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The Line Dividing Good and Evil

August 17, 2017 by pgd1

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”                                                                                    - The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer.  He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system.

The Gulag Archipelago was composed from 1958 to 1967.  It was a three-volume, seven part work on the Soviet prison camp system.  The book was based upon Solzhenitsyn’s own experience as well as the testimony of 256 former prisoners and Solzhenitsyn’s own research into the history of the Russian penal system.1

Solzhenitsyn made his observations about the human condition from this unique vantage point.

From the point of view of a family law attorney, I appreciate his insights.  It is not difficult to see that people embroiled in a divorce tend to set up camp against each other. The divorcing spouse becomes the “other”, and as such, a type of adversary.  After all, our legal system is clearly adversarial in nature.

This adversarial context promotes a polarization.  There is a perception that the other party is wrong, and justice is invoked to seek what is right.

However, in the context of a family law dispute, this understanding presents a false dichotomy.  The truth is that a divorce contest often presents good people acting on their worse behavior.  In the throes of such behavior, parties rarely see how they are complicit in their own suffering.   Hence, they fail to recognize that they are tearing out a piece of their own heart.

Collaborative law should be examined.  With this process, dignity and respect accompany a team-based cooperative approach to problem solving. Professionals work with clients to develop options that are considered.  The parties make the choices that will govern their future as opposed to a judge (a stranger) making their decisions for them.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Parts of this blog involving biography were taken from:  Wikipedia:  Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Two Hundred Years of Jane Austen

August 10, 2017 by pgd1

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, one of eight children.  She briefly attended school, but this proved too expensive for her father.  So she educated herself in his library instead.

It is believed that she received a marriage proposal, yet chose the financially precarious option of remaining single.  She completed six novels – two of which were published posthumously—but they brought little income.  Austen died at 41, and was laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral.

But her uniqueness lay in combining realism with a new narrative style, one which moved deftly between the narrator’s voice and the characters’ innermost thoughts.  This “free indirect speech” allowed the reader to see, think and feel exactly as the character did while also maintaining a critical distance and the ability to move between various points of view.  It was radically inventive.

In the early 20th century the suffrage movement claimed her as one of its icons, marching with her name emblazoned upon its banners as proof of women’s intellectual prowess.

Austen’s novels were prescribed reading for shell-shocked soldiers who would not be reminded of their trauma by her gentle, seemingly insular narratives.  In the dark days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill found it comforting to reread “Pride and Prejudice”. Austen’s novels were held up as offering sanctuary, a refuge from reality; in her pages readers could find a portrait of England before the fall.

If Austen’s work is perceived as quintessentially British, it has found resonance across the world.  Bicentenary events are being hosted all over Europe.  The Jane Austen Society of North America boasts more than 5,000 members; reading groups exist across Latin America.

In “The Genius of Jane Austen” (Harper; William Collins), Paula Byrne writes that Austen is seen as having a particular affinity with Chinese culture, where “manners matter” as they did in Georgian England.  There have been more than 50 written versions of “Pride and Prejudice” in China alone.

Western readers may no longer empathize with the urgency that surrounds marriage or the idea that a relationship can be stopped in its tracks by monetary circumstance.  But everyone has encountered a flirty, shallow Isabella Thorpe or a suave but seedy Henry Crawford.  Two hundred years on, Austen’s sniping observations of human vanity and folly still hit the mark.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken from “Jane Austen, 200 years on”.  The Economist, July 17th 2017. Retrieved from:

How Nature Affects Us

August 3, 2017 by pgd1

Fredrick Law Olmstead designed Central Park, one of the most famous parks in the world, and went on to design city parks all over the U.S.  What he did that was different and significant was that he recognized that people needed nature in order to get along with one another, in order to be their best selves, that it was a place where people could let off steam, especially the working classes, who normally didn’t have access to green spaces.

Something researchers in Japan recognized about urban life is that when we are indoors we rely mostly on our eyes and ears, but our other senses are underutilized.  They think this is partly related to why outdoor environments make our stress levels go down.  We can hear the sound of a creek gurgling, feel the wind blowing on our cheeks or smell the aroma of the woods, especially in Japan where there are lots of wondrous cypress trees.

Our sensory system evolved in the natural world and when we’re in those spaces, our brains become relaxed because these are things that we were designed to look at, hear and to smell.  For instance, our immune cells, or “natural killer cells,” which fight cancer, increase in forests.  As a result, Japan now has 48 therapy trails.

In Finland, public health officials now recommend that citizens get 5 hours a month, minimum, in the woods, in order to stave off depression.  This is evidence-based.  They found that people need this time in order to preserve their mental health.

