Friday, July 31, 2009


Sometimes life gets dull. That's why there's magic....!

If we don't always find it, we concoct it. And while Norman Mailer argued there were only two subjects worth writing about, sex and death, surely there's a third. Magic. In all its many natural and man-made forms.

Nature gives us the sun, the stars, and the seasons. Also thunder and lightening, geysers and lava, the orchid and the eagle. Although it's true each can be scientifically explained, try duplicating their magic. Gaping at these and a thousand other these in nature, we're beholding the ultimate magic show. All without the price of admission.

In our own way, we also make magic. We simply have to. How else to describe heaven-high towers and sea-spanning bridges, the music of Beethoven and the art of Goya, Broadway and Hollywood, Disneyland and Christmas, summer-night carnivals and Bergdoff Goodman, sparkling wines from Tuscany and banquets set out in Manhattan, fresh-brewed morning coffee and anytime pizza.

Then of course the quintessence of magic -- religion.

Here the magic becomes majestic. Within the most primitive primate to the most educated elite gnaws this need for the magic of divinity and eternity, of power and purpose. If man does not live by bread alone, neither does he by himself alone. Study the stone scratchings on cave walls to the brush strokes on the Sistine ceiling. There blazing before our hearts is the unbroken plea of little us calling up larger beings. The magic of the gods.

A fair question here might be: "So where's all this magic in my everyday 9 to 5 monotony?" A fair answer might be: "You can't find what you're not looking for." We in the West live in an especially rational, secular age. While the magic of both nature and men mesmerized our ancestors, today's thinkers have sought to squeeze this opiate from out of our systems.

Science has taken its rightful place as the great elocutionist for our age. We have been wisely taught healthy skepticism about any form of magic. For every sleight of hand and puff of smoke, we are advised to look for that man behind the curtain. Nature....? Of course it works wonders, but these wonders can be explained and even managed! Man...? Of course there will always be Barnums and Disneys, shamans and clerics, but these wonder-workers can be enjoyed without losing our heads.

The head, the brain, the intellect are all the magic we need. Outside the bible-belt and the mosques, this is the new catechism taught in most univerities, corporations, thinks tanks and government agencies. And it is a reasonable and logical one. It's big drawback, though, is that it makes no allowances for the delicious hersey of magic in our lives...

Thursday, July 30, 2009


We've all lost a bill or a set of keys, but have you ever lost an entire summer...?

This is not some study in creeping dementia. The summer I lost was in my youth when the powers of your memory are supposed to be at their height. However, memory and meaning can be two very different things.

The meaning of that particular summer was vividly present before me each day, and yet it was my very youth that failed to understand it. While I still had it. Try to remember if something like this ever happened to you. Or perhaps to your country.

For me it was a serendipitous amalgam of moments never again to be repeated. What makes the meaning of such moments so elusive is you're living them so furiously you never quite understand them. My parents were still here and kid brother was still single and living at home...I was newly married but still only Sunday dinners away from new wife and new-borns were still caught up in the great mystery of fresh first teaching assignment was still a first shattering wake for a peer was still some years to some...the Camelot some of us believed we had elected to the White House was still young and alive...the economy at home and the peace abroad was still secure despite the occasional fearful headlines.

Maybe you've had a summer something like this. Where everything and everyone is still in the place you've assigned (or at least hoped) for them. But you see, that's the problem...! Because they are where you feel they all should be, they're complacently taken for granted. It's only the thunderstorm that makes you savor the sunshine, it's only the raw Chicago winters that help you appreciate the lush summers, and it's only war that reminds you how peace must not be presumed.

When that lyrical Chicago summer slipped into fall, it was the usual transition from one stability to another. Only stability is never a guarantee; all too often, it's simply another taken-for-granted. Within the next several months, so much would change. Dramatically. Tragically. Sadly. And, no, those words are not just my words. All too often, they are the dictionary of all lives, for the book's author is not us.

Whattaya like...? Words like Fate, Kismet, Destiny, God...? I'll take anyone of them as the one that helps give meaning to my lost summer. But please get this straight -- this isn't written to ask your sympathy. More to invite your attention.

