There are some people and groups throughout history who were so taken with the birth of Jesus — the Christmas story and all it implies — that they hoped Jesus, after he died, would come a second time.

In anticipation they live(d) lives devoted to what they believed are the good tidings of Christmas — the gospel Jesus preached and lived.

One of those groups is the religious community of Shakers who in the late-18th Century settled tracts of land near the roads we drive to and from the Albany International Airport.

They were an offshoot of the Quakers, the peaceful ones, and because of their energetic dancing during religious services, came to be known as the “Shaking Quakers,” which I’ve always taken to be a kind of put-down.

The real name of these shaking people, if you will, is the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. You can see right in their name that they were waiting for Jesus to come again — they wanted another Christmas.

A lot of people today have a hard time understanding such a thing because they have no conception of Christmas or, if they do, it has no “religious” dimension.

A survey by the Pew Research Center a year ago this month asked Americans what Christmas meant to them. The vast majority said they celebrate Christmas, and usually by going to church and visiting with their family — nine out of 10.

But the data also reveal that a goodly number of the youngest among us — in particular the Millennials — say Christmas is a cultural thing, not religious. A cynic might say they caved to the market.

These youngsters say the historical facts surrounding Jesus’s birth, as found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke — the Christmas narrative — have little meaning for them. Was there a manger? Maybe. Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was born? Who knows?

Shepherds, wise men? Nice touch but not applicable. More important is what will I get my Secret Santa.

While Pew’s data are interesting, none of the survey offers answers to questions having to do with whether Christmas changed people’s lives. Because the questions were not asked.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful to know how such a change occurs? Would an outside observer be able to see it?

As we know, the proof of the value of any ethical system is found in whether people follow its mandates. In the case of Christmas, is it possible to celebrate Christmas without including something about Christmas in it?

The Shakers are worth our attention because they offered the world not only a unique vision of what Christmas means but also a way of life that reflected the mandate of the manger.

They set up communities where the resources of everybody were shared, where every person was treated as everybody else; women are equal to men without exception.

The founder, Ann Lee, was a woman. Not long after came Lucy Wright who led the “church” for 25 years. In terms of equality she reminded her family, “There is a daily duty to do; that is, for the Brethren to be kind to the Brethren, Sisters kind to the Sisters, and the Brethren and Sisters kind to each other.”

Because of such values the Shakers seemed distinction-blind. They took in black people, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, ministers as well as penitents. The only prevailing variable was need.

Before the Civil War their numbers grew to 6,000 living in more than 20 communities stretching from New York to Indiana down to Kentucky. Unable to fight in the war because of their pacifism — they were exempted by the president himself — they took in wounded from both sides, they fed and clothed slaves, they gave beds to slaveholders.

One of the marvels of the Shakers is that their sense of community found expression in invention. They invented the flat broom, the clothespin, garden seeds sold in paper packets, the circular saw, and much more.

The beauty and simplicity of the cupboards they built and the chairs they sat on reflected Mother Ann’s maxim, “Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”

The great poet and Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, “The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it.”

The devotional 1984 documentary “The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God” by Ken Burns and Amy Stechler Burns highlights the radical simplicity of Mother Ann’s followers in every frame.

And in “The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers” (Yale University Press, 1992), Stephen Stein documents the ways the communities grappled with the same kinds of issues every family faces.

After the Civil War, changes in economic and social conditions saw fewer people called to live the Shaker life. The closing of their communities, one after the other in the early part of the 20th Century, is the sad vision of a tree losing its last leaves.

Thus, of the 6,000 who once awaited the Second Appearing, two remain: Brother Arnold Hadd, 61, and Sister June Carpenter in her 70s, both of whom embody the Shaker spirit at their Sabbathday Lake community in New Gloucester, Maine.

I’ve heard more than a few cynics rail over the years: Well, if they were that good, what happened? And then they smirk because another communal experiment failed.

Nothing happened to the Shakers. They have given, and continue to give, America a viable model of community, especially Her early-21st-Century version buried in turmoil, alienation, and vindictive aggression.

