‘Tis Better to Give a Defense Than Receive One


But what about the poor guy offering the bribe?

This was the question that bounced through my head as Errol Laborde began his recent tribute to Edwin Edwards with a classic parry from the state’s charmer-in-chief. Illegal campaign contributions weren’t a problem for the recipient but for the giver, clearing Edwards of any wrongdoing and further cementing the governor as our logician magician.

After all, ‘tis better to give a defense than receive one.

This Edwards-ism popped to mind shortly before the 1,800-drone globe mosaic made way for the explosion of fireworks above Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium last week. Olympic Opening Ceremonies are more than just for checking in on international fashion trends (I mean, they wear that out like I wear a Ralph Lauren scarf around my neck, right? Paraguay, any words?) and for imagining how life would have been different if Tonga were my home and body oil were an outfit choice.

No, an Opening Ceremony is simpler than the production elements. It’s a living, breathing, very well-built geography lesson. All eyes of the world on all corners of the world. Keep your medal ceremony. I want to know more about Mauritius. And Barbados. And Seychelles. Did Homer write about that one?

I also want to know more about international bribery statutes of limitations.

The IOC gets no A+ from the Better Business Bureau, but all corruption is local, right? As Bulgaria processed in among its fellow residents of the Olympic village, Edwin Edwards started talking to me: ‘tis worse to give a bribe than accept one.

But that poor briber… He might have a few mouths to feed, a job to keep, or maybe even a seminary to return to.

My final four years of seminary formation were spent at the Pontifical North American College, perched atop the Janiculum Hill, with sight lines of Vatican City below. Four years in Rome amounted to a series of travel weekends broken up by theology classes. As the saying went, it’s not home, but it is much.

One Christmas break, having already maxed out all Ryan Air destinations, three friends and I had a completely normal idea: spend two weeks driving through Romania and Bulgaria. We actually first wanted to make Albania the focus of the trip, but for some strange reason, no car company would allow four twenty-somethings drive across their border. Was there, like, bad history in the Balkans or something?

Christmas Eve placed us in Malko Tornovo, right on the Turkish border (for those of you somehow unfamiliar with the location of small Bulgarian cities). There was one English speaker in town. Thankfully, she also was the owner of the one hotel in town.

“Growing up in the Soviet Union, I dreamt my son one day might be able to see London,” she shared. “America. No. Impossible.” And there we were, dreaming Bulgarian dreams ourselves, feeling the tightness of the world, just outside of Turkey.

But, connected or not, we eventually had to get back.

Romania was the second and less endearing leg of the trip. Let’s just say the stop in Transylvania actually lifted our spirits. Making our peace with the ghosts of Vlad the Impaler and the Ceaușescus, it was time go home. Or at least back to Bulgaria to catch our departing flight the next day.

The 3,000-person town of Bechet, however, was not ready to let our Romanian holiday end. Eerily quiet, no life was present in Bechet—down to a dead horse blocking a central roadway. We were ready to stamp our passports, board a ferry, and get on the other side of the Danube. Which is when the border patrol suddenly came to life.

It seems we had neglected to pay the necessary road tax upon entering the country. My Romanian was never very good.

The border agent took our passports—and our driver—into his office. Sitting on a ferry dock in a foreign country with a pending flight can get you thinking some crazy things. For me, I insanely clung to calm.

My friend’s introduction into Romanian bureaucracy done, he returned to the car, empty-handed. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but he says we forgot something. Maybe he wants us to bribe him?”

I piped up, “There’s no way. This is an EU country, right? EU in training at the very least.” My friends were not so convinced. It seemed the horse—or the week in Romania—was talking more convincingly.

The driver made another round-trip from border patrol office to car, now armed with one passport. “Ok. He definitely wants a bribe. ‘You give Johnny Walker, I close eye,’ and then he winked at me.”

What’s the going rate for a Romanian border town bribe?

 Turns out 20€.

Stamp, stamp, stamp. Drive right up and park near the front of the boat.

We’d be back in civilization, or at least Bulgaria, soon.

That the bribe exchange-rate was the question of four future Catholic priests and not, say, Aristotelian ethics might say something about us. It also might say something about how a moment can make some morality points a bit more malleable.

A pearl of wisdom understandable from Bucharest to Baton Rouge.

‘Tis better to give a defense than receive one.




Ready for another show of world-over connectivity? Each Christmas and Easter, the pope offers a special blessing called the Urbi et Orbi—one, literally, for the city and the world. Pope John Paul II started offering a bit more than the Latin in nomine patris, reading a little message in a litany of languages. Pope Benedict XVI continued the tradition, as seen below. These two popes were considerable linguists, but they didn’t know all that! Can you imagine what the phonetic spelling on those sheets?


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