“The BIG Maze” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Looking at both sides of an argument becomes a trap when both sides are right

Fifth in a Series

In 1984, PBS aired a ten-episode series called The Constitution: That Delicate Balance. It was created by CBS News legend Fred Friendly, who had been Edward R. Murrow’s producer during the McCarthy hearings. (George Clooney played Mr. Friendly in Good Night, and Good Luck.) The premise of the program was that a distinguished panel (including former President Gerald Ford, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senator Orrin Hatch, then-Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, etc.) were asked a series of increasingly-challenging hypothetical questions, usually by Harvard Law professor Arthur Miller.

The questions would start simply enough. A young…


Jean-Paul Laurens, Le Pape Formose et Étienne VII (“Pope Formosus and Stephen VII”), 1870

The right’s comparison of Trump’s impeachment to the infamous Cadaver Synod has it completely backward

In 897 A.D., a proceeding that has been called the strangest trial in history, the Cadaver Synod, took place in Rome. The late pope Formosus, the first and last of that name, was disinterred from his crypt, dressed in the papal vestments, strapped to the papal throne, carried to the Lateran Basilica, and placed on trial. A young deacon was appointed to speak for the decidedly non-verbal corpse, and in short order Formosus was found guilty, the three fingers he had once used to bless people were snipped off, and the body was buried in unsanctified ground. …


“Inside the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.” by o palsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How to sustain artists during COVID, and how to help them thrive when COVID is gone

In conjunction with BeAnArtsHero.com and The Dramatists Guild, playwrights and other artists were invited to submit a letter to the incoming President and Vice President about our “hopes, dreams, and vision for what America can become with the arrival of a new administration.” This letter is one response to that campaign. #ArtsWorkersUnite #First100Days @JoeBiden @KamalaHarris @WhiteHouse @BeAnArtsHero @DramatistsGuild

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:


“Pixel Rug 978DF” by Gwendal_ is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s Okay to Have an Opinion. Really.

Fourth in a series

“Opinions,” the vulgar like to say, “are like @$$holes. Everybody’s got one.” As with everything vulgar, the implication is that opinions are every bit as nasty as the thing to which they are being compared. That’s the point of vulgarity: to sully, to make dirty. To show one’s superiority through one’s contempt for, well, everything. It’s nihilistic and dark. Everything and everyone, and all of their opinions, are no more than $#!t.

What’s remarkable is not how many people say this, but how many people believe it.

There are non-vulgar, but still nihilistic, ways of expressing…


“020/365 united we stand…” by Joits is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There’s More Common Ground Than You Think

Third in a Series

My wife is smart. When another driver on the road does something that I find objectionable, when the blood tide of testosterone rises, my wife is fond of reminding me that the other driver may not have seen me before cutting in front, or whatever; that I shouldn’t be so quick to assume malice. “He’s just trying to get home safe and sound, like we are.”

My wife is very smart.

The Crucible of Performance

Every performing artist knows a certain experience. People gather from all over. Different kinds of people. Left, right, independent, atheist, devout…


“Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The opportunity that Joe Biden missed in Tuesday’s debate: compassion

Donald Trump is an IV bag full of rage.

In the hospital, after certain procedures, you are sometimes given a morphine drip to ease the pain. This IV bag is attached to a machine that does two things: it provides a clicker so you can self-administer the relief you need when you need it; and it limits how much clicking you can do, because morphine is powerful and addictive.

Donald Trump is an IV full of rage rather than morphine, and the machine is gone. His followers don’t need to self-administer because he gives them a steady, unceasing supply; and…


“Mitch McConnell” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Bad faith arguments are everywhere — here’s how to spot them, and call them out

Second in a Series

The McConnell “Rule”

In the political arena, perhaps the most outrageous bad-faith argument in recent years has just leaped back into the news: Sen. Mitch McConnell’s blatant theft of a Supreme Court nomination in 2016. In February of that year, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly. President Barack Obama nominated the well-regarded U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland in March, which was considered to be a replacement of a very conservative justice with one more moderate but by no means ultra-liberal. …


Learning to argue better is the only escape from the inescapable

First in a series

“Infinite Argument Swatch” by Gwendal_ is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There is No Safe Space

When the Coronavirus lockdown began in March, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation started a clever promotion: three free months, to anyone who wanted them, of their FenderPlay music-instruction program. I was working from home like so many others, and I had an acoustic guitar that had been hanging on a wall since my first attempt to learn how to play it a decade ago, so I decided to give it a try. …


“Trump Protest Los Angeles” by waltarrrrr is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Why the right wing is trying to silence your activism before it starts

Says Hamlet to his wayward mother:

Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature….

Or, to put it in more contemporary language:

Fake it till you make it.

What They Mean When They Accuse You of…


A protester in Los Angeles, May 30, 2020. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters.

How to keep violence out of your non-violent protest

Sunday, May 31, 2020…

In Los Angeles, it’s usually not good to hear helicopters hovering overhead. It’s either reporters covering terrible traffic when you need to leave for work, or police searching for a suspect who’s on the run somewhere in your neighborhood, or a fire that’s broken out that could spread in your direction, spark to spark.

On this should-have-been-calm Sunday, there have been helicopters overhead in Santa Monica all day. It’s early evening, and that sound of blades grinding the air has been our companion since mid-morning. A protest had been scheduled for just a few blocks away…

Robert Toombs

Dramatists Guild member, Climate Reality activist. Words WILL save the world, dangit.

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