Posted by: philipfontana | January 31, 2018

On Language


On Language

My Pet Peeves: “Existential” & “Geopolitical”

What’s Yours?


Philip Fontana


Pet peeves.


     Excuse us for living, but no matter our age, we all have our little “pet peeves” along the way of life. It sounds petty to complain about such small things in this uncertain political time in which we live; not to mention the horrific natural disasters around the nation and the world, along with acts of terrorism and gun violence. – – I’m depressing myself just writing this.

That being said, putting all that aside (impossible), there must be things, some smaller things, that bother you. I’d be very interested to hear what your “pet peeve” is in the comments section below! You might, for example, hate bloggers like me who would better spend their time reading instead of writing! – – I’ll vote for that one myself! What I have in mind are a few things regarding language usage largely in the news media which have annoyed me in recent years. I thought the time I spend writing this “Excuse Us…” might be well spent researching them.


Philosophy Department: You are Here...But why?


My number one nomination as something that drives me nuts is the use of the term “existential,” usually “existential threat” or “existential crisis,” but never-the-less “existential…,” with this or that tacked on! – – “Existential problem, existential menace, existential pandemic.” (That last one is a whopper!)  – – You name it! It’s “existential” whatever it may be. And the egregious offenders are the news shows (that used to be called “news programs”) coming out of the mouths of the hosts and their guests, not affectionately referred to as “talking heads.”

The term “existential” is not only misused but overused and complicated by its roots in the philosophical term, “existentialism.” Such phrases as “existential threat” and “existential crisis” are used more as clichés, as intensifiers much like the misuse of the word “literally.” Use of the term “existential,” apparently, came from the German form “Existentialismus” in 1919 and came to the English language in 1941 by dropping the “us.” To oversimplify, existentialism is a 19th-20th century philosophy. It questions “how and whether life has meaning, and why we exist,” stressing the importance of “freedom and will instead of reason in confronting problems.” (Anyone remember their college Philosophy 101 or Political Theory 101 and the name Jean-Paul Satre?)

And so, the adjective “existential” does have its roots in the philosophical “existentialism.” The word “existential” can be defined as “of or relating to existence.” When, for example, the phrase “existential threat” is used in political discourse, it refers to “a threat to a people’s existence or survival.” The best I can do to sum up this discussion is to say that when the word “existential” is used on the political talk shows, it makes reference “to survival or to the meaning of our lives.” – – Personally, I still think they throw it in for flare, emphasis, as a cliché. It’s a phrase that should be used with more discretion, in my opinion, and not for verbal flourish!


C Geo Prof


My second pet peeve, again from the political talk shows, is the use of the term “geopolitical.” Now, as a student and teacher of history and political science, I fully understand what they are talking about. But clearly the term is misused and overused. Their use of the term has nothing to do with any geographic aspects whatsoever.

Strictly speaking, at the risk of oversimplification, “geopolitical” refers to “the study or application of the influence of political and economic geography on politics, national power, foreign policy, etc., of a state… or region.” Despite this meaning, speakers misuse the term to make their statements, adding a global flourish to give more importance to their words.

Used correctly, “geopolitical” as an adjective relates to that which “geographical location – – more than culture, history, or ideas – – influences political developments.” In truth, typical uses of the term “geopolitical” in the news media are most often discussing the impact and implications of something globally, perhaps. That’s as close to geography as they get! – – Considerations of geography being far from what the speakers have in mind. Yet, the term “geopolitical” is thrown around, or thrown in, seemingly, for affectation, as a cliché, here once again as in my first pet peeve!


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Excuse us for living, but that feels better! Now I know my annoyance with the use of these terms is justified. The next time I hear them used by people on the news shows I can yell back at the TV with informed, justified confidence! HOW ABOUT YOU???!!! What is a pet peeve or two of yours? I’d be interested to know!  Let me know in the comments section below!

Comments: What is your pet peeve(s)?

Online Sources:,,,,





Posted by: philipfontana | November 29, 2017

8th PastaPost



Eighth PastaPost

Pasta Piselli


Phil & Geri



Excuse us for living, but we owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors in so many ways! In my 6th PastaPost, coincidently, I went into considerable detail as to my family’s modest roots from Sicily in southern Italy. (Go to the bottom of the right margin here and click on “Friday Night/Recipe Posts” to read that 6th PastaPost and look at all PastaPost recipes!) It is that background that I call upon to introduce what I call “peasant food”; i.e., those dishes that every ethnic group has as part of their basic traditional cuisine that go back to “the old country.” And these recipes are handed down to us and perpetuated generation after generation and still enjoyed with much delight.

Now what took me all these years of PastaPosts to get around to this one? I guess that’s because it was one of those “peasant food” staples we grew up with and took for granted. Well, over these recent years we have rediscovered our appreciation for it! I’ve fancied up the name for you, calling it Pasta Piselli, translated, “pasta with peas”! We grew up calling it (and still do!) “spaghetti and peas.” – – That’s right, peas! Oh, not just any type of peas. To get that “just the right flavor” you MUST use those “mushy peas,” wife Geri calls them. – – The canned peas!  “And don’t forget to throw in the pea water from that can!” she directs with humor. – – Enough! We will get to the recipe in a moment. Right now I am concerned with the origin of spaghetti and peas, Pasta Piselli, from my Fontana upbringing. And that leads back to those ancestors I mentioned at the outset!

A Fontana

            Pictured here are my paternal grandparents, Philip & Vinnie Fontana, both born in a little village outside Palermo, Sicily. And yet they met in “America”! I know my grandfather, born in 1892, arrived in 1898 at age six & my grandmother, born in 1899, arrived shortly thereafter, not more than 1 or 2 years old, both at Ellis Island, New York. This beautiful photograph was taken around 1947 after they relocated from Saddle Brook, New Jersey, to Miami, Florida, where they lived for 13 years, until they returned to Saddle Brook in 1960.

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             Quite a period photograph of my maternal grandparents, Peter & Josephine Cannizzaro, taken in the 1930’s in Brooklyn, New York. Not the typical story of an Italian-American family of that era, both my mother’s parents were born here in the USA in New York City; my grandfather in 1896 & my grandmother in 1901. I don’t know the details, but I do know my grandfather, Peter, traveled to his ancestral Sicily with his parents as a child, perhaps for a short period of years, & returned. And my grandmother, Josephine’s parents immigrated from Sicily as well.



If you are following these captions above, I had a “Sicilian Full House” when it came to grandparents on both sides of the family! So this peasant cuisine, this dish known to us as spaghetti and peas, dubbing it now Pasta Piselli, was very Sicilian. Both my parents enjoyed this dish with my sister and me quite often as we grew up. It could have been handed down from either side of the family or both sides. But if I had to guess, I would say this recipe came from my mother’s side, the Cannizzaro family. My mother seemed to prepare the dish with such familiar frequency.

C Peas


And so, Pasta Piselli is not our own unique recipe. What appears below is exactly as my mother, Anna Fontana, made it. It’s just so good! That’s what this is all about; to get you to try it! How could something so simple be so enjoyable? It’s not fine cuisine or a uniquely fabulous dish. It’s just so darn good you want to have it often, again and again. It has a light red sauce as you will see below. And it’s just as good, believe it or not, with or without the garlic in the recipe! But the grated cheese added “to taste” by you, and not mixed into the recipe, is a must and makes this dish what it is! I can taste it just telling you about it!


                                                              …Pasta Piselli


½ cup oil (canola or olive…We use canola)

1 small onion (sliced thin & cut in half)

4-6 cloves garlic (sliced long) (optional)

1  6 oz. can tomato paste

15 oz. can of peas, drained (save liquid!) (We use Del Monte)

1 tsp. dried basil

salt & pepper to taste

grated cheese for individual use at the table (We recommend Pecorino Romano!)

½ lb. spaghetti pasta of your choice (We like Vermicelli)

1 tbs. salt in 3 quarts boiling water


Sauté onion & garlic (if using) in oil in medium sauce pan until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste & fill can twice; use the liquid from the peas for 1 ½ cans & ½ can more water. Add salt, pepper, & basil. Simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add can of peas & simmer 2-3 minutes more. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain in colander. Toss with sauce mixture.

Serve with grated cheese “to taste” individually.

Makes 2 generous servings!


Excuse us for living, but try this recipe and you will make it again and again! – -Sprinkle more cheese on it! — Mangia! – – More cheese!

Comments: Please, before or after you taste this!!!