Whichever summer of your life you're living right now, take the time to look at it. A little longer, a little more affectionately, and a lot more aware of the irrevocable law of life that states: each one comes only once.


There's a twisting history to the story of our cities. Chicago is a classic case, but hardly the only case...!

Back when our ancestors were still living in caves and hunting for food, the idea of a city made about as much sense to them as settling down does to a bachelor. But in time, cities happened and cities flourished. From ancient Athens and Alexandria to modern New York and Paris.

Then another twist in the story -- suburbs. Following World War II, our cities began to seem too crowded, too dirty, too dangerous. Enter the mythology of the American Suburb. Those greener, larger, cleaner, expanses of luxuriant land where you could raise bigger homes and nicer kids!

Now a half century later, we've seen the myth reach so far out into the countryside, there's little countryside left. And besides, many of our sociologists have noticed that crime, drugs and pathologies happen in Happyland just as much as in Cityland. We're finding the only place where living is perfect is in Disneyland!

So here in the Chicago of 2009 the human race is discovering an old and inconvenient truth. Being a cave dweller, a farmer, a city dweller or a suburbanite is simply where you live. What really counts is how you choose to live there. And that issue even the sociologists seem willing to delegate to a higher authority. Namely, the philosophers and theologians. You know, those funny folks with the beards, pipes, and sweaters on campuses and in coffee shops furiously searching for answers in more than the statistics about space, air quality, sound levels and crime rates.

It's only one man's guess here, but I'm guessing they have more to make us think about than all the ads of all the realtors in all the world. So where's your real estate and what have you been doing with it lately? I mean besides trying to cheat a little on your taxes!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I don't know if kids still use pocket magnifying glasses to set leaves on fire. We did. Capturing the enormous heat of the distant sun, and focusing it on our selected targets. It worked then, and it still works now. Only now we've got the Internet to do it...!

Picture the enormous heat of a population of haters. Then use the magnification of the Internet to capture this heat-without-light. Instantly, haters can dispatch their firey venom to a million million sites. Better yet, YouTube can capture some hateful event to quickly ignite every digital leaf it touches.

Now it's the "birthers" (AKA, Obama haters who question his citizenship). As fast as Susan Boyle's gifted voice went around the world, now a birther's outburst at a single event can do the same. If kids like us had magnifers like the Internet, we could have set fire to entire forests!

Which is the point here. Haters have existed ever since Cain hated Abel. In America, presidents are favorite targets, so Obama is hardly the first victim. And while our US History texts taught love-of-country, they often skipped over haters-of-presidents. On the top ten list of hated chief executives were some of our most celebrated. Including Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR.

We're told by the interpreters of the First Amendment that hatred is one of the prices we pay for the freedoms of democracy. So while you can't randomly yell fire in a crowded theatre, you can systematically savage your political enemies with whatever crazy hatred you can find in your heart. And admit it now -- there's so much repressed hatred inside all our hearts.

"Democracy is messy," is the way some of its advoctes argue. Winston Churchill added, "It's not perfect, but it's better than anything else we've got." Their rhetoric is exactly right....! The only problem is that exercising so powerful a right without responsibility is where the rubber of political principle hits the road of everyday practice. Where the haters have to ask themselves if the heat of their hatred on this ship-of-state will end up burning not floating the vessel as it struggles here on the high seas of history?

Whence must come their answer? From somewhere inside the same heart whence comes their hatred....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


"Houston, you're in trouble down there on earth. We can see it all happening from up here...!"

The trouble just may be the way Darwin's theory of evolution has been evolving lately. Our good evolutionary biologists have begun running amuck with study after study insisting that most everything we are and do is because of some evolutionary codes. I mean, don't we have anything ourselves to say about it?

Well, of course we do, they admit. There's more to our species than just our brain circuits and genetic pools. And yet, their exhaustive research studies sometime don't leave very much besides our evolved circuits and genes. Consider the latest research.

At the University of Sussex, research on cats concludes they have evolved clever ways in which to get food from their owners. "They meow like a hungry infant, and so we respond," reports Karen McComb. Does this suggest both kitties and kids have biologically learned how to manipulate us regardless of any deeper attachments!

