Answering the world’s questions

Murray, the world’s cutest dog who was educated at the prestigious Literacy Network of South Berkshire, looked up at me, pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. As he jumped up on the couch near the radiator (he loves heat), he asked, “What’s on your mind, pop?”

I looked at the little dog, who means so much to me, and said, “Well, I’ve been reading the papers and I have some perplexing questions that need answers.”

“Like what?” asked the 20-pound Westie.

“Well, Murray, there was an article in the paper last week that showed our new sheriff, Tom Bowler, in a joyful mood as he was sworn in. He promised that he would serve ‘honestly and honorably.’ That may or may not have been a shot at his predecessor, Carmen Massimiano, but it was a good thing to say.

“As most school children have been taught, Lord Acton made Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations with the observation that ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Most people don’t know that Acton went on to say, ‘Great men are almost always bad men.’ “Well, Murray,” said I, “there is a great deal of wisdom in Acton’s words. Think about it this way: The more power is centralized in an institution, the more likely it is that a powerful player will justify using that power.

“I am concerned, Murray, because our sheriff has great power. Politicians are always under the scrutiny of the press.

Just look at all the letters the Eagle gets; just look at all the e-mail that I get.

That’s because we are open.

“In paramilitary organizations like our jails and our police, most people know little or nothing.”

“So what are you saying about our new sheriff, Pops?” asked Murray.

“I’m just saying that a smart player like Sheriff Bowler will, I hope, walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. There are ways he can ensure that he doesn’t turn out to be just another one of those guys who convinces himself that he is right, no matter what he does.

“For example, he could be as transparent as possible, letting reporters and others into his operation. He should get counsel who will know enough to wag a finger at him if he is going to do something stupid and then listen to that counsel.

“You know, Murray, I’ve worked for enough political people to know how they think, and the good ones know that every move they make will be put under a microscope. Of course, there will always be a psychopath out there who will lie about you anyway, but doing the right thing is the best way to proceed.”

“Pops, do you think Sheriff Bowler is a bad man, like Lord Acton said?”

“No, indeed, Murray. I don’t know him, and I certainly wish him well. I think that when he promised he would serve ‘honestly and honorably,’ he was starting out on the right foot.”

“Are you thinking about anything else, Pops?”

“Well, I saw this wonderful article in the Eagle that rounded up what all the local arts institutions did last year. I’m sure it was just a matter of space, but it didn’t mention Arlo Guthrie’s Church in Great Barrington and all that they did in 2010. I was thinking about all the great people who played there and what the Guthrie Center’s work has meant to so many of us. What Arlo and George Laye and the whole group have done to increase our awareness of folk music and the arts is incredible. So, I wanted to add it to our list.” “Good thinking, Pops,” said Murray. “Anything else on your plate?”

“Well, puppy, I do have some questions about a tax amnesty for Pittsfield taxpayers.

On the one hand, it seems like a good idea to get the money in. People pay up and pay only minimal fines. On the other hand, and this is always the problem with amnesties, some people might be tempted to avoid taxes and figure that if they wait long enough, they’ll get a chance to pay later on.

If the tax avoiders don’t pay, inevitably those who do will have to pay for what the avoiders don’t.”

“Hey, Pops, do you think Governor Patrick should have announced that he would call it quits after this term and that he would serve out his full term?”

“No, Murray, I don’t.”

“Thanks, Pops,” said little Murray, tilting his head in that special way of his.

“I’m so lucky that we can have these talks. All the other dogs are jealous.”

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/8/10

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