Posted by: philipfontana | September 20, 2017

David McCullough, Bk #11

David McCullough

Book No. 11

The American Spirit


Philip Fontana


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      “One of our Nation’s most distinguished & honored historians, David McCullough has taken his own place in American history…The United States honors David McCullough for his lifelong efforts to document the people, places, & events that have shaped America.” – -From The Presidential Medal of Freedom Citation, December 2006.



     Excuse Us For Living is proud to bring to you David McCullough’s eleventh book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). David McCullough has put together a collection of some of his speeches over the last three decades. David McCullough makes very clear in the “Introduction” his motivation to publish these speeches at this time of “uncertainty and contention;” “…who we are and what we stand for, of the high aspirations that inspired our founders, of our enduring values, and the importance of history as an aid to navigate in such troubled, uncertain times.”

[You can find discussion of all the other ten books by David McCullough right here on this website. Just go to the right margin and click on “Book Reviews” where you can click again “D. McCullough,” Bks #1-5, #6-9, & #10. It has been my delight to have read all eleven of his books.]

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        Above, David McCullough’s latest book of speeches, published by Simon & Schuster, 2017 (171 pages). In addition to two National Book Awards & two Pulitzer Prizes, David McCullough has also twice won the Frances Parkman Prize. Along the way to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom & fifty-four honorary doctorates, David McCullough is also the recipient of the following honors; the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, & the Gold Medal for Biography from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.


Over the years, David McCullough spoke at historic events at the Capitol and the White House, college commencements, historical societies and other institutions. His speeches were inspiring or informative, and many were both! In broad terms, the speeches are about our nation’s history, the people that were part of our American story, education and its many aspects, the most important being books and reading, and all things cultural from literature to art, music, science, and more.

David McCullough’s overall thrust here is the importance of history as a guide to America’s values and character. He fears that too many Americans are ignorant of the history that can enrich and guide our views for the present and the future. He says that history can inform people’s understanding of contemporary events and remind us of our basic values through the people that made America what it is today. What comes through strongest are decency, truth, good-heartedness, bravery, civility, optimism, hope, and “the drive to reinvent ourselves.” David McCullough seeks through his speeches to reassure people that their present fears and concerns have been felt by others in our past history and overcome!

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          David McCullough, as he appeared addressing a joint session of Congress, in 1989, for the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1779-1989. Few “private citizens” have had the distinct honor of addressing a joint session of the United States Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.


The Speeches and Their Overall Themes/Content/Messages:

#1. 1989, A joint session of the United States Congress, the Capitol, the House Chamber, Washington, D.C., the 200th/Bicentennial of Congress, 1789-1989; biographies of the great people of the Congress.

#2. 1994, Commencement, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; addressing the problems of America’s cities through studies programs at each city’s university(ies).

#3. 1994, Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony; Thomas Jefferson, all he did and stood for as a model for these new citizens.

#4. 1994, Commencement, Union College, Schenectady, New York; this the first architectural “open plan” campus and first interdenominational college in America.

#5. 1998, Commencement, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Benjamin Rush, founder of Dickinson College in 1773, doctor, educator, and more, ranks among the outstanding Americans of colonial times and of all time.

#6. 1998, Commencement, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts; the lessons of history, “history is philosophy taught with examples,” Harry Truman said, “The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”

#7. 1999, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; the U.S. Presidents and the Presidency.

#8. 2000, The White House, Washington, D.C., the 200th Anniversary of the first President, John Adams, to occupy the “President’s House” in 1800; the story of our second President, John Adams, arriving from the previous capital of Philadelphia, wife Abigail’s arrival two weeks later, and their brief four months there in the unfinished mansion due to Adams’ defeat for re-election by Thomas Jefferson.

#9. 2001, sometime after the September 11 attack upon the World Trade Center, at a meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Providence, Rhode Island; the intersection of our great historic buildings and the “actors” of their time giving us today a sense of presence of our Founding Fathers.

#10. 2004, Commencement, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio; the story of the University’s founding by the Reverend Manasseh Cutler as an outgrowth of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and how education is the basis of our democracy and “happiness.”

#11. 2005, Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan; the importance of history to plan for the future with knowledge of the past and the teaching of history and teacher training.

#12. 2007, 250th Birthday of the Marquis De Lafayette, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania; Lafayette’s contributions to winning the American Revolution, his 1824 yearlong U.S. visit and celebration tour of all 24 states, the unique American-French relationship and alliance over the centuries, and the great Americans in all fields of endeavor studying in Paris in the 1800’s and beyond.

#13. 2008, Commencement, Boston College, Boston , Massachusetts; learning and education are more than facts and information, they are attained through “ardor” or hard work by reading books, leaving the graduates with the charge to, “Read. Read, read!”

#14. 2013, November 22, 50 year commemoration of the loss of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas; J.F.K.’s own words, ideals, and inspiration.

#15. 2016, Meeting of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, the Capitol, Statuary Hall, Washington, D.C.; the building itself, its people from the Congress to the common folk such as the police, barbers, tour guides, etc., the 3-5 million visitors per year, the historic events that took place there, and the architects, engineers, sculptors and artists that contributed to its creation.


Excuse Us For Living cannot sum it all up and say it better than the author himself. In David McCullough’s own words about our History:


“It is a story like no other, our greatest natural resource. It is about people, and they speak to us across the years…Yes, we have much to be seriously concerned about, much that needs to be corrected, improved, or dispensed with. But the vitality and creative energy, the fundamental decency, the tolerance and insistence on truth, and the good-heartedness of the American people are there still plainly.”


Thank you, David McCullough, for your book #11. And may God grant you the years to write a book #12 & more.

Comments: Please!

Sources: David McCullough’s book, The American Spirit, 2017  


Posted by: philipfontana | August 2, 2017

More Vietnam, No. 4



More Vietnam, No. 4

Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

Dogs, Movies, & Carpenters!


Philip Fontana



     Excuse us for living, but having already told my top favorite anecdotes from my military service in Vietnam (in “More Vietnam, No. 2 & 3,” found in the bottom right margin here), does not mean there are not more “gems” humorous and worthy to share. These are shorter vignettes and so I’ll combine a few here that are loosely connected.

As with my posts relating humorous stories that I experienced in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam in 1970, I feel I must give my apology for writing humorously about Vietnam. So Many thousands of G.I.s gave their lives or were severely wounded. (See “My Vietnam, 1970,” for the tragic numbers, also bottom right margin here.)


     These side-by-side photos give a “panoramic view” of our 97th Military Police Battalion Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. The photos are marked with designated names of buildings. Of importance to the anecdotes about to be told here are: top right, “Bn Offices: S-1, S-2, S-3,” center “New S-4,” left “HHD Barracks,” and right of center, “Bn Movie and “Mess Hall.” This was the “studio lot” of my Vietnam anecdotes that were more like a M*A*S*H TV series experience for me! 


“They Shoot Dogs, Don’t They?”

B Offices

     It was 1969 when Sydney Pollack adapted the 1935 novel, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” into a film starring Jane Fonda. – -The story of a dance marathon during the Great Depression. So in 1970 Vietnam when the order was given by the Commanding Officer, the CO, a full bird Colonel, to put together a shotgun squad to shoot packs of wild dogs running around Cam Ranh, it was natural for us to adopt the phrase, “They shoot dogs, don’t they?” Army companies had adopted dogs as mascots and when the puppies became too many, they were abandoned and formed packs roaming the sand dunes of Cam Ranh. Any danger these packs of dogs posed was never mentioned. The CO’s Office was located in S-1 in the above photo. And we, the Headquarters Company MP clerks, worked in the various offices pictured here in S-1, S-2, S-3, and S-4, everything from personnel to supply. That’s me sitting on that platform in front of the offices. The shotgun squad, under the direction of a not too bright and not too respected S-2 Sergeant, was made up of clerks pulled temporarily, from time to time, from our office desk jobs, over a period of several weeks, to do this dirty duty. Needless-to-say, we were horrified! Somehow, I was not assigned “dog duty”…at first. In between this duty the Sergeant was subjected to surreptitious “barks” from we the “underground” as he walked about the Battalion area. – -So much so, that the order came down from the CO, “There shall be no more barking in the Headquarters area.”

C Greg Butler

     Pictured here is my “bunk-mate,” Greg Butler from Toledo, Ohio. Greg was the Commanding Officer’s chief clerk in S-1, a position which did carry a good bit of weight and influence. “Bunk-mates” meant we shared a living area or “hooch” with bunk-beds, fan, lockers, refrigerator, frying pan, coffee pot, etc. Pictured here, Greg is standing next to a desk and liquor cabinet we built together out of shipping pallets. In these close quarters, we knew everything there was to know about one-another Through discussions we shared attitudes and viewpoints, including how we felt about shotgun squads shooting dogs. None of us liked what was going on and, as you might guess, I was very vocal about my opposition…in the barracks!


