The Obama Presidency has Just Begun

A year into the Clinton Presidency, the pundits were already writing the obituary. After the Travelgate and the Health Care fiascoes, ‘this is a one term President,’ they said.  Clinton, if we recall, was elected on a similar wave of enthusiasm for change. But how quickly it went south. Now, of course, despite even the scandals and the impeachment, Clinton is fondly remembered by most, and assumes the role of elder statesman.

Obama has had a luckier start. He assembled a more professional team  to run the show from the beginning, and avoided any major scandals. But as expected, the shine is coming off the silverware as he moves towards the one year mark. And it is to be expected. The President has basked in an extended honeymoon so long as he gave lofty speeches and didn’t try and do much. But now that he has upped the ante and is working to bring real change to Washington, the change that he promised, the opponents are energized like never before.

The media are having a field day, causing the President to emulate the Bush strategy of media envelopment, appearing on 5 interview shows over the weekend, trying to get his message out. However, he might also take counsel as to how to better manage expectations as much as he worries about managing the passage of the Health reforms.

For the Obama Presidency to be great, he has to have obstacles. For him to become a hero, there has to be a  series of villains. The halo of this holy warrior has to tilt and fall off at some point, as he journeys from innocence to experience. That is the narrative arc of great Presidents and great stories. Think of Lincoln, or Roosevelt and why we remember them so fondly-because of what they overcame, because of how they led the country in its moment of grave crisis.

All the problems, with the economy and with health care and with foreign wars are all issues that Obama inherited. Its as if as the new Sheriff, he is having a hard time cleaning up Dodge. But none of these will define his presidency. His moment of truth lies ahead, in something as unpredicatable and as threatening as 9-11.  That is not trying to be clairvoyant, it is simply mapping the trajectory of most Presidencies on to his.  We can’t be sure of much, but of this we can-that this story is only beginning.

If the polls drop dramatically, and if the media are writing about a “one term Obama” and some of his cherished reforms are stalled or blocked, all that proves is that this was never going to be easy. And this will ultimately test the character of our President, and reveal what kind of leader he is going to be.

To date, we have only seen the prologue of the Obama story-with the fairy tale aura of its surprise still resonating. But now that the gloves are off, and now that the conservative forces like Glen Beck and Limbaugh  realise that he is vulnerable, one can return to one’s seat to watch the main act. The real Obama Presidency is about to begin. Now we will see what he is made of. As Shakespeare might say, Let the play begin.

When google became a verb, the world changed forever

When ‘Google’ became a verb, and not just a search engine, we knew that we were witnessing a dramatic shift in the way we access information. In the old days, it used to be the encyclopedias that opened the door to true enlightenment. Now, for every inquiry, we google it and it takes us to Wikipedia and we read what the collective wisdom says on any one topic. Its all so easy.

Knowledge used to be what you went to college to acquire, or you bought books to read. Now its at your fingertips. But with that shift comes a deeper dilemma. If we have so democratized access to knowing, are we as citizens any better off, or any the wiser?  The answer is No, because what use is knowledge if we don’t know what it means.

I recall having lunch with a friend who works at the US Treasury some 18 months back and her telling me that the managers were working 18 hour days in a panic because they were getting economic data and indicators that were all over the map. They hadn’t seen the pattern before, or didn’t know if there was a pattern behind the figures.  Were these signs of a recession or just an aberration? They were awash in data and none the wiser. Of course, now we know.

Another telling example is the various 9-11 reports, official and unofficial, that all say the same thing, that we had all the clues to identify who the potential terrorists were, and we even had strong hints as to their murderous intentions, but the data was never shared to be pieced together by the various agencies to work out what was going on. The same story is told about Pearl Harbor.

