Tuesday, June 30, 2009


The press is reporting the city's attempt to get a federal grant to hire 400 more cops. The catch, according to the city, is the money it will cost us to get the grant. Let me correct that. It's not the money but the morals that's the catch...!

Whenever the Mayor wants, he can always stir up the money. What he can't stir up are the morals. The civic morality on the part of us Chicagoans whose everyday habits all to often border on the ammoral if not the immoral. Until that changes, 400 new cops won't make a dent. Nor will 4000.

I'm not talking the bad guys here -- murderers, rapists, burglars, drug pushers. Chicago's finest have at least a fighting chance against them. It's the rest of us whose little everyday habits overwhelm our fair city. Road ragers...DUIs...crowd trouble-makers...barroom brawlers...purse snatchers....subway hecklers....street hustlers...all the seamy sides to our after-Eden human nature.

Despite the usual grumbling about errant cops, they're still the last thin blue line between us and the jungle. But if the rest of us keep acting like -- well, like people! -- no amount of cops is going to tame our animal nature and hold back its jungle.

Maybe what we need to hire are not better cops, but better citizens


"Houston, we have a problem up here. Only it's taking place down there....!"

That warning didn't actually occur on the last Shuttle flight, but it very well could have. Because what those young astronauts were looking down on is a population revolution. Something no one has ever experienced before. The aging of our world so rapidly there won't be enough young people left to sustain it.

Until the 20th century, we were dying off at average ages between 35 and 45. When in 1935 Roosevelt's New Deal passed our first old-age pension plan (Social Security), most of us were still dying off in our early 60s. Well before Social Security kicked in at 65. But now in developed countries we're living longer than our pension plans calculated. Which means we're starting to outlive the funds we were courting on to live.

Our species has this astonishing way of shooting itself in the foot time and time again. We're always coming up with new was to kill each other off, pollute our planet, turn religions into rage. Now -- with supreme irony -- we've figured out how to live longer than we can afford to.

The answer to this socio-economic-philosophical crisis is clear -- we've got to more realistically manage our politicians' pension and healthcare promises . Europe has done a better job than we have, because we have this hubristic myth that as Americans we have the inalienable right to everything....! And without paying for it....! And when a president happens along to explain why that's lunacy, the critics call him crazy.

While the fully-pensioned politicians debate this mess in Washington, back here on the ranch we're already feeling the early ripple effects. Slashed pension coverage...older age requirements....fewer early if any retirements... and lots more gray-haired folks counting coupons in restaurants and stores while impatient youngsters grumble about all the old geezers in their world.

In ancient cultures, age was equated with wisdom and honor. Try sharing that thought with the young bucks on Wall Street, the gangs in city schools, the shoving crowds at Wrigley, and the bikers and joggers on Sundays. The inter-generational warfare some predicted back in the 90s hasn't broken out. Still, there is this simmering tension between geezer and gusto.

As America (much of the world as well) ages by the billions, every institution from government to education to religion needs to make serious mid-course adjustments.A few ugly years ago there was a governor in Colorado who proposed planned euthanasia for those of us becoming too costly to keep living. He probably never heard playwright Thornton Wilder's paean to age: "The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude."

What better time to pay that tribute than while we geezers are still with you..?

Monday, June 29, 2009


Numbers have meanings. Often 3 is often considered mystic...5 is what you need for a Supreme Court decision...51 for a Senate vote. But how about the number 450,000....?

That's the estimated number of Chicagoans at this week's Gay Parade. A parade which once attracted only a few thousands (including hecklers), now brings out nearly a half million citizens whose very presence tells us we are living an enormous historical shift.

Just as the world shifted its views and values about black cats, witches, voodoo dolls and mental health, increasing majorities are re-positioning themselves about gays and lesbians. Oh, there are still hecklers. And theological zealots. But increasingly, both science and common sense are shouting them down.

This week's parades around the nation were not simply about gay marriage. They were about basic human rights. The right to be who you are, just the way nature and/or God created you.

Every day we -- hecklers as well as advocates -- are learning how the human genetic system has explanations for gays and lesbians no differently than for gifted athletes and astounding geniuses. In Chicago the number 450,000 is a number to remember, for it's the cutting edge of a surge of long-deferred wisdom. As a species we're pretty slow sometime....but eventually we catch up with reality. And, in this case, with truth.

Let me venture a guess. If this were Galilee and if Jesus were alive, he'd have been in the parade. Better yet, my theology tells me he would have been leading the parade. If the hecklers can find where the Messiah ever denounced gays and lesbians, I'd love to see where he said it...!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


We humans are a curious species. No -- not just because we do some strangely curious things. Also because we are forever curious about the world around us. Those of us who make our curiosity a way of life are traditionally called either nosy or scientists...!

Three recent scientific studies seem at first curioisity-simply-for-the-sake-of-curiosity. However, there may be a way of connecting their peculiar dots.

First, the grammarian report in Paris's "Le Figaro" which quotes researchers who have concluded "speaking French helps you think creatively." One might dismiss this as quasi-science, because all the university researchers were French. Still, they build a provocative case by pointing to the language's enormous complexity. "It's a tissue of nutty expressions, replete with irregular verbs, rebellious participles that refuse to agree, and a byzantine subjective tense"

The research goes on to say, "Linear, logical languages are all very well for describing some scientific endeavors such as engineering, but a mind nurtured by an irrational language is better able to cope with the absurd madness of a world in which two plus two does not necessarily equal four!" My linear Anglo-Saxon brain spins...!

A second study comes from researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. They have "tickled" a slew of gorillas, chimps, orangutans, bonobos and three human babies. "Acoustical analysis reveals surprising similarities, suggesting laughter dates back 10-16 million years to a common ancestor. Telling us laughter has a pre-human basis." Lead researcher Marina Davila Ross is quoted as saying, "these findings could have implications for both studying human emotions, and managing caged primates."

I don't have to speak French to find something a bit "byzantine" about her conclusion. Unless, that is, I were an unsmiling zoo owner with bi-polar tendencies. But not to make light of this, there are perhaps a good many of these in our world....!

The third study is taking place on such prestigious campuses as Cornell, Yale and Harvard. The curiosity driving this investigation makes it the most unique of them all, for the researchers are wondering why voters in swing states vote the way they do. In a eureka moment, they seem to have isolated an "ick factor." Their surveys suggest that voters with a "higher disgust sensitivity" (eg. reactions to cockroaches, public toilets, and drinking from another's glass) likely have more conservative views on a range of issues "including immigration, abortion and gay marriage."

The study's lead author, Professor David Pizarro, tells the "Washington Times" that, "Disgust, in particular, appears to be one of those emotions that seems to be recruited for moral judgments." And while I'm not sure what the professor just said, I'm assuming it would make more sense in French.

Taking these three studies together, here's a wild, unresearched thought. Perhaps future presidential candidates should consider becoming the cleanest dressed, French-speaking smilers in the race. That would surely get the zoo vote.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Julys in Chicago are a one-of-a-kind adventure. The grass is never greener, the skies never bluer, the lake never warmer, and the spirit of independence never stronger. If that sounds a little fanciful, let me plead my case before another July gets lost in the humdrum drumbeat of another summer of sinking teams and saddening news....!

To begin with, this spirit of independence is the sizzle to each parade, picnic and pizazz we have on the Fourth. More than ever, our nation's independence shines bright in a world dark with tyrannies. But the sizzle doesn't stop on the Fifth. So many other examples all July long.

Look at it this way. More than in any other month, Chicagoans are independent of the cruelty of their winters, the capriciousness of their springs, and the dog days of their Augusts. Children are independent of the rigors of the classroom. Vacationers, of the toil of work. And toddlers, of those shoes that so stifle their style.

