Excerpts & Reviews

Author’s Note: The following excerpts are from various published and blog writings of this author and from some of my current drafts of forthcoming books. They are offered as examples of this author’s style and tone — which you, the reader, will hopefully to be an engaging cacophony of optimism,  seriousness, and humor.

Excerpts from Dead Serious and Light-Hearted by Mack W. Borgen                                     From Introduction

“Egos, myopia and money aside, neither the power nor the inclination for improving the quality of American life reside in the board rooms of Wall Street or the legislative chambers of Washington, D.C.  The air is too thick and the crowds are too beholden.

But the changes necessary to remake American society are possible. They are within us, and they will have to come from us. Once again.”

From The Section Entitled “Looking Over the Edge of the Foxhole

          “Amidst the size and complexity of our country, the sense of the importance and the power of individuals has become diminished. Too willingly, we have come to accept that our votes are meaningless and that our capacities are too limited. Too quietly, we have allowed hope of trickle down to be replaced by the grumbling acceptance of table scraps. Too often, we have resigned ourselves to a new norm of dependence and precariousness. Almost curiously, at the same time we proclaim disappointment and express anger, we disclaim responsibility. The sense of abdication, resignation and even victimhood is everywhere.

          But another perspective should be considered. Possibly, we have just come to expect too little from ourselves and too much from others. In some cases, we know better. We know that we cannot rely only upon the police to keep us safe. We know that we cannot await someone else to pick up the trash from our parks or clean the graffiti from our walls. We cannot await food banks to stock our shelves or schools to nurture our children. We cannot wait for doctors to perform miracles or big Pharma to release its grasp upon our health care system. We cannot allow morality to be further diminished or our legal code to stand as the sole and simple definition of our country’s sense of right and wrong. We cannot assume that reasoning and critical thinking will be learned down at the corner, deduced from the headlines, or downloaded from the Web. Such things are things of shared, not delegated, responsibility.”

From the Section Entitled “Getting in the Game”

          “Many of America’s problems began decades ago. Now they have grown exponentially in both size and seriousness. And the recent years have not helped. By almost any measure, the 21st Century started off poorly, and it hasn’t yet gotten better. .. . We have all felt the pressure building. Now even our kids are playing Angry Birds as they get ready for their future. “

From Section Entitled “Guns and Butter, God and Country, and Stoneface Serious”

          “Americans have gone Nordic. We no longer laugh easily or often. We seem to save our laughter for special occasions. It is rationed out mostly within the cocoon safety of our family and trusted friends. Sometimes laughter is still chuckled out at theatres and concert halls, but we have become, largely, a somber folk.

         We hear less laughter on our sidewalks. Instead, we are all going somewhere (important). Fast. We hear less laughter in our stores. Consumerism is (damn) serious business. Blessed kids excepted, we hear less laughter at the parks. More and more, it has to be teased out of us by alcohol, Robin Williams, Tosh.o, reality show whackos, Lady Gagas clothes, Charlie Sheen antics, or YouTubes downloads.

        Is there an explanation?”

 From Section Entitled “Initial Barriers to the Remaking of American Life”

          “And the mad prophets are everywhere   — inflaming, exhorting, and rabble-rousing. One person listens to Glenn or Sean or Rush; another listens to Keith (still jostling somewhere between cableland and court) or Chris or Rachel. Fox News vs. all that is not fair and balanced. My PAC vs your 501(c)3. The news is tailored, spiced, and packaged as let’s-get-serious entertainment. Then, it is carefully fed to separate, divisible, and divisive market-share audiences. The powers of repetition are used to drown out the powers of reason (and sometimes truth).

          Honest discourse in the media has been traded in for ratings. Honest discourse in politics has been traded in for votes. While I hear truth, you hear babble, and we talk (blithely) past and over each other. Routinely.”

From Section Entitled “8 San Diegos, 20 New Orleans, or 60 Anchorages”

         “Change is what we do. It is one of the things America has been good at. We Americans have frequently set out to change ourselves, and we have done so well. We headed west. We industrialized. We outlasted. We technologized — and, while that’s not a word, it should be.

         Understanding the extent of our country’s growth is not easy. In the boring drip of census numbers, we too often under-estimate the scope of the change which has occurred.”

From Section Entitled “The 4 Corners of America – The West and the Midwest”

          “After high school in Chicago, I went to college in the West. I did well and after four years I graduated with honors in economics from the University of California at Berkeley. At our graduation I was one of the two commencement speakers. Without success, I tried to speak both to and for our large and unruly class. On that inappropriately beautiful June day, with the acrid smell of tear gas still lingering over the campus, I stood at the podium of one of Americas finest universities and delivered one of the commencement speeches.

          I said my piece. I shared my thoughts. I shook some hands. I hugged my parents. And college was over. Looking back, many years later, I can sometimes see myself, standing there silly in my certainties.

         Like the rest of the Baby Boomer generation of whom I was a part, we thought far too much of ourselves. Prudence was for pussies. Ideas were unburdened by reality.”

From Section Entitled “The 4 Corners of America  — The East”

        “For the next three years I lived in the East. Thanks to a balanced trifecta of effort, reward, and pure luck, I had gotten into Harvard Law School, and soon I was in Cambridge. I wasn’t rich, but I was happy to pay my way by driving a night-shift cab in Boston and hustling after any other job I could find.