Our contemporary dilemma is no longer simple ignorance. We can google away a lot of that. What we really desperately need is understanding, or getting a larger sense of what it all means?  Whether its the fate of the economy, or the fate of the planet, the data lends itself to contradictory explanations. Things as complex as that don’t add up to one simple answer. We have to develop a new interpretive mind, and evolve more effective tools for dealing with complexity, chaos and the chain causality we experience in networks. We are rarely dealing with only one thing anymore. What we decide to do in Afghanistan will effect what happens in Pakistan, and what happens in Pakistan will feed in to what Iran does, etc. Foreign policy used to be a game of chess. Now its a game of dominos.

Knowledge is overrated. Sometimes, knowing all the facts that there are to be known only paralyzes us further because we  see too many options. And it is now a tactic of defense.  When some whistle blower alleges corruption, a department or corporation will release a blizzard of documents and emails and say-you want to know, take that, take all of it. Good luck in finding the needle in that haystack.

That is why the narrative question of “What is the story of the Story?”  is so important. It moves us to second level meaning making. We are always using a bigger story to make sense of a smaller story. And its that meta level of meaning making that our  data rich-meaning poor age demands.

What prompted my thinking on this topic was a new book coming out soon from a colleague, Michael Margolis. He is a New York marketing and branding guru.  He encourages us all to assume the mind of Henry the Navigator, and find new maps to find our way. I think he is right. The critical question that used to determine if we got the job, or if we passed the exams was-’What do you know?’ Now the critical question is “What does it mean?’ We don’t need investigators, we need interpreters. Michael is a good one.


What Happened to Obama’s narrative intelligence

I was an avid follower of the 2008 elections because I was writing a book on the campaigns, using them as a case study in narrative critical method. If the contest was really a battle of stories, how could one elucidate the process and predict the result without reference to polls or focus groups? Maybe it was not so hard, but we predicted that as a story, Obama had to win. and even if he lost, he was the bigger story. He was the narrative heavy weight.

In my final chapter, I predicted that the glow of the Inauguration would last about a day. and I was not far wrong. The Republicans have convinced themselves that the best defense is attack and the President, taking the advice of his Chief of Staff, is impelled into action,not to waste this economic crisis.

We have huge stimulus bills to save the banks; we have energy bills to save the planet; we have plans to save the health care system, and we have a new deal in education. Any one of the above could be a lofty and honorable goal, but all four at once! It defies narrative logic.

Imagine writing a drama and having all the action in Act One. If you walk on water in Act One, what do you do for an encore, and more to the point, if your first Act bombs, what can you do to salvage it. You have gambled too big too early, before the cards are even shuffled. The adrenalin rush that new power brings is addictive but sometimes, one needs to go take a cold shower and patiently build energy through anticipation to ensure your most dramatic moves create the most drama. An administration needs to evolve and unfold like a great tale being told. You don’t rush the beginning. You build it up slowly, patiently, giving us time to imagine-what might happen next? “Once upon a time….” The most powerful weapon a President has is his power to command the nation’s attention and he can only sustain that by the way he lays out the story.

The Presidential Plot-my book- predicted that a young, fresh, Prince would steal the kingdom back from the cruel old King. That is how Disney and most traditional folk tales tell the story. But our young Prince needs to be wary of believing his own publicity, and committing that juiciest of sins in ancient drama, hubris. Oh what would tragedy be without good ole hubris. How the Greeks loved it. Just when you think you have conquered all, your own pride trips you up and you overreach. We as audience want to yell at the hero, “Don’t do it.Don’t do it” because we know that we have all done it.

When you have won so overwhelmingly and you have an approval rating off the charts, you could be forgiven for thinking this is all so easy. The world is my oyster, I can rebuild the kingdom and refurnish the palace at the same time, as well as drain the moat and repel the barbarians at the gate, and then, after lunch, I will slay the dragon and shoot a few hoops and cook a three course meal, and then, hold a G-20 summit after supper. And why waste a crisis? Let’s reform everything at once.