We might want to amend many of the Shaker ascetic practices but never the hospitality they extended toward each other and those who came to them in need.  

After the fiery devastation that just took California — and the long drought before that — more than 50,000 people are looking for a home, a community to live in, a hook to hang their continuity on.

Can the care offered by an insurance company match the selfless hospitality a Shaker community affords? The model is there for the taking.

Dire climate-change forecasters say that fire, drought, flood, and related hurricane conditions will not cease but aggravate. And the measure of hardship will no longer be whether the rich on New York City’s Upper East Side, and their counterparts everywhere, will be able to score a grape or two from a surviving vineyard.

Section IV of Part II of the “Millennial Laws or Gospel Statutes and Ordinances Adapted to the day of Christ’s Second Appearing,” first prepared by Father Joseph Meacham and Mother Lucy Wright at their New Lebanon community in August 1821, contains an “Order of Christmas.”

It says that “on Christmas day Believers [and here we substitute Americans] should make perfect reconciliation, one with an other; and leave all grudges, hard feelings, and disaffection one towards an other, eternally behind on this day; and to forgive, as we would be forgiven, and nothing which is this day settled, or which has been settled previous to this, may hereafter be brought forward against an other.”

The Order then adds that Christmas Day is a time “to remember the poor of the world, and to carry to the place of deposit ... such garments and goods, as are designed for them.”

Do you think Meacham and Wright presaged the needs of Californians a Christmas 200 years later? Amid a discouraging moment or two I’m inclined to think the Second Appearing is already upon us.

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— Rockwell Kent

For many years now, when Thanksgiving rolls around, I find myself thinking about gratitude.

“Plagued” might be a better word, in that folks, dead and alive, who have done “good” things for me over the years, enter my consciousness and demand attention.

They come in a parade of sorts and are persistent, but in no way Felliniesque. Perhaps you experience something similar.

I know the paraders are not there bodily — many are dead or live far away — but the result of introjection, my taking on the life of others from another world. I know it derives from a continuing sense of obligation and indebtedness.

That is, I remain emotionally whelmed (not over) by how generous people have been in freeing me of worries and debilitating burdens. One came to pump out my cellar during a hurricane, another jacked up the house to make it even again.

You can understand why I’m attached to these “creatures” in a dependent sort of way. They reflect an emotional connection — even though I’m still not able to define it. It’s related to humility though.

I said the paraders persist; they do not leave until acknowledged. They’re here this very moment; I think they’re behind me writing this.

At Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes the person saying grace touches on gratitude by mentioning someone who did something for the family, but always in passing. Folks at the table nod but want to get on with the meal.

I always want to know what lies at the base of that person’s gratitude, especially the connection between speaker and person mentioned. It would say so much about how people experience gratitude.

And I never heard gratitude mentioned at Thanksgiving dinner that wasn’t received with gratitude. It’s always heartfelt.

Because my parading “friends” show up seeking attention, every year I’m forced to withdraw for a bit to attend to their needs. It’s a retreat of sorts as I spend my time figuring out what I’m feeling. It used to be hit-and-miss; now it’s a calling.

I’m on retreat this very moment. And because of what the practice requires, Thanksgiving time has turned into a kind of New Year’s for me, a time to assess where I’m at and what resolutions I need to make to do things better.

I do not make resolutions exactly but I do examine the foundation stones I walk on and weigh the emotional solidity they afford, especially the gifts of those who’ve come before me.

Solidity is a good word. It sometimes shows in directives telling me how to live a healthier body-mind.

You can see it in my consciousness, in the language I use. Language is telltale, it always says where a person’s at maturity-wise, especially how gratitude fits into his life.

I could give you the name of every person in my parade this year — right down to a librarian who walks an extra mile for me almost daily — but you’d say I sounded like the Academy Awards.

If you read at all, you will have noticed the continuing flow of articles about gratitude in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet.

Whole sections of conferences are dedicated to understanding its transformative power. Scientists come with data on how gratitude metamorphizes.