At the University of Helsinki, an evolutionary biology study of more than 10,000 females in Wisconsin finds that "beautiful women tend to have 16% more children than their less-attractive counterparts." Does this mean evolution -- at least in Wisconsin -- is leading to a more beautiful population regardless of any deeper factors?

In Washington DC -- where even evolution is subject to politics -- critics of the President's nominee for Surgeon General, Sharon Salomon, say she is "too chubby to be a role model for health." Apparently evolution helped deal her a 5 foot 2 inch 170 pound body which simply won't do in our you-can-never-be-too-rich-or-too-thing culture!

Now if Charles Darwin were still here with us today, one wonders what he might say to his run-amuck disciples. Just like Abraham, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad might. Perhaps something like: "Come on guys, lets not mess up a good thing...!"

Monday, July 27, 2009


To the cynic who growls, "I didn't ask to be born!" there's a variety of answers. Religious, intellectual, poetic and of course those provided by your local credit card company. But leave it to Hallmark. They simply put it this way: "Life is for improvisation."

When I received this card I couldn't help thinking about all our modern Existentialists who've penned thousands of profound sentences trying to explain that. From their point of view there is no God so there is no Plan. But now instead of making that sound scary, Hallmark makes it sound like fun. Which gets you to thinking.

Was British satirist Samuel Butler right in saying, "All the animals except man know the main business of life is to enjoy it." Or was Augustine in saying, "Lord, you made me and I cannot rest until I rest in thee." If current headlines are any measure, it would seem Butler has more fans than Augustine.

Talk about improvisation....! There's this guy who's come up with an all-pet airline which, for $250, will fly your pet to any major city in the country. With guaranteed 15-minute checks on your pet plus periodic feeding and bladder breaks. Find me an airline that will give you such a deal!

Another capitalistic improviser, himself an ex-con, is offering $200/hr courses for white-collar criminals. He teaches them how to survive the rigors of the prison system they're heading into. Get it...? Not how to be a better executive in the world, but how to be a better survivor in the poky!

Then there's the improvisation by government. And you didn't think the pols could come up with anything besides graft! Already a dozen states are trying to save millions on highway costs by shutting down half their roadside rest-stops. So far local budgets love it, although local bladders are having a problem with it!

So here's the question, fellow-travelers. What's your life been like lately? A night at the Improv or a journey following the stars? Now forget your GPS system. This answer has to come from your spirit not your satellite....

Sunday, July 26, 2009


American urban mythology likes to pleat its decades into tidy pop-culture imagery. The 1950s is no exception. Only those of us who lived there aren't exactly comfortable with the images.

The Fifties have been portrayed mostly by outsiders. Painting one cultural extreme or the other. From the simplicity of "Happy Days" and "Father Knows Best" to the sterility of "Pleasantville" and "The Stepford Wives." A half-century is long enough to wait for the truth.

Of course there's no telling if the truth will do much for today's brave-new-world players on Wall Street and in Washington. Big mistake....! You see, those few years may have been the last vestige of an America never to be seen again. History teaches it's harder to get to where you're going if you don't exactly understand where you've come from.

So the Fifties are the hinge on which much of our future may swing. What made it such a one-of-a-kind decade is the way it churned up in the wake of World War II. A still relatively small and strapped society before the war, we emerged as the century's new Rome. Un-matched power abroad; apparent peace and prosperity at home. A near perfect trinity in our history. For the first, and as it may seem now, for the last time.

Living in that trinity, most of us played by a set of unwritten rules. In the wake of 60 million war deaths abroad, it was time to retreat quietly into maintain this quiet, it was time to accept certain fixed rules and roles....and to hold it all together, it was time to replace the social experimentation of FDR with the father figure of Ike.

To be sure there were the realities of Korea, Kruschev and Sputnik. But even more, the reassurances of a Doris Day/Perry Como zeitgeist, conformist life in the suburbs, Dr Spock's catechism on the joys of childhood. Then, as if to crown the Fifties, we elected Camelot for president in 1960.