July is also the month, in 1969, when man first landed on the moon. Making us forever independent of our planet. No small accomplishment this one-large-step-for-mankind on that July 20. As far as we know this was the first time any creature in the cosmos ever freed himself from his planetary origins.

And the beat goes on, because our Julys are traditionally the time we find ourselves independent of so many suffocating daily routines. These are the days of Ferris wheels, rocket rides, and cotton candy. The nights for moons and canoes and lips in the dark. The times when long untasted memories enrich the diet of our souls, when the magic of fireflies and shooting stars re-generate our Muses, when anniversaries and reunions wake up long dozing deliriums.
None of this is to say the 31 days of July hold a monopoly on our happiness, but surely they own a piece of our summertime giddiness. It can be reported without fear of contradiction -- happiness and giddiness are as necessary to life as earning of living and balancing a budget!

Each month has its own celestial claim to fame. However, there is nothing this side of that moon to fully compare with the mystic month the Romans respectfully named after Julius Caesar It's the month which celebrates with Rubies and DeScenza Diamonds, is spoken for with Larkspur and Water Lillies, and features some of the most astonishing star constellations of the year.

To astrologers, July is period of cosmic energies. To managers, a period of make-or-break series. To young lovers, no better time for love to become poetry. Each of the other 334 days on the calendar have a full 24 hours of promise too. And yet, July's 31 here in Chicago promise adventures like none other
Promising days unlived, though, are the saddest days of all...

Friday, June 26, 2009


Another young star is dead. Michael Jackson will be mourned by millions exactly as were his predecessors, also cut down suddenly in the prime of their celebrity....!

Just as stars in the cosmos burst and flame before finally disappearing, so do celebrities. Only with them it's not a matter of tens of millions of years. Usually only about 30 or 40. There was Rudolf Valentino in the 20's...James Dean in the 50's....Marilyn Monroe in the 60's.....Elvis Presley in the 70's....John Lennon in the 80's...and now Jackson. Each one young and famous and loved. So loved that millions feel this affection for their icon has suddenly been ripped away from them personally, leaving a hole they find hard to fill.

And so there will be the usual rituals. Funeral, editorials, vigils, retrospectives, even love letters sent to the deceased. The lesson -- and there is always a lesson in death -- will be not about Michael. Rather, it will be about us. Our reactions. Our regrets. Our guilts. Our attempts to assure ourselves we didn't really mean all that snickering when he was alive.

With each death -- celebrity or otherwise -- I hear my grandfather's wisdom: "Don't wait for the wake!"

But, you see, we do and we will....! Perhaps it is all so much a part of our frightened human nature that only the fingers of death can pry open the tongue of our feelings. If there was a curse from our paradise lost, this blindness has to be one of the most shallow and callow.

If one were to extend this logic to its grim conclusion, then each of us could make our own list of other lives-to-be-appreciated only at their wake. Lets, see -- there are all those pols we hate, all those neighbors we dislike, all those siblings and relative sand friends we don't understand. And yet....

...we have them with us for only so little a time. Once they're gone, we will have all the time in the world to regret it.

So rest in peace Rudolf, James, Marilyn, Elvis, John, Michael and that entire galaxy of those we have lost sooner then we expected. In the meantime, a bright new hello to all those we have not yet lost. Upon due consideration, you are well worth appreciating more. As we would hope you will appreciate us more.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Norman Vincent Peal's 1952 classic The Power of Positive Thinking has come under fire again. But this time, the critics not only argue it doesn't work, but that these positive-thinking mantras can actually hurt...!

Ever since the good pastor penned his dogma, the self-help thing has become a billion dollar industry in our country. There isn't a best-seller book list that doesn't include one or more new texts. PBS is jammed with self-help gurus every night of the week. Corporations spend bundles hiring self-help consultants to pump up their sales forces.

But now some researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada headed by Joanne Wood have tested the idea of self-help, and found it really needs a lot of help. Frankly, they conclude, all these looks-in-the-mirror telling yourself "I am good, I am lovable, I will succeed" are not only useless, but they can be counter-productive. Because when someone with low self-esteem blathers these hopes, he or she finds them so forced, they feel all the worse for it.

So what to do with low self esteem in a world of perfect people....?

Here are a pair of simple starters: (1) admit that virtually everyone has some degree of low self-esteem. Why? Well, for openers, because they are all scared human beings trying to manage in a scary world just like you are! (2) there are actually no perfect people -- star magazines and Hollywood celebrities notwithstanding. Unless, that is, you define "perfection" as a fast car and an even faster press agent!

This is not to say you can't still find The Power of Positive Thinking and that other classic from the 1930s How to Win Friends and Influence People in your local book store. Only if these liturgies of success were really true, why is our world the same old scared angry planet it's always been?

Perhaps the best book we can read is the one we're trying hard to write for ourselves day by day.....


The scientists can study global warming in their laboratories. However, the neighbors in many Chicago communities don't need any laboratories. They can study it right in their own streets. Ask any cop -- summertime is killertime.

Your June 25 front page is only a hint of tragic things to come. Gangs and punks thrive anywhere, but especially during the hot tempers of hot summers. As a one-timevictim, I know.

The President can't stop global warming in its tracks...and the Mayor can't stop Chicago summer heat....but together the neighbors and the cops can stop some of the anticipated July/August kid killings. They have already found a variety of very thick thumbs (community programs) to hold back the dike in high-crime-rate districts. And while small thumbs aren't as good as whole new dikes, it's a start.

As a one-time, summer-time gang victim, I offer this thought. When we hear the Mayor talk tough on gang crime, when we see the cops act tough on gang crime, there's every reason to support those neighborhoods with the "No Gangs Here!" warning signs.

That's not vigilantism; that's vigilance!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I submit that men not only look at women, they study them. At least they should, for therein is much to ponder...!

For example, aside from my long-suffering wife, I find two iconic women worth studying: Masha and Mame. Both are fictional, and yet so intensely real. Masha is a pensive young woman in Anton Chekhov's classic The Sea Gull. Mame is the free-living-loving lead character in the Broadway musical Mame. To give an idea of their respective philosophies of life, Masha's first line is spoken introspectively: "I'm in mourning for my life....." Mame's big line is: "Life's a banquet, and some sonsabitch are out there starving...!"

So there you have it -- the two halves of the half-filled glass. The two basic ways of drinking your life. The yin and yang of our existence. As the great barker-in-the-sky might say: "Gather round, folks. You take your choices, you take your chances!"

I've known some of the actresses in town who played the role of Masha. Off-stage, none of them seemed like they quite fit the role. In the case of Mame, we were invited to an opening night in New York where we met Angela Lansbury. That night she very much seemed to fit the role. But the operative question has always been -- how would I fit these roles?

As a believer in the Judaic-Christian ethos, I expect I should reject Masha's worldview when she says later in the play, "Life is a tragedy full of joy." (My religion teaches the opposite). But as a believer I expect I should equally reject Mame's gutsy hedonism.

All this sorta clicked into place as I was scanning the birthday card aisles in our local supermarket. I'm sure you've noticed the same thing. Hallmark features certain age-stages: 16! 21! 40! 65! 70! 80! In our culture, each of these represents a major transition in our lives. (At least that's what our culture instructs us). However, some of us suspect the greatest transition of all is the one from the happy innocence of youth to the solemn embrace of age.

For that, there is no single year in our life or card on the shelf that defines this shift. For each of us it happens when it happens. Even when we often don't realize it until sometime later. One wonders at what point Masha became Masha and Mame became Mame....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


At one time in the history of mankind there was a scarcity of knowledge and of those who could use that knowledge to govern things. Ever since the printing press and now the electronic flood of cable channels, PCs and IPhones, scarcity has become abundance. And abundance a kind of ideological anarchy....!