I know that anyone who lives a mature spiritual life (non-pious-oozing) will tell you how intimately they are involved with gratitude, pointing to where it resides at their core.

The data I’ve collected say gratitude is reflected in a level of consciousness that can only be described as equanimous, a mind-set that allows a person to be at ease in the world — because he has solid foundation stones to stand on.

I know there are those with nothing and especially those whose mind nothing has control of, but they too are faced with issues of gratitude in their daily life; no one is exempt.

Taking the time to talk to the paraders is always a joy; a believer would call it a godsend. It’s like spending an afternoon with nine Carthusian monks at the heart of a fiery furnace.

I mentioned “spiritual life” before. Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu saints say gratitude is essential for living like a god on earth. St. Therese Lisieux said “Prayer is an aspiration of the heart ... a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy.”

Do you buy that? Is gratitude that central to your life? It’s not something that can be bought or sold.

The neuroscientist Alex Korb, in his recent “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time,” starts talking about how to deal with depression, and unhappiness generally.

Then toward the end he comes up with a startling revelation: Gratitude can reverse psychological (and physical) ill-being by rewiring that part of the brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) that controls our psychological elevator.

Who are you to believe, Therese or Korb?

The answer is both, because both are saying the same thing: There’s a level of consciousness where a person understands the importance of all the gifts given him and is thus transformed into a person of peace. Gratitude makes us stop poking other people’s eyes out.

The first person on my parade this year — and he’s been there for 40 years — is Kevin O’Toole, the builder from New Scotland. His unending intelligence in solving structural, electrical, plumbing, remodeling, and hurricane-effect problems has been a foundation stone for me and my family to walk on in peace.

He’s a portrait painter too.

I could say the same about Rich Frohlich, who ran a garage in Voorheesville for 40 years but Jim Giner and Bill Stone, two members of the Voorheesville Fire Department, keep tugging at my pen.

They’ve been walking in my gratitude parade since August 2011 when Irene flooded us out like a river. There was Jim in the middle of the darkened road, red wand in hand, waving cars by, battered by sideways needles of rain.

Then every few hours Chief Bill Stone appeared on our lawn to check the generator the department had set up, asking if we were alright.

At different times, when I saw Jim in Smitty’s, I’d treat him to a drink at the bar, a tiny gesture to help him (me) dry out from the storm.

This is how my Thanksgiving has begun this year. I wonder if you’re experiencing the same sort of thing.

Paradise: The Garden of Eden was portrayed by Hieronymus Bosch in the 15th Century.

There’s a subgenre of jokes called “the three wishes,” which you might have heard from time to time.

An example is: Three men are stranded on an island. One day, a bottle washes on shore, a genie comes out and tells the men they are granted three wishes.

Astounded, the first man says: I want to go to Paris. And there he is, sitting at a table at Arpège.

The second man says he wants to go to Hollywood and immediately finds himself on a Scorsese movie set.

The third guy, feeling a bit abandoned, says: My wish is to have the other two back here.

It’s a ha-ha joke in a funny sort of way but there’s a deep side to this and all three-wish jokes that’s never looked at. That is, the jokes are a comedic form of utopian literature, here defined as the imagination envisioning a society in which the needs of all are met.

The genie acts like a supportive community satisfying the expressed wishes of the participants — except that we are led to wonder whether the wish of the last person supersedes or cancels out the already-granted wishes of his island-mates.

You might think this is a question for the political economist but it’s the kind of thing we all think about all the time. Do we think of a society where the needs of all are satisfied without grief, resentment, and dismissive disregard? We can tell by the way we talk to each other.

In the United States today, the utopia issue is far from academic because America is faced with creating a new identity out of the ashes of the old apple-pie American Dream.  

The great irony of course is that the vast majority of folk are not able to articulate the kind of society they’d like to live in: a time, a place, the kind of family they’d like, the kind of work they’d like to do. They were never given the competency to do so.

They stay away from speaking utopian thoughts, as well, because they know they’ll be laughed at. When people hear someone talking about a society in which the needs of all are met, they turn into a mocking Greek chorus and start with: stupid, insane, pipe dream! Who’s going to pay for that!

