Friday, May 24, 2013


It’s said that confession is good for the soul, so I guess I’d better fess up. I admit to a feeling of guilty pleasure as I watched I.R.S. Commissioner Steven Miller squirm his way through several hours of Congressional testimony last Friday. I felt almost as good as I did when my beloved Red Sox came back from a three to nothing deficit to defeat the Yankees in 2004.
I suspect anyone who’s ever endured an I.R.S. audit shares my sense of guilty pleasure. There aren’t many experiences in life that can compare with the pain being grilled by the tax man. I’ve been through a couple of visits to a urologist and still cringe when I hear the snapping sound of a rubber glove being fitted on a human hand. I’ve had double bypass surgery. I had the wind knocked out of me once when I was playing hockey. I’ve been through a divorce. I did a one year tour of duty in Vietnam. I’ve even been to some of our city and county commission meetings. I can assure you that none of these things can compare to the pain and agony of an audit.
The old adage says that there are two inevitable things in life – death and taxes. I haven’t crossed the threshold of death yet, but I know that a Celestial City awaits on the other side. I have been through an I.R.S. audit and I’ve learned that it’s an experience filled with pain, grief, frustration, and loss. There’s no Celestial City to be won. In my case it was made worse when, in answer to the auditor’s question about whether or not I was a wealthy man, I responded, “In a manner of speaking I guess. I own shares in missiles, atomic submarines, tanks, guns, nuclear warheads, and a lot of other stuff I don’t have much use for.” He didn’t find my answer very amusing and by the time he was done with me it had cost me another two hundred bucks.
But it’s alright now. The auditors are being audited and I’m as happy as a clam. I’ve even added any Congressional hearings on the I.R.S. to my “must see” TV viewing list, along with “Doc Martin,” Call the Midwife,” “As Time Goes By,” and the Stanley Cup playoffs.
I don’t think the President finds the I.R.S. crisis and its counterparts very amusing. One crisis is plenty, but having to simultaneously juggle the I.R.S. targeting of Conservatives, Benghazi, the Associated Press subpoenas, and Kathleen Sibelius’s national shakedown tour is more than even a leader with self-described messianic qualities should be expected to manage.
Some of my fellow Conservatives are prematurely ascribing sinister motives to the President in this mess. Not me. I think he really believes he’s leading us to Utopia and he’s built a team that shares his Progressive vision. They believe they’re right about everything and see nothing wrong with using the machinery of government to ensure that the narrative harmonizes with the vision.
It all has a theological quality to it. Jeffrey Rosen recently observed in “The New Republic,” that the undergirding rationale for what’s going on in Washington these days is “based on the technocratic over-confidence that a progressive administration must, by definition, be on the side of the angels.”
What does this mean when the rubber meets the road? It means edits, audits, subpoenas, and a shakedown tour to fund Obamacare.
One of the things I’ve noticed about the President as the scandals mount is that he’s getting annoyed. That would be good, except that I think he’s only annoyed because he believes some folks (think Tea Partiers, pro-lifers, Conservatives like me, Libertarians like Steve Corbin, etc.)  just refuse to understand that his intentions are good. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of skullduggery if the goal is noble. Right?
It’s strange, really. I do get it. I think the President’s intentions are good. I just think that the flowers and petals of good intentions being strewn along the winding road are actually leading us down the primrose path to tyranny. It’s a philosophy that seems very noble on the surface, but once you dig to its roots, you can see that it’s dangerous beyond imagination.
So, I’m all for good intentions, but I’m dead set against tyranny, because, as Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


My emotions since seeing the carnage in Boston a few weeks ago have been all over the place. When I first watched the media reports the rage and revulsion I felt were white hot. Then the rage morphed into three fruitless days of confusion. How could this have happened?  And why? No answers came and even if they had they wouldn’t have explained away the evil. Knowing the how or the why wouldn’t have made me feel any better.
Evil is very real. It’s been with us since the dawn of human history, “crouching at the door” of the human heart. Even in this era of human progress it’s with us, appearing as an uninvited guest at the times and places we least expect it. As author Lance Morrow once put it, evil is “a mystery, a black hole into which reason and sunshine vanish, but nonetheless is there.”
I’m now at a different stage, considering the human dimensions of the tragedy. It’s a tale of lives needlessly taken, limbs shattered, dreams dashed, and a proud city locked down, living on the cusp of martial law. And, it all happened because two young men, Tamerlan and Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, opened the door when evil knocked.
I find it exceedingly difficult to consider that the evil inflicted on Patriot’s Day had a human face. And, I find it every bit as difficult to consider that it happened in Boston, the “cradle of American Liberty.”
I grew up in Boston. I know the city well.
I didn’t grow up in the Boston of privilege. My memories of Boston life are of shabby tenements and government housing projects. My roots aren’t in Beacon Hill, the panoramas of the Flint Hills, or furrowed country rows. Mine are in neon and broken ghetto glass. In spite of the disadvantages of my youth, my roots are deep and my memories are fond. I love Boston; I always will.
I spent many of my formative years in Cambridge, just across the river from downtown Boston. The Tsarnaev brothers also lived in Cambridge. They both attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. I graduated from Cambridge High and Latin School before it merged with Rindge Technical School in the 1970’s. I read the classics there. I studied Latin and read Caesar’s Gallic Travels.
Like the Tsarnaev brothers, I was a welfare recipient. I wasn’t proud of it. As soon as I was old enough, I found my way out of the system’s clutches. I’m very grateful to the U.S. Air Force for liberating me.
I experienced many of my rites of passage in Boston. I remember my first job. I was twelve. I spent many a Saturday riding along in Mr. Sahaday’s vegetable truck. My ear is still tuned to his words beamed from a loudspeaker mounted on the roof of the truck. “Raspberries, strawberries….thirty-five cents a quart.” I remember the pride I felt when I’d deliver the fruits and vegetables to his customers. There were some Saturdays I got to take home as much as two dollars in tips. That was a lot of money in those days.
A couple of times a year I’d get to go the Gahhhden (you know it as the Boston Garden) to see the Celtics or the Bruins play. In the summer I’d take the subway to Fenway Park and watch my beloved Red Sox. That was back in the day when bleacher seats really were affordable. I loved the Sox so much I’d imitate their batting stances when I played stickball. My favorite was, of course, Ted Williams, but I also did a really good Jackie Jensen and a pretty fair Billy Klaus.
But, more than any of the rites of passage, I remember the pride I felt in being from Boston, the home of the Minutemen and the “shot heard round the world.” I loved walking along Freedom Trail and making stops at Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s House, or the Old North Church. I’ve climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. I’ve been to the village greens at Lexington and Concord many times. I’ve been to the site of Emerson’s “rude bridge that arched the flood” on April 19th, 1775.
Boston is, in the truest sense, a good and noble city, and that makes the act of terror inflicted on her and her citizens all the more senseless.
But, there’s no point in asking the how or why of what happened. The Tsarnaev brothers had their reasons, almost certainly convoluted. Perhaps, in the end, they were driven by what Morrow termed “the discrepancy between the daydream of a golden age and the disappointments of the present.” If so, what they did would only have to make sense to them. It could never make sense to the rest of us.