Today, instead of a few tribal elders, clerics, newspapers, and Walter Cronkites to speak truth for us, we are engulfed 24/7 in a cast-of-thousands each of whom claims to speak the truth.Their voices and images assault our sensorium wherever and whenever we are. The Sunday morning voices-from-Olympus on the network interview shows....the talking/screaming heads on call-in radio and cable....the bloggers-by-the millions...the iconic images of Hollywood directors, TV commercial-spokesmen, Orpahs and Ellens. It's like waking up not to one tribal elder speaking wisdom, but to a countless relentless chorus.

Ever notice a French Impressionist painting...? That's right. A chorus of little dots and flecks -- like the pixels on our screens -- which bunch together to create the image we are experiencing. However, because the single image has been created by this countless chorus of dots and flecks, the image we are experiencing is being experienced differently by everyone experiencing it. The image is no longer a truth, simply my impression.

To live in this abundance is to live in a vast impressionistic anarchy where the concept of truth is elusive if not impossible. In the noble name of freedom and liberty and democracy, everyone's impression is just as valid as everyone else's. Which sounds appropriately inspiring and freeing. And yet, 300 million citizens each living inside their own impression of their world is a hard world to make work.

I grant this may smack of authoritarianism to some. I'm not a political philosopher. But I am one of the minds that is so free to draw whatever impressions of the truth that I wish, there are times I hunger for an over-arching truth
to connect with. Not a tribal eider, not an emperor, not a pope or a rabbi or a mullah. But something I can perceive as a clearly defined truth rather than a flurry of little competing truths.

Our Founding Fathers wisely said the best way to do this was with the constitutional doctrine: The will of the majority balanced by the rights of the minority. I love that, I taught that. Now I brood over that. I'm as yet unsure 21st century America has made this 18th century principle work.

But then that's just my impression.....

Monday, June 22, 2009


The word "taxes" is one of the most explosive words in the English (or any other) language. At its core, it's about someone taking something away from you for someone else. Or at least so it is portrayed...!

In truth, taxes are simply the rent we pay to live in a country. The bleeding edge of this concept is not whether there should be taxes, but how they're levied and spent. In our own history, the taxes imposed by the British Parliament were what triggered the American Revolution. Sure enough, right after we became a nation, the very first civil unrest was the Whiskey Rebellion by New Englanders protesting taxes imposed by the American Congress.

Fast forwarding to 2009, and most of the political wrangling is about -- you guessed it! -- taxes.

Interestingly, no one ever refuses the benefits of taxes. The Coast Guard, the armed services, the national highway system, dams, flood controls, meat inspection, and when the time comes Social Security and Medicare. But in the meantime, some of the loudest complaints come from business and the lobbyists of business. We are told that taxes are choking the American capitalistic system -- you know the system that just helped bring down the whole financial deck of cards! Also, we are told, taxes are killing off economic daring and enterprise.

That's a complex argument with far too many complexities for any easy answer. However, here are a few statistics from the US Government from 2007. Statistics are peculiar things, though, because they can be translated by different people into different conclusions. So these stats are for each translator to decipher their own way.

In 2007, more than 2.5 million US companies filed corporate tax returns. But because of "loopholes and write-offs, their payments "generated just 15% of the total federal tax revenue."

How do you translate 15%....? It may be an absolute number, but it is not an absolute fact. Numbers become facts only once they are translated through the mind and the value system of the beholder. Voltaire wrote over 200 years ago words that seem to have relevance in today's instant-statistics age of 24/7 information: "Madness is to think of too many things in succession too fast, or of one thing too exclusively."

Take your choice!

Sunday, June 21, 2009


So you think the prisons are mostly filled with young minority males, do you? Well, statistics can fool you. What has for so long been a sociological presumption is lately being challenged. By whom? By raging old white geezers.....!

We have an 88-year-old white man shooting up the Washington DC Holocaust Memorial. Earlier a 51-year-old white religious zealot gunning down an abortion doctor. Police records reflect these are hardly exceptions.

Those same sociologists are recently re-considering their images of contented older males "settling" into a life of repose. Indicators show that with more time on their hands, there is more despondency, frustration and repressed rage. And so there has been a pronounced spike in crimes where older white males beat, attack, and shoot the victims of their mental furies.

One of the ironies to this that may hide in the fact that as society seems to achieve its goal of retirement and leisure time, this very time can seed a bitter fruit. The sort of anquish and despondency that triggers acts of violence they would never have thought about in their younger days.

What to do with this unexpected conundrum....?

Given that old white men want to keep living to be even older white men, our time has become a two-edged sword. Slicing our way into longer futures, while at the same time exposing more brooding angers along the journey. Modern medicine has given us this sword, but only we can choose how to weild it.

En garde....!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Experts are forever prowling for facts and stats in their pursuit of knowledge. Be it about the state of the solar system, the earth, the climate, the infrastructure, or right down to our underwear...!

If that sounds a little peculiar, never forget that our experts are dogged in their pursuit of facts and stats. Whenever and wherever they may lead them. I mean, facts and stats are to young experts what Viagra is to old men.

Lest you imagine all this be frivolous, let the record show that no less an expert than former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan has weighed in on the great tale-of-the-underwear. Especially men's underwear. While at first blush this may seem beyond the purview of economics, Mr Greenspan states that our underwear have a great deal to do with economics.

Mr. G. reasons thusly: "Because hardly anyone actually sees a guy's undies, they're the first thing men stop buying when the economy tightens." Now here we have a towering expert reaching down with his wisdom right into the bowels of our bedroom! Perhaps that might be stated more scientifically, but if you're a guy reading this, you get the point.

And Mr. Greenspan's point is sharpened on the tip of some startling new facts and stats. "In the last 12 months, underwear sales have declined a full 12%." Whether or not Team Obama has noted this fall-off is not known, but then we can't see their underwear for any sort of documentable verification.

One hopes that this bold new information is not dismissed too lightly. True, most of us don't monitor our underwear wardrobe for any percentile changes, but if an economist of Greenspan's stature can, then who are we to laugh this off?

Of course, one of the inherent problems with the expertise of most experts is that they invest most of it in plotting data. Which means the past. When they venture into the future -- offering their speculations extrapolated from their indicators -- the experts are on shakier ground. Whether they're wearing new underwear or not!

Still, some of them have taken the great tale-of-the-underwear to project, "Until sales start growing again 2-3% a year, a sustained economic recovery may not be real."

These experts have suggested this rate might not be reached until 2013. I don't know what your reaction is, but mine is to start buying more new underwear. Which leads not to an economic quandary but a personal
one: Jockeys or shorts....?

Friday, June 19, 2009


This rabid rivalry between the high-paid professionals wearing Cubs and Sox uniforms is largely manufactured. Our beloved boys of summer get paid the same no matter who they play. But Neil Steinberg's June 20 column hit a big, non-steroid homer when he talked about the real rivalry. You know, between the rich and the not-so rich up in the stands.

His headline nailed it: "Rich have nothing to gripe about."

With all the angry blather about Obama soaking-the-rich-to-pay-the-shiftless, a few facts are in order. (1) Nobody's taxes have actually been raised (2) When they are, it will be on those who have considerably more wealth which can be fairly asked to share considerably more of the national burden (3) the so-called shiftless beneficiaries of Obama's dreaded Socialism aren't the down-and-out free-loaders the critics are yelling about. In case they haven't noticed, the shiftless beneficiaries have so far been the wealthy hotshots on Wall Street where their greed almost killed the Capitalism the critics are so worried about

Neil, I don't even know if you can swing a bat, but your common sense here should place you in the cleanup spot for either team in town. Frankly, they could us one!


Among the many things you needn't be bothered with is the medical fact that I'm losing my hearing....!

No, deafness isn't in the prognosis. Although Beethoven seemed to handle his without missing a beat. In my case, it's predicable aging. They inform me I will progressively miss more and more of what people are saying to me. But when you think about that, is this actually all that bad?