       Look at this seemingly innocent beach photo at the South China Sea for a Battalion Headquarters Company BBQ. – -Two great guys in the foreground, Chick Plummer, left (I actually spoke to him on the telephone just yesterday!), and Mick Kirkeby, right. But if you look closely, you will see, center back, the dude in the Army fatigues and cap. That’s the XO or Executive Officer, second in command to the CO. He was a Major and charged with overseeing the dog shooting detail. He assigned our S-2 Sergeant to go out in the sand dunes and direct our shotgun squad.

E Outside S-4

     That’s me during off-hours in “civvies” outside our S-4 Office. S-4 was in charge of the supply rooms of the Battalion’s five MP Companies and our Headquarters Company needs. Notice that it was a mere 3-4 steps from the BN S-4 door to the rounded green “Quonset hut” on the right. That’s very important…because that Quonset hut led directly to the CO’s Office, the XO’s Office, and my bunkmate Greg Butler’s desk! After a number of safaris killing dogs with shotguns and continued “barking” at our Sergeant, the XO marched up to Butler’s desk and asked, “Butler, do you know if anybody would refuse to shoot dogs if ordered to do so?” Without losing a beat, Butler replied, “Yes, Sir! Specialist Fontana!” – -Now that’s a real buddy for you! – -Butler’s idea of a practical joke!

F Me Polaroid 

     That’s me at my S-4 desk. It’s a “photo of a photo” because this Polaroid photo scans in poorly. But it is so reminiscent of my job and days in Vietnam that 1970 year. The outer door right in front of my desk swung open with a bang. In walked the XO who said to me, “Fontana, I hear that if I order you to shoot dogs, you would refuse.” “No, Sir!” I replied. “I’m not shotgun qualified. And according to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army qualified on the shooting range.” – -I was referring to the encyclopedia size set of books across the way in my S-4 Office, the United States Code of Military Justice, that I just happened to read up on doing a little research. “Carry on, Fontana,” said the XO. “Yes, Sir!” said I with a salute.


“Roll Camera, Action!”


G Movie    

     Look closely at this photo. You can’t miss the roof marked “Mess” for mess hall. And if you look very closely to the right you see labelled, “Movie Screen” and “Bleachers & Projection Booth.” We had a new movie EVERY NIGHT, seven days a week! It was a great morale booster and located right across the Headquarters Company area from our HHD Barracks. The problem was that you needed projectionists. And everyone lived in fear of being asked to serve as one due to the “jeers” and “boos” when something went wrong in the middle of a movie like the film breaking!

H Projection

      That’s me in my civvies again sitting on the movie bleacher seats to the right of the projection booth. You can see the blocked front opening window for the projector. Well, as if my luck had run out, my S-4 Office Captain informed me, “Fontana, you’re going to be a projectionist!” “I can’t, Sir,” I responded. “According to USCMJ number [such and such], you must be Army trained and qualified as a projectionist.” – -I was getting pretty good at playing this Army game! The Captain found a training school for projectionists right on Cam Ranh. And so after a long delay with the scheduled classes that took weeks, I was put on the Projectionist Roster…after one more ploy/excuse, to get my laminated projectionist license card! – The guys never forgot that first night I showed a movie. I arrived early and spliced together with Scotch tape all the film cuttings on the projectionist booth floor from films past that had broken off. – -I can still hear all the “boos”! It was great!



Lee and Ho Chi


I Lee Ho Chi

     Ah, Lee and Ho Chi! – -They were our Vietnamese carpenters working out of my S-4 Office for Headquarters Company. – -Lee on the left and Ho Chi to the right. – -Again, a “photo of a photo” due to the Polaroid picture with not enough pixels to scan in well. You can see in the photo from my scrapbook memorabilia including my “dog tags.” Lee was 34 at the time, the Vietnamese looking older than their years. Ho Chi, a grandfather, usually wearing a traditional Vietnamese hat, looked ancient! The G.I.s nicknamed him “Ho Chi” after North Vietnam Chairman Ho Chi Minh. They worked under the supervision of a great guy, SGT Jerry Word from Start, Louisiana. His southern drawl had no effect on Lee and Ho Chi’s English. They managed to speak to us in simple English phrases. But prominent in their speech, as with all Vietnamese working for the military, was military slang like “ti ti” for “small/little” and “beaucoup” for “large/a lot” (from French occupation ending in 1954). And then “number one” for “very good” and “number ten” for “no good.” Of course foul language was a prerequisite for Vietnamese dealing with G.I.s; “God damn” and “huck”! (You can translate that last one!)

     With that backdrop and that photo above showing the white movie screen and bleacher seats next to the mess hall, the stage is set for Lee and Ho Chi. The movie screen was plywood mounted on telephone poles, at least 20 ft. by 8 ft., painted white. – -Just like an old drive-in movie screen. Lee and Ho Chi were assigned to repaint the movie screen a fresh coat of white. Apparently, the division of labor, Vietnamese style, was Ho Chi on the ladder with gallon paint can and brush in hand and Lee on the ground holding the ladder. From the top of the ladder, Ho Chi dropped the gallon of paint which landed on Lee’s big toe. The two of them came directly into our S-4 Office. – -Lee hobbling and shouting, “Ho Chi number ten huckin’ no good!” – – We got the message. Lee’s toe was “chop meat” and he was immediately off to the dispensary. Lee survived with bandaged foot, hobbling around for weeks, struggling to do his carpentry work, mumbling, “Ho Chi number 10 no good!”

J Lee Village       

      A fitting ending to these anecdotes is this photo of our trip to Lee’s village and house. SGT Jerry Word, Lee’s boss, took me there. It was a half hour or more ride from Cam Ranh Bay across the bridge to the mainland and down the main road. It was a Catholic village. And as you see, children came out in droves…so sweet. Some of the children were Lee’s. That’s Lee’s house behind us with Lee in the white shirt, Jerry Word kneeling, and me at Lee’s shoulder. This was very special for us and Lee too, proud and honored.



     Excuse us for living hopes you got some enjoyment reading and “seeing” these anecdotes from my Vietnam experiences. We worked hard there too at our assigned jobs, ten hours a day. And we knew we had it good with air conditioned office jobs, but for the occasional rocket attacks. But we also saw the humor during our time there and maybe that helped us get through it all and come home.

Comments: Please!

Sources: memories, scrapbook photos, & a little Wikipedia!




Posted by: philipfontana | May 17, 2017

Economic Inequality

Economic Inequality

and the

Threat to Our Republic:

Economic Inequality to Political Inequality to Demagogue to Tyrant


Philip Fontana


         “Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, currently displayed in the House of Representatives wing in the Capitol building, Washington, D.C. (20 x 30 ft.). One of our most famous paintings depicts the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, September 17, 1787, at which the U.S. Constitution was signed. On the right side of the dais stands George Washington, president of the Convention. Seated, painting center, can be seen prominently Benjamin Franklin & Alexander Hamilton. The framers at the Convention envisioned a strong middle class to ground the republic.



     “Excuse Us For Living” as a website has had more articles on the economy than any other topic. That is surprising in that I pride myself in not being “pigeon holed” and write on all sorts of topics. In fact, the very first post here, five plus years ago, was spawned out of a newspaper commentary I wrote, the essence of which said; “We’re not a bunch of greedy old Baby Boomers with our hands out collecting entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, and pensions. We’ve worked all our lives and it just happens to be our turn to retire.”

The last time I addressed the topic of economic inequality I was talking about Thomas Piketty’s book, Capitol in the Twenty-First Century, 2013. (To see that, go to the bottom of the right margin here and click on “National Economy” and then click on “Inequality” to go to the article.) To oversimplify and summarize, Piketty’s central thesis was as follows; inequality of wealth is not an accident, but rather a feature of capitalism, and can only be reversed through government intervention/politics/legislation. Needless-to-say, Piketty’s book shook and swept the economic and government scene into a frenzy.

Piketty’s book was the last monumental say on the subject until now; enter this spring a new book by Ganesh Sitaraman, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, March 14, 2017, Alfred A. Knopf, at only 423 pages. Sitaraman brings Piketty’s “economic inequality as a feature of capitalism” home to America by arguing that a strong and sizable middle class is a prerequisite for America’s constitutional system.