A story, as Obama the Candidate knew so well, has a beginning, a middle and an end. The ending he wants and needs most as President is Economic Recovery and he needs that no later than June 2012. Otherwise, he will not get a second term. So he has time, and the priority of the nation now is RECOVERY. Nothing else. That’s the story we are locked in.That is the story in which he as hero must play the unambiguous lead.

The nation has had a heart attack. We need shock treatment to get back on our feet. That is what everyone I know is obsessing about. They are not talking about the finer points of health care or charter schools, or wind and solar power. President Obama feels empowered but impatient-there is so much to be done, but his inexperience has trapped him into an urgency that threatens to dilute his focus. What makes political sense to him and his team does not make much sense to the nation. We only have the attention span to follow one BIG story at a time. FDR wanted us to defeat Hitler. Everything else was secondary to that and today, in a worried and confused nation, we need the ONE BIG story to unify the nation’s efforts.

Obama needs to get back to his ONE BIG story-economic recovery. That’s what his bully pulpit should be bullying us about, how he will lead the nation back. Only when that is securely underway should he introduce Act Two-REFORM, which is an even BIGGER story. Give us enough time and give that story enough space and we will get that too. Reform surely deserves its own full season of debate but don’t schedule it before February 2009.

When the patient is almost dead, you restart the heart. You don’t decide to throw in a face lift, a kidney transplant and a brain makeover. Why use up all the narrative fuel you need to keep your government dramatically compelling by spending it all at once and losing the impact that any one of these reforms could create on its own. The nation is not paying attention because the President’s solution sounds as messy and confusing as the problem.

Obama and his team are standing on their own best stories. He knew how to manage it in the campaign, but the object was clear. He wanted to win. Now, there are too many storylines, and people are not paying attention to anything but the economy. President Obama has had barely 8 weeks in the Oval Office but I fear he is being sucked into too much too soon, and into over promising what he cannot possibly be sure he can deliver. Why risk your credibility so soon?

So here is a memo to the narrative genius behind the President, David Axelrod. You took four years to prepare the Obama candidacy and get it focused and your Candidate was an amazing example of ONE disciplined storyline. He got it. Now that you have won power, the same lesson applies. What is the one BIG story you want the nation to absorb and act out of? We can only handle one BIG story at a time. Recovery AND reform is too much, and it is inherently contradictory. What you do to revive a patient is not what you do to get him back to fitness.

President Obama doesn’t have to keep making giant gestures. Just getting elected was enough inspiration to last us 6 months, and then a concerted effort at recovery. That makes sense. That’s a story that works. That will take at least 12-18 months. Recovery first, then reform. But if the overcrowded storyline of four BIG stories all at once doesn’t work, then nothing else will work and the President will have blown all his dramatic capital in one stunning opening act. It’s a tragedian’s dream. Like Rush Limbaugh, the Greeks wish failure on all their heroes because it is what makes a compelling story. But it should not be Obama’s story. We did not elect him for tragedy. Right now, the Obama team are perilously close to becoming narratively unintelligible. They won, but now they’re losing us and we can’t follow this presidential plot.


The Stories we Tell about tragedy

36 murders get reported in one night’s news this week. 36 life stories have ended. But what other stories get attached to them? We heard news of 15 killings at a school in Germany, followed by another 14 dead  in the Southern USA. Then  add the daily casualty count from Iraq and Afghanistan as listed on the nightly NewsHour-4  soldiers killed-and then comes reports of mass protests on the streets of Belfast and Derry over the deaths of  three people, two British soldiers and one PSNI policeman. Thirty six deaths from around the world in one bulletin. But the differences in the stories they tell are dramatic.

If the appropriate reaction was to be gauged by sheer weight of numbers, then  there should be thousands on the streets of Berlin and Washington protesting the senseless deaths of innocent students and family members because someone with a grudge got a gun.  Grudges are easy to obtain, but they become lethal when those who nurture them get an armory as easy as walking into a MacDonalds for a burger.