I calculate there are a good many things worth missing in my little world:

* The first thing that comes to mind are rebuttals. For someone with so many opinions he actually presumes to blog them every day, rebuttals can be downright annoying. I mean look at it this way. As a long-time teacher I was raised in a venue where I talked and they listened. That can get to be a very comfortable habit. Shortly after our marriage, Joan made it perfectly clear our home was not a classroom, and she was not my student. Still, old ways die hard...
* Then there's the nightly news. As a well-intentioned citizen I try to listen, but the endless drumbeat of dangers and disasters takes its toll. Recently, I notice the toll is less, because I am missing more. And what's so bad about that....
* Dialog is another hearing loss. In the movies of my time, actors enunciated every word on a sound-stage set. These days they mumble on-location with all the ambient sounds. Upon reflection, though, I've come to the conclusion that some of their dialog is well worth missing...
* If you enjoy classical music, a hearing loss can be a problem. Especially when the passages are modulated so quietly that listeners like me can't hear a note. On the other hand, if you enjoy rock music, you'll never ever miss a note. Stone deaf, you'll still feel the gritty beat of those electric guitars...
* Diminished hearing is an out-and-out blessing on two specific occasions. One, the daily roar of jets overhead and power mowers below. Second, the social chit-chattering over cocktails at parties. One learns to smile and occasionally say, "How very true..." That worked until the party where my hostess giggled something to the effect, "Even after my latest diet there are times when I still feel fat!"

Now look, if you're going to disagree with me on this, I call to your attention a sign my sister-in-law gave me last Christmas. It read: "Lets have an intelligent conversation -- I'll talk and you listen!" But then she's such a kidder.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


No one can argue that getting the 2016 Olympics for Chicago would be both prestigious and profitable. The argument comes when you ask: Prestigious and profitable for whom....?

Obviously prestigious for the Mayor. A pretty good mayor who like all of history's pretty good leaders hopes to see something spectacular left in his wake. A statue, a building, a law, or hey why not an international event where I can cut ribbons and be seen by about 3 billion people over dinner?

As for the profitable part, the record suggests the biggest profit-takers will be the airlines, hotels, restaurants, cabbies, ladies of the night, and those city-loving investors.

No one's arguing about these folks turning a buck. But here's the thing. These prestige/profit takers total about 2% of the population. The other 98% of us will have to be content with (1) boasting to our out-of-town friends and relatives (2) cancelling all downtown plans for a month.

Of course, there's historic precedent for this sort of thing. Think Egyptian Pharaohs and Egyptian workers on the pyramids. The big guy convinced the little guys this would be something they and posterity would never forget. Turns out the Pharaoh was half-right. Posterity has never forgotten him.

The little guys...? Somehow posterity never caught their name...!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I don't know about you, but I'm perfectly comfortable with metaphors. They have this literary capacity to portray and convey big ideas with just a simple image. For instance, take the metaphor of the fallen tree next to our house....!

A magisterial Oak that's been soaring high above the homes here for over 100 years. Last night it suddenly collapsed. Without warning, this splendid castle of nature came crashing down from its roots up. A roaring whoosh....a crash of branches....house and shrubbery beneath scarred forever. Waking up to this was to witness a dramatic shift in the entire landscape of our street. Something once so much a permanent part of the scene and scenery, now gone forever. As if someone had suddenly ripped out a chunk of the old graduation picture you have hanging over the piano.

But, no, that's not the whole metaphor. It's not only the abrupt nothingness where once something was. It's the chattering squirrel I saw scampering along the fallen trunk. To us-- an enormous visual change in our life! To the squirrel -- same old friendly trunk!

While our little world is dramatically changed forever, his little world is exactly the same. Is it straining the metaphor too much to suggest there are those times when mighty changes go totally unnoticed by those of us living within the changes themself? Like a society that gets up every morning and lives the world just the way it comes to them, without consciously sensing it's now coming to them in startling new ways. Taken-for-granteds like jets, satellites, shuttles, Internets, IPhones, Twitters, medicines, clones. foods, music, religions, philosophies and entire civilizational movements.

When we live like a squirrel -- when we take our tree for granted -- it's not always possible to realize what just happened last night. If it looks like a tree,smells like a tree and feels like a tree, then ca-ching I guess it's gotta be a tree! If instead we stand back like a neighbor -- we get to see the full picture. And the full consequences.

Careful here -- are we the squirrel or the neighbor?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


We live in a terror-filled world where hostage-taking has become a dangerous way of life. From our city ghettos to our ships at sea to foreign capitols. But take no comfort in the old it-won't-happen-to-me instinct. Frankly it's happening all around you all the time....!

In the latest example, North Korea captures two American journalists, and imprisons them. Everyone knows the rules of the game. Two young girls snared as hostage-pawns in a heartless game of international power-chess. Assuming Kim Jong and Obama play their knights and rooks properly, both nations will grudgingly compromise something, and then both girls will be released with each side claiming victory.

But consider how many less-newsmking times each of us is likewise snared as hostages-pawns.

If you live in a neighborhood with gangs, you live in daily fear that the punks will prevail, because the punks have more weapons and ways at their disposal than the good guys. And so as hostages to their juvenile ruthlessness, your life becomes a daily game of dangerous chess.

If you shop in a supermarket there's another hostage game going on. Less violent, more subtle. But you are a hostage just the same. It's those agonizing, toe-squinging minutes you are forced to wait in the checkout line where you are water-boarded with a flood of garish frontcovers from America's popular magazinery. From Oprah's face offering you the wisdom of the ages...to Rachel Ray grinning at you with bubbly new recipies...to the National Enquirer (and its neurotic off spring) assaulting your sense with a photographic gush of bini-bodies, flabby butts, posing starlets, and telescopic lens shots of rehabbing celebs waving from their window to the gasping paparazzi.

I can't speak for those two poor girls, but I can speak for my weekly confrontation with this desecration of the First Amendment along magazine row. History tells us the girls will eventually be free. That same history tells me that those of us in checkout counters will never ever be free. Unless, that is, we start our own farms....!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Forty-one summers ago, Chicago's Grant Park wasn't filled with today's jazz & blues concerts, but hate & kill crowds. It was called the Democratic National Convention of 1968. Inside, the party nominated Hubert Humphrey to face Richard Nixon for the presidency. Outside, tens of thousands of young protesters taunted Mayor Daley's baton-twitching police lines. The crowd's well-rehearsed taunt was bellowed in front of international TV cameras: "The whole world is watching....!"

What was then an electronic event, is today in electronic universal. Everyone is watching everyone. Every day. Every where. Every person. The explosion of hand-held phones, cameras, recorders, and playback screens has come to mean any 8-year-old anywhere on the planet has the electronic potential to invade anyone's private space and hurtle it instantly by satellite into the lives of any other 8-year-old in their home, any Supreme Court Justice in their chambers, any monitor located in the West Wing, any training camp from the hills of Montana to the mountains of Afghanistan.

Not only instantly, but eternally. As in the case of the millions of downloaded moments available on YouTube for a gazillion curiosity-seekers any time of any day of any year.

Exactly what might these images be? Well, let your imagination ride cyberspace. Maybe a Taliban death-threat from Pakistan, a pair of African elephants mating in Kenya, Mel Gibson spewing anti-semetism to a highway officer, an off-duty copy brawling in a Chicago bar, David Letterman driving Sarah Palin crazy, or perhaps your high school principal fornicating with his secretary in the campus board room.

Marshall McLuhan's Electronic Global Village is alive and well ("well" being an arguable adjective). What mankind has wrought is a planetary grid-work of electronic interfaces which has swallowed distance and collapsed time forever. Just as our world was different the day after fire and the wheel, it is now exponentially different the day after the mobile Internet.