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        Ganesh Sitaraman’s new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, published by Alfred A Knopf, March, 2017. Sitaraman’s book makes the case that a prosperous middle class is a necessity for American’s constitutional system to succeed. The author gives America a stark choice: “Will we accept rising economic inequality & risk oligarchy or will we rebuild the middle class & reclaim our republic?”

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         Ganesh Sitaraman, author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic, Harvard educated, is an associate professor of law, Vanderbilt Law School, & senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He is longtime adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). He has served as her policy director as well as her senior counsel. Sitaraman has published on foreign policy as well as domestic policy in numerous periodicals including The New York Times, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, & The Christian Science Monitor. He won the Palmer Prize for Civil Liberties in 2013 for his book, The Counterinsurgent’s Constitution: Law in the Age of Small Wars.



     Ganesh Sitaraman’s book provides historical context to his thesis. He makes the case that throughout history civilizations from the Greeks forward were concerned about economic inequality leading to political inequality, instability, class warfare, and constitutional revolution. As a result, the great republics – – Rome, Florence, Venice, England – – had, what Sitaraman calls, “class warfare constitutions.” These governments designed different systems to prevent the clashing of rich and poor. The idea was to prevent “economic conflict” from becoming “constitutional revolution.” These governments took it as a “given” that inequality would exist and built in “checks.” They created various bodies within the government to represent the different classes of people. Balancing power was the objective to prevent one economic group from dominating. – – Simple example; England’s Parliament with the nobility in the House of Lords and the commoners in the House of Commons.

Enter the American Constitution. The author says that our Constitution is different in that it is not based on the assumption that class conflict is inevitable. He calls it “a middle-class constitution” which assumes “relative economic equality” with the middle class remaining dominant; the prerequisite of our republic! Sitaraman points out that the framers of the Constitution purposely adopted a design with no class distinction for the Senate or the House of Representatives, rich or poor. He explains that our founding fathers lived in a society of relative economic equality in contrast to Old World Europe. America offered available land to the west and with it economic opportunity.

     The author does an admirable job marching through American history with countervailing developments that maintained the middle class. – – Jacksonian Democracy; abolishing property ownership to qualify for voting and dismantling the National Bank. – – Abraham Lincoln and the new Republican Party; ending slavery and the expansion of our class of free working people. My favorite examples start with the Populist and Progressive Eras of the late 19th-early 20th centuries to off-set the wealth of the Gilded Age. – – Think anti-trusts, progressive income tax, the Federal Reserve System, direct election of U.S. Senators, and social reforms from the Pure Food and Drug Act to child labor laws, and more. Naturally, FDR’s New Deal programs and economic legislation to counter the Great Depression are paramount examples, along with the GI Bill in post-World War II America, all building the middle class. He ends with LBJ’s Great Society programs; Medicare. Medicaid, and Head Start. For the middle class it was a society more equal economically than in generations.

Author Ganesh Sitaraman, having established the historical and political context, then goes for the jugular. – – The problem being that the foundation of our middle class constitution, “the prerequisite of relative economic equality,” is crumbling! Despite more than eight years having passed since the onslaught of the Great Recession, “disparities in economic power are at the forefront of popular debate.” Economic inequality is still on the rise with an increasing share of the wealth going to the top 1 percent and even more so for the top 0.1 percent of the people.

Concern then turns to economic inequality changing our system of governing into one of political inequality. “The system is rigged” to work for the wealthy and corporate interests, buying influence through campaign funding and “armies of lobbyists.” The result is outrage from both “the populist right” and “the progressive left.” (I hear Trump supporters and Bernie supporters!)

In conclusion, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution ends with a cataclysmic warning. Clearly, rising inequality threatens America’s middle class republic. The wealthy will stop advocating policies that promote the common good and, rather, support policies that lead to their private benefit. This will lead to the wealthy thinking “they are inherently better than the poor and that they alone are worthy of the right to govern.” – – The result? Our republic will slowly and silently be transformed into an oligarchy. And then with no political recourse from the elites, people will turn to a demagogue. (Are we already there with Trump?) That leaves only one dangerous step left; the demagogue overthrows the government and we are left with a tyrant.

Excuse us for living, but Ganesh Sitaraman provides us with the historic underpinnings to understand the predicament we face today as a nation, as do people around the world as well facing economic inequality. History tells us it is time to find the means to re-establish and grow the middle class through some government mechanism(s) to correct the imbalance and redistribute wealth. We have done so in the past. We must do so once again.

Comments: Please!


The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, by Ganesh Sitaraman, Alfred A. Knopf, Mar, 2017

“When the Rich Get Richer,” by Angus Deaton, The New York Times Book Review, Mar, 2017

“How the Disappearing Middle Class Threatens Our Democracy,” by Kristen Miller, online “Moyers & Company,” March 24, 2017

“Can the American republic survive extreme economic inequality?” by James Pope, The Washington Post, April 7, 2017

“Can the Country Survive Without a Strong Middle Class?” by Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic, March 21, 2017

Wikipedia online; factual content




Posted by: philipfontana | March 29, 2017

Repair & Replace, Part 4

Repair & Replace, Part 4

Getting Ready/Not Yet “For Sale”


Philip Fontana

1 Size HouseRecent

         Our 1885 Dutch Colonial as it has looked in recent years. Sad to say, we had to cut down our dear 150 year old & large sugar maple tree. It had to go. – – Just part of the latest house update that follows!



     Excuse us for living in one house for 42 years now. This being Part 4 in our house saga demonstrates that it will take a year or two to ready our 1885 Dutch Colonial in Montville, New Jersey, for sale. You can refer back to the previous “installments” I’ve written about by going to the archived articles in the right margin here, scroll down to the bottom, and click on “Our Old House.”

2 Size CoalBin

        Here I am in the old “coal bin,” August, 2016. The coal bin in our basement was long replaced before our years in the house by a gas run steam heat furnace. But the old coal bin remains! – – Pretty neat with a wooden partition & slot for a “door” or hatch that slid up to let coal slide out the bottom to shovel into an old coal furnace. We still find small chunks of coal in the basement, around the yard, & buried along the Morris Canal bank behind our property. You can see the coal shoot next to me here in the photo, where coal was delivered outside & sent down the shoot pipe into the coal bin. – – Neat!


     The issue in the coal bin was the field stone. You can make out in the photo here that I covered it with cement. The problem was that, due to the field stone at the base of the foundation, water leaked into the coal bin two or three times a year when we experienced torrential rains for extended periods of time. So, last August 2016, I spent three weeks fixing the problem. I mixed and patched up the field stone with upwards of 400 lbs. of cement, not an easy feat in confined quarters. – – I used my old wheel barrel right in the coal bin to mix the cement! In the process, I bricked-up and cemented the far end of the coal shoot as well. And, like all water problems with foundations, I topped off the job with 400 lbs. of topsoil outside the coal bin foundation wall where the plush, deep pachysandra over the years hid the fact that the ground had sunk creating a “swimming pool” of water during heavy rains.

Next up, the dying 150 year old sugar maple tree!

3 Size Tree Dying

      Here is a more recent side photo of the house with the old sugar maple tree. Already, however, the tree shows that it has been cut back from over the house over the years & branches toward the street had died & were cut down.

4 Size OriginalHouse

        Compare the tree in the above photo to same tree in this old photo of the house, more the way it looked in 1975 when we moved in. – -Before we had the beautiful porch with 5 white columns enclosed into a family room. The tree grew even more over those years before its decline. At one point, it reached the second chimney mid-roof, & you could see the leaves & branches out of the upstairs windows, front & back of the house!

5 Size No Tree

         Here is that same side shot of the house without the tree, cut down late August, 2016. It broke our hearts to have it cut down. But the tree was reduced to only three thriving branches.


The tree had been an issue for years and years, i.e., having dead branches cut down as the tree failed. It got to the point of having the tree service guys here every other year to cut down two branches or so. And in recent years, discussions turned to “taking down the tree.” The bone of contention to me was not the $4000 expense as much as the means by which to take the tree down. Various tree outfits wanted to bring in a huge crane: place it on my neighbor’s driveway; or remove a portion of our fence along the road and place it, one “leg” of the crane on our property, and the other leg on the street, hiring the police to direct traffic. But long ago I read that you can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. And I wanted the old tree taken down the old fashion way by hand!!!