Yet Berlin is quiet and Washington is silent. The mass protests happen only  where the death toll is the least, Northern Ireland, because these deaths  threaten to resurrect that old story of bloody conflict, a story that Northern Ireland has decided most determinedly belongs to the past. Those who want to re-ignite the secular hatreds are yesterday’s men.  The public rise up as one to condemn the criminal acts and console the families who have to relive the story that no longer makes any sense, if it ever did.

‘Senseless killing’ is a term broadly applied, and it describes all these headlines of murder and mayhem, but the isolated acts of lone madmen in Germany or the USA do not tap into any larger narrative. They are in the service of one small, isolated story of enmity and insanity. The deaths will transmit a chain of family stories that will echo down the generations, telling of loss and despair, but ultimately they belong to the human story, that sometimes, people lose it and when any society makes guns as accessible as toys, tragedy is almost inevitable. We don’t let kids play with guns. Why do we let psychopaths?

But in Northern Ireland, the murders threaten to add a new chapter to a viral story of unparalleled viciousness, blood feuds, tribal enmities that have been put away at last for the sake of the future. Like a bush fire in the heat of an Australian summer, these old tales are more easily ignited than extinguished.

Northern Ireland, I believe, needs to brand these acts as criminal and deranged and deny them any status as political acts of resistance. They belong to the same story of human insanity that the murders in Germany and the USA reflect. They do not belong to any larger story, they do not have any larger significance unless we decide to interpret them that way. And if their perpetrators insist  that they killed in order to free, as the Continuity IRA will claim, we need to treat them as insane too, people locked inside a story of their own deranged anger.

The story that we weave around trauma dictates how we will act in response. If 9-11 had been storied as the brazen act of crazy zealots like the  NY attacks of 1993 or the Oklahoma City bombings, then we would not have fueled the big story that the terrorists wanted us to tell of them. They were virulently anti-USA, and we took them at their word and embarked on a war that looked to the Muslim world as Anti-Islam. We got sucked into the exact same story that these sick terrorists acted out of. We gave them significance, a larger meaning, made them heroes of Islamic fundamentalism rather than exposing them as fools captive to unholy delusions. President Bush elevated them to martyrdom status in asking “Why do they hate us.?” but that is not a question you ask a paranoid. Paranoids are out to get everyone. Don’t take it personally.

The most dangerous kind of attention we can pay to these crazies is to treat their stories as sensible. The deaths in Germany and the USA were senseless, tragic and random, and they do not deserve any more sense than that. So too in Belfast, these acts were committed to revive that old story, but that story makes no sense anymore, and so their acts do not even deserve the status of terrorism. These people are mad, crazy, criminally insane. That does not make the pain any less, but it makes our response more powerful in totally disqualifying the story that gave these criminals their inner sense of justification. To tell them that their act was meaningless is the ultimate rejection. These were senseless killings and that kind of random insanity should pose no greater threat to a civil and sane society than a horrible air crash or a hurricane.  It happens,  and we deal with it.

Humans cannot live long or act effectively without meaning. To even for a minute attach significance where there is none is to feed the very story that sparked the killings. It is not the story the killers tell that matters. What matters is the story we tell about them.


3 comments so far…

Stop Torturing Morality

What is torture? When if ever is it legal? Does it ever work?

What has got me intrigued in listening to these Senate hearings this week on fundamental moral issues is how they appear to converse  without having to display any hint of understanding first principles.

Not that they have to agree with these principles- no. But at least their competence as leaders demands they know what they are talking about, particularly if they are advocating radical changes as to how we traditionally determine right from wrong. For instance, if water boarding got some captured Japanese Generals executed in the wake of World War Two, what has changed to make it legal for us? Not I presume because we are not Japanese, or that we didn’t lose a war.

