respected and "pursue happiness" as an individual. While one's race is not a choice, outlawing race discrimination is not sufficient to prevent government from indiscriminate interference in everyone's life. It is essential to a free people that individual choices in a variety of subjects be kept free and given meaningful room.

We cannot risk imposing our moral choices on someone through government without risking the imposition of choices by a tyrannical majority upon ourselves. It is dangerous for a conservative, a liberal, or any other American not to insist on a zone of private liberty from the United States or other government.

Too many conservatives have unwittingly developed a serious blind spot regarding the importance of personal liberty in the Constitution. Personal space and freedom is essential to liberty in modern society. The Founders believed this fervently. A zone of freedom from government intrusion enables each of us to enjoy our individual versions of the pursuit of happiness. Whether they involve use and sale of property, rights of contract, decisions of lifestyle, sex partner and residence, choice of friends and physicians, pursuit of learning or career, or many other choices we make, our personal right to decide for ourselves must be protected in order for our nation to remain the great free land that it is.  

Indifference to these unspecified but preserved rights by the progressives should alarm every thinking American. These "natural rights" are fundamental. James Wilson, one of the key Founders, said that "there are very few who understand the whole of these rights ... nor can you find ... complete enumeration[ii]. In 1798, a Supreme Court Justice wrote that "there are certain vital principles in our free republican governments which will determine and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power ... to take away that security of personal liberty, for the protection whereof  the government was established" (Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386, 388). Ensuring the preservation of these rights by the Bill of Rights was a condition to the adoption of the Constitution by most of the thirteen original states.

 In a nation of over 300 million, I would much rather let some many thousands make a poor moral choice themselves than cede to government the role of imposing its will on intimate questions. If we have unalienable rights, they include the right to make mistakes, provided public health and safety are not threatened.

In short, Republican and Tea Party candidates need to retune their message so that individual rights and freedoms are as prominent and important to preserve as market freedom and property rights. By doing that, they will recover an important part of their heritage. They will also get through to more thinking Democrats and independents among the special constituencies the progressive ruling class rewards and manipulates. After making their dedication to an individual's zone of freedom clear, they can then more effectively ask questions like: Do you really trust the government to look after you? Is dependency the kind of future you seek for your children? Don't you want to exercise your personal freedom in a safe community and a successful economy?

[i] Reagan spoke to students at Fudan University on April 30, 1984.
[ii] Constitutional Debates (Elliot ed.) 2:454, quoted in Randy Barnett "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty", Princeton U. Press, 2004.
Harvey M. Sheldon is an attorney in Chicago, concentrating in environmental law. The views expressed are his own and are not on behalf of a firm or client.
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