A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Some families go camping and hiking together. Other families ski or play board games.

Our family argues.

Well, OK, not "argue" exactly. We debate. We discuss weighty issues from adversarial positions-which, come to think of it, sounds an awful lot like arguing. But it isn't. Not really.

We don't have a formal, structured setting for our discussions, although they usually happen around the Sunday dinner table. We do, however, have a format that we follow. Our eldest son, Joe, or our son-in-law, Mike, will say something outrageous, and then sit back and defy any of us to dislodge them from their position. Most of the time our discussions are spirited, but good-natured. But occasionally my wife Anita and I have to step in to prevent nuclear family holocaust.

Like a few weeks ago. The subject on the table-or around the table, in our case-was Earl: did he really have to die? And if you don't know who Earl is and you haven't heard about his death, you probably don't listen to country music. And you probably haven't heard about the catchy, controversial song by the Dixie Chicks, in which an abusive husband is poisoned and turned into fish food by his battered wife and her best friend because, according to the lyrics, "Earl had to die."

"That song is morbid!" Joe pontificated.

"It's just a song, Joe," Andrea insisted. "Don't take it so seriously! It's just . . . funny!"

"Funny?" Joe replied. "You think murder is funny? You think vigilante justice is funny?"

"In some cases," Andrea said. Clearly, one such case had come to mind.

"But what they did is sick," Mike chimed in. "Why didn't they just shoot him?"

Mike is a hunter. He can't understand killing things without using bullets.

"But he was abusing her!" Amy pointed out. "Any man who abuses his wife deserves it!"

"Deserves what?" asked Mike.

She fixed her husband with an icy stare. "Whatever," she said coldly.

Thankfully, Joe's wife, Jenny, came downstairs with-in our humble opinion-The World's Most Adorable Baby, and our attention immediately shifted to her, as it always does. We haven't re-opened Earl's case since then, and I'm not sure I want to. But I do like the song, and so I'm glad we sort of stumbled on a way to enjoy it without having to argue the merits of the message with the other men in the family. Since we needed some sort of little act to perform at an upcoming family reunion, we have written some new lyrics to the song. It has the same catchy tune, the same fun rhythm, but we like the words better because they have all our names in them.

And no Earl. Goodbye, Earl.

Maybe there's a lesson in this for other people embroiled in controversy. For example, there are a lot of folks who are upset with the Boy Scouts of America, even though the Supreme Court apparently agrees that the private organization doesn't have to be all things to all people. Maybe those who don't like the way the Scouts are run should quit arguing about it and go out and build an organization that does what they want it to do. They could use all the stuff the Boy Scouts do that they like, and then integrate the new things for which they've been lobbying.

See? No arguments! And everyone is happy!

Except, perhaps, Earl.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and