Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing fiction, as well as the decisions I will be making about publication of my first novel One Summer in Arkansas. Thanks for your interest.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Meritocratic Parenting

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes about “Love and Merit” in a column describing child-rearing in the 21st century.

Brooks talks about two essential features of parenting today:  unprecedented praise and unprecedented “honing.”  He seems to be okay with the first part, in spite of the overused mantra that each child is special.

But he sees today’s anxious parental pressure as a kind of merit-based honing for success that belies the illusion of unconditional love.  Acknowledging that this pressure is intended to promote the child’s happiness in the future, Brooks fears that children who don’t excel in the classroom or on the field are left feeling somehow unworthy and perhaps unlovable.  And while manipulation of behavior may bring short-term results, the effect over the long run makes children risk-averse and insecure.

It wasn’t all that much different back when we were raising children.  But in today’s winner-takes-all economy, parents are more anxious than ever about whether their children could fall through the cracks.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the effort to manipulate children towards success runs the risk of doing more harm than good in the long run.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Medicine and What Matters in the End

One of the great advantages of living in a university town is access to free lectures and discussions on campus.  On any given night, you can find an event going on at Stanford that will stimulate a new way of thinking about something.

Last night, we went over to the medical school to hear Atul Gawande talk about his book Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End.  Gawande, a surgeon, researcher and writer for The New Yorker, has emerged as one of the country’s most articulate voices for a more humane and responsive system of health care and end-of-life care for an aging population.
His lecture, like his book, explains today’s “medicalization” of dying and of caring for the aging.  Our elder care facilities emphasize health and safety at the expense of personal autonomy and pleasure.  And, although people generally would prefer to die at home surrounded by family, most of us leave this world connected to hospital equipment at the end of a string of procedures that make us feel worse rather than better.

After his talk, Gawande was joined by an outstanding panel of experts, including the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chair Charlie Munger and Stanford doctors and researchers expert in health care, aging and dying.  Speaking to an overflow audience that included many from the medical school, the panel acknowledged that pressure from children and malpractice lawyers, coupled with the doctors’ own instinct to “fix,” not to mention financial incentives, all contributed to too much treatment too late in life.
There was also general agreement that we have too few general practitioners and too many specialists, thus encouraging more surgery, more chemotherapy and more specialized treatments.  But, until somebody figures out a way to give general practitioners competitive wages, young doctors who have to pay off mountains of debt from their years of training are necessarily going to choose the highly compensated specialties.

One thing is clear.  All of us should give serious thought to end of life decisions and, no matter how much the kids resist, talk to them now about your personal preferences.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brooks on Welfare and Character

In last week’s New York Times, David Brooks broached the highly charged topic of welfare and personal responsibility in an article entitled “The Character Factory.”

There are good reasons why politicians and pundits won’t talk about this. In Brooks’ own words, “Nobody wants to be seen as blaming the victim.” And, of course, there is no reason to believe that the poor have less character than the rich.

A perceived lack of compassion for the poor is the biggest obstacle facing the Republican Party and is probably the main reason conservative doctrine has so little appeal for young people, women and immigrants.  Caring for the weak is the most fundamental value of modern progressive political thought.

Brooks wades into this hazardous terrain with a simple premise.  He compares the way we interact with the neediest segment of our population with the way we raise our own children and grandchildren:

“Nearly every parent on earth operates on the assumption that character matters a lot to the life outcomes of their children.  Nearly every government antipoverty program operates on the assumption that it doesn’t.”
Brooks goes on to tap into his considerable knowledge of behavioral science to support the concept that the ability to delay gratification, work hard and control impulsiveness is more important to later achievement than pure cognitive skills.

It’s one thing to agree with this premise and to practice it by means of the influence we have over the children in our own families.  And quite another to assume there’s some way such skills can be imposed by a government agency.

That said, the discussion of character building shouldn’t be off limits in our political discourse.  Those of us who hope to improve our collective future by decreasing the wealth gap and ensuring equal opportunity should not ignore the need for strength of character, not only in our own offspring but throughout society.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

An Open Letter to Stanford University

The Committee for Dish Access speaks for friends, alumni, donors, former and current faculty and staff and other local supporters of Stanford University. We do not live on campus, but we do love and appreciate the university and all it brings to our area.