Crowns, however, can crumble. This one did on that day in Dallas. With Kennedy's assassination, whatever substance there was to this trinity of power, peace and prosperity soon gave way to the angers of the Sixties. Angers which -- in ways both good and bad -- left behind whatever was left of a Norman Rockwell world. Most of this fixedness was repeatedly lodged loose by Vietnam, street riots, a rock 'n drug culture, more assassinations, Watergate, and Washington gridlock.

So whenever today's Wall Street and Washington technocrats point bravely ahead, over their shoulder they hear about that "other" America which Sarah Palin and the commentariat of the right tries to lay claim. Whether you see that America as our best or worst, you might begin by asking those of us who lived there.

No, not really perfect. But really not bad at all...!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


When we reach a certain age, now admit it, we start getting prescriptions from our doctors. Whereas they once smiled, "See you in a year!" they now hand you a RX order and intone, "Make sure I see you in three months!"

Your first prescription in life is a kinda jolt. All these years the machine worked and your sorta assumed it always would. Now, all of an anatomical sudden, there are some squeaks and pings. The mechanic with the stethoscope prescribes some new lubrications. Gradually their numbers sneak up on you. So that one surprising day, this once glorious beach body is fumbling through a spectacle of nine pills each day.

I can't complain, though. After all, each one is prettier than the next. Red with a tinge of sky coupled with pine green...and my personal favorite, the big cream one flecked with a hint of tan. Besides, my television commercials assure me these will make my life as rapturous as all those people running through morning meadows (pay no attention to the side effects behind that emerald curtain).

Why bother you with my pill regimen...? I take this as my public duty. To those who have yet to need any, as well as to those already guzzling their daily dose. My veteran advice is this -- to fit into the great all-American pill culture, just let your imagination roam free!

For instance. Every pill I take for my reflux, I imagine all those magnificent nights when i could consume hot pizzas and cold beers with joyful abandon. Every pill for my blood pressure, I imagine all those furiously happy games and races I could play without skipping a beat. Every pill for migraines, I imagine all those young years when I was gracefully too stupid to understand my world was tottering on the edge of its own madness every morning.

So you see, pills can be taken with more than water. Gulp these little suckers with your imagination, and then it's almost fun being sick....


You can't know what you don't know....!

If that doesn't make sense, read no further. Or maybe better yet, you should read further to recall the even simpler Iroquois adage,"You can't understand anyone until you've walked in their moccasins for 30 days."

But, granting these wisdoms, isn't there a followup question? Then what? Do you have to keep wearing those moccasins? Or is one reflective journey in them enough?

Here we enter the realm of -- what shall we call it it? -- perhaps philosophy. Or even theology. The point is this. There are those of us who exalt in repeating the journeys of our life. Been to Paris a dozen times! Lived on a river raft time and time again! Visited the finest restaurants and most luxurious resorts as often as they take plastic! Once is never enough when more is possible.

These are the life-isn't-a-destination-but-a-journey followers.

Many Paris's, rafts and resorts ago I recall reading a Chicago columnist Sydney J. Harris who took another take. His stuff wasn't a daily commentary (plenty of those both then and today). His was more a daily hint of philosophy/theology. He took to squeezing some of Mortimer Adler's celebrated "Great Books" into quick digestible bites over breakfast. The column I remember the most is the one at the time I understood the least.

When I was in my energetic 30s, Syd was in his contemplative 60s. In this particular column he was musing about the advantages of "not." Not having to go to the big party, not having to attend the festive opening night, not having to get out of his bathrobe and into his tuxedo, not having to rush here and hurry there. Sounded pretty dull to me.

But time happens.

When we reach the appropriately ripened age -- could be 65 or 75, for a few even 45 or 55 -- we gradually sense a suspicion sneaking over us. The suspicion that we've reached one of those proverbial forks in the journey of life. To be or not to be...? To do or not to do....? To keep moving or not to keep moving...? The philosopher psychologist Eric Erickson put it this way: "In the later stages of every life, the choice is always the same -- to integrate or despair?"