It’s strange but there’s a dimension to the human psyche — more prominent in some eras than others — that represses envisioned alternatives. Not to get too analytical but it is in fact the human community engaging in self-punishment — for failing to make good on its collective dreams in the past. It’s Adam and Eve stuff.

We see it manifested in a lack of trust for each other, in a resentment-filled allocation of goods and services, and ultimately in the adoption of authoritarian social arrangements to keep the growling rabble from getting out of hand.

We see acceptance of this way of life in an increasing number of literary and cinematic dystopias, visions of societies that rely on totalitarian or fascist-like social arrangements for survival.

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a case in point. In the spring of 2017, it appeared in a highly-popular, award-winning television series that’s captured people’s minds.

There’s a society, Gilead, militaristic in nature, where women are owned as property. The fertile among them, the Handmaids, are ritually raped so the leaders can offset society’s dwindling population. The old story of women as sexual pack mules.

The cinematic trilogy “Hunger Games,” which appeared in 2012, is a similarly gruesome dystopia, derived from the novels of Suzanne Collins.

The society of Panem holds an annual survivalist-game where 24 young people head into the wild to stalk and kill each other until the savior-seed of the future emerges.

The 2014 film “Divergent,” a dystopia based in Chicago, also drapes a pall over our mutual aid and cooperation traits so future generations will forget they’re part of human nature.

And the young have taken to these dark visions. Harry Potter was the talk of the town for decades but in 2012 the “Hunger Games” took over. National Public Radio said teens were drawn to them like moths to a flame.

This shift in imaginative literature (and film) did not escape the great science-fiction writer, Ursula LeGuin, who died in January. She saw her imaginative-writer colleagues making a living off creating visions that feed human despair.

When she received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, she said we — America — were headed for “hard times” and, to get through them, we need writers who could project “alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.”

The emphasis is on “other ways of being.” She said we needed more poets and other visionaries, “the realists of a larger reality,” who present societies in which people solve problems through nonviolent means, who figure out how to distribute goods and services without resentment, a society in which people generally feel good about themselves.

The United States of America today does not feel good about herself.

But, as LeGuin pointed out in her highly-acclaimed anarchist-based “The Dispossessed” (Harper & Row, 1974), even in perfect societies, imperfections arise; there’s always work to do, the struggle to be human never ends.

Ironically, while America was debating the tenets of LeGuin’s anarchist society, Anarres, in 1974 sixty-nine leaders of United States society were being indicted for acts of treason, 49 pleaded guilty to selling out the American Dream. Their president escaped on a helicopter.

Two years after “The Dispossessed” appeared, Marge Piercy’s brilliant “Woman on the Edge of Time” arrived. In Piercy’s utopian society, Mattapoisset, no one would ever think of putting women into subservient roles or making them structurally dependent. In Mattapoisset, mothers, nobody in any family, are to be enslaved for the interest of anyone.

We all know that in any society people cheat and steal and take more than they need, but every “per” — as a person is called in Mattapoisset — is guaranteed care for all their needs for life, constitutionally, because everybody, structurally, is deemed to be of equal worth.

If you’re one of those who laughs at utopian thinking because you’re wedded to dystopian dog-eat-dog modules, consider the sabbatical that everyone in Mattapoisset is guaranteed, as they do in universities now, every seven years.

That is, every seventh year, every per is freed from work and family obligations to regenerate, study, think, refresh, reassess the value and meaning of life, fully supported by the community, and without resentment. It’s part of mental health.   

You like that sort of thing? Or has dystopianitis pushed you to the point where all you can offer is derision?

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— From farid_s_v

Cary Grant in the 1950s experimented with LSD and says in the documentary “Becoming Cary Grant” that he learned he was punishing other women for what his mother had done to him, deserting him as a child.

In the lobby along the south wall of the Original Headquarters Building of the CIA stands a statue of Maj. Gen William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

It’s part of a memorial to the Office of Strategic Services, the first full-service intelligence organization in the United States, the seed of the CIA.

