Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning: Doing the Right Thing

I am waking up slowly this morning. Got up, came downstairs, put on some snow boots, and walked the dogs. We go over by the woods at Rock Creek, they like to sniff around where the deer have been. In the snow, halfway down a block where nobody lives, I found a woman's purse in the snow.

I picked it up and carried it with me. There was also a ballpoint pen with the name of a church on it in the snow, too, I picked that up as well. The dogs and I went over to the woods and they played, throwing the snow with their noses, rolling in it, wrestling, tangling their leashes. The strap on the purse had broken, so I held it by the ... I don't know what you call it, the part that opens. It was a small black leather one.

When the dogs had done their business we headed home again. A guy had a little tractor and was plowing the sidewalk in front of the school and in front of his house. A snow-plow came around the corner, too, and drove over the snow where I had found the purse. So it was good I had it.

Some guys don't like to hold a lady's purse. I'm one of them. I can't tell you why.

My thermometer is in the sun, and it says it's sixty degrees outside. When I first went out I thought maybe it was, not that warm, but warm. The first blast of a breeze though disproved that theory. Snow is not melting, it is colder than a ... it is very cold out there, still.

I had started the coffee maker before I went out, and when I came back indoors the kitchen had a nice smell but I didn't pour a cup quite yet. I set the purse on the counter and went through it, looking at the cards. There was a Costco card, a hair appointment card, something from a church, a little notebook with heartwarming sayings written in it and a shopping list. Ah, there you go, an ID from work. This is a government worker, there's her picture, hmm, not bad.

I came over to the laptop and put her name into Google. A white-pages site came up, and it gave an address right here in the neighborhood, in fact it was on the street where I found the purse. She had an unusual name with a unique spelling, her name alone brought up only one instance. I called her number and got voicemail.

Man, that coffee looked good.

I put the snow-boots back on, and picked up two packages of trash that needed to go out. Nobody felt like carrying them out into the snow yesterday, so they were by the door, a plastic bag and a box with some broken glass in it, from a picture frame that had fallen sometime over the last year, which we discovered when we moved the TV out of the family room yesterday, long story.

I live on the corner of two streets, this lady's address was on one of them. I took a guess and went left, but the numbers got smaller and so I turned around. There is a stretch of road with a school and no houses, which goes down into the woods to an apartment complex. My daughter used to have a friend there who was Polish, so I always think of it as a Polish neighborhood, but I was talking recently to a guy who lives there, he came to one of our gigs, and he said no, there might be one Polish family. This lady had a name that is probably Italian, possibly Iranian or something. It was an unusual name.

I walked in the street by the school, but they had the sidewalk cleared at the apartments, so I used that. Looks like somebody there has a snow-blower. I was walking along carrying this purse, and there were a few cars out but not many, nobody I knew.

Luckily the lady's apartment was the second one, I didn't have to look all over for it. There were cars parked in a row, and an empty spot in front of this apartment. I hoped I didn't find out that she had disappeared overnight, and that I had the only evidence of her disappearance, or that I'd find a bloody mess where she's been killed after they robbed her, or something. I hoped it was a girl who maybe had gone out for some drinks on a Saturday night and didn't notice that her purse-strap had broken as she walked unsteadily home, something pleasant. I had found it in a weird place, not where somebody would be likely to walk at night, as I knocked on the door I figured I'd find out pretty soon what had happened.

I heard sounds inside and then they stopped. Well I guess if I was a lady looking out through my peephole and saw me I might not throw the door open. I hadn't had a shower, I had run a brush through my hair so that wasn't too bad but you know my hair is long, I had on some flannel pants and a sweat shirt, and a jacket. The sounds stopped and I was about to knock again when the knob turned and then the door opened.

It was the lady on the ID. I held up the purse and she smiled. "I think you want this," I told her, and I handed it to her. I was glad to get it out of my hands.

She was definitely happy to get it. She said they had come home from a restaurant in Baltimore last night and discovered it was missing, and had called the restaurant to check. Even though she had stuff from a Christian church in her purse, I figured that the word "restaurant" meant "bar," and I did not think it was likely she went out to Baltimore for dinner. I know someone who went to Baltimore yesterday and they said it took three hours to get back in the snow, where it should be well less than an hour. The roads were really bad yesterday, there were wrecks everywhere, events were canceled, I don't know who would go to Baltimore for dinner on a day like that. So, whatever, I don't care what she did last night or if she lies about it, here's your purse lady.

She asked me if she could give me something and I said no. There was some money in there, I knew, if I wanted her money I would have taken it already. Once when I was young and poor I did that, I found a wallet with a few hundred bucks in it, and I took the money and put the wallet in a hiding place and called the person and told them where it was. They didn't even know they'd lost it yet. I figured it was a surcharge for leaving their wallet on the sidewalk, price you pay. Was that the wrong thing to do? I don't know, they did get their credit cards and stuff back, I guess it won't end up being a new parable in the Bible or anything but it could have been worse. The Parable of Serendipitous Opportunity. No, I don't think so.