6 Size TreeSlabs

        And here is the result! – -The slabs, or “rounds,” of wood taken down section by section, the last week of August, 2016. My neighbor introduced me to someone who ran a tree service that did not use heavy equipment. Two men took down the tree by hand! One man climbed the tree & cut 18 inch slabs/rounds & pushed them off the top of the tree to the ground. The other man laid the rounds on the patio to form a “bed of wood.” Once the tree was cut to the level of the gutter of the old porch roof, the men cut the trunk & down came the remainder of the tree. The trunk was cut into rounds. They carted the rounds by hand with a large/high hand truck or cart across my driveway to my neighbor’s property! My neighbor wanted the wood. Pictured here are most, but not all, of the rounds. And the branches were cut & stacked into piles.

7 Size AsbestosRemoval

         But the biggest triumph is pictured here; asbestos removal from the basement heating pipes. – – February, 2017, by me with respirator mask & eye goggles; four weeks of work, 3-4 hours a day, 45-50 hours total. The job turned out to be 45 linear feet removed & replaced with $359 of new pipe insulation. I took 84 lbs. of water sprayed asbestos pipe covering sections & loose asbestos from pipe fittings at corners & joints, double plastic bagged & sealed with duct tape, to Morris County’s hazardous waste facility for disposal. Here I am pictured holding two old asbestos sections of pipe covering & standing below the new white insulation that I installed on the heating pipes above me. 



     Excuse us for living here so long, as I said at the outset of this piece. Before we can think about a “For Sale” sign on our house, among other smaller items to address, there is one more major item to replace or try to sell the house “as is”…

8 Size Old Wiring

– – The old electric wiring, knob & tube, 70% of the house electrical system. 


Comments: Please!

Sources:  What sources? This is hell!   


Posted by: philipfontana | January 31, 2017

Principal’s Stories #1


A Principal’s Stories, No. 1

The Snow Day


Philip Fontana


     Excuse us for living, if I repeat myself here. But as educators all of us have enough stories to cause us to say that familiar phrase, “I could write a book.” (See in the right margin here, at the bottom, “Education,” for “A Teacher’s Stories, No. 1”) In this instance, I take the liberty to fast-forward from my teaching years to my years as principal to relate a story that will forever stand out in my memory as the most bizarre and, yet, endearing of them all.


      High Mountain Road School, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, 1962 to the present, on High Mountain Road, near the “circle,” on Franklin Lakes Road, at the well-known Market Basket strip mall. It’s just down the road a bit coming out of urban Paterson, New Jersey, as surprising a change in landscape as that is. Decades ago going from Paterson to Franklin Lakes was crossing into a new world, from city to countryside. It was the “Urban Farms” housing developments of the late 1950’s-early 1960’s that put Franklin Lakes on the map. The McBride family started it all with luxury homes and swim club and golf club. The first stories I recall growing up in Paramus, down the road from Franklin Lakes in Bergen County, were of professional baseball players buying lavish homes in a place called Franklin Lakes. By the time I arrived in 1988 as “HMR’s” (High Mountain Road School’s) third principal, Franklin Lakes had become quite affluent and HMR was in the “most affluent of the affluent” areas of town.



     This story from the early 1990’s starts as just a typical “snow day” for the four schools making up Franklin Lakes Public Schools, three elementary and one middle school. As principals, we got “the call” from our superintendent of schools somewhere in the range of five to six o’clock in the morning that the schools would be closed due to the snow and road conditions. This particular snow fall, as I recall, was in the four inch range, but with the potential to continue snowing through the day. It doesn’t take much in New Jersey to close down the public schools! Curious to the public, whether teachers could get to the schools with the road conditions weighed as importantly as the safety of the children riding school buses. We then as principals initiated our “telephone chain,” calling pre-selected teachers on our listing, who in turn called the next teacher on the list and so on down the line. As the years past, a PTA parent was included in order to initiate a PTA telephone chain to parents.


     Here I am at my desk in my office at High Mountain Road School, dressed casually for a snow day. In those days, we were in suit and tie for regular school days, naturally. But on a snow day we could relax the dress code. In most school districts, principals stayed home on snow days just like the teachers and children. But somewhere along the line in Franklin Lakes Schools, the new superintendent started saying, “Take your time getting in to school. Drive safely. We’ll have a meeting at my office at 1:00.” – – That did not go over well with my fellow old timer principals! 



     This particular snow day, I arrived at HMR around 8:30 AM, in contrast to my usual 7:30. School started at 9:00 AM. Teachers “signed in” by 8:50, if my memory serves me correctly. On a normal operating day, school buses were rolling in by 8:40 with two teachers “on duty” outside in the two respective line-up areas for the children. But this was a snow day, right? – – Well sort of. – – Apparently not for everyone!

Somewhere approaching 9:00 AM, the time school started, I thought I heard something outside my office. My office was somewhat adjacent to the front door line-up area. I went out my office side door to the hallway near the double-front doors to HMR. And there at the front doors, right up to the glass, in the snow, were three lonely little boys. “Mom” had driven them to school as was her custom, not taking advantage of school bus service, and dropped them off at the curb under the bus portico and driven off!


     The High Mountain Road School faculty was everything a principal could ask for in a teaching staff. They were more like a private school faculty, highly intelligent, capable individuals, with substantive interests in their own right. As their principal, I was there to support them and not impede them. I took pride striving to be “a teacher’s principal,” having taught half the years of my career. By that I meant that “teachers came first,” and that if I served them well, students would be best served, and parents to follow. Maximizing instructional time meant everything to my teachers. I called this faculty photo, taken at the opening teachers’ meeting of each school year, a “crazy photo.” Everyone was asked to do something silly as a pose with the idea that humor would help us through the upcoming school year. You have to checkout Al Manfredi, second from photo right, sticking our his tongue! He was our in-house philosopher, loved & respected by all. That’s me, photo left, in the blue suit.



Well. Obviously, Mrs. “So-And-So” didn’t get word that this was a snow day.  – -I know. – – You can say it. – – At the time, I could not! So here I was with three nice little boys to welcome into the school building and make them feel welcome and secure and not feel bad in any way just because Mom had “goofed.” The first thing we did together, naturally, was to “call Mom.” – – No answer on her home telephone, before the days of cell phones. We left a “polite message” that there was, “No school today, Mrs. So-And-So. It’s a snow day.” That being done and without my crackerjack teachers, it was “bonding time” for me and three of my students, who I really knew out of the 230 some children in my charmed little school, but was about to get to know very well before this saga was over. The facts were that I had a one o’clock meeting at the superintendent’s office with him and the other three principals and the director of special services, but I also had three little boys on my hands!

Now let’s pause to spell things out here succinctly, what was off the top of my head at the time. – – A snow day! No, there was no such thing as a school website in those days. But there was or were…

  1. a PTA telephone chain
  2. radio and TV announcements of school closings
  3. no school buses on the roads passing houses and at bus stops
  4. no teachers’ cars parked in the school parking lot
  5. no parent cars dropping off children
  6. no school buses pulling up to the bus portico and dropping off children
  7. no crossing guard on the road directing traffic
  8. no teachers on bus duty
  9. no principal scurrying about checking on things
  10. no children milling around and lining up

But there was one lonely car parked in the snow covered parking lot in its usual parking space; mine! And what did this mother do? She just drove in as usual and dropped off her dear little boys. And they really were “dears.” I told myself, with such nice little boys, this mom must have some redeeming qualities!

So, what did I do? I refer to the boys and me “bonding” above. Oh, I telephoned “Mom” twice more…no answer and left similar, simple messages as the first call. As is my way of looking at things, I then called upon everything at my disposal; an entire school! – – First, a ride on the principal’s famous “book cart” through the hallways! – – Faster, faster! – – Again and again! Then there was an entire gymnasium at their disposal, a boy’s dream, with all sorts of equipment! – – Next, the library, with books and more galore! – – And then, of course, the principal’s office with my stash of children’s books and amusing things. And, how about the boys’ lunch boxes! Mom remembered to pack those! The boys had “snack time” and, yes, as you may be concluding already, this “adventure” stretched out to “lunchtime” and eating their lunches.

By now it was 12:30 PM and I was supposed to be at that meeting at the “super’s” office by 1:00. But guess who rolled into the parking lot at 12:30? – – Mrs. So-And-So, Mom! The boys were having a grand time with the principal but I guess it was time to go! Mom was here! “Hi, Mrs. So-And-So,” I said. “We had a snow day today.” “I was out shopping,” said she. “Did you hear the messages I left for you?” I said. “Yes, thank you. I’m very sorry,” she said. “If you ever pull into the parking lot and no cars are here, that means there is no school,” I said. I walked to her car with the boys and as they got in the car I told her, “The boys and I really bonded together, quality time.” “Thanks,” she said.