Entrepreneurs may not see this as much more than a new frontier for their products....movie and recording studios as simply a new delivery system....Wall Street brokers and Vegas odds-makers as a new tool with which to toss the big dice. And yet, are not these but nibblers at the easy edges of a life altering happening?

Today, were Rodin to sculpt his classic "Man Thinking," he would have to portray him as "Man Watching." Think about that.....!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The advantage of taking an instant dislike to somebody is that it saves time....!

I don't remember who said that, but for me it brings to mind folks like Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong, Ben Laden, Bernie Madoff, Glenn Beck and the guy who walks his dog on my front lawn every damn morning. Admittedly, were they to meet me, they might feel the very same way.

And so there we have it -- the human race's congenital problem with living with one another.

Whether it's the tyrant across the ocean or the neighbor across the hallway, all 6 billion of us are obliged to somehow survive together on this planet. That's proven to be a dicey affair ever since Cain and Abel. As Lucy philosophically explained to Charlie Brown, "I love humanity, it's just people I can't stand!"

This probably makes Lucy and me a little paranoid. But then I once heard Susan Sontag say she envied paranoids, because we actually feel people are paying attention to us.

Here's a question whether you're paranoid or not. Who are the people you take an instant like to? While you think about that, here's my list. In order of spontaneous preference: Ambulance drivers, ER staffs, firefighters, cops, power-line repairmen, rescue workers and SWAT teams.

Several of you who read this blog are psychiatrists. For you my list may be a peephole into my psyche. Or it just may be the forgotten fact that most of us all too offten take our world and the people around us for granted. Until.....! Until, that is, something breaks the rhythm, changes the cadence, disturbs the natural flow of things. That's when we suddenly stand in need and in awe of such people. People at their best. Humanity at its finest.

Even we paranoids agree there's a streak of goodness and caring prowling in virtually all of us. Is the explanation our evolutionary genes...? Our better angels....? I recall Woody Allen's classic line when confronted with choices: "Are you going to believe me or your own eyes?"

In the case of man's inherent goodness and caring, I suspect the answer to both these alternatives is: Yes!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Nine-year-old Alastair Barnes of England was walking his dog looking for four leaf clovers. Suddenly he noticed one. Only this one had not four leaves but seven. The statistics show the odds of a four-leaf clover are 1 in 10,000. No one has any stats on seven-leaf clovers....!

Now here we have a conundrum. No, not just trying to explain the odds of nature. That's for scientists. This puzzle is for poets. Or perhaps even theologians. You see, nature is a wondrous gift bulging with remarkable beauties. However, also astonishing surprises. In reconciling the two, the scientist can only deal with what can be quantified. The poet and the theologian, though, are free to question the un-quantifiables.Their minds can soar as far as they permit them to lift above the nature of our earth. Much less exacting this way, but far more exciting.

No one asked young Alastair where he thought clovers came from, but the poets and theologians might surely speculate that clovers -- like the rest of nature -- are the handiwork of something or someone far more mysterious than just evolution. Oh. they'd probably grant the force of evolution is real. What they -- unlike the scientists -- would add is their speculations about the force that set off the force of evolution.

There are great scientific minds who wonder whether such a first-force can come from nothing. So far they have nothing substantial to show for this nothingness.

Poets and theologians, on the other hand, are considerably more venturesome. Emily Dickinson put it this way: "The world is not conclusion/a sequel stands beyond/invisible as music/but positive as sound." Saint Thomas Aquinas put it this way: "That nothingness which the mind experiences as somethingness is what we call God."

And so it goes in this journey. A journey taken by billions upon billions of lives, each at one time or another running across something in nature to make them pause. It is that pause, that question, that has lured lives further and deeper down the trail. Some to mountaintops, others to deserts, but all to a conclusion whose epitaph they themselves write.

Ahh, as for Alastair's dog -- well he just rolled happily in the grass savoring its soft green fragrance.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Some of us have an enormous affection for statistics. As our ancestors once gathered together animal entrails and tea leaves to understand their world, we now gather together numbers that have been sliced and diced by well-paid statisticians. Only, once we have all the numbers we usually have only half the truth...!

Grab your calculators, for here are some spanking new numbers to crunch about our population mix by 2050 --

White: 65% TODAY, 46% THEN

Black: 12% TODAY, 12% THEN

Hispanic: 16% TODAY, 30% THEN

Asian: 4% TODAY, 8 % THEN

Live alone:
16% MEN, 22% WOMEN

So how is America to understand and extrapolate from these data? Well lets see now -- between 1890 and 1920 tens of millions of Italians, Greeks, Poles, and Jews migrated into a nation once predominantly English, German, Irish and Scandinavian. According to the records, America from those year forward emerged as the most cultural exciting, economically powerful society on earth.

Not bad for a "melting pot" which admittedly did brew some occasional bitter recipes. If I were a betting man, I'd bet we'll do it again. But then I wouldn't ask the statisticians to explain how. I'd ask our children and their children....!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"Life is hard...!" Virtually every philosophy and theology text tends to start off with that premise. This is not to say life is not a staggering gift of love from God, but it is to say the gift must be held high like a treasure while we cross the sharp rapids of daily existence.

Charlie Brown -- a philosopher-theologian himself -- explained it this way "Life wouldn't be so hard if just weren't so daily!" But day-by-day-by-day is the only way the gift comes to us. It's not a one-ribbon affair. It's been precisely wrapped inside many ribbons each challenging us to slip them off one by one before we can fully appreciate the gift itself.

For instance, there are tightly-tied ribbons like all those daily lessons that we first have to learn from infancy to childhood to maturity. Each calls for some serious effort. However, as we learn to manage each, the gift then has still other ribbons to be mastered. Like learning how to survive the disappointments, value the successes, overcome the failures, grow with the accomplishments and most of all defy the fears. Each time we do, we get a ribbon closer to the gift.

Throughout history,people have found many different ways of unwrapping their gift. Monks do it in monasteries... academics on campuses...scientists in labs...mothers in homes...physicians in ORs....politicians in office. How do you do it? Or, for that matter, how often have you even thought about how you do it? If you're like most of us, you may simply tear into the package like a giggly kid at Christmas.

Trouble with that is that in our hurry, we may miss the beauty of the wrappings. Ignore the delicacy of the packaging. Even play with what we find so quickly and furiously, we use it all up before we've really learned what it was all about.

Now maybe kids at Christmas can get away with such extravagant enthusiasm. But not the rest of us. Not when the gift is the gift of our life itself. We need to stand back, size up, and better cherish the prize. For we only get one a lifetime. Given this fact, it behoove us to do a much better job with it than we have been so far.

Of course I can't speak for you. But speaking for myself, I intend to try a little harder. Starting the next church I attend, the next prayer I offer, and especially the next birthday I'm fortunate enough to celebrate....!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I passed a church carnival the other evening. There next to the Gothic spires of Catholicism were the gaudy heights of Ferris Wheels and rocket rides. Inside the church the aroma of incense and candles; outside, the smell of popcorn and pizza. A flinty-edged profile in contrasts....!

And yet, each promises a way out of this world. The church offering 2000 years of sacred theology about life-after-death. The carnival promises a few hours of giggly escape into a life-within-a-life. Having attended each for many years, I find very good reason for each. Only lately, each has given itself over more and more to the gadgetry of our times.

Inside the church they now have surround-sound PA systems, special lighting effects for special celebrations, even a video screen. After all, they reason, if Jesus had these in Galilee, he surely would have made use of them. You know, he was a pretty cool guy who knew how to reach the people.

Similarly, the carnival may have seemed just like the rickety old ones of my youth, yet closer examination revealed the advanced technologies driving its rides and lighting its realm. I mean, these traveling carnies are pretty cool too.

