While the nation convulsed through more than two weeks of tumult as the U.S. Senate examined and considered the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I heard from many people who spoke with absolute certainty. Some were convinced, utterly convinced, that Kavanaugh was falsely accused. Others were just as convinced he was guilty. They saw bright lines and bad motives. Systems of judgment, though — both criminal law and the proceedings involving Kavanaugh — are not black and white. Rather, they’re drawn in grayscale, somewhere on a spectrum between absolutes. And yet we must act on those sometimes subtle gradations.

Between my junior and senior years in high school, I worked on my uncles’ farms in southern New Jersey. The first day I got to drive an old tractor from one farm to another, except I could not figure out how to stop it as I slowly rolled into the garage at my destination. Luckily, I was going very slow and there was a very sturdy work table at the end of the garage that stopped me. Totally flustered, I backed out and rolled right over one of my uncle’s tool boxes.

If you somehow missed the recent production of “Newsies” by the Waco Civic Theatre, you need to submit to a civic flogging. Speak to anyone fortunate enough to score a ticket for one of the many sold-out performances and you’ll hear nothing but praise for the casting, singing, acting, set design, lighting and, most of all, the intricate and exciting choreography. Highlighted by the delightful characterizations by Joey Tomayo as lead newsie and Karis McMurry as his romantic counterpart, the entire cast — from very young to more experienced — was superlative in conjuring up a time long gone. Not lost in importance: The local talent did it all. Tomayo is a first-grade teacher at Rapoport Academy and McMurry is a local senior in high school!

Whether at Waco’s weekly Enneagram gathering or across the pond at the London Enneagram Centre, this personality test to end all personality tests is as popular as royal engagements. Many humans have developed an insatiable hunger to know if they are a Reformer, Lover, Achiever, Creative Individualist, Thinker, Security Seeker, Adventurer, Leader, Peacemaker or some perverse combination thereof. OK, we’ll confess a few here and there are not so infatuated.

In a field just three blocks from tourist mecca Magnolia Market at the Silos lay a homeless man fast asleep in the middle of the day. He was covered with blisters from the sun, with stickers and grass embedded in his matted hair. He smelled of both alcohol and human excrement. He had no sleeping bag, no bottle of water and no protection from the 103-degree temperature. As he awakened to the touch of a person trying to help, his words made no sense. “There are demons all over me,” he said in confusion. Then he cried out loud with tears running down his face.

The editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald recently recognized the relationship between our summer’s intense heat and drought and climate change. Although the equivalent term “climatological shift” was used for “climate change,” I applaud the Trib Board for referencing this critical association. This column will explore more deeply the issues of severe weather and global warming raised in the editorial.

Recent decades have produced numerous scientific studies on the devastating effects of plastics on our environment. Some plastics take centuries to degrade to a level where they no longer threaten terrain wildlife, marine life and soil fertility. Fish and wildlife routinely swallow plastics as a food source or strangle themselves attempting to play or interact with plastics. And plastic obviously offers no nutritional value to the soil for the feeding of plant life.

On Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship USS Missouri, a son of German pioneers from Fredericksburg, Texas, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, signed a treaty with Japan ending World War II. My dad fought across the Pacific and always admired both General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, who worked together to coordinate a brilliant Pacific offensive that brought Japan to unconditional surrender with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If truth is indeed still truth, let’s accept a certain harsh reality about ourselves before it’s too late. Many people attack the free press because they prefer a narrative that suits their sensibilities about politics, society and religion, regardless of whether it always withstands scrutiny. And here’s another truth: Any leader who undermines accountability by elected officials is inherently weak in integrity and should be viewed as a threat to our individual liberties — perhaps not now but surely in the future.

The latest clash in a long-running war that threatens the progressive movement in America took place Aug. 13, 2018 in a courtroom in nearby Waxahachie. The Trump administration was not a party to this fight over who would be on the ballot to replace Republican Congressman Joe Barton. In fact, Barton’s former chief of staff, now the Republican nominee for the November general election, referred to the lawsuit as being “like manna from heaven.”

There are a lot of important things we’re talking about in national politics these days. My law school classmate, Brett Kavanaugh, has been nominated to the Supreme Court and the usual (and appropriate) attention is being given to his record. Trade and international tariffs are a hot issue. So, of course, is the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on our elections.