“Excuse Us For Living” may have had his “finest hour” here. Make that about three and one-half finest hours!

Comments: Please!

Sources: my memory!


Posted by: philipfontana | November 30, 2016




My Life Anchors


Philip Fontana


     Excuse us for living, but over the years of our lives many of us find we have need to call upon sources for spiritual sustenance. We need these fountains of strength to get through difficult or demanding moments or chapters in our lives. I look at these sources as my life anchors. These are very “portable” entities, separate from or outside customary church-going and organized religion. I refer to these anchors as “spiritual-lite.” They offer guidance, comfort, strength; solace, if you will.

The first is “Desiderata,” Latin for “desired things.” This poem, written in prose, words to live by, was very popular in the 1970’s and I found it personally instructive and inspirational. I used it in my middle school history classroom with my students. It hung on my podium as a poster and I would play a popular 1971 spoken word recording of it made by TV and radio talk show host Les Crane. I would go over the text with my students for its meaning. It is a neat recording recited well by Les Crane with a musical background sung by a choir or chorus.

Once read or heard, most people are curious where “Desiderata” came from. It does not help that there are copies floating around that say, “author anonymous, c. 1620. Baltimore, Spain. from the wall of a monastery.” Actually, it originated as a poem written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann. The music was added later, composed by Fred Werner. “Desiderata” was saved from obscurity in 1956 by Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, Maryland. He included it as part of a “compilation” of devotional materials for his congregation. On the cover page was printed, “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore AD 1692,” the date of the founding of the church! These words had nothing to do with “Desiderata,” but so began the various mistaken corruptions of the poem’s derivation!


            Max Ehrmann. 1872-1945, of German descent, was an American writer, poet, & attorney from Terre Haute, Indiana. Spiritual themes were characteristic of his works. Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem, “Desiderata,” achieved notoriety in the decades after his death, recognized today with a statue honoring him in his hometown.


“Desiderata” – – the recording – – peaked at #8 on the “Billboard Chart” in 1971 and won a Grammy! Here is the URL to click on (if it works for you) or “copy and paste” it to go to YouTube to listen to it. It’s really nice! – – Or just read it here as follows. You may find as I did, the poem offers wise precepts by which to live. – – First, the URL.



Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it’s a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

                                 –Max Ehrmann

     The second of my spiritual-lite anchors is “Footprints,” referred to as a poem, but to me it is more of a spiritual narrative. It comes in a least four versions, including an alternative title, “Footprints in the Sand,” often accompanied by an appropriate photograph.

Here again, the authorship of “Footprints” is disputed among dozens of people, a discussion of which I will spare you. However, the source and inspiration was indisputably conceptualized in a 19th century “footprints imagery” traced to the opening paragraph of a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a British preacher, in 1880. – – I’ll spare you the details here as well.

“Footprints” was introduced to me in the form of a plaque, given to me by a teacher when I was a principal. Reading “Footprints” for the first time is truly special. If you never read it, you may be pleasantly surprised as I was. My first reaction was almost one of disappointment, as if I had been denied some special truth up to that point in my life. And yet, I knew in my heart that through the most difficult times in my life, I must have received help “from above” with faith and strength. – – See what you think. See how you feel.



One night a man had a dream.

He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.
He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.

I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

The Lord replied,
“My son, My precious child, I love you and I would
never leave you. During your times of trial and
suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I Carried You.”

And the third “spiritual-lite” anchor, “The Serenity Prayer,” familiar to you in part, no doubt, is by far my favorite. The first stanza is well-known due to its use at “AA Meetings” (Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings). But to my delight, many decades ago, I discovered the prayer in its entirety in, of all places, a “Dear Abby” column in a newspaper! I was so taken by it, I gave small, laminated copies to my wife and three sons. I considered knowledge of it a real gift. I always carry a little card copy in my pocket like a money clip. And it stands at my bedside and on my desk shelf as well.

My greatest surprise was to discover that “The Serenity Prayer” was written by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1943, known to me as a political theorist and scholar and author through my political science studies. Little did I know that Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most renowned theologians of 20th century America. He was a Congregationalist and professor at the Union Theological Seminary in Brooklyn, New York, for over 30 years, 1928-1960.

See what you think of “The Serenity Prayer” in its entirety…just in case you’ve been reciting the first stanza alone at Friday night meetings. It really is so meaningful, helpful, and beautiful at the same time. – – Talk about “spiritual anchors”! “Serenity” reduces life to the basics and grounds you.  But first a little more about Reinhold Niebuhr.


           Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971, was of German ancestry, born and raised in Wright City, Missouri. Niebuhr was such an accomplished & controversial theologian & political theorist, he cannot be done justice in a mere caption here. He was praised & scorned by conservatives & liberals alike at different times in religious & political circles. His political philosophy & political theology were intertwined. Author of numerous prominent & distinguished books, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964, he went from being a prominent leader of the Socialist Party of America in the 1930’s to being a strong voice confronting Soviet communism after 1945.


         The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Excuse us for living with a little help along the way from these spiritual sources. May you too have your own favorites that you rely upon!

Comments: Please!

Sources: My personal files & notes, Wikipedia & various online websites




Posted by: philipfontana | September 29, 2016

Douglas Brinkley

Douglas Brinkley

America’s Environmental Historian


Philip Fontana

     Excuse us for living, but some author’s works, by subject and content, immediately distinguish them from the numerous others in their field. Douglas Brinkley’s “environmental biographies” on Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are two such books that catapult him into greatness as, what I would call him, America’s environmental historian. With these books, Douglas Brinkley enters the halls of accomplished historians the likes of David McCullough, for whom I hold the highest regard.

Douglas Brinkley has authored 23 books on an array of historical topics and people, including one on Alaska and one on Katrina. He has edited 8 books, including a collection of articles on the environment. But almost as bookends to these works are his 2009 The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America and his more recent 2016 Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America. These are amazing biographies on TR and FDR, telling their stories: their contributions to America’s environmental posterity; masterly weaving in what was going on in their personal lives; and the unfolding events in our nation’s history in their respective eras.


     Douglas Brinkley is professor of history at Rice University, Houston, Texas, since 2007 & a fellow at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy. Prior, Brinkley taught at Hofstra University, the University of New Orleans, & Tulane University. His Hofstra years in the 1990’s were unique, teaching from the “Magic Bus,” a roving transcontinental classroom. At the University of New Orleans Brinkley worked closely with historian Stephen Ambrose, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. Ambrose appointed Brinkley director of the Eisenhower Center where he served for five years.

    Douglas Brinkley lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife & three children. Brinkley is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, American Heritage, & Audubon. He also serves as Presidential Historian for CNN. His books have earned numerous awards. He received several awards for The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Douglas Brinkley is a member of the Century Association, the Society of American Historians, & the Council on Foreign Affairs. But most of all, Douglas Brinkley has earned high regard for his studies, his books, on our country’s natural history.



          The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America is, no doubt, Douglas Brinkley’s more entertaining of the two books. Teddy Roosevelt’s “larger than life” personality with his energy and vitality and love for all things natural cannot be surpassed. Just consider this. We are talking about a President who said it was our patriotic duty as Americans to know the species of all the birds in our community! – – Imagine! As I started reading the book, I said to myself, “Douglas Brinkley isn’t going to attempt to write a full biography on TR while relating his conservation accomplishments.” But that’s exactly what the author does. No wonder it takes Brinkley 940 pages to accomplish that task! It’s all here: Teddy growing up in New York City and his education; his political career prior to becoming President; the summer home, Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York; the sudden death of wife Alice and his mother both in the same day; TR’s sojourns in the Dakota Badlands; TR’s Rough Rider fame; President McKinley’s assassination, 1901, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becoming President; vowing only to run once for re-election in 1904; TR’s progressive reforms from trust busting to regulating railroads, pure food, & drugs; even the derivative story of the “Teddy Bear”; building the Panama Canal; sending the Great White Fleet around the world; winning the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace between Russia and Japan.