In July 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put Donovan in charge of looking into whatever the agency deemed threatening to the security of the United States. Those who work at the Langley, Virginia complex today see Donovan as not only the first director of the OSS but also the “Father of American Intelligence.” He’s their George Washington.

From the outset — even though pre-Cold War — Donovan was interested in finding a drug, a chemical brew, that would make people blab classified secrets, unknowingly and without resistance.

That is, the drug would break down spies, prisoners of war and the like so they would open their memory banks for inspection. Donovan hoped the truth-prodder would also ferret out double agents inside the agency.  

In the spring of 1942, less than a year after the United States entered The War, Donovan brought together several prominent psychiatrists and the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, and assigned them the task of finding what they referred to as TD, the “Truth Drug.” Years later, Donovan would say they were open to anything: “We were not afraid to try things that were never done before.”

Thus they began with alcohol, barbiturates, caffeine, peyote, and scopolamine (a drug designed to relieve nausea, vomiting, and dizziness from motion sickness). One section of a 1977 Senate Subcommittee report describes experiments with scopolamine combined with morphine and chloroform.

The combo was supposed to “induce a state of ‘twilight sleep’” as Doctor Robert House had decades before with criminal suspects in Dallas, Texas. Pre-Miranda.

For a variety of reasons — the subcommittee’s report is available online — “Donovan’s Dreamers,” as they were called, quickly turned to marijuana. The agency’s scientific team said they could manufacture a clear, viscous, odorless, colorless version of the new TD on the block. Cannabitic juice could be injected in a person’s food — meat, mashed potatoes, salad — or shot into a cigarette waiting for an unwitting subject to light up and spill the beans of subversion.

But the new experiments with “grass” did not provide the reliable data the agency had hoped for. Some people chilled when dosed, others had “toxic reactions.” A declassified OSS document of Jan. 31, 1946 says marijuana “defies all but the most expert and searching analysis, and for all practical purposes can be considered beyond analysis.” Translated: It was time to move on.

Those interested in the United States government’s early search for a truth-producer can turn to Martin A. Lee and Bruce Schlain’s “Acid Dreams: The complete social history of LSD: the CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond” which first appeared in 1985.

The book is filled with a host of undeniable data. Indeed every statement about the government’s involvement in drug experimentation is backed by a declassified document from the archives of the CIA, FBI, and different branches of the military.

And those documents say the fireworks show really began in earnest when the TD explorers tuned into LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). In April 1953, three days after the newly-appointed CIA director, Allen Dulles, spoke to fellow alums at Princeton University, the agency launched its MK-ULTRA, a powerhouse complex of mind-control strategies designed to achieve international sovereignty.

Dulles told his Princeton chums “how sinister the battle for men’s minds had become in Soviet hands” and it was up to the CIA to declassify the opposition. Enter LSD.

LSD is an atomic drug. It produces effects so primordial in a person that deep personality changes occur in a single session. Therapists had been using it for years to help patients find their way out of despair-riddled confusion.

During the late-fifties, the movie actor Cary Grant took 100 “trips” under the guidance of a therapist. He talks about his ventures in the documentary “Becoming Cary Grant.”

While Grant was morphing into his better self, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary was using LSD to effect personality change in criminals housed in Massachusetts prisons. In his autobiography “Flashbacks,” Leary reveals how he came to this work and how it eventually got him fired from Harvard.

Regardless, when the government started using LSD, the Keystone Cops showed up en masse. That is, in order to speak with authority about acid, CIA field agents dosed themselves and started dosing each other during coffee breaks while the dosers took out their notebooks to jot down every exhibited deviation.  

As part of Operation Midnight Climax, agent George Hunter White set up safehouses fitted with one-way mirrors where prostitutes on the CIA payroll brought unwitting “subjects” to grapple with the mind-bending realities of LSD while having sex.

To expand its work, the agency awarded more than three-quarters of a million dollars ($7 million today) to psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists to conduct their own studies on how people behaved when acid destroyed equilibrium.  