A year ago this weekend, carrying tiki torches, Confederate battle flags and banners, tens of thousands of neo-Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists gathered from 35 states across America for a massive rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Anti-Nazi and anti-fascist counter-protestors clashed with them. Many were severely beaten. On the final day of the rally, a white supremacist launched his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one, wounding 20 others.

Much has been said over the past two years about the “coarsening of political discourse” in the United States, lamenting the devolution from discussing policy differences to name-calling and even character assassination. Traditionally, we have looked to our political leaders to inspire and remind us of the higher values of democracy and what it means to universally cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity — the original meaning of “happiness” in 1776. But few would disagree with the observation that public political conversation has become more polarized and confrontational.

Is there anything more hopeful and full of promise than brand new school supplies? The smell of a new box of colors? A sharpened pencil full of letters and words and pictures and numbers waiting to be set free? A bright, clean spiral notebook ready to be filled with ideas, dreams, problems and even scribbles about who “hearts” who “4-evah,” and drawings of houses and families and fast cars and rockets and dinosaurs?

Every minute, 24 hours a day, one dump truck of plastic waste enters our oceans. Let me repeat that. Every minute, 365 days a year, one dump truck of plastic waste enters our oceans. This shocking statistic broadcasts the fact that we are experiencing a global plastic emergency. And at our current rate of pollution, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.

President Donald Trump is about to set out on a European summer vacation. Meeting with HRH Queen Elizabeth (or at least Prime Minister Theresa May)? Lunch with NATO frenemies? A chance to renew the bromance with Vladimir Putin? All on the agenda. Putting together our combined 50 years of experience in public relations, lobbying, runway scares and crossing the pond, we offer Donald these helpful tips and policy proposals.

It’s déjà vu all over again. Within days, the world will turn its attention to Helsinki, Finland, where a summit between Russia and the United States will take place — a summit that will, in my opinion, be heavy on rhetoric, light on substance. Just as with the recent U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore, we shouldn’t expect much.

What is the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee? In some cases, the only difference would seem to be perspective. When we Americans look around the world at people escaping extremely dangerous living conditions in one country, moving to another one without formal permission by the host country, we call them “refugees.” When we Americans look at people escaping extremely dangerous living conditions in their countries, moving to our country without formal permission, we call them “illegal immigrants.” When people around the world look at them, they call them “refugees.” Fortunately, some people in our own country also call them refugees rather than illegal immigrants.

Cut through rhetoric for and against immigration law and you find three separate parts of the general problem: temporary guest workers, refugees seeking asylum and undocumented children including but not limited to those who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Before we succumb to more debate about the latest Republican failure to pass immigration reform (actually twice last month) and the Trump administration policy of separating children from immigrant parents, let’s study up on these three categories.

In the fall of 1956 my Baylor University professor was discussing the Cold War between Russia and the United States. After class, I approached Dr. Ralph Lynn and made what seems to me now an incredibly naive comment, even for a college sophomore. “The thing is,” I said, “the Russians know that the United States is not going to attack them. But we don’t know that they will not attack us.”

Today, three days before our own national birthday, Canada celebrates its 151st National Day. Yet relations between our neighboring giants haven’t been worse since the 1850s when the United States and Canada simmered over the boundary between the state of Washington and what was then known as British North America, later British Columbia. Back then they more often than not settled matters like gentlemen.

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected our president, I wrote a column expressing my faith that our constitutional form of government was designed to prevent any one particular person from taking control of our government. I expressed confidence that the checks and balances written into our Constitution would enable Congress to act as a counterbalance to any excesses or corruption in the executive branch — particularly important given a chief executive who, for all his possible good intentions, seemed ignorant of the Constitution.

At our Texas borderlands, U.S. officials under executive orders from the Trump administration have been separating minor children from their parents at a rate of about 48 children per day. And while the president, after much resistance, reversed his orders Wednesday, many citizens express anxiety about any statement from him till it is fully vetted and implemented and thousands of families are reunited.