         I wasn’t a great student there, but I did well. I was attentive and observant. Like all young men from the West, I quickly learned that the East both demanded and deserved its own attention. I found it beautiful and historied —  heavy with tradition, old buildings built with long-ago money. But now school was different.

        Over the next three years, I came to see new kinds of scary — scary smart, scary focused, scary serious. At times I could feel my limits coming into view. It hurt.

        I wasn’t the best at anything anymore. I wasn’t the best student, and I struggled for my place in line. It was a tough crowd. I learned, and later even accepted, that there were others ahead of me. I started cluttering up the simplicities of my thinking with the complexities of reality. I thought heavy thoughts. I used long words. I read big books. On a good day, I could quote de Tocqueville, the Federalist Papers, Wittgenstein, Croly, and Marcuse with the best of them, but in most ways I was a most typical student.

         I decorated myself in the early grunge of the day. I wore badge-of-honor Levis, and I bundled myself in an old Navy pea coat. I wolfed my burgers. I drank my coffee. I settled into law school almost dutifully with my head down. But I was never a part of it. I was from another place, I remained an outsider —  just visiting.

          I had certain skills as a quick study. And I was committed. Sometimes I still thought it all, somehow mattered, but I accepted without great sadness that the world wasn’t watching and that I couldn’t change the world.

          Sometimes intimidated, I observed my classmates. I came to see that the raw gift of intelligence was neither rare nor inherently good. To my almost youthful surprise, I came to understand that intelligence was raw and that, by itself, intelligence was inherently amoral. It was devoid of the qualities and honor of life. I learned that neither intelligence nor education were necessary prerequisites to wealth, achievement, fame or notoriety. By themselves, they were never going to be enough. At every turn and with surprising speed, both intelligence and education could be trumped by any number of things  obsession, commitment, luck, connections, good looks or an American-Idol good voice.”

From Section Entitled “Blames It on Sitges”

         “Far from the nest, I started my adult life (and, unknowingly at the time, these books) a long time ago in a small town on the Costa Brava in Spain.

        Life was good then. Indeed, for that brief period things were nearly perfect. I have been lucky since then. I have been rewarded and blessed since then. But that time, so long ago now, had a certain specialness all its own.

         I was 29 years old. I had just rented the rooftop apartment of a small pensione in Sitges, Spain, a small coastal village south of Barcelona.

          Sitges was beautiful and quaint back then. I don’t really remember, but I am pretty sure that it was a sunny day, that there was a gentle breeze was in the air, that the birds were singing, and that the gods were smiling.

         I was a young man then, but I, like so many others, had already felt that wrath of anger. I had endured the pains of loss and rejection a few times. I had experienced confusion and sadness. I had felt the geographic separation from those whom I loved and from that which I knew. I knew that, at times, I had seen far more than I could yet understand. I knew that too much had happened too quickly. But I also knew that I was o.k.

        I had made it. So far.”

From Section Entitled “Learning Patience from Durant — Frozen In My Tracks”

       “So where were my stories? Where were my words, my flowing paragraphs, my ordered chapters?  What had happened? How could I have been so mistaken? Damn it. There I was in Spain. Totally ready and wholly unprepared at the same time.

         Every now and then, I would search for stories in the red haze of cheap Spanish wine and amidst clouds of cigarette smoke. But they mostly just gave me signature headaches and a hacking cough. Other than some forgettable short stories and poems, I wrote little of consequence.

          Still, I didn’t get it. I had been challenged before. I hadn’t won every race. Fine. I had dropped more than a few passes in my life. O.k. My grades had not been perfect, and certain subjects had come hard. So what, old news. But it was in Sitges that I confronted my limitations and found my boundaries. It wasn’t pretty.

          Slowly I accepted that it was at least possible that I was 29 years old and that I had nothing to say. I was humbled. For the first time, I was angry at my own limitations. I embarrassed myself even further by comparing myself to other young men; by thinking of what others had already done at this age. The comparisons were nothing less than obscene, but I felt the tick tock of months slipping by. And Thomas Jefferson had been only 27 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Meriwether Lewis was only 26 when he left St Louis and headed upriver with the Corps of Discovery. Albert Einstein was a 26 years old patent clerk in Switzerland when he wrote the theory of relativity. And I couldn’t get out a single story worthy of printers ink.

          I hung out with denial and danced with begrudgment — a word which I think I first made up over there. I stomped about my apartment looking for someone to blame. And eventually I decided to blame an innocent man — a man named Durant. William James Durant.”

 From Section Entitled “Learning Patience from Durant  – Silent from the Grave” 

          “I recently re-read parts of Durant’s writings, and there is much that still has a striking, continuing relevance to contemporary America. Durant wrote of the need for caution and the constant presence of danger. He wrote about how barbarism (like terrorism), never admits its defeat and is always around civilization,  ready to engulf it. Some American writers have been warning of Americas decline and degeneration for years. More than 4 decades ago, cynical and disillusioned first by Vietnam and then by Watergate and the disgrace and resignation of a President, they felt certain the some kind of end was near. Today, once again and albeit for different reasons, alarmist and declinist writings are everywhere.

         Durant didn’t write about public unions or the national debt, but he did write about the fall of ancient Greece as a result of legislative looting, and how (n)o great nation is ever conquered until it has destroyed itself (from within). These words, written many years ago, seem to be relevant once again.”