If you’re familiar with the transmigrations of Timothy Leary you know how things changed after he and his Harvard colleague Richard Alpert turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. And, if you’ve read Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” you know people have deep religious experiences on acid; some say they speak to God.

But, if you were alive in, or studied, the sixties you know that at a certain point a crack-down came. In May 1966, Nevada and California led the charge by forbidding the manufacture, sale, and possession of LSD. No more TD for the masses.

The federal government’s Drug Abuse Control Amendment passed the year before gave the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare the power to designate certain “stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic” drugs as controlled substances requiring licensing for sales and distribution.

Of course the saddest part of the story was Harry Anslinger’s continuing demonization of marijuana, which resulted in hosts of citizens doing hard time for possessing a joint or two. Colonel Kurtz summed up Anslinger at the end of “Apocalypse Now”: the horror.

Anslinger called marijuana a, “deadly dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once became a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms.”

He said using it was, “a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marijuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters.”

And forget concentrates like hash; they make “a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get to him.”

Anslinger found support for his insanity when “Reefer Madness” appeared in 1936 and the Marijuana Tax Act was passed a year after. Every piece of governmental lit of the era addressing grass, smoke, Mary Jane, reefer — take your pick — said users were mad men hiding in the bushes waiting to rape and pillage your daughter.

It’s autumn 2018 now and things have changed somewhat. There are now nine states and the District of Columbia where a witting subject can buy a lid of Lemon Kush over the counter like a bottle of chardonnay. And the data collected on the ongoing experiment in Colorado, for example, prove that Anslinger had been enveloped in a mirage of madness.

But, as the great American poet Allen Ginsberg, who took nearly every drug under the sun, used to warn: Every time you take a mind-expanding drug, you’re fooling with your nervous system. And that’s no small matter.

Thus, if an explorer in the land of legalized TD discovers that his metamorphoses do not result in personal growth and sharing in convivial community, it’s time to move on.

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Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn painted "The Return of the Prodigal Son" in the 1600s, a timeless representation of apology and forgiveness

It took 10 years of brutal war for the ancient City of Troy to fall; it took one 44-character tweet for the empire of Roseanne Barr to disappear from television. “The Conners” with Barr as queen, like Troy, is no more.

Barr was expeditiously deleted from the ranks of Burbank because, in a tweet on May 29 she called Valerie Jarrett — an African-American woman who was a senior advisor to Barack Obama — an ape, not the run-of-the-mill kind but one infused with Muslim terrorism.

ABC showed en force. Its entertainment president, Channing Dungey, said Barr’s action was “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values” and ejected her, to mix metaphors, from the ballpark.

Hoping to reverse her fortunes, Barr kept tweeting but with what can be described as empty, lopsided apologies. At one point, she pulled out the “devil made me do it” card, blaming her venom on Ambien.

Lickety-split a spokesperson from Ambien said, “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

From the denials and excuses she offered, it was clear Barr had little sense of what kind of transformation must occur before a person can offer a sincere apology — to the person harmed as well as the world at large.

Barr’s remorse was summed up in, “I was so sad that people thought it [the tweet] was racist.” (Exegesis to follow.)

The matter kept gnawing at Barr so she felt compelled to appear on Sean Hannity’s show two months later, July 26, to set the record straight. But pretty much everything she said failed to meet the requirements of a sincere apology.

At one point, she turned to the screen and said — to Jarrett presumably — “I’m sorry that you thought I was racist and that you thought my tweet was racist because it wasn’t ... And I’m sorry for the misunderstanding that caused my ill-worded tweet.”

In a myriad of ways, Barr pressed on like this, assuming defensive after self-protecting defensive posture. She was floundering emotionally and ideologically.

Right after Barr’s appearance on “Hannity,” Eric Deggans, media critic for NPR, commented, “Roseanne Barr has just given a master class on how not to apologize for a massive public flameout.”

I know a lot of people, some close to me, who have a hard time apologizing, even a little bit. When “sorry” leaves their lips, it’s followed with a flood of justifications that become masked attacks themselves.