June is high season for weddings and Supreme Court opinions. The former are invariably memorable for a lifetime, whereas the latter may quickly be consigned to perpetual obscurity. This term’s blockbuster decision about wedding celebrations — vindicating the claim of Jack Phillips, the Colorado-based wedding cake artist — is now being dismissed in various quarters as a jurisprudential nothing-burger. All the Colorado Civil Rights Commission needed to do, it is said, was be nicer and more civil in rendering its “thou must serve all customers” mandate. By in effect vehemently condemning Phillips’ faith journey, the court concluded, the state agency had transgressed the bounds of tolerant discourse in a pluralistic society.

A letter from a grandmother of 10 to an advice column caught my eye recently. The grandmother lamented that none of her grandchildren bothered to acknowledge her on Mother’s Day. Now, given the fact that requiring grandchildren to contact their grandmothers on their special day might diminish the value of such contact, one would hope grandchildren might still be more sensitive and, of their own free will, be in touch. Must a child’s love and attention be centered only on his or her parents?

Can an American president be indicted? Can he pardon with impunity? Refuse to answer a prosecutor’s questions? Do the answers to these questions lie in legal precedents? Historical practices? The resolution is in something more fundamental: a decision on whether we have a president or a king.

Richard Painter is not your typical Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, even in my idiosyncratic home of Minnesota. For one thing, he is a Republican, or at least has been for almost all of his life. He served in the George W. Bush administration, in fact, as the chief ethics lawyer. On many issues, he holds conservative positions one might expect from a lifelong Republican who now works as a corporate law professor. Yet he might win, and it would be good for us all if he does.

If you’re reading this column in Waco, the odds are very good that you wish to take some action to combat anthropogenic climate change. I make this bold assertion because of the results of a recent Yale University poll: 54 percent of McLennan County residents believe that global warming is already harming U.S. citizens, while 64 percent believe that future generations will be harmed.

Hopefully, veterans spent part of the long Memorial Day weekend reflecting on the ultimate sacrifice made by fellow service members killed on the battlefield protecting our freedoms and way of life. For this, I am forever grateful. To fully grasp the significance of that solemn duty, we must understand that no one joined the military to die. For some, it was patriotic duty. For some, it was a family tradition, a heritage of serving. For some, it was the law by virtue of the draft.

Having never taken a monumental interest in the British Royal Family, I admit I wasn’t overly interested in awaking at 3 a.m. to watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The idea of losing some sleep to even activate the television never entered my mind. The thought my invitation to the wedding never arrived contributed to my lack of interest even more.

Scott Pruitt is in my estimation the worst Environmental Protection Agency administrator ever. I base this on two things: As one supposedly dedicated to President Trump’s mission of draining the swamp, he’s instead wasted public monies on personal perks. Second, he’s obviously a tool of industry with the express goal of deregulating everything, no matter the facts, no matter the safety consequences.

With some Republicans supporting the addition of drug-testing as a requirement for food-stamp beneficiaries at the very same time some NRA champions support decriminalizing marijuana’s use for leisure purposes, the issue of drugs in America remains alive and well. And while drug-testing was not part of the farm bill that Democrats and far-right Republicans torpedoed this month, it may figure into the mix when revived.

The urbanization of America has had one serious consequence: Too many city residents fail to grasp the significant challenges facing agriculture, including the devastating impact of drought, floods, water shortages, tariffs, regulations and disease on farming and ranching. This is no place for amateurs — and anyone who claims to be earnest and concerned about agriculture today has no option but to vote to elect Kim Olson as state agriculture commissioner.

The 2018 general election has been widely heralded as “the most important election in a generation.” From the climate standpoint, this description is appropriate. While climatologists intensify their warnings that we must decarbonize by 2050, the Trump administration’s every environmental action is decreasing our ability to combat climate change. We will thus compare the climate change portfolio of candidates in several of the major November races.

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

Garrison Keillor, the folksy humorist one either loves or hates, has a knack for getting under folks’ skin. That’s his thing. Last month one of those people who got annoyed at Mr. Keillor was Bill McBride, who wrote a letter to the editor which was both funny and direct, punching back at Keillor’s barbs about Texas politics. It was interesting to me, as I have lived both places and loved them both. They are different (hot and cold, even), but both are remarkable, beautiful parts of this country — a nation that is stronger for its size and diversity from one end to the other.