Why no mention of the time tested idea of “the end never justifies the means” which is a core ethical teaching, one with a thousand years of commentary to justify why it is such a core principle. If they want to reverse it, fine-but at least do the hard thinking as to why. Engage in solid  moral reasoning and not sound so political and mercenary. Even argue as former VP Cheney does on the basis of pure pragmatics. It worked, so shut up!  But then, outline why in this case pragmatism serves as one’s moral compass, and if so, show how a society might function on pure pragmatics, where what works determines what’s right. Then intention or motive don’t matter-which if we accepted, we would have to rewrite the entire common law but hey, this is America-results rule. I attempted to murder X but failed so, if there was no consequence, there is no guilt, no crime. Does that work? If it works its fine. It it doesn’t, its a crime.

In law school, you used to learn on day one that extreme cases make for bad law, and again, you can disagree, but at least acknowledge you are reversing the hallowed tradition. Show at least you know  the maxim exists and why it is taught, rather than resort to this tiresome ticking time bomb argument which is trotted out by these supposed great minds.  I would ask my 17 year olds in a high school civics class to demolish this trite example of how to hype the hypothetical. Exceptions normally prove the need for the law rather than overthrow it.  In national emergencies, you suspend the law, but you don’t get the Office of Legal Counsel  to make what is illegal legal. You have the courage to say, ‘Guys, this is normally illegal but urgency demands it. OK? “Lincoln did it. It was eventually declared unconstitutional, but Lincoln knew that and the country understood they were in crisis.

The lack of competency in moral reasoning of some of our elected and formerly elected officials, or their seeming intellectual disdain for this deep field of expertise is alarming. One would think to listen to them that  our torture dilemma is totally new, but the Romans and Greeks and the Turks and  the British all had to deal with it. Britain tortured the Irish and provoked an uprising. The Church tortured heretics and is still making up for it. The glorious history of Torture has yet to be written, though a certain Vice President might be inspired to write it.

These paper thin arguments that parade as moral reasoning collapse when exposed to any critical review. They will eventually be exposed as being not right or wrong but just plain dumb, or even worse, to be parroting the  same arguments that Stalin and Hitler used, to save the Proleteriat from the greedy Kulaks, or the Germans from some mythical Jewish conspiracy. We have been here before but you’d never think so to hear these latter day Plato’s postulating in their own caves on Capital Hill.

When elected officials and members of the administration have to make the hard moral choices, often between two evils, or even between two conflicting goods, they are obligated to make a reasonable case, to follow some traceable path that it recognizable as moral reasoning, knowing that they will have to give an account that stands up to the scrutiny of history. Moral discourse unfortunately cannot be easily disguised in political rhetoric, because we know when someone is stacking the odds, or bluffing.  The reason why we know is that we all make moral decisions. We all know how hard it is at times, so our leaders need to honor us as thinking citizens, and appeal to our brains, not our fears. Torture may be right and torture may be wrong, but to torture the well established field of moral reasoning with such a lame conceptual grasp of the basics is to invent a new form of moral hazard. The jury might in the end find OLC to be not right or wrong, but even worse, to be just plain dumb. Whatever about water tortures, these guys seem out of their depth.



What do you think moral reasoning is, O noble sage?

Sounds like you spent too much time in the library and didn’t get enough sun as a kid, or you liked to read about baseball rather than play it. There are those who play it and those who call it. You are clearly the latter. When the chips are down and the gloves are off, moral reasoning is as useful as seasoning to a thanksgiving turkey, who if he could taste it, I am sure would find it herbaciously satisfying but the dumb bird is dead, carved up with cranberry relish.
And that’s the game we are in here. Torture is what you call it after the fact, and necessity is what you call it before the fact, the next possible terror attack.
If you are wrong about the threat, a prisoner surely suffers but the country knows you played the odds and did everything you could and people felt safe,
and if you are right, the next terror attack means you get accused of not doing enough to get the vital intelligence.