First of all, in a sincere apology there is no “but.” “But” is a euphemism that hides a person’s real core behind justifications: “Ambien made me do it.”

When an apology is sincere, the penitent’s posture is one of owning the pain and suffering he inflicted on another. He takes back the burden he created.

And this requires finding out how the harmful act affected the “target’s” life — whenever possible through a face-to-face dialogue.

And how one speaks at every stage of the process is critical. Nowhere in an apology should there be heard, “Oh, I made an error,” the kind of thing a person says after he’s said two and two are five.

In his beyond-brilliant HBO situation comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David returns again and again to the issue of apology. Season 5, Episode 4 is emblematic of his thinking.

A young Japanese American, Yoshi (the son of a World War II Kamikaze pilot “survivor”), believes that David, when ordering chicken teriyaki during dinner, is taunting him with “chicken” when David repeats it several times looking Yoshi in the face with vehemence.

When Yoshi tries to kill himself, Larry’s wife among others believes Larry’s labelling Yoshi a chicken was the “cause.”

When a friend convinces Larry he must apologize, the norm-enforcing taunter calls Yoshi on the phone and says, “I’m sorry if I said anything that might have been inappropriate.”

Here, as in the case of Barr, David is not apologizing for the pain he inflicted but for violating some unwritten code of appropriateness.

He gets in deeper when he adds, “I didn’t mean anything to happen” by which he disavows personal responsibility for his act; it’s as if harms happen somewhere out there at random.

Of course subtly implied is: There would be no issue if you weren’t so sensitive.

But the coup de mal comes when Yoshi thinks he hears Larry eating. “Are you eating something?” he asks. A nonchalant David replies, “I’m eating pistachio nuts.”

Feeling victimized (again), Yoshi responds, “You’re eating pistachio nuts while you’re apologizing to me?” With even deeper hubris David goes, “Yes, so?”

Yoshi then sets a minimum standard for sincerity, “You can’t be sincere apologizing and then snack on pistachio nuts.”

David responds, “I’ve snacked and apologized many times and everyone’s accepted it.” Which translated means: Why can’t you submit to my disrespect like all the other dummies I’ve conned?

David then minimizes Yoshi’s pain further: “What, is that a Japanese thing?” That is, is it some kind of subcultural oddity that does not apply to the rest of us? Without a shred of sincerity in anything he’s said, David has re-victimized Yoshi.

Integrally linked to apology, as we know, is forgiveness. And there’s a whole protocol for determining whether an act of forgiving is sincere.

But it should be pointed out that, because someone has apologized, forgiveness need not follow. There is no “rule” that says a person who’s been apologized to must forgive the person who harmed him.

What is remarkable is that there are occasions when a person who has harmed someone refuses to apologize, but is forgiven by his “victim” nonetheless.

When Pope John Paul II was shot in May 1981, he asked Catholics to pray for his assailant, but more importantly he went to the prison where Mehmet Ali Agca was housed to talk about the situation. He then forgave Mehmet.

Perhaps the classic example of forgiveness offered without a precondition is Jesus on the cross. After being whipped, mocked, and dragged through the city wearing a crown of thorns, he says moments before he dies: I forgive all of you who are responsible for this (my death, my murder).

I forgive you, he adds, because you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t get the big picture of human value and worth.

Roseanne Barr does not seem to get the picture either, as is the case with the character Larry David. Their ignorance resulted in the re-victimization of those they harmed in the first place.

At no time did Barr choose to meet with Jarrett face-to-face, and David diminished Yoshi by calling him on the phone, sadistically eating.

Justifications are a heavy drug. Beneath them beats a remorseful heart but saving face always seems to send that heart packing.

When I ask people how they talk in apology-forgiveness situations, some respond: Is that some subcultural peace-thing question you’re trying to trick me with?

I persist: Would you mind sharing how you apologize to someone? Are you able to forgive when you’ve been harmed? Do you think “sincere” is what they’ll call you when you die?

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