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  • The List: Huxtable Hoax Edition

    July 28, 2015

    “I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear —
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.'”

    Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias


    (photo credit)

    Ozymandias, meet Bill Cosby.  That shattered visage strewn across the barren landscape is the once-mighty Cliff Huxtable, the very soul of perfect fatherhood, clean living, commanding presence at the center of an adoring family.  The fictional television character is now exposed as a fraud, a hoax on the American imagination, a shattered monument to something far more than ego or hubris, the detritus exposing the stink of a far deeper level of corruption, the evil abuse of power and fame.

    Bill Cosby spent his entire career hiding behind that pristine image of the virtuous man, the upright pillar of a beautiful family, the prophet speaking through humor and gentle aphorisms.  There’s nothing virtuous or upright about a man who, by his own admission in depositions, drugs trusting young women for the purpose of his own sexual gratification.  There’s nothing humorous or gentle in the stories that have emerged in the courageous voices of dozens of women who were allegedly abused, debased and humiliated by the monstrous lie behind the Huxtable Hoax.

    The public indictment of Cosby is complete on the cover of this week’s New York magazine.  35 courageous women and the empty chair signifying untold numbers beyond them.

    nymag coverThe stories of these women are so horrifying I could not stop reading them, and yet, I wanted nothing more than to turn away to something less painful.  But I had to keep reading them because they are the necessary testimony exposing the years of lies and false hopes that were carefully constructed laughing masks hiding the ugly predator whose serial use of quaaludes and other drugs is so shocking it can’t possibly be true — except that even he admitted to the behavior.

    I’ve written about The List before, that rather shockingly long list of powerful public men who seem to think that power and fame are license to behave in the most shameful of ways.  Some fairly well-regarded men are on The List, and some like Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, David Letterman and Arnold Scharzenneger even have managed to move beyond scandal to reclaim their power and fame.  Others (Tiger Woods, are you listening?) have been unable to climb out of the depths of the pits into which they fell.

    Cosby is different.  Cosby now makes the sins of those on “The List” seem quite venial, if they be sins at all.  Infidelity is one thing, possibly criminal behavior something else.  Even if he’s never subject to a criminal indictment, which time and evidence may render moot, Cosby’s admitted as well as alleged actions are horrific — even if only woman woman was involved, drugging someone for sex would be outrageous, but in his own depositions he admitted more than one.  The accusers fill a magazine cover, and still there may be more.

    We should know better than to believe fictional characters, of course.  We always knew that the Huxtables were just television fantasy, just like viewers of an earlier age always knew — or should have known — that behind the fiction of “Ozzie and Harriett” there was real dysfunction, pain, cheating, disappointment — as in any family.  We know better than to believe what we see on TV — but we believe anyway, living our own fantasy lives through the characters on the screen.

    Entertainers are no more role models than baseball players, and yet the effect of popular culture always elevates those who are famous, modestly talented or powerful into that icon we revere and want to emulate.  So it was for several generations of Cosby fans, those who found in Bill Cosby and his fictional family something that was good, wise, funny and worth emulating.

    Every single alleged incident of drugging, sexual abuse and possible rape is appalling if true.  Beyond the individual instances of abuse, the collective impact of Bill Cosby’s shameful behaviors is a widespread sense of betrayal, disappointment and cynicism.  Sadly, the whole ugly mess also adds tinder to those raging fires of racism and hatred that burn just below the surface of some segments of American society.  When public figures go bad, the consequences for everyone are profound.

    (Note that Spelman College did the right thing by terminating the endowed chair named for Bill Cosby and returning the funds.)

    Unfortunately, the “decay of the collossal wreck” is not on some empty desert, but in the heart of this very crowded society, haunted once again by the awful sense of betrayal by someone we trusted too much.

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    Adirondack Chronicles 2015.7: Cherish The Wild Things

    July 18, 2015


    Enjoy this final reflection on Adirondack Wild Things!  More reflections on the environmental encyclical Laudato Si in the days to come…

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    Adirondack Chronicles 2015.6: Educators and Ecology

    July 14, 2015

    We can learn so much about the most important values in nature from watching wildlife care for their offspring.  Consider this mother merganser ferrying her chicks across the lake at twilight.  Mergansers usually have a large brood strung behind the mom.  I wonder what happened to the other chicks in this brood, but its very clear that the mother is carrying on, keeping her remaining chicks close, letting them ride on her back to get to safety on the other side.


    mom merganser 2

    Effective environmental stewardship requires deep grounding in the liberal arts.  While Pope Francis does not say it quite that way in his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si, in fact, the idea of the integration of knowledge with principles of values and ethics flows through his writing.  His call to action for a “bold cultural revolution” for an entirely new ecological paradigm is a challenge for educators, and particularly for all of us at Trinity where our mission is so deeply rooted in our faith teachings on social justice.

    marsh heron 2

    Early in the encyclical, the Pope writes a powerful indirect rejoinder to those who insist that all learning can be reduced to rigid modules of technical knowledge:

    “The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression…. These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life.  Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.”  (Laudato Si #46)

    “Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.  In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.  Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.  True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution…”  (Laudato Si #47)

    Think about that:  True wisdom is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data.  Every technocrat with ideas about education reform needs to understand this basic point.