What the author is describing is President Theodore Roosevelt, 1901 to 1909, saving over 234 million acres of “wild America” and putting it under federal protection. Teddy sets aside more Federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all his predecessors combined. In the telling of this achievement, the author includes the people who influence TR and with whom he works: the likes of John Burroughs, naturalist/essayist, one of the early conservationists; Frank Chapman, ornithologist/writer, originator of Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, Curator at Museum of Natural History; George Bird Grinnell, anthropologist/historian/naturalist/writer, organizer of Boone and Crockett Club/the first Audubon Society/and New York Zoological Society; Gifford Pinchot, forester, Governor of Pennsylvania, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service; and John Muir, naturalist/author/environmental philosopher, explorer, one of the first preservationists, founder of the Sierra Club; to name the major personalities, and there were more.


     President Theodore Roosevelt with conservationist John Muir at Glacier Point in Yosemite, 1906.


     The sum total of Teddy Roosevelt’s naturalist achievements, the legacy of his years as President, are staggering. Douglas Brinkley gives order to what TR accomplished throughout the book’s narrative in his maps and appendices at the end of the book; establishing the United States Forest Service, creating five National Parks, signing the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaiming 18 new U.S. National Monuments, establishing the first 51 Bird Preserves, establishing 4 Game Preserves, and establishing 150 National Forests. Douglas Brinkley also touches on TR’s environmental failures and TR’s struggle to balance “preservation and growth.”



          Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America is Douglas Brinkley’s effort to claim FDR’s rightful place as America’s greatest environmental president, despite the fame of his fifth cousin, “Uncle Ted,” in that regard. – -Plus, FDR’s wife, Eleanor, was Teddy Roosevelt’s niece! FDR had three terms as President and elected to a fourth term, 1933-1945, leading us out of the Great Depression and to victory in World War II, which he never saw, dying 82 days into his fourth term. But Douglas Brinkley shows us that along the way, FDR left a larger mark on the American environment than any president before or after. Brinkley’s book provides the details to more than reach this bold conclusion. As early as 1936, at The North American Wildlife Conference, held in Washington, D.C., FDR’s efforts to save land, water, and wildlife were recognized. At the Conference, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes proclaimed FDR as the “most environmentally conscious president in American history.” And here again, just as in his book on TR, Brinkley sets FDR’s environmental accomplishments in the framework of his life and the events facing the nation during his presidential years. As I read this book, I was amazed to come to the realization that FDR’s environmental efforts were part and parcel of his programs to get the nation out of the Great Depression. And it is hard to believe that Brinkley is able to describe the many facets of FDR’s indefatigable efforts in a brief 744 pages. It’s all here: FDR’s life growing up at Springwood, his family’s Hyde Park estate in New York state, and his education; his political career leading up to his presidency & overcoming his illness; his New Deal programs to work our way out of the Great Depression; FDR’s neutrality in the 1940 re-election campaign; the Lend Lease Act to aid our Allies; the Atlantic Charter with Churchill in 1941 committing the U.S. to stand with them; the war effort after Pearl Harbor, 1941; even his sojourns to Warm Springs, Georgia, the Little White House; to “deprioritizing” his conservation policies with the American war effort during World War II, while still “guarding” his conservation gains, fully intending to resume them after the war.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sets out to combat the severe unemployment of the Great Depression. In doing so, FDR used his ideas about conservation, the environment, which became synonymous with his economic policies. He used his favorite agency, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), to carry out the major thrust of his environmental projects in conjunction with other New Deal agencies such as the WPA, PWA, AAA, plus the other departments from Forestry to Parks, Wildlife, and others. The CCC’s accomplishments over a period of 9 years are hard to fathom, from 1933 until the last of the CCC boys were dismissed in 1942 due to World War II: 3.4 million young men built 13,000 miles of trails; planted 2 billion trees; upgraded 125,000 miles of dirt roads; built state park systems and scenic roadways; saved landscapes that became national parks and forests, monuments, wildlife refuges, and more. Their “Shelterbelt” tree and shrub planting to save the soil of the Great Plains “was the most ambitious afforestation program in world history.” No greater example of the gravity of the situation was “Black Sunday,” April 14, 1939, making the “Dust Bowl” an infamous part of that history, destroying over 50 million acres of topsoil across the Panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. The accounts of the slow demise of the CCC boys were sad to read as World War II approached and progressed; first the CCC assisting on military bases to the last 82 boys enlisting in the armed services. Naturally, FDR’s efforts were supported by a cadre of talented people: most prominent among them his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt; Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior; Henry Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture and FDR’s new Vice President in 1941; Aldo Leopold, head of the Department of Wildlife Management; Jay Darling, Biological Survey director; and numerous others. Besides the billions of dollars FDR was able to get Congress to appropriate in these hard times, these able managers were skilled at getting FDR to “shift” funds from other programs to theirs!


         President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yellowstone, Sept. 1937. He hoped to encourage people to visit the national parks by car.


     And just as with TR’s conservation record, FDR’s tally of environmental achievements are looked upon with awe today. Douglas Brinkley again provides at the end of this volume maps and charts of exhaustive detail, including sites established, modifying national forest boundaries, and fascinating statistics on the CCC; creating 140 National Wildlife Refuges, establishing 29 National Forests, establishing 29 National Parks and Monuments. And again, Douglas Brinkley discusses the shortcomings of FDR’s environmentalism with the negative consequences of his building of dams; the TVA’s dams in the east and the Grand Coulee Dam and others in the west. Farm subsidies also started by FDR were subsequently called into question.

Excuse us for living in the twentieth century under the leadership of these historic giants, TR & FDR as our Presidents, though before our time. Teddy was an ornithologist and life-long bird-watcher and a big game hunter. Franklin was into ornithology as a young man too, but became a forester on his Hyde Park estate and was a lifelong fisherman. TR’s conservation was an effort to correct the excesses of the Industrial or Gilded Age. FDR’s environmentalism took the next step. In his own words, “Our new policy goes a step further. It will not only preserve the existing forests, but create new ones.” – -“Territorial set-asides…environmental regulations, farmer education…replanting and ecological research.” FDR led us into our twenty-first century environmentalism. He fought for clean air and water. And at the time of his death in 1945, in the first months of his fourth term, FDR envisioned “global environmentalism” as a core mission of the new United Nations he was putting into place.

Comments: Please!

Sources: the above two books, plus Wikipedia







Posted by: philipfontana | August 4, 2016

Dewey Beach, DE


“Doing Dewey”

Year #19

Dewey Beach, Delaware


Phil & Geri Fontana

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         The “Balcony” at the #207 Sunspot condo…For wife Geri & me the view is equaled by the time spent on the balcony reading, people watching, spotting dolphin, cigar smoking (me!), & in happy hours!



     Excuse us for living two weeks a year on the beach in Dewey Beach, Delaware. We’ve been doing so now for 19 years in a condo, “Sunspot,” on McKinley Street. We started for the first 13 years in an efficiency-room timeshare hotel, the Surf Club, right next door. We were slow to catch on, making the switch to the Sunspot condos. The trade-off was giving up the Surf Club pool and gaining the amenities of a condo and considerably lower rates at Sunspot.

The question we are asked most often is why the beach in Delaware and not our own New Jersey with 120 miles of fine shoreline that served us well growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s? Our standard answer is, “Exactly! We loved the New Jersey shore when we were kids! And we’ve found it again in Delaware!” – – Less people, less traffic (Well there was less traffic! That’s getting worse!), less expensive, plenty of space on the beach, more freedom re regulations from using floatation devices to surf-fishing (mornings, evenings, or even day-time with sufficient feet from swimmers). We discovered the shore points of Delaware in the late 1990’s, picking up a brochure at a rest-stop while transporting our oldest son back to the University of Delaware.

Dewey Beach quickly became our favorite spot for what is “vacation” to us; pure and simple quiet and rest, “R & R”! We like to distinguish our relaxing vacations as opposed to other trips we fully enjoy from sightseeing (especially Europe) to fishing in upstate New York. I am sure most of you have your favorite place or places you like to return to. And we see the photos and hear all about so many wonderful places. But we happened to get to know “Dewey” and Dewey Beach became our favorite place to vacation, rest, and find 2 weeks of peace each year on the beach.

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      Cape May is our destination on the way to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. It’s only 167 miles down the Garden State Parkway from our home in Montville, NJ. If we head out early or book a later ferry reservation, we can steal an hour or two in scenic Cape May, as can be seen with these colorful B&Bs along the ocean front, a worthy destination in its own right!