So getting accused of torture is a compliment-a product of hindsight, knowing now what we couldn’t possibly know then, and and a sure sign of the luxury of our success,
and if we we failed, we would be accusing these guys of even worse-that they failed again to protect the homeland, and are worse than torturers, they are traitors.
So in the end, the choice is between traitor or torturer, and moral reasoning is what monks had spacious time to develop to deal with temptations to look at women thru the monastery window. Spare me your misinformed innocence. Reason boils down to making the call with what you got, not what you wish.


NSL were guests at the ATFP and APN forum with the Washington Center last night and lots of good questions came up. The one that we hear a lot is about NSL and normalization…that programs like ours pretend an equality of opportunity while hiding a disparity of power.

The team and the alums answered it well, saying that they give themselves permission to participate on NSL and then decide. For them, that is not how they experienced it. They claim the right to decide for themselves, contrary to the dogmas of those who are full of shoulds and should nots. Normalization sounds to them like a parent voice telling them who they can play with. They resent being treated like children unable to make their own adult decisions.

But there is also another answer which has to do with how you see power. When you think of power as armies and economies and tanks and guns, then there is clearly no balance of power between the sides. One is the occupier and the other is the occupier. But that is a limiting view of power if you think in terms of stories, where stories reflect and create asymmetrical power relations.

Think of the David v Goliath struggles of the last century, eg Vietnam, where the USA won the war and lost the story. Think of how the USSR collapsed. they still had power but the story collapsed into incoherency. Or think of the insurgencies that erupt with no military force but a power over hearts and minds. That is real power.

The battle for peace in Israel Palestine is being raged in the hearts and minds of the world right now, independent of how many rockets get fired or how many bombs dropped. NSL says that stories reach across walls and prejudices and break down barriers, they are a call to conscience and to claim a deeper humanity. The NSL team come to share stories, and there is no equivalence of someone who lives near the beach in Tel Aviv and can travel the world at whim and someone who lives in a refugee camp and can’t go anywhere. If you want to call the act of witness, an act of resistance, then that is what it is. But there is no sense of normalization or papering over the inconvenient truths. That would kill the story.

The real growth happens once one person decides to shut up and actually listen for a change. Then you see the power equation shift dramatically. Israelis are actually hearing and being changed by what they hear their Palestinian team mates are saying. And Palestinians are hearing for the first time the human story of the people who occupy them and how imprisoned they feel in a system that indoctrinates and conscripts them before they are barely old enough to make an adult decision about anything. When 18 year olds in the USA are leaving for college and a new adventure, 18 year olds in Israel are donning a uniform and learning how to operate an M16.

Yet NSL basically agrees with what the normalization critique is saying, but disagrees that the correct conclusion is non-engagement. It draws exactly the opposite conclusion. You speak truth to power, you witness, you challenge, you confront, you resist, you work to get a hearing in the halls of power and in the corridors of your enemies. You do not use lack of physical power as the excuse to not even exercise the moral power you do have, or expect the world to rally to the celebration of your victimhood. As we always say, Rage is not a tactic. If you want to change the world, you have to change the story. And if you have a story, you have power.

“What does he need to do tonight?”

The new question the broadcasters put to the pundits before a election debate.
“She has to be more likable.”
“He has to be more Presidential.”
oh….thanks…how profound.
Since when did two bit pundits know what a candidate needed to do???? One can only Imagine….

Lets cross now to Jerusalem- “Jesus has a campaign rally at the Citadel. What does he need to do, Josephus?”

“Well Moses, he needs to rally the base, the peasants and the shepherds and the samaritan women minority, and at the same time, not rile the Romans who don’t want any disturbances of civic serenity and then in the middle, the Pharisees are going to watch to see if Jesus does sway the undecided. Polls are showing he is winning the poor, illiterate and downtrodden. The Temple see threats in the Galilean Fishermen’s League led by Simon Peter who will support Jesus and the Sadducees against controversial Pharisee leader Caiphas, Its going to be a big debate Moses, and I think Jesus must show his divine side. Enough of his ‘Blessed are the poor ‘cliches. He has to make Judea and Samaria Great Again. Show us his miracles.”