If I remember correctly, Sydney translated Erickson into more pedestrian terms: "At a certain point, if we can relax and look back on our journeys with satisfaction, there's no need to fight the despair of age by continuing to repeat them."

Didn't get it it now.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Like you, I usually have my breakfast while scanning the newspaper. A lifelong habit that can be either good or bad. This morning it was bad. Very bad...!

A sunny, silent morning all by myself. Time to be a little reflective before opening the early edition. Scanning the lush greenery outside my window, listening to the harmonies of nature's original tweeters, and snatching a whiff of garden flowers, this breakfaster was at sudden peace with his world.

As I started to peel the banana for my cereal, I was being so reflective it made me think how life is also a matter of peeling layers. Layer by layer down to the core of the person or the problem at hand. Nice thought, Jack...! How many times you've discovered this to be so true. Never judge your banana or your world with just the first glance.

But life can turn on a dime, can't it? Or at least on a peel.

First, my beautiful yellow banana turned out to be mealy dark mush inside. Damn! Just then one of those enchanting tweeters smashed into the window by mistake, and fell stunned to the ground. Oh no! Next the biggest turn of them all. I turned over the paper, and the first article is one of those health reports telling you what's bad for us. In this case, fruit. You see, they found fruit is good for you but only when it's not bad for you. Arrgh!

This is how your lovely little world can abruptly crater. One moment you're in transcendental harmony with its rhythms. The next, you're in a dissonant minor key of perplexities. Quickly you find yourself reflecting on a very different theme. It's that question you wrestle with each morning as you groggily peek up from your pillows... I really want to leave this dream where I seem to be playing the lead role in a happy technicolor scenario, or do I actually want to get up and take another bit part in the great unpredictable drama of life?

I'm here writing this, so obviously I made the right choice.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Something remarkable happens in most Chicago cancer clinics. Medication? usually. Cures? sometimes. Champagne? absolutely...!

Reporting in three times every year for the last 16 survivor-ship years, I can report this to be a remarkably unreported fact. Here's the picture. You sign in, sit down, and while you're waiting for your treatment you glance through the newspapers. Chicago's daily diet of headlines awaits: "Man gets 2 years for hiding body in toilet," "Gangs kill mother & baby in front of church," "Beauty contest judge attacked with winner's trophy."

Ten minutes into this stuff and you think maybe dying from cancer isn't the worst thing in the world after all. Maybe living in this world is worse! But then they call your name, and you find the champagne in there waiting for you.

Not in a flute, but in the caring hands and tender smiles of the nurses, techs and docs. Cancer is an ugly, grim disease, but there's never anything ugly or grim about these advocates. I've been in almost every department to this place, but next to the nursery, this is the happiest. Don't ask, you gotta be here.

This is how I see it. These professionals chose to join us survivors wage this battle. Like elegant matadors, they enter the ring with one main mission: Tame the beast. And so they scan me, inject me, medicate me all according to the latest protocols. However, it's the way they do it that gives you the confidence to hope and the reason to comply.

These insidious little cells don't melt before smiles. But when the smiles come from deep inside an acutely caring professionalism, this helps you keep stepping back into the ring. Facing down the beast. By the time I leave, I'm almost ready to face those cockamamie headlines...


The year I was born a remarkable little book was published in Spain called "The Revolt of the Masses." I've lived long enough to watch with some dismay many of its predictions come to pass....!

Most revolutions bring some leader or military force into power. In this revolt, the author Ortega y Gasset was predicting it would be the general masses -- everyday Joe and Jane Doe -- who would come into power. Instead of an elite of the educated and sophisticated filling the places of honor and leadership, now anyone and everyone could work their way into these places as "my right."

Translation: Today in place of an aristocracy of money and merit, almost anyone and everyone can own a car, buy a home, build a swimming pool, attend the opera, take world cruises and maybe even buy a Porsche on time. In other words, democracy carried to its fullest extreme, where the masses are in charge by the sheer weight of their numbers.

In its best form, this means the will of the people in good civic practice. In its worst form, picture another scenario. The brawny masses in Soldiers Field after a Bears game when the voice of authority on the PA is trying to control the crowd after a big win.