The lady was very cheerful and glad to see her purse. She didn't look as glamorous as her government ID photograph, well I guess that can go either way. I work with people whose ID's don't look anything like them. Sunday morning, I suppose she didn't have any make-up on or whatever they do, she was just hanging out at home after a night of ... eating at a restaurant in Baltimore. She embarrassed me with her energy and cheerfulness, I still hadn't had any coffee yet, I had had a sip of whiskey last night myself, and I was relatively apathetic about this lady and her life.

I stood on her doorstep for about a minute, saying the things that made this random encounter less awkward. She was trying to figure out my motives and how I happened to have her purse, and I was somewhat curious about how it had ended up where it was, but basically it was a conversation with a purpose, I had found her purse and was returning it to her, she was showing appreciation and checking if I was a bad guy who had stolen it or something.

I walked home without a purse in my hand. The wind kicked up sometimes and man, it was cold. The zipper on my jacket doesn't always work, and so I had it unzipped and unbuttoned, and those surprise blasts hit me hard. The lady's cell phone was missing, so I kicked the snow where I had found the purse to see if it was there, but I didn't see it.

I was thinking about doing the right thing. I know people who think that morality comes from God, and only Christians can do the right thing. I was thinking about Wiccans, who are about as not-Christian as you can be, and the ones I have known make really sure to do the right thing all the time, because they know people are judging them. And they also believe that everything comes back to you threefold, which I hope is not true. Well, I don't see how that would work, anyway. I have known atheists, lots of them, and they seem like good people too, they do the right thing, they help you out when you need it, and why? Not because they're afraid of the judgment of God, that's for sure, and the ones I knew didn't wear "Kiss me I'm an Atheist" buttons or anything, they were just scientists who didn't believe in things they couldn't see or measure. I don't think they did the right thing to make a point, or even because they calculated that their payoffs would be greater if they used the Cooperate rather than Defect strategy, assuming this was an iterated game.

No, you don't have to be a Christian to do good things, and you don't have to have an ulterior motive. It's going to come down to the economic principle we call the Golden Rule. Because we're all in this together, it is better for us to help one another, because at some point we might need the help. It feels good to do good things, and somewhere in your mind you think about how it would be if it was turned around. What if this lady found my wallet in the snow, what would she do? I think she would do just what I did. I know she's a Christian, I saw the papers in her purse, but I don't think she would have returned my wallet because of something Jesus said. She would have done it for the same reason I brought her purse to her, because we're all in this together.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know people who think that morality comes from God, and only Christians can do the right thing."

that's odd

I know tons of Christians and I've never met one who thinks that

January 31, 2010 11:06 PM  
Blogger David S. Fishback said...

There is an old saw I heard many years ago:

Question: What is a Jewish atheist?

Answer: A Jew who knows what the God he doesn't believe exists expects him to do, and does it.

I do not know whether most people need the "fear of God" put into them to make them act in accord with the Golden Rule. I certainly hope not.

The challenge is to work toward a culture in which following the Golden Rule is the societal norm. Religion, at its best, fosters this. But so do secular values.

February 01, 2010 8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I do not know whether most people need the "fear of God" put into them to make them act in accord with the Golden Rule"

that's not the motivation in Christian theology

Christians believe their sins are paid for and their motivation for living is gratitude toward and love for God.

February 01, 2010 8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I wonder why Jesus went to all that trouble to teach people to turn the other cheek and love their neighbors as themselves, etcetera, if it didn't matter.

February 01, 2010 8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who said it didn't matter?

that's like asking why did Jim bring back the purse when it doesn't matter

February 01, 2010 10:06 AM  
Blogger David S. Fishback said...

"that's not the motivation in Christian theology

"Christians believe their sins are paid for and their motivation for living is gratitude toward and love for God.Christians believe their sins are paid for and their motivation for living is gratitude toward and love for God."

So I ask Anon, are preachers who preach fire and brimstone not true Christians? Are they phoney Christians?

February 01, 2010 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Some say believing your sins are pre-paid for makes you more likely to sin.

For example, John Ensign and Mark Sanford, two members of The Fellowship, who meet regularly for Christian prayer and fellowship, have committed some horrible sins against their wives and children.

John Ensign's mommy and daddy paid his mistress and her husband and family for his sins and he has said he sees no reason to resign his Senate seat.

Mark Sanford has said his partner in sin is the love of his life and has said he will not resign his governorship.

They act as if they have done nothing wrong when they have violated vows they made before their God. Maybe their belief that they will be forgiven for their sins has something to do with their lack of contrition.