The nature pyramid is the idea that nature is something we have every day.  One of the things we’re recognizing is that, like other medicines, nature follows a dose curve.  A little bit of nature is helpful; a little more nature is even more helpful.

We are fortunate in America.  We have these incredible wilderness spaces and national parks, and science is showing that when we spend time in those spaces, it can be tremendously helpful for our sense of self, for problem solving, social bonding, and rites of passage.1

As a practitioner of family law, I am always looking for reasonable and healthy ways to relieve stress.  As research reveals, a walk in nature is very good medicine for stress relief.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken in part from:, and influenced by “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” by Florence Williams.  W. W. Norton & Company; 1 Edition (February 7, 2017.)

Alone in the Desert

July 27, 2017 by pgd1

James Cowan (born 1942) is an Australian author.  Cowan’s work lies at the intersection between modernism and ancient cultural perspectives.  Many of his books explore the beliefs and practices of indigenous peoples as they attempt to come to terms with the modern world.

He discovered that the impulse “to forsake the world with all its opportunities and pleasures in order to pursue a life of self-abnegation” is found in Zen monasteries, Sufi orders, and Christian monasteries.

Although the fourth century desert hermit Saint Anthony wrote no books and never addressed devoted followers, he managed to pass on a system of ascetical behavior that is relevant to the present day where many seekers are trying to access the inner stillness through silence and prayer.

Cowan describes the importance of Saint Anthony as a pioneer of spirit:

. . . No man before him had so deliberately chosen to turn aridity into a positive value. The desert became his metaphor for being, his ageless encounter with lifelessness as a principle of rectitude.  No wonder he was such a threat to Rome. This lonely man living in the desert imposed a new valuation on human endeavor: that people had the right to an inner life over and above their responsibilities as social beings.  Such a premise went far beyond any that Socrates had proposed, even at his death.  A new force had entered the world. By his retreat into the desert Anthony paved the way for others to take their first step on the road to selflessness.

St. Anthony was a renegade spirit, even in his own time.  His goal was to change – no, to transform himself.  Not ethically, not morally, but spiritually, mystically.  All great spiritual disciplines are timeless.  Stilling the mind, developing inwardness, cultivating detachment, these are all aspects of a genuine renovation of the spirit.1

Although we are all social beings, there is something to be said for taking time to develop mindfulness, and to some extent, withdrawing from the world.  The point is to be recollected, to not be bounced around by the stress in our lives.  Anthony of Egypt has an important lesson to teach on this score.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Portions of this blog was retrieved from: and

Why We Need Sleep

July 20, 2017 by pgd1

“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.”
Shakespeare,   Julius Caesar.

Russell Foster is a circadian neuroscientist:  He studies the sleep cycles of the brain.  And he asks: What do we know about sleep?

According to Foster, some areas of the brain are actually more active during the sleep state than during the wake state.  There are dozens of different ideas about why we sleep. Here are three of them.

The first is sort of the restoration idea, and it’s somewhat intuitive. Essentially, all the stuff we’ve burned up during the day, we restore, we replace, we rebuild during the night.

The second idea addresses the concept of energy conservation. You essentially sleep to save calories.

The third idea concerns brain processing and memory consolidation. Our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep.  Sleeping at night enhances our creativity.

In the 1950s, good data suggests that most of us were getting around eight hours of sleep a night. Nowadays, we sleep one and a half to two hours less every night, so we’re in the six-and-a-half-hours every-night league. For teenagers, it’s worse. They need nine hours for full brain performance, and many of them, on a school night, are only getting five hours of sleep.  It’s simply not enough.

Another aspect of loss of sleep is weight gain. If you sleep around about five hours or less every night, then you have a 50 percent likelihood of being obese.  What’s the connection here?  Well, sleep loss seems to give rise to the release of the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone.

How do you get more sleep?  Foster recommends the following:  Make your bedroom a haven for sleep. The first critical thing is make it as dark as you possibly can, and also make it slightly cool.  Turn off mobile phones.  Turn off computers.  Turn off all of those things that are also going to excite the brain.  Try not to drink caffeine too late in the day, ideally not after lunch.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 The content of this blog was taken from:  Foster, Russell.  “Why Do We Sleep?”  Retrieved from:

Poetic Justice

July 13, 2017 by pgd1

Bob Dylan’s pointed and versatile lyrics are cited in judicial opinions and have earned him a Nobel Prize for literature.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia loved opera, but he also had a soft spot for Bob Dylan.  In a 2010 dissent, for instance, he chastised the majority for refusing to answer key questions in a case about sexually explicit text messages because technology was evolving so fast.

“‘The-times-they-are-a-changin’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty,” he wrote.