Writers are funny this way, we look at things other than the things we're looking at. For instance, creation. Maybe it's a stretch, but when a low-tech observer surveys all this technology at work in our world today, he is, first, impressed; second, concerned. Concerned that what we have created might some day prove a problem. I'm thinking here the well-intentioned Dr Frankenstein. More to the point, the very well-intentioned God of Genesis. You'll recall how those creations turned out...!

What's especially concerning to someone like me is how the more technology we create to serve us, how often it fails us. We build bigger bridges and faster planes, only to see them all too often falter....we design smarter communications and more ingenious networking, only to watch them allow enormous errors....we create larger arsenals and more powerful satellites, only to become their targets in the hands of others.

One thing we're good at, though, and that's using our technologies to find out why our technologies let us down. For instance, every collapsed bridge, crashed plane, computer error, and technology-driven corruption in government always produces another commission. And that's good. Only it's always after the fact.

It's before the fact when we most need the wisdom of these experts. As they say in another technology-driven field: "Preventive medicine is always the best medicine!"

Which brings me back to my carnival. Perched on the top seat of the Ferris Wheel I was able to survey the dots of homes below in which people rested this night. Good for them. Only how much better for all of us if only we could do a smarter job before we decide to create something. Which of course troubles me, because if He ran into problems, what are our chances like...?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


It may not be possible to improve on Shakespeare, but it is possible to shorten him.The Bard has his "seven stages of man," and speaks them well. May I introduce my four stages, and speak them as well as I can....?

At first, young-mind-in-young body. Then possibly old-mind-in-young body. Later young-mind-in-old-body;. Eventually old-mind-in-old body. Where is this foursome written? Well, I'm not sure if any medical texts state it quite this way; however I am sure I've lived it this way. And it is entirely reasonable and logical to assume so have some of you. And so have most of the great decision-makers in our history.

* Each of us is of course born into this world with a young body housing a young mind. Anthropology shows how the animal kingdom's young are born and develop their living-capacities very quickly. While they do it in weeks or months, the human animal takes years. But as we do, we soon and permanently outpace the others.

* It is somewhere during these first five to ten years when we meet a fork in the evolutionary path. Most of us retain for awhile that young mind with which we were born, while others seem to grow older faster. Not in IQ but EQ (emotional quotient). Examples? I think of the brooding young Abe Lincoln from Illinois who carried this introspective mind to the White House when the tragedy of civil war needed it. Also, Mary Francis who in our 8th grade class had already committed her life to the convent. And then there was me who, while the other kids played rough-house neighborhood games in the streets, was in his room designing board games that simulated those games. Was that an old mind or simply an out-of-sync one? In either case, Mom had a tough time getting me to go out and play

* Later, at some some undefined moment, the body transgresses the unmarked body-border from youth to age. Unlike a young girl's menses, there are no clear cut markers here. The border-crossing takes place with neither intent nor expectation. Still, it happens nevertheless; and despite all the workout gyms and botox in all the land, there is no way back. What's particularly intriguing about this physiological eventuality is that for awhile, the mind insists on remaining young. And so this third stage of vibrant young mind seeking to survive in faltering old body. Examples? I think of that forever-adolescent Teddy Roosevelt who to the very end pulsed with passions to hunt, climb, and flex both his and the nation's muscles. Also, all the gold-chained, tight-jeaned studs I mistakenly meet whenever I take dinner downtown on a Saturday night. Forty-eight inch waistlines still strutting with thirty-one inch delusions.

* Finally the fourth stage -- old mind inside old body. With or without Shakespeare it comes to all of us. But then why should this seem sad or cruel or unnatural? I would venture it is better described as harmony. The pre-programmed (or better said, pre-ordained) harmony of mind and body. There's really nothing wrong with an old body so long as it houses a mind old enough to appreciate the gifts of its age. Here I'm thinking St Augustine, Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Schweitzer, Elie Wiesel, and my venerable parents. They call it growing old with grace.

I'm trying...!

Monday, June 8, 2009


Memories sneak up on you. Without any invitation, they kick off their shoes and decide to stay awhile. But this time, this June, I came here looking for them....!

Later that night, the 8th grade reunion would take place in this old school auditorium. Cordial conversations over cordial wines would be the order of the evening. However, it was that very cordiality that could mask the real memories between us. So driving through these graying side streets was a way to vault that rehearsed cordiality, to get into feeling touch with who we all had been all these many Junes ago.

Down the way was the playground where I had tried out for the team. Having eaten more than my required breakfast-of-champions breakfasts, I envisioned myself a pitcher. The first inning of the first game of the first season saw the vision collapse into a rubble of line drives and loud laughter. When Jimmy trotted in from center field, he draped a sweaty arm across my shame with, "Hey, so you can't pitch, just like I can't write. I'd rather be you."

I doubt Jimmy will remember that small kindness, but I enshrined it. The memory served me well whenever I felt the tug to be who the world said I should be instead of who I wished to be.

At the corner was another memory that sprang full-bodied to life. It was my patrol-boy assignment for that morning. That morning so different from all the rest. June 6, 1944 when I woke up to Mom's hushed hug of her kitchen radio. "D-Day, Jack, this is what we've all been waiting for!" And it was, for most of our fathers were in the service, and all those they left behind ached so to see them safe again.

As I dutifully took up my post there where the bungalow-ed streets of Potomac and Menard joined lives, Rosie was hurrying up. From out of some unspoken smile in her heart she hugged me. Now, mind you, this was Rosie! The dancing-eyed brunette who sat only one row away where her crossed calves all this year had awakened in me storms of aspirations greater even than my shattered desire to be another Bob Feller on the mound.

Clearly she was exuding the repressed joys for fathers and uncles soon marching home. And yet how was this hugged 13-year-old guardian of the streets to be clear-headed in the throes of sudden requited love? Rosie and I said little after that embrace, but all day long -- all life long -- this retired patrol boy has carried the moment tenderly in his boyhood heart.

There were other sacred moments and places in the old neighborhood. Each a small monument of a memory. Johnny's Huckleberry friendship...Pat's small hand in mine under large moons..Tony's irrepressible unwillingness to take serious all those serious things I took so seriously....and of course those much maligned black-robed nuns who indoctrinated us with the teachings of the Vatican, but even more the lessons of caring for one another. How many would be there tonight? Hard to say, but even if I were never to show up, they each live a daily life in my daily memory.

After all, reunions aren't just for Junes. They're forever.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


June -- the month of college graduations. Diplomas with eastern addresses and western addresses.

Two cultural forces of opposite thrust have forever helped shape the course of our country. One thrusts eastward, the other westward. One can be felt in the sleek condos of Manhattan and the ivy-walls of Harvard; the other in the coffee-shops of San Francisco and the silver-studios of Hollywood. Often the twain never meets.

This point/counterpoint is not exact, but it is fairly consistent. Since our first settlements hugged the Atlantic coastline, there has been this sense that the East is the safe, solid, original from whence we came. Whereas the West (at first just over the Appalachians, then the Mississippi, finally the Rockies) is the dangerous but exciting future toward which we're destined.

Examples are strewn all across our history, and politicians and this year's graduates ignore them at their peril.

In literature there was always been the tailored elites of Boston, New York and Philadelphia in contrast to the grungy hunters, miners and cowhands just past that invisible line easterners call the frontier. And while many in the East, from James Fenimore Cooper to Horace Greeley to the pulp magazines, have romanticized the West, they have usually remained the safe side of the frontier.

In music there has always been the Europic-centered symphony orchestras in the East, while America's unique contributions like jazz, dixie, blues and country have all sprung up from the West. Think Leonard Bernstein vs. Keith Urban.
The list of examples is long and revealing. But never more revealing than in the contrast between universities. No one has written this and no one has sworn to this, but there is an unspoken campus language that seems to say the further East your degree, the further your prospects of success will be. And while there are scores of stellar universities throughout the land, certain names ring with the resounding tones of legitimacy.