Now hold that metaphoric picture, and shift to the real thing. Reality Television...!

Think about it. Today members of the scruffy masses who were once screened by polite society, fine restaurants, prestigious universities and various high offices have become the very ones who television wants! Features! Promotes! Take, (if you can) examples like the Jerry Springer Show...Bridzellas....The Bachelorette...the Real Housewives of New Jersey....So You Think You Can Dance....Hitched & Ditched... Great American Road Trip...Wipeout...Big Brother.

Need I go on?

Lets get this straight. Jefferson, Adams and the guys were all elitists. They had education, sophistication, training and wealth. When they spoke of the "pursuit of happiness" they were talking a noble theory which shines to this very day. But the bizarre reality has become -- well, it's become Reality Television. If the Founding Fathers had these preposterous casts of characters in mind as our nightly role models, I'll eat my copy of the Constitution!

Naturally, you won't hear this from any politician wooing the votes of the masses. It sounds downright un-American. But as one stunned member of these very masses, you did hear it from me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Ever since our ancestors devised numbers, we've used them to measure places, heights, distances, and hypotheses. But with today's giant calculating instrumentations, the western world also uses numbers to play God....!

Look at it this way. We're told that God alone understands the ways and mysteries of life. However, in recent generations we've come to believe we can crowd His act a little. If only we can slap some numbers on these ways and mysteries. Take these numbers for example: 7, 10, 15, 25, 33 and 40.

Working our way through a planet of sometimes incalculable chaos, fitting numbers like these to situations can help us feel we better understand them. Take the number 7. Recently "Money Magazine" pegged Oak Park as #7 among American cities for the "young and single." No matter that most Oak Parkers you ask have no idea what the hell that means, it probably means a lot to house hunters and realtors. The number 7 has somehow given insight into the heart and soul of a community.

The number 10 is the latest ranking of American universities compared with other nations. The number 15 is the average number of shoes owned by women (in contrast to only 7 by men). The percentage of seniors driving is projected to hit a high of 25 in the next generation. The number 33 is the percentage of Mississippians who are obese (highest in the land). And 40 is the percentage drop in divorces since the recession.

Are you beginning to get the idea...? With the right numbers pinned to the right events, hokus pocus we're suddenly gifted with some serious understandings about life in Oak Park, on American campuses, between men and women, down highways, throughout Mississippi, and marriage in America!

OK, a bit of an exaggeration. It's not fair to pick on mathematicians and statisticians who are by and large wonderful folks. But consider the deeper implications here. You and I and the other 6 billion humanoids groping our way through the dark ways and mysteries of our existence need something to hang on to. A strong hand whose firm grip makes us feel a little more secure.

At one time that hand was that of primitive idols and gods. Later, sophisticated images and gods. But then as more and more post-Enlightenment populations in the west began to doubt the powers of their old god for the newly discovered powers of their human reason, it became necessary to find new concepts to explain the ways and mysteries into which we have been born.

Eureka! By splicing and dicing numbers -- from the lovely green ways of Oak Park to the vast black mysteries of galactic space -- numbers can explain things. Not entirely, but at least enough so that when we finish reading the latest numerical report, we can say to ourselves: "Whew, something else I don't have to think about anymore. I've got the answer!"


Been reading some serious political observers and bloggers lately. As expected, the number one topic -- well, after Michael Jackson and Lindsey Lohan -- is our president. Now six months into his term, surveys tell us most people like him, but not all his party policies (AKA, Harry Reid & Nancy Pelosi). Wait, that's only part of the plot...!

As far back as ancient Greece and Rome, the best way to challenge the power of the incumbent (besides the occasional nifty assassination) was to portray that power as being arrogant and used at your expense. About that same time, half way across the globe, the Chinese were mastering the same principle in what they called judo (leveraging the opponent's physical power against himself).

David Brooks recently nailed it when he wrote that once in power, the Republicans lost contact with the real America; now the Democrats are being tempted to do the same. Regardless of how true this may be, something is always true about the "loyal opposition" in America. If you can't come up with a better agenda, you go after the guy behind the other agenda. Make it personal, make it dirty, and make it stick!