Justice Scalia was in good company.  Mr. Dylan has long been the most cited songwriter in judicial opinions, says Alex B. Long, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and the author of a 2012 study, “The Freewheelin’ Judiciary: A Bob Dylan Anthology,” published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal.1

It was a 2008 dissent from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., that really opened the floodgates, Professor Long says. “Judges’ inclination to go to Dylan has actually increased in the past few years, probably as a result of Roberts’ dissent in that case,” he said.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Roberts quoted Dylan as follows:  “When you got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

In an interview of the Chief Justice on Feb. 3 2016, Dean John F. O’Brien of New England Law, Boston, probed the matter, starting with a general question. “What was your objective in quoting Bob Dylan?” Chief Justice Roberts, a little defensively, said there was a place for a bit of levity and license in legal writing. “An intelligent layperson appreciates Bob Dylan’s poetry, if not his music,” he said. “It was, after all, in a dissent, so you have a little bit more leeway there.”

“Bob Dylan captured the whole notion behind standing,” he added. “In that case, the party didn’t have anything at stake in the case and had nothing to lose, and the case should have been thrown out on that basis.”

Legal writing forms a unique aspect of literature that is enriched by the lyrics of Bob Dylan.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog was taken, in part, from the writings of Adam Liptak, including “How Does It Feel, Chief Justice Roberts, to Hone a Dylan Quote?”  The New York Times.  February 22, 2016.

Black Swan Theory

July 6, 2017 by pgd1

The phrase “black swan” was coined when the black swan was presumed not to exist.  The Old World presumption was that all swans must be white because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers.  In that context, a black swan was impossible or at least nonexistent.

However, in 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans, in Western Australia.  The term subsequently metamorphosed to connote the idea that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.

Black swan events were discussed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2001 book Fooled By Randomness, which concerned financial events.  His 2007 book The Black Swan extended the metaphor to events outside of financial markets. Taleb regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments as “black swans”—undirected and unpredicted.  He gives the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the September 2001 attacks as examples of black swan events.   Taleb asserts:

What we call here a Black Swan … is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

As a family lawyer, I have found that for some persons divorce is particularly difficult, because, for them, it is a black swan.  For these folks, they presumed their life was stable, that divorce wouldn’t happen as there were no facts that would suggest this was possible.

The practical aim of Taleb’s books are not to attempt to predict events which are unpredictable, but to build robustness against negative events while still exploiting positive events.

I process this by contending that we should not take our relationships for granted.  We never know when a black swan will appear to challenge our expectations.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Much of this blog was taken from Wikipedia:  Black Swan Theory.

Humor Combats Grief

June 29, 2017 by pgd1

David Grossman’s novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar is about a standup comic’s rambling and confessional routine in an Israeli comedy club.  The book has won the Man Booker international prize for the year’s best fiction in translation.

Set in small Israeli town, the novel is focused entirely on the act of comedian Dovaleh Greenstein.  Taking to the stage to needle his audience with vulgar and aggressive jokes, Greenstein’s repellent performance begins to crumble as he reveals a fateful and gruesome decision he once made, which has haunted him ever since.  The book is a meditation on the opposite forces shaping our lives:  humor and sorrow, loss and hope, cruelty and compassion, and how even in the darkest hours we find courage to carry on.1

The author, David Grossman, knows something about grief.  Ten years ago in the final hours of what Israelis call the second Lebanon war, Grossman heard that his son, Uri, a staff sergeant serving in a tank unit, had been killed in action.  Uri was 20.  Grossman had this to say:

. . . in order to do almost anything, you have to act against the gravity of grief.  It is heavy, it pulls you down, and you have to make a deliberate effort to overcome it.  You have to decide that you won’t fall.

 He relates that it required a conscious decision on his part not to immerse himself in grief.2

As a family law attorney, grief accompanies my clients in various circumstances.  Coping with losing a loved one is one of life’s great difficulties.  Divorcing couples and non-married partners that break up also experience grief.  It is important to note that not everyone grieves the same way; we have individual patterns and outlets for grief.3

For David Grossman, his art is an outlet for his grief.  As his book portrays, humor can be a way of coping with grief.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 Cain, Sian.  “The Guardian”.  June 14, 2017.  Retrieved from:

2 Freedland, Jonathan.  “The Guardian”.  November 26, 2016.  Retrieved from:

3 Grief.  Psychology Today.  Retrieved from:

The Many Sides of Harry Lee Coe

June 23, 2017 by pgd1

Judge Morison Buck wrote the “Chips Off the Old Bench” column in the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s publication, Lawyer.  Judge Buck passed away in 2014; however his biographies of 58 Hillsborough County judges are preserved.  They make fascinating reading.1

Perhaps the most interesting is the biography of Harry Lee Coe.  The local daily newspapers, The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, the morning of July 14, 2000 reported:  Hillsborough County State Attorney Harry Lee Coe III was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left temple.  The life of a well-known, successful, and popular (with most people) figure whose public life spanned three decades was over; but questions remained: Why would a man in seemingly robust health at 68 whose political future appeared secure sacrifice his life?