Harvard...! Yale...! Princeton....! Columbia....!

For those Skull&Bones conspiracy theorists, there is always plenty of "evidence" to convince them that only the eastern elites rise to the top in our land. And while the last three presidents hailed from Arkansas, Texas and now Chicago, it is fair to say that an impressive majority of America's hierarchy graduate eastern universities.

Oh and if you're looking for the most recent examples, consider how eight of the current nine Supreme Court Justices rose from the Ivy League. The new nominee...? Well, yes, she comes from their too. Maybe living here in Park Ridge all these years, it's time to move east. I'm thinking the next community over: Edison Park!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I have this dear friend who lives in the palmy perfections of Santa Barbara, California. There with many of the stars, celebrities, and Oprah. Only recently he shared a remarkable secret residing on one of the city's green side streets...!

I'm not allowed to mention her name, but she is well known among the stars, celebrities and possibly Oprah. Ethel is her name, and Gloria Swanson's iconic role in Sunset Boulevard is her nature. The dark 1920s architecture of her home has everything the movie did except Erich von Stroheim.

What madam Ethel is secretly known for is her talent -- her gift, really -- for training stars and celebrities to be stars and celebrities. Oh yes, stardom and celebritom don't come without practice. I'm not at liberty to use the names of the clients, but here are some of the ingenuities madam Ethel specializes in.

For starlets on a night on the town with their publicist -- the sudden turn of the head to the cameras to highlight the cheekbones, offer a wisp of blond hair over the eye, and the compelling half-opened-mouth that says to every man: "I want you."

For rockers getting ready for their tour -- that certain primitive plant of the wide-apart legs that offer a hint of genitalia packaged inside the tight jeans. Rockers master their notes in rehearsal, but madam Ethel knows precisely how they can master their narcissism in her mirrored studio. I humbly admit to vowing never again to sing in my shower.

For athletes between seasons -- many of them work with her to perfect the look. The proper steely squint, the set jaw, the ecstasy of the teethy roar, and of course the photographable pump of the fist into the air. And you thought this was spontaneous.

For news anchors looking to advance their careers from say the station in DesMoines to the network in New York, this astonishing guru focuses on the techniques that most distinguish the memorable from the just adequate. It's all in the hands. Especially the way they're used to hold, to sort and at the end to tap those papers in front of you. Whenever you see one of the anchors' hands doing this with that certain effortless flair, you're seeing Ethel's work.

But now that television has segued into the era of the ordinary -- ordinary Joe the plumber and Jane the hooker -- this remarkable Santa Barbara resident is training them as well. How to appear ordinary and un-rehearsed while rehearsing in front of all those cameras, lights and cheap network executives who prefer inexpensive reality shows.

I tell you this frankly -- that little lady is helping shape the culture of an entire nation! As of now, only my friend and I know her name. And unless The National Enquirer offers an appropriate fee, her secret is safe with us....


"You're one of a kind!" "You're an unrepeatable act!" "You're an exception!"

In recent American generations, commendations like these have been energizing and propelling the human spirit. Never more so than in the case of the boomer generation with their young. Ready cash, cars, clothes, curriculum, and summer camps have for years given them a sense of entitlement. An entitlement that now in this recession may be bumping into its very first: "Who says so!?"

Truth be known, though, almost all Americans think of themselves as exceptions. It's only in our later -- much later -- years that a remarkable suspicion dawns upon us. "Maybe I'm really not all that exceptional. Actually I'm rather textbook!" And therein lies a tale to be told.

As we first encounter them -- thoughts, feelings, urges, fears, shames, symptoms -- it's quite natural to deal with them as first-time-facts. After all, this is the first time I've had them, right?. What the happy ignorance of youth fails to report is that these exact same thoughts, feelings, urges, fears, shames and symptoms have been going on in the human species for millions of years. Philosophers like to call it the Human Condition. No one since the dawn of time has been exempted.

For those of an empirical bent, your confirmation is right there in your textbooks. Check it out. As the pollsters and authors report their results, notice the numbers. Those percentiles in which most people fit. Then check where you fit. Right! Virtually every time your thoughts, feelings, urges fears, shames and symptoms are very much the same as most people. You see, we're not so different after all.

That's the empiricism of it. But now what about the affect of it? In other words, just how do we feel about discovering we're not all that exceptional...?

There's no textbook data on that question. It's answered quite privately by each and every one of us. For some it's shattering. How can it be that with all my exceptionalism -- parents, home, schools, IPhones and computer centers -- I'm so very much like everyone else? Under a new president facing a new world, the same question is occurring to the American people about their nation.

For others, this realization is more freeing than shattering. For them there's something comforting about not bearing the burden of being so exceptional...so unique....so one of a kind. After all, what's so bad about going-with-flow, and finding all the others right there in the same flow with you...?

Friday, June 5, 2009


Orthodox rabbis and Thomistic theologians are forever on-the-other-handing. There's not a topic on earth for which they can't find a totally opposite point of view. This drives their single-minded friends absolutely crazy. And yet, there's crazy and then there's crazy....!

If you like your world in no-nonsense black&white, this sort of crazy will -- well, it'll drive you crazy. On the other hand (see they have me doing it already!), if you like your world in complex shades of gray, you'll appreciate this type of thinker and their nuances. The black&whiters are easy to spot. People like Harry Truman, General Patton, Clint Eastwood, Tony Soprano, and George Bush II. The gray ones include people like Adlai Stevenson, General Montgomery,Tom Hanks, Mrs. Soprano, and George Bush I.

But wait -- these are not simply academic choices to be chattered about on CNN and the History Channel. In a dictatorship, sure, there's nothing much to chatter about; you learn how to salute, end of civics lesson. However, in a democracy, not knowing the difference between blacks, whites and grays can be downright harmful to your health.

Four classic everyday examples --
* Medicine: Everyone knows the grand promises from the rhapdsodicTV ads and on the cool labels. But it's all those on-the-other-hands written in small print that we better know as well. ICU's and cemeteries are filled with folks who didn't bother reading them. Instead, they chose the flashier "hand" and missed the crucial "other hand."
* News: We've got scores of networks, hundreds of channels, millions of blogs. That's more information per cubic foot of life than any other hundred civilizations in the history of the world. And yet what shines so reassuringly white today can turn into confusing grays tomorrow, and by the next news cycle become down-right black. When any blathering commentator sticks a self-righteous hand in our face, be sure to see if there isn't "another hand" somewhere.
* Sports: Now here we have coaches, managers and columnists to pick our colors for us. At the beginning of each season, every team "has a chance this year to go all the way." That white gets grayer with each blown game and each dumb injury. Later in the year, you know the colors are fading to black whenever everyone starts every sentence with "next year..."
* Love: Strange as it may seem, love belongs on this list too. Today, love is packaged and peddled like every other product here. It's right there waiting for us in our choice of Angelina hair shampoo, Cleopatra skin cleansers, Brad Pitt abs builders, Britney botox-procedures, and Bruce Springsteen sex boosters. Everyone of them shines there before our eager libidinal eyes with glowing white promises. In a culture ruled by the Beautiful People, it's only natural to feel a compulsion to be beautiful too. Beautiful, that is, as defined by the beauty peddlers.

We can't clap with one hand. A handy reminder that in life there's always "the other hand."

Thursday, June 4, 2009


When you turn a noun into a verb you get words like winterize and christianize. The verbalized noun that most catches the cadence of 21st century America may be "telescope." And it works even without adding any letters.....!

To telescope human activity is to slide and rush things one into the other. Very much what's happening in our world today. Hardly a moment's breath between one news cycle and the next, between triumphs and catastrophes, between humankind at its best then suddenly darkly at its worst. Today's blockbuster film is tomorrow's reduced- price DVD. Today's pop icon is tomorrow's who's-that? Today's paparazzi hero is tomorrow's rehab villain. Today's Susan Boyle sensation is tomorrow's prayer for another cannibalized human life.