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     The Cape May-Lewes Ferry turns our modest vacation trip into a little adventure each year. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry Authority is an independent, non-profit operation run by New Jersey & Delaware. Pictured here is one of the three ferry boats in operation, down from a fleet that numbered five. The ferry ride is about an hour & twenty minutes. It eliminates about 80 miles of driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, & south to the Delaware shore. We just drive the 167 miles to Cape May, catch the ferry to Lewes, Delaware, & meander maybe 3 miles down the main drag, Rt. 1, to Dewey. Just know the ferry reservation roundtrip for two is $108. – – Drive more miles or “pays your money”! – – “Different strokes for …”

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     Coming off the Ferry in Delaware brings you to the quaint town of Lewes. We like to call it a tiny touch of Nantucket. Founded by the Dutch in 1631, Lewes built a replica of the City Hall in Horn, the Netherlands. Lewes has a little of everything; shops & antiques, historic buildings, a modest number of restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, fishing party boats. Pictured here are two 1600’s sailing ships at the dock on Lewes Inlet.

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     This is a good map of Delaware for our purposes, but for the absence of a few labels. The white area is labelled New Jersey. On the southern end you can see the Cape May Peninsula jutting out. That’s where the Cape May-Lewes Ferry runs across Delaware Bay to Lewes on the yellow map. From Delaware to Virginia that stretch of land is known as the Delmarva Peninsula; Delaware, Maryland, & Virginia. Rt. 1 is the main road connecting the shore points going south; starting with Lewes, then Rehoboth with its very popular boardwalk, Dewey Beach, the upscale Bethany with many gated communities, Fenwick Island with high-rise condominiums, & finally Ocean City, Maryland, that looks like Atlantic City size hotels 10 times over in number without the casinos! Ocean City is the end of the line from where you take a bridge continuing through Maryland & beyond into Virginia.

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     Upon entering the town of Dewey Beach, you are greeted by this sign, “Dewey Beach, A Way of Life.” One assumes the motto is a holdover from days gone by as a community of hippies “doing their thing” in the 1960’s at the beach. Today the mood it conveys is one of a laid back place, unassuming, giving you space to “do your thing.” Dewey Beach is only .3 sq. miles with 341 permanent residents. But in season, Dewey has a juxtaposed reputation for attracting young party goers in their upper 20’s & 30’s as well as being a popular family resort. Its beaches are a nice size, varying over the years with sand reclamation due to storm erosion. – -Plenty hotels, cottage rentals, condominiums, a modest number of restaurants, & no shortage of bars & clubs. – – More about that later as we go along here. Off season, Dewey quiets down to the modest little place it is.

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     Here’s a great partial aerial view of Dewey Beach. It gives you a good feel for the place. The foreground is the ocean, naturally, with the bay at the top of the photo. The water quality & the beaches of the Delaware shore have achieved award winning status over the years with the best in the nation. The center left condominium pictured on the beach is NOT ours! But our Sunspot is the condo immediately to its left!  And, to the left of Sunspot, you can see a mural outlined in pink! That’s the Surf Club, the place that started it all for us.

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      This is the main drag, Rt. 1, passing right through the heart of Dewey Beach, north-south. A mid-day photo shows you there is not much going on in Dewey unless you’re on the beach!

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     “The Little Store” is a very important place since this is the only store with the basic necessities in Dewey Beach; food staples, newspapers, & a little of everything. One must drive down Rt. 1 to Rehoboth where there are 4-5 supermarkets. Fortunately, our condo is just down the block from The Little Store.

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      “Sharkey’s”!!! – – Also down the block from us! – – Across from The Little Store! Everyone in Dewey knows & goes to Sharkey’s! It’s an “expanded food stand,” limited counter & table seating. Sharkey’s means coffee & breakfast & hamburgers & a little more. Are their restaurants in Dewey Beach with the same & more? Yes, but there’s Sharkey’s!

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     A typical side street? There is nothing typical in Dewey! Every street is uniquely its own. This one is Read Street, on which the Surf Club is located, facing the ocean. It’s the street next to us on McKinley.

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         Here’s a nice shot of the two places we’ve stayed at over these 19 summer seasons. On the left in pink is the Surf Club where we stayed for 13 years. It’s unique in that it is a “time-share hotel.” You can name your date of arrival & departure. Owners “buy into” one, two or three weeks per month or full ownership. All units are one expanded room efficiencies that sleep four with a kitchen wall. Amenities include pool, sauna, & Jacuzzi. On the right in blue is the condominium, Sunspot, where we have stayed for the last 6 years. It took us too long to realize how much better a condo unit is at Sunspot compared to a room at the Surf Club. There are one & two bedroom condos (& a penthouse) that sleep four to six people, with full kitchen & living/dining room combo, & that balcony. Bookings are Saturday to Saturday like most places. But the rates at Sunspot are considerably more reasonable than the Surf Club.

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         Pictured is the McKinley Street lifeguard station, on duty 10:00 to 5:00. And the uncrowded beach scene is typical.

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        Here is how Geri spends most of her beach time for two weeks at Dewey. – – Reading!

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     Here is how Phil spends most of his beach time for two weeks at Dewey. – – Reading! – – Oh, maybe a “bikini check” break too!

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     Happy Hours are held on days we cook something special together. Get used to my obnoxious Hawaiian shirt that is as old as it looks! I only wear it while we are at Dewey & only indoors! – – very special!

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     The nights we cook together with Happy Hours are the most special part of our stays at Dewey Beach. And here is the piece de resistance; cooking Zupa di Clams! Zupa is clams in their shells, a red sauce with sausage slices & spices. It can be served with pasta or just Italian bread!  (For the recipe, go to the right margin here, click on “Friday Night/Recipe Posts” & then click “4thPastaPost”)

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     Each year we take an “iconic” photo like this one on “Zupa Night.” It’s the high-point of our stay & it’s held usually on the third day or so of our trip. – – One Rule: Eat all the clams, red sauce, & Italian bread you want! Another Zupa meal is reprised over our two week stay!

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      Once a week Dewey Beach has a family children’s movie night on the beach!

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      And once a week Dewey Beach has a family oriented bon fire night on the beach!

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     Just to the north of Dewey Beach, a mile plus, is the town of Rehoboth. No trip is complete unless you spend an evening on the boardwalk at Rehoboth with rides, games of chance, food, & shops. Rehoboth has a considerable choice of hotels & many restaurants.

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     Cape Henlopen State Park is a great facility near Lewes & the Ferry. There you will find campsites, hiking trails, & an unusually long fishing pier (where we’ve spent many hours fishing over the years).

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     South of Dewey Beach is Delaware Seashore State Park, a spot not to be overlooked. It offers a bucolic drive-on beach for surf-fishing, Indian River Inlet for more fishing, private charter boats & party boats for fishing (we’ve done them all over the years), & an RV campground.

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     The Starboard, above, is one of five clubs in Dewey with live bands, dancing with wall-to-wall bodies, & plenty of drinking (& it ain’t soda!). It’s the 20 & 30-something set that frequents Dewey Beach. And on Friday & Saturday nights the main drag is filled with young people crawling their way to a favorite place. Oh, there are other bars too along the way between “clubs,” Movie star Kevin Bacon & his brother, Delaware boys, reprise their old band once a summer at one club, “Bottle & Cork.”

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     Northbeach is one of those clubs also with picturesque dining on the bay beach in Dewey. Their specialty is lobster dinners & their famous rum drink, the Dewey Devil! – – A very good drink! There is no shortage of restaurants along Rt. 1 & a plethora in the heart of Rehoboth.

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    There are six restaurants we frequent in the area, in Dewey Beach, north to Rehoboth, & south to Ocean City, Maryland. But the one we never fail to go to each summer is Phillips Crab House, almost an hour drive south, in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s really a landmark with great seafood for 60 years & counting since 1956! 

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     Phillips features a formal dining room & a seafood buffet. Pictured above is the colorful, fun, & fabulous seafood buffet. Despite all the bad impressions people have of buffets, this one is GOOD! It features EVERYTHING under the sun from oysters to prime rib to pasta & much, much more, plus desserts, all at a reasonable price.   

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     On the southern end of Dewey Beach are gated streets of “high-end” summer homes. Here are just a few of them as seen from the beach. As you continue to walk the beach south, you come to the beginning of Delaware Seashore State Park.

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     This photo gives you a good idea of what Dewey is like in terms of the typical number of people on the beach. The taller pink building, center left, with the white blank wall, is the Surf Club. And in the distance, facing north, is Rehoboth beach, an ambitious hike. – – We know!


     Excuse us for living out our favorite little summer place with you! Dewey Beach has been good to us both in rest and fun over the years. We wanted to tell you about “A Way of Life” named Dewey Beach, Delaware!

Comments: Please!

Sources: 19 years in Dewey Beach










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