    gbh raquette_edited-1

    Later in the encyclical, Pope Francis offers a  lengthy discourse on the impact of technology on human life and the environment, and the problems created when really smart and wealthy people exalt technology above relationships, values and ethics.  These are truly central concerns of an effective liberal arts curriculum, and particularly a liberal arts college formed and thriving in the Catholic tradition such as we are at Trinity.  We certainly want to have and use the best technologies and to teach and learn in the most scientific ways.  But we must give equal pride of place to ethics and philosophy, to sociology and psychology, to all of the disciplines that are essential to an integrated life in community.

    bird on firethorn 2

    “Humanity has entered a  new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.  We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change….The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning… Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings.  How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications?…” (Laudato Si #102)

    “Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA and many other abilities which we have acquired have given us tremendous power.  More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance of the whole of humanity and the entire world.  Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely…” (Laudato Si #104)

    “There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means ‘an increase of “progress” itself,’ as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such…. our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience…” (Laudato Si #105)

    beaver 2

    Watching a beaver move through the marsh, consuming large quantities of water lilies, is an education in the purposeful way in which one animal figures out how to make its way in this world.  Understanding and respecting the roles of the humble beaver, the majestic great blue heron, the small birds and graceful mergansers are all part of appreciating the component parts of the environment.   But beyond appreciating the parts, an integrated approach to ecology and environmental stewardship requires a larger and more complex philosophy of the power of human intervention to preserve or destroy the living planet.

    woodpecker wingspread_edited-1

    These passages from the encyclical speak directly to our work at Trinity:

    “The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant.  This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or a single set of interests.  A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today.  Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal.  Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. …” (Laudato Si #110)

    “Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources.   There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technological paradigm…To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.” (Laudato Si #111)


    “All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution…” (Laudato Si #114)

    merganser and chicks

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    Adirondack Chronicles 2015.5: Birds and Bees, Bears and Butterflies

    July 13, 2015

    raquette vista (Large)

    I’ve seen more bears than monarch butterflies on this trip.

    Bears: 5  Monarch Butterflies:  0

    Where have all the monarchs gone?

    Destruction of the primary breeding plants for monarchs — milkweed — is a primary source of the decline in the monarch population all over the country.  Pesticides and mowing account for the destruction of millions of monarch larvae.  While milkweed is still abundant in the north country, the monarchs are missing this year.  Usually at this time of year I have seen scores of monarchs alighting on the big flowers of the milkweed, but this year, passing stand after stand of milkweed along the roads in the back country, I have not seen one of the big orange beauties.  This photo is from last year:


    I have seen other kinds of butterflies and winged creatures feasting on the milkweed:

    yellow moth_edited-1

    blue moth (Large)black and orange butterfky (Large)

    hummoth 8 (Large)

    What’s that strange looking creature?  Another example of a hummoth, sort of a cross between a hummingbird and a moth.

    Feathered and winged creatures are certainly all over the place in these summer months.  The birds are out in force in many varieties:

    red birdgray bird_edited-1 (Large)hawk (Large)

    tupper orange better (Large)

    Bees are also doing their part to pollinate plants and ensure the health of the ecosystem:

    bee 1 (Large)durant bee (Large)bumblebee (Large)

    Recognizing that every living creature has a part to play in sustaining the health of the planet, Pope Francis writes in his encyclical on the environment:

    “Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.  But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained.  Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable.”  (Laudato Si #36)

    I’m thinking of those missing monarch butterflies.  Pope Francis goes on:

    “Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.  Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.  Each area is responsible for care of this family.  This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading toward extinction.”  (Laudato Si #42)

    And where are my photos of the bears?  Right here:

    bear 2 (Large)

    Can’t see it?  Somewhere in the shadows is a black bear that just ran across the road in front of me…. but bears move very fast so getting the picture is a challenge!  And I’m too busy taking cover!  Trust me, they’re all over the place!

    bird on firethorn_edited-1 (Large)

    Next:  Educators and the Ecosystem

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    Adirondack Chronicles 2015.4: Water Everywhere

    July 10, 2015

    “Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry.  Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term.  Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of shortage, and at critical moments these have not been administered with sufficient oversight and impartiality.  Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultural production.  Some countries have areas right in water while others endure drastic scarcity.”  (Laudato Si #28)

    Water is everywhere in the Adirondacks, as the video at the top of this blog illustrates.  This beautiful region is an area in the U.S. where the abundance of water supports a vast ecosystem of forests, wildlife, agriculture, recreation and many communities.   The Adirondacks are the source of many rivers, including the mighty Hudson river that supports tens of millions of people downstream.

    Even with such great abundance of water, concern for the purity and long-term health of the water in this region is a major conservation priority.  Before the aggressive “forever wild” legislation at the end of the 19th Century and additional protections imposed throughout the 20th Century, the waterways of the Adirondack region were clogged with the results of the logging and mining industries that flourished here.  Between the dangers posed from industrial development and the careless use of waterways in the back country, much of the water became unsafe for human consumption and dangerous for fish and wildlife as well.  Decades of aggressive conservation measures not only here but across the nation have helped to reduce the harmful effects of acid rain and other sources of water pollution.  Nevertheless, the fragility of the ecosystem requires constant vigilance.

    two loonsbog frog (Large)sunset owls head

    Next:  Birds and Bees, Bears and Butterflies

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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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