“Do you see,Moses, any chance of violence, or that Jesus followers will react if the Romans move in to quell the festival crowd enthusiasm?”

“No Josephus, if there is one thing that we can be certain of, it is that no one will be crucified this week, because the Pharisees do not have Pilate on side, and Romans love to see the subject people arguing over religion because they can exploit it.”

“Moses, Will Jesus sayings on paying taxes hurt his appeal?”

” It depends Josephus, on whether people think his attack on Wells Fargo money changing table outside the Temple is a stunt or a real effort to show up the 99% Middle Class plight.”

Thanks Moses, we will stay tuned to that unfolding story, and now
we cut to Waterloo.

“Pierre, what does Bonaparte have to do here?”
“Not Lose.”

Now we Cross now to a local story at Gettysburg
” Jefferson, what does Lee have to do here?”
“Not lose.”

We Cross now to CNN
“Wolf, what does CNN need to do here?”
“Not ask dumb ass questions.”
“Then what do our correspondents get to say to the camera?’
“That they need a brain. and another job other than insulting the intelligence of every viewer.”

So that is what they need. Thanks for watching.


Since the Bush-Rove days, the election strategy de jour is win by dividing. Appeal to the basest of bases so you get your ardent voters out to beat the crap out of the other side, and put gay marriage and abortion or God or Hillary as wedge issues on the ballots as extra incentive.

Then you win…just.. and in your very next breath say.. with no hint of irony or shame …its time to unite folks..I wasn’t serious..I was only scaring you to get your vote..I won …so now it’s all ok..what I said about migrants, women, mexicans..nukes, russia, just kidding…come on…please .let’s now come together as Americans.!!! Your vote has made me into a stateman. Crooked Hillary ..lock her up… is now a great public servant. We are all americans.

Trump did not invent this move. It’s the practice. But he mastered it brilliantly.

The hypocrisy is mind boggling, so presumptuous but it’s how people have worked out how to win…at any costs. Slash and burn.

What Lincoln said..a house divided against itself cannot stand…has become… a party that does not divide the house cannot rise.

Who would have thought that we would decide to create a new civil war every 4 years…red v blue, city v country, coast v heartlands, men v women, South v North, just to elect a president. It destroys the very thing you must have to govern. Trust.

A Divider cannot turn into a Uniter in 5 hours, just as someone who has hurt you, threatened you, ignored you, insulted you can suddenly in the space of 5 hours become the great healer of the nation’s wounds. No… have been elected President of the DSA instead of the USA, the Divided States of America. Good luck. You will need it.

My Eulogy for Dad

As a war time navigator, Dad certainly ended up in places that were not on the map of his growing up. Back then, he and brother Steve would play on Aunty Moriah’s property at Warrill Creek and he’d dream of becoming a farmer, saving his pocket money so he and his Dad could buy a few acres.

Life, of course, had other plans.

Dad’s father Martin died when Berny was 17. Next year World War 2 came, and brother Steve died in the AIF defending Singapore when it fell. Dad signed up on Pearl Harbor day…the army, then the RAAF and was commissioned as an officer, sent to fly with RAF Bomber Command. The trajectory of his life changed so dramatically. Even in his later years, this humble Christian Brothers Ipswich boy could not believe his luck.

As the boat steamed up the Brisbane River, on his way to war, Dad remembered looking back at the last landmark on the distant shore-Nazareth House. What lay ahead was a whole other world- San Francisco, New York, London, officer training, navigation school, Squadron 115, 30 combat missions over Europe. In those dangerous days, you were lucky to survive 5 missions. In the RAF he was a leader and as navigator – getting the crew home safely was the difference between life or death. On a Bribie beach 50 years later, when one of his crew Alan Gibbs recognized Berny, he greeted him as “the man who saved my life.”