Much as the Dems attacked Bush as an "inarticulate cowboy," the GOP has decided to attack Obama as an "over-reaching socialist." Actually the Republicans drew up this exact strategy way back in 1952 in case their guy Ike lost to the Democrat's "egghead socialist" Adlai Stevenson.

They've dusted off the old playbook, and with the daily assistance of Representative Boehner and cheerleaders like Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Beck, they're beginning to re-frame the image of the skinny guy as that of a power-hungry sophisticate trying to turn good capitalism into bad socialism (see Woodrow Wilson and FDR for details). Right or wrong -- I'm no one to judge -- their Stevenson Playbook is starting to show results.

Oh and don't forget the behind-the-scenes incantations from Sarah Palin. While she may never woe her party nomination, her party will surely woe her "real-America, small-town" catechism. One which has always found a responsive chord in the American psyche ever since Thomas Jefferson dreamed of an "America of gentle farmers."

Being a big-city guy myself with small-town intuitions, I'm dazzled by this play-action in Washington. My wish is that the players on both sides are playing with conviction not just ambition.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


While great issues about the philosophy of the law have been raised by Senators questioning the NEW nominee to the Supreme Court, not much is being said there about the everyday law. For that you have to spend some listening time at your local barbershops and beauty parlors....!

In a democracy like ours, we are proud to say this is a land of laws not of people. When properly understood, that's a flag-waver of an idea. But, then, things all depend on how some of the people choose to use the laws.

The rip-roaring frontier-minded days of Buyer Beware have given way to the settlement-mindedness of a litigious society. Court records show that these days just about everybody sues just about everyone for just about anything they can find a lawyer for. And while this beastly accusation can be disputed, here are a few representative examples.

Fifteen-year-old Alexa Longueira of New York City fell down a manhole while she was busy texting on her cell phone. Naturally, every good law-abiding citizen can appreciate Alexa's lst Amendment right to text when, where and what she chooses.

But here's the kicker. Lovely Alexa's parents are now suing the city for "the trauma she experienced from landing in one of their filthy sewers." As Mamma Longueria succinctly put it, "Oh my God, it was putrid down there..."

Modern litigiousness of course knows no borders. A Polish woman is currently suing an Egyptian hotel claiming, "Your swimming pool made my teenage daughter pregnant...." Her German lawyer's argument is that "stray sperm in the pool must have impregnated the girl." In the mother's impassioned testimony she added, "I know my daughter did not meet any boys while we were in Egypt."

Inasmuch as no young, sperm-ed men have stepped forward, the case has yet to be decided. Reports from Cairo indicate the mother would be satisfied with a settlement that would cover the expected costs for the birth and education of this virgin birth. Hotel officials could not be reached for comment.

And so, yes, a society of laws and not people. Only where do we find the people who are willing to understand this law?

Monday, July 20, 2009


Now just admit it. Your eyes wander too. When you're in the supermarket, at a party, even when in church or temple where they're not supposed to do that...!

Lately when mine wander, they somehow seem to travel to the big eyes and skinny waists around me. Nothing lurid to this. Simply the reflective eye of an aging guy who has neither of these left. Big searching eyes are what distinguish infants; skinny waists, childhood. Those wondrous infant-eyes signal the astonishing appetite for information about their amazing new world. Those skinny waists represent the lean luxury of young unabetted health.

However, if you're a professional eye-wanderer, the search doesn't stop here. Registering the obvious is prelude, not conclusion. The wanderer must now consider this space/time gap that exists between your eyes and waists, and their's.

Age does many things to us. Some good, some not so good. My inquiry here is twofold. Why has the size of my eyes narrowed...? Why has the size of my waist expanded...? If this begins to sound like a botox commercial, you can stop reading right here, for you're not with me.

Cosmetologists tell me our eyes narrow with the years from accumulating fat layers. Portrait artists, psychologists and clerics tell me it has more to do with the narrowing of our sense of wonder, as our world grows more hazardous with the years.