Our 24/7 world telescopes everything. Everything that once took years now takes minutes (often even faster than Andy Warhol's infamous 15). So much faster and more inelegantly that our species has relinquishing the art of the pause. the moment. the dream. the hope. the prayer. Quick, no time for such sloth. We're rich and strong and have built our worlds for speed. Our lives for haste. Time is no longer for sipping but for gulping, and once gulped spit out for the next gulp.

But then when we do admit this, we often do so while rushing from this treadmill to the next. Perhaps there's a secret delight in being so rushed. Yes, after all, being rushed can make you feel important. Essential. Existential.

Speed is the drink of the successful; slow is the bitters of the failed. Just ask the I-phoned masters-of-the-universe on Wall Street, in Hollywood studios, at Vegas casinos, on celebrity television, on jets to London and Rome. These are the special people who specialize in today's drug of choice. Telescoping!

Was there once a different pace we lived? To the medieval monastics it was the pastoral past of their saints. To thinkers like Rousseau and artists like Gauguin it was the pre-civilized paradise of nature. To today's new-agers and survivalists and Woody Allen movies and nostalgia shops it's that misty time just before yesterday.

However, did such a slower wiser time really exist? Hard to say for sure. And yet there are those who very much suspect so. Those old enough to have tucked butter-scotch candy, Saturday matinees, summer kites and huckleberry friends into their memory banks. Of course, they have no proof. Nothing certifiable.

Especially nothing that will convince anyone too busy being busy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


America has become Disney, and Disney has become America.....!

Starting out here in Chicago during the 20s, even Walt himself might never have imagined all that was to happen. But if today he could, would he approve?

First came the animated classics of the 30s and 40s like Snow White and Bambi. Next, the dazzling theme parks of the 50s and 60s like Disneyland and Disneyworld. Today, Disney has come to mean a fine-tuned cookie factory generating a never-stop assembly line of pre-packaged summertime sensations.

Has Disney Corp learned from America, or has America learned from Disney Corp? Perhaps it doesn't makes any difference anymore, because they both operate the very same way. Find a demographic market (giggly pre-teens or sentimental elders, inner-city poor or country club rich, whatever), crunch the numbers (polls, surveys, focus groups, whatever), then package a product that fits that market (summer blockbuster, television series, touring singer, video game, pc, candidate, whatever).

Is it too cynical to say that this way virtually everything and everyone becomes another product launch? And sure enough, usually in the good old summertime when people have the most time to bite the bait.

American capitalism and free enterprise are part of our proud heritage, but do we cheapen the heritage when we invest as much time packaging as we do perfecting the product? Ahh, but then that's not really a problem is it, because in a throwaway culture, no product is made to last too long anyway. A few cases in point.....

In just the last 12 months, Disney has given us the flashy package called Hannah Montana, now the triple-flash package called the Jonas Brothers, and waiting in the wings the salsa flash called Selena Gomez. But watch closely, kids, in another 12 months the Disney Imagineers promise still flashier products coming off the line.

Not to be outdone in the flash-today-gone-tomorrow game, A,erica during those same 12 months has given us Mitt Romney, Rod and Patti Blagojevich, Drew Pearson, Ron Burris, a dozen new reality shows, and a very gifted but exploited Susan Boyle.

Remember the names, folks, because they're here today, forgotten tomorrow. That's Disney! That's America! And, lets admit it, that's us!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


From the earliest times of organized societies, societies organized around a division-of-labor. Someone had to milk the goats...someone had to fashion the arrows....someone had to skin the kill. Each person had a role, and it was a functional one. Not any more...!

While there are still functional roles -- doctor, carpenter, aluminum siding -- six vast new categories of function- less humanity have evolved. Go ahead, fill in the blanks >>>

#1 - Experts: They appear one day with degrees after their name, exotic credits to their resume and can write very long polysyllabic reports. They wear dark, tailored outfits and are quoted often in the media. They never come with any doubts, but always with a fee. Here's a hint. Economists were created to make weather forecasters look good. Other examples include ____________________.
#2 - Pundits: They appear on television a lot. No degrees after their name, but they come with a fast mouth, glinty eyes, and steel-trap opinions about everything and everyone. After a few years at this gig, pundits are hired not to interview others, but to interview one another. Robert Frost said, "Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half have nothing to say and keep on saying it." Examples include ______
#3 - Political Bloggers: They are a derivative of pundits, only nobody will pay them so they chatter on their own websites without pay (hmmmm?). Also without much purpose. Examples include ____________________
#4 - Celebrities: They are those among us who are usually famous for being famous. They may have done something once in their life, but now they do nothing with their life. Except pose for the paparazzi, deny rumors about their sex life, and occasionally get arrested so they can go to rehab and then be interviewed by Barbara Walters. From this sub-species of our species name three ________________________________________
#5 - Protestors: They are from all walks of life with all kinds of opinions. Unlike most of us, protesters take their opinions to the streets. Give them a cause that's close to their heart and they'll wear their heart on their sleeve anywhere anytime. Some are there to make a point; others to make the 5 o'clock news.You only have to name one to pass this question _____________________________________
#6 - Freaks: They come in all shapes, sizes and makeup.These are people who will eat worms, climb barned wire, swim swamps, and so long as there's a camera dance with the alligators. Many freaks are former celebrities who themselves were former stars. When you become a public freak, there is nowhere else on the food chain to go. Some currently sad examples include ________________________________

See, I told you this is a quiz everyone could pass!!! Unfortunately!!!

Monday, June 1, 2009


This month Chicago will celebrate Fathers Day without the first father who is now in Washington. That still leaves us 1,061,928 households which include fathers. But as even you have suggested, Mr. President, sometimes the problem with Fathers Day are the fathers....!

Mothers, on the other hand, are naturals for their Day. By every given measure -- biological, emotional, spiritual and traditional -- moms have what it takes to be celebrated. Dads....? I ask you, Sir, how many artists paint padonnas to match their madonnas? How many lyrics are penned to dear-old-father-of-mine? How many children run home with a bloody nose and look for a daddy's lap? How many dying soldiers call out for pappa?

This is not to slam fathers. After all, most believers still think of their god as a guy. But meanwhile back here on earth, florists and candy stores ring up a lot more sales on Mothers Day. And why not? Mothers are what keeps the race going. A few minutes of help from the father-to-be, but now compare his minutes with her months. This new life (at whatever instant you believe it begins) is now lung and ligament a 24/7 part of her own existence. From morning sickness to afternoon exercise to nighttime daydreaming. What only last month was a girl is today a woman. Someone who once lived in her todays, today can't help living in her tomorrows.

I myself a father look at fatherhood as a profound union with my wife. And yet, my wife's union is with cosmic forces I can never touch. Pick whatever name you like-- God, Evolution, Energy, Eternity. While she's dancing in the invisible arms of that ineffable something, I'm still commuting, golfing, and gardening without missing a beat. Or a period. Or a night's sleep.

This June 21st will come and go quietly here in Chicago. As probably it should. Okay, some passing attentions -- a card, a smile, better yet a kiss -- will tell dad you still care. But in any event, the wisdom of the ages should be remembered. The Bible, the ancient Greek dramas, the psychological discoveries by Freud, and yes some of the parenting specials back here by Oprah. Each in its own way is paying tribute to the staggering meaning and meaningfulness of mothers.

Mr. President, a fine way to spend this Fathers Day back here in your Chicago might be for we fathers to get our bearings straight. By tracing them back to the women we made mothers. Back to their place in the galaxy of human existence, to their purpose in the preservation of that galaxy, and to our repudiation of any distractions and desertions of which we may be guilty.

Maybe, lets make this Fathers Day another Mothers Day....!