February 01, 2010 6:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and they pale in comparison to John Edwards. a democrat.

February 01, 2010 7:31 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

and they pale in comparison to John Edwards. a democrat.

And Christian.

February 01, 2010 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure John Edwards qualifies as a Christian anymore. Regardless of what he claims to be.

Can you kick someone out ? Or would that be not turning the other cheek... even if they show no remorse.

The lowest of the low.

cheat on your wife while she is dying of cancer. all while running for president as a "family man"

Only a democrat.
I defy you to come up with a Republican who has stooped quite that low.

February 01, 2010 8:19 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

I defy you to come up with a Republican who has stooped quite that low.

Newt Gingrich comes to mind. Also a Christian.

February 01, 2010 8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay. Passerby.

You are right.
Newt is as bad.

February 01, 2010 8:40 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Now name an atheist who has done anything that bad.

February 01, 2010 8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

statistically unfair.
85% of the population claims to be christians

February 01, 2010 8:49 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Ha! You can't think of one.

If 85 percent of Americans are Christians, then 45,000,000 (15 percent of 300 million) of them are not. Surely there you can think of one whose behavior is as deplorable as Newt Gingrich's.

February 01, 2010 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well googling "atheist" "wife" that very next word that google suggests is "swap"... !!!

February 01, 2010 9:13 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Yeah, and for "christian" "wife" the first suggestion is "duties."

Who do you think has more fun?

February 01, 2010 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Ha-Ha said...

That's right! yeah, more fun!

February 01, 2010 10:56 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

No news to report this morning, Anone? I've got some good news for Vigilance readers:

"Republicans got a big morale boost with victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, but Democrats begin the 2010 election year with more cash in the bank, Bloomberg reported Monday.

The Democratic National Committee and the fundraising affiliates of congressional Democrats reported raising $37.9 million through Dec. 31, 2009. That's almost double the $19.4 million the Republicans had at the end of last year.

It's the first time in nearly two decades that the Democratic Party can start a mid-term election year with more money than the GOP, according to Bloomberg.

Four years ago, the Republican committee had $34 million to the Democrats' $6 million. "

Four years ago was 2006, when the GOP lost its majorities in the House and Senate.

More good news:

"After months of declining poll numbers, President Barack Obama's approval rating has begun rising again.

Two new polls, one by Rasmussen Reports and the other by Gallup, show a recent uptick of support for the president as he begins his second year in office.

In its daily tracking poll, Gallup finds that 50 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling his job, while 44 percent say they disapprove. According to the polling organization, the rise in the approval number "follows 11 straight days of Gallup reporting in which Obama's approval rating was below the 50 percent mark."

Rasmussen's daily tracking poll shows that the number of Americans who say they approve of the job the president is doing has risen by 4 points from a Jan. 22 low of 45 percent. Meanwhile, the number of those surveyed by Rasmussen who say they disapprove of Obama has fallen by 5 percentage points since Jan. 23. Overall, 49 percent of those surveyed by Rasmussen say they approve of the way Obama is doing his job, while 50 percent disapprove.

Two recent events – the State of the Union address and the president's question-and answer-session with the Republican caucus – may have provided Obama with a slight boost."

February 02, 2010 8:30 AM  
Anonymous just say no way Jose said...

problem solved:

"Sex education classes that focus on encouraging children to remain abstinent can persuade a significant proportion to delay sexual activity, researchers reported Monday in a landmark study that could have major implications for U.S. efforts to protect young people against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Only about a third of sixth- and seventh-graders who completed an abstinence-focused program started having sex within the next two years, researchers found. Nearly half of the students who attended other classes, including ones that combined information about abstinence and contraception, became sexually active.

The findings are clear evidence that abstinence programs work.

"I think we've written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence," said John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the federally funded study. "Our study shows this is the one approach that should be used."

The research, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, comes amid intense debate over how to reduce sexual activity, pregnancies, births and sexually transmitted diseases among children and teenagers. After falling for more than a decade, the numbers of births, pregnancies and STDs among U.S. teens have begun increasing as abstinence programs have been eliminated or diluted.

February 02, 2010 8:40 AM  
Anonymous just say no way Jose said...

The Obama administration eliminated more than $170 million in annual federal funding targeted at abstinence programs.

"This new study is game-changing," said Sarah Brown, who leads the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "For the first time, there is strong evidence that an abstinence-only intervention can help very young teens delay sex."

The study is the first to evaluate an abstinence program using a carefully designed approach comparing it with several alternative strategies and following subjects for an extended period of time, considered the kind of study that produces the highest level of scientific evidence.

"This takes away the main pillar of opposition to abstinence education," said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation who wrote the criteria for federal funding of abstinence programs. "I've always known that abstinence programs have gotten a bad rap."

Longtime critics of the approach praised the study, saying it provides strong evidence that such programs can work and might merit taxpayer support.