In that crucible of war, he excelled and he met the love of his life, a stunningly beautiful Air Force nurse, Muriel Thompson, who was not Catholic, not Australian, and who was not exactly what the family had in mind. Dad dared all for love. He brought his new bride home to 36 Alma Street, Clayfield and returned to work with the Commonwealth Bank and went to University to get a Commerce degree.

This aspiring Ipswich farmer boy had taken on Hitler and won, had a beautiful sophisticated wife, and he was a decorated officer. The world was his. Thus had he built the platform to create one amazing life.

68 years of marriage, Bank Manager and CBO Association Vice President, 4 kids, 14 grand kids, 14 great grand kids, his service to the church- the 2 local parishes, the devoted baby sitter, his work with the Oblates, Iona, Rosies, the Passion Play, lay catechist, NCC. Dad always invested his ambitions and inspirations in others. Do your best was never enough- He wanted the best of the best. If Steve or I brought home a 97% mark from Iona Dad would grill us, what happened to the other 3%?

The kids- the grand kids-the great grand kids -they are his legacy. Now Grandpa could be a curmudgeonly old critter but you knew that when times got tough, he would be there for you, with his boots on.

His deep Catholic faith defined him. A few hours before he died, Sister Faustina came over to us after mass and said,”Berny, you are the greatest example of faith we sisters know.”

The lowest points of his long life was losing his first born, our sister Suzy and then Mum, three years ago. But this year, a final high point….funnily enough- back at Aunty Moriahs’ farm- only this time, it is what has become Amberley Air Force base-to receive the Legion of Honor for his role on D Day and the liberation of France. For Dad it was final recognition of his life of service. Aunty Moriah must have smiled.

Last Tuesday morning, I took him to mass, and left him to rest. After lunch, as if he knew, he said his goodbyes to the amazing staff and two hours later he was gone. For this navigator, just as in 1944, Nazareth House was the last sight Berny had of this earthly shore.

Like a good navigator, he left us a map- of how to live, how to serve, and how to die. Weeks before I arrived, Dad had told Jenny and Steve- “I am waiting for Paul to take me home.” I will be forever grateful that he waited, and that he saw in me what we always saw in him- the joy of coming home. May God give him that joy at last.

If you want to change the world, you have to change the story! September 27, 2015

What story?” You ask.
The story that says, “You are wasting your time trying to change anything.”
The story that says, ”Who are you to presume you can do anything that makes a difference to anyone? Are you the Messiah?”
The story that says ”We tried it all before, and it didn’t work then and so obviously it won’t work now.”
The story that says  “Why bother? Just live your own life and make the best of it. No one else gives a dam. Why should you?”
The story that says, “We have always had this story of how we do things, and to mess with that is to insult those who came before you.”
The story that says, “Try it but if you fail, you risk being labeled a loser. Don’t take crazy risks. Be prudent.”
The story that says  ”You have to wait till you are ready, and you are not ready.”
The story that says, “You have to wait till you have enough funds, and you have no funds: you are broke!”
The story that says “You have to wait till you get the right people, and so far, you have the wrong people, merely amateurs.”
The story that says, “You need to get your Harvard degree in change management and your Oxford MBA. Till then, leave it to the experts.”

The story that says” The best minds, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Generals, Popes, Diplomats, Rabbis, Mullahs, and Senators have all tried to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, and you think your little program can possibly do what this pantheon of potentates have failed to do?”

….If you want to change the world, you have to change the story…We know because its been done before:
Selma, Seneca Falls, Stonewall,
Gandhi, FDR, MLK. JFK. LBJ
Jesus, Moses, Abraham,The Prophet. Buddha
Steve Jobs, FDR the Beatles, Obama,
Me and You
……………………………………..(Write your name here)
Come join the Story Change Revolution!

  1. Paul Andrew Costello for New Story Leadership 2015 Team and moving forward to 2016

(Thought I would give myself a little pep talk)


+(That is the motto of New Story Leadership. (