Judge Coe attended High School in Lakeland, FL.  Recognition beyond Lakeland of his talent as a gifted athlete came when he received a combination baseball/basketball scholarship to the University of Florida.  His pitching record at University of Florida stood for many years, and he was the first pitcher to be inducted into the UF Sports Hall of Fame.  He signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers—the first individual from Lakeland to sign a major league contract; Boog Powell became the second Lakelander to be picked when he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched in the Detroit Tigers farm system for three years during the spring and summer seasons during the windup of his schooling at Gainesville.

In the late 1950s, while still attending law school at Stetson University, Harry Coe helped pay his way through that program by pitching baseball for the Tampa Tarpons of the Florida State League.

Judge Coe ran the court over which he presided with firm determination to do what he felt was right and just.  Contrary to the tag “Hanging Harry” seized upon and played up by the press, he was considered to be fair, particularly dealing with young persons having no significant criminal history.  He believed in the familiar doctrine of “a second chance.”

Only Harry knew what prompted him to give up the prestige and security of his judgeship.  But he did that in 1992 when, as a Democrat, he challenged the incumbent, widely respected Republican, Bill James.  Harry Lee Coe was elected State Attorney.

Harry personally tried the case against Christopher Wilson.  After the verdict of guilty in the case, one of the news services released a photo of State Attorney Coe embracing the victim of the crime and his mother.  This was one of the most sensational criminal trials in Tampa’s history.  Harry made a masterful closing argument, and both defendants were convicted of all charges.  Shortly afterward, Judge Coe received a cherished letter from Gregory Peck.   In the letter, Peck compares Harry to the famous lawyer from To Kill A Mockingbird:

When I saw this photo in the N.Y. Times, I could not help identifying with you, and thinking that in this case, you have played the role of Atticus Finch in real life, taken on the challenge, and won an important victory for all of us.

Harry Coe’s obsession with gambling in greyhound racing became such a dominate force in his life that in his waning years it is undisputed that he caged money from his subordinate associates to support his pathological problem.

The National Council on Problem Gambling based in Washington, D.C., which maintains a 24-hour toll-free helpline for those needing help or information, reports there is a strong link between suicide and pathological gambling.  Las Vegas’ suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.

We will never understand fully why Harry Lee Coe took his life, but we can be grateful that such a fascinating and talented man walked this earth among us.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 This blog, with some editorial changes, was taken from:  Buck, Morrison. “Harry Lee Coe 1932-2000.”  Retrieved from:

Who Can You Trust?

June 15, 2017 by pgd1

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– Leo Tolstoy, Ann Karenina (1878)

Although technology allows people to stay connected over long distances, it can interfere with family bonding.

The pressure to stay connected online is intense, with the workday encroaching on downtime.  The social pressure and FOMO (fear of missing out) drive people to check Facebook and other social media throughout the day.  It is inevitable that the demands of staying connected to the outside world affects what goes on inside the family home.

Research shows that adults spend over 12 hours a day staying connected via various media.  The tech-addicted family is a real phenomenon.  And the fact is the human brain is only equipped to focus on one thing at a time, even with technology forcing us to multi-task.1

With focus being divided, the result is increased isolation and disconnection.  Social media at best results in a superficial connection to a large number of people.  As human beings, this type of social interaction is not sufficient.  We have a need for deep social connections to people we trust and with whom we form a community.  To be healthy, the emphasis should not be on the number of “friends” we have, but on the quality of our relationships.

Facebook can never provide what we truly need.  In certain instances it fosters families and friends that are superficial, lacking the trust and connectedness that such relationships have traditionally entailed.

There is no problem with having superficial relationships.  After all, there are only so many meaningful relationships that we can handle.  Therefore, there is a place for Facebook.  The point is to be aware of the difference between Facebook family and friends and true family and friends.

One will be there for you when you need them, and you will be there for them; the other will only be there when you turn on the computer or phone.  It serves our best interests to know the difference between the two, and to never confuse them.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney

1 The first portion of this blog is taken from: “Netsanity: Are Connected Families Becoming Disconnected?”.  Retrieved from:  The remainder of the blog contains my personal reflections.  The drawing that accompanies this blog is my interpretation of a work by Rupert Bathurst.

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