"One of the things that's exciting about this study is that it says we have a new tool to add to our repertoire," said Monica Rodriguez, vice president for education and training at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

The study released Monday involved 662 African American students from four public middle schools in a city in the Northeastern United States. It was conducted between 2001 and 2004.

Students were randomly assigned to go through one of the following: an eight-hour curriculum that encouraged them to delay having sex; an eight-hour program focused on teaching safe sex; an eight- or 12-hour program that did both; or an eight-hour program focused on teaching them other ways to be healthy, such as eating well and exercising. The abstinence-only portion involved a series of sessions in which instructors talked to students in small groups about their views about abstinence and their knowledge of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also conducted role-playing exercises and brainstorming sessions designed to correct misconceptions about sex and sexually transmitted diseases, encourage abstinence and offer ways to resist pressure to have sex.

Over the next two years, about 33 percent of the students who went through the abstinence program started having sex, compared with about 52 percent who were taught only safe sex. About 42 percent of the students who went through the comprehensive program started having sex, and about 47 percent of those who learned about other ways to be healthy did.

The abstinence program had no negative effects on condom use, which has been a major criticism of the abstinence approach."

Now, about global warming.....

February 02, 2010 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the House's top Republicans, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is also one of those House Republicans who got shellacked during their encounter with President Obama on Friday. But he's keeping a positive attitude about the whole thing.

Pence appeared on "Fox and Friends" Monday morning, and worked to spin the event, which was generally regarded as a big win for Obama, and a tough loss for the GOP. From the interview:

"[I]t really does kind of tickle me, you know, that one soundbite and the president went back to that again and, you know, you can't -- it can't be all or nothing. But look, I mean, for the last year, this administration and Democrats in Congress have -- have not only been unilaterally and universally rejecting all Republican proposals, but they've been going out and telling the American people that Republicans have no ideas, that we've been offering no alternatives.

And I really think the real accomplishment of Friday was what the American people saw on live television was the president making his case for his big government liberal solutions. But what may be many Americans saw for the first time was House Republicans in a serious and frank discussion, articulating the fact that we have put forward solutions and positive alternatives on all of these agenda items. We handed the president a booklet. People can go to and look over it.

And the president himself acknowledged over and over again that we had been offering legislation. And I think just the fact that we're now, the president himself has put to the lie this business of the "party of no" idea was real progress."

That's an interesting way to think of it. Because here's how Obama dealt with that booklet he was handed:

"It's not enough if you say, for example, that we've offered a health care plan and I look up -- this is just under the section that you've just provided me, or the book that you just provided me -- summary of GOP health care reform bill: The GOP plan will lower health care premiums for American families and small businesses, addressing America's number-one priority for health reform. I mean, that's an idea that we all embrace. But specifically it's got to work. I mean, there's got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, is this something that will actually work, or is it boilerplate?

If I'm told, for example, that the solution to dealing with health care costs is tort reform, something that I've said I am willing to work with you on, but the CBO or other experts say to me, at best, this could reduce health care costs relative to where they're growing by a couple of percentage points, or save $5 billion a year, that's what we can score it at, and it will not bend the cost curve long term or reduce premiums significantly -- then you can't make the claim that that's the only thing that we have to do. If we're going to do multi-state insurance so that people can go across state lines, I've got to be able to go to an independent health care expert, Republican or Democrat, who can tell me that this won't result in cherry-picking of the healthiest going to some and the least healthy being worse off.

So I am absolutely committed to working with you on these issues, but it can't just be political assertions that aren't substantiated when it comes to the actual details of policy. Because otherwise, we're going to be selling the American people a bill of goods. I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you're going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms; we're going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and it won't cost anybody anything. That's great politics, it's just not true."

February 02, 2010 10:03 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Ooops! The post above is Salon's Quote of the Day special delivery for "just say no way Jose."

February 02, 2010 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, so barry asked for ideas

GOP gave them

then he says, "no, there need to support form experts:

GOP gave them

then he say, "no, they need to not contradicy my experts"

little hard to lose an argument that way

February 02, 2010 10:28 AM  
Anonymous ismeani said...


T-Bone Burnett was nominated for an Oscar this morning for his song "The Weary Kind" from the film "Crazy Heart"

February 02, 2010 12:05 PM  
Anonymous duchie said...

"I mean, the easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you're going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms; we're going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and it won't cost anybody anything."

uh, I think you did try that, Barry

you just didn't get away with it

btw, your O-ness, you just unveiled a budget this week that cuts funding for abstinence education

considering the study released this week, you might want to reconsider

February 02, 2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

I'm listening to the Crazy Heart CD right now.


February 02, 2010 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you give it a thumbs up?

February 02, 2010 2:29 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Most of it's pretty good.


February 02, 2010 2:38 PM  

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