In particular, we love the Dish. So do lots of others, witnessed by 750,000 entries through the Dish gates annually.

The popularity of the Dish trails can be attributed to an increasingly urban environment surrounding Stanford, intense residential development, awareness of the health benefits of exercise, desire for access to nature, women’s safety concerns, the convenience of paved paths for mothers with strollers and an accessible and challenging 3.5 mile workout for people with busy schedules.

The traffic congestion along Stanford Avenue is the result of too many cars competing for too few parking spaces. The university has reduced available parking over the past few years by implementing parking restrictions on almost every nearby street, even as the Dish has grown in popularity.  And the Stanford Avenue gate has become virtually the only access point to the hills.

Although there are many sites where the university could accommodate parking and many gates that could be opened, Stanford has resolutely resisted proposals to provide parking or to open alternative access points. We believe this is based on outdated and overly conservative legal advice about loss of private property to public use in a way that might limit the university’s future options.

Stanford’s current proposal to eliminate half the parking along Stanford Avenue and replace it with parking on Coyote Hill Road, without providing access anywhere near Coyote Hill, can only be explained as an effort to limit the number of hikers and runners on the Dish.

The plan Stanford filed with Santa Clara County makes Dish access more difficult and hazardous, sending hundreds of Dish walkers across the busy Page Mill/Junipero Serra intersection at rush hour.  The proposal works at cross-purposes with the university’s own promotion of healthy lifestyles -- BeWell@Stanford -- and with the construction of a new $5 billion hospital complex.

We urge Stanford to reconsider its current parking proposal.  The university should promote the common good of its greater community and find a way to facilitate, and not discourage, access to the Dish.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

John Adams and the Government Shutdown

Our family reads aloud at the dinner table after meals, the current selection being John Adams: Revolutionary Writings 1775 – 1783.  The volume consists mainly of letters written during the years when Adams and the other founders were in Philadelphia putting together a government that would serve the people of the American colonies.

I have ever thought it the most difficult and dangerous part of the business Americans have to do in this mighty contest, to contrive some method for the colonies to glide insensibly from under the old government into a peaceable and contented submission to new ones.

Adams’ letters reflect the commitment these men felt to creating a form of government that would work for the people.  They negotiated and argued fervently among themselves about how such a government should be constituted – what class of people should get the vote, how to give the individual states autonomy within a single nation, what tenure to give elected officials and so on.  But they felt a strong sense of common purpose.

There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty.

Can’t help but wonder what John Adams would have thought about today’s impasse in Congress and the shutdown of our government.

Partisanship is inevitable, and maybe necessary, in a democracy.  What has changed is the sense of common purpose and the passion for the public good. 

I’m not sure what it would take to make us feel once again part of the same team.

But, like John Adams, I think both our liberty and our very form of government are put at risk when we consider only our own needs and preferences and lose our focus on the common good.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Committee for Dish Access

Please join those of us from the Peninsula who want to continue to have access to Stanford’s Dish hiking trail.  As you may know (, Stanford is planning to eliminate over half the parking spots on Stanford Avenue and substitute parking on Coyote Hill Road, south of Page Mill and a good half mile from the Dish gate.

Two community meetings have been held on this subject, but few Dish walkers have shown up.  The audience consisted largely of Stanford neighbors who are tired of so much traffic on Stanford Avenue and on their streets.

Stanford Community Relations will take additional comments on this subject before it goes to County of Santa Clara for approval at  Please let them know that you care about access to the Dish and appreciate the health benefits of Stanford’s beneficence, but that Coyote Hill Road is too far from the gate and too cumbersome to cross busy Page Mill and walk so far along Junipero Serra before hitting the first hill.  You can ask Stanford Community Relations to be put on their mailing list for information about Dish parking.

Also we have formed a Committee for Dish Access and hope you will consent to joining our email list by sending an email to  This will not result in your name or email address being sent to anyone else without your consent.  It just enables us to keep you informed and to organize the community if future opportunities come up for your input.

If people who hike the Dish don’t speak up, we could find ourselves without access to this wonderful space.