As for the waistline, physicians are quick to explain how the abdominal muscles weaken. Those same artists, psychologists and clerics submit that time often softens the will. The will to continuously seek and strive, preferring instead to slow and settle.

The next time I find myself wandering and wondering like this, it will be my hope that whatever the explanation, the gap between then and now has been worth the journey. That these eyes -- narrow or not -- have learned some things; and that this waist -- thick or not -- has added experience as well as inches.

Having said all this, I am at last comfortable giving all my saved 31-inch pants to charity....!


When people today speak of the intoxication of space/time travel, they forget. It's actually been here for years. It all began with the Golden Age of Radio....!

Youngsters sometime ask what made the Golden Age of radio so golden. Those of us who were there to spend that gold usually explain it this way. In the 30s and 40s, radio was a one-time-only treasure chest of first-time surprises. In today's exotic age of communication technologies, surprises come so fast, they're hardly surprising anymore....!

But now return with us to those early days of yesteryear when a family's only real communication with the world outside its front door was the daily newspaper, the weekly gossip over the back fence, and the occasional letter from Uncle Harry or Cousin Emily. Suddenly, just about the time the Great Depression struck the land low, something helped buoy it up. It was those green-eyed consoles in our living rooms, and orange-faced cathedral sets next to our beds. Wondrously permitting our isolated imaginations to travel right into the magic box, coming out the other end with people and places we had never dreamed possible.

There were greater adventures inside them than even emperors dared dream. Symphony orchestras from Paris and bands from New York and leaders from Roosevelt to Churchill to Hitler all right there next to us...not to mention a galaxy of daily soap operas to wring our psyches dry plus a constellation of evening comedies and dramas with headliners few of us could afford even from a balcony seat.

Look at it this way. The American family of the 30s and 40s was almost as isolated as the under-the-stars Buffalo Bills and the by-candle-light young Abe Lincolns. Shuttles, computers and Iphones today are really not the revolution. For all their dazzling sophistication, they're simply Act Two. Act One was these 20 transformative golden years when the human family for the very first time in history was able to flip a switch and behold the entire planet snuggled inside their own home.

Fire changed the world. Farming changed the world. The wheel changed the world. Now it was radio's turn. Only by then, changes were piling up so fast, radio's revolution got a little lost amid the giant electronic waves that it had itself unleashed.

So here almost a century later, it may appear as if radio were only one rung up the great electronic ladder. But, you see, it was the first rung! Helping make the rest of the ladder possible!

For those of us who were there -- with Jack Benny, Red Skeleton, Fibber McGee & Molly, the Lux Radio Theatre, the Quiz Kids, Gabriel Heatter, Walter Winchell, Easy Aces, I Love a Mystery, Ma Perkins, Kate Smith, Helen Trent, Lorenzo Jones, Pepper Young's Family, Jack Armstrong, Captain Midnight and Lets Pretend -- we were for the first time in the history of our inquisitive species free to walk and laugh and cry with people, places and time we never met. Yet we knew each of them like the cherished scratches in Mom's kitchen table!

Gold is where you find it. Especially when you find it for the first time. This bright but brief Golden Age was the very first time mankind's astonishing space/time travel was launched. An extraordinary moment which -- not surprisingly -- subsequent generations keep re-discovering to their enormously giddy delight.

Talk about bridging the generation gap!

Who would have ever thought a little Italian inventor named Marconi would stumble upon the invisible waves in the planet's ethers which -- if properly captured -- could suddenly snap the chains of isolation between here and there? Then and now? Knowing proud Italian mothers, probably SHE did!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Now let me be honest. Don't you agree, there are simply too many of "them" today?

You know who I mean. All of "them" who are such a problem for the rest of "us." So many immigrants and welfare recipients....Arabs and Mexicans....Jews and Gypsies....gays and ghettoes.

I mean, the rest of "us" know how "they" are dragging down our national greatness like the shiftless anchors they are. And now they've got this Socialist in the White House who wants to take all this money from "us" so he can give it to "them."

This isn't right. I know this for a fact, because Glenn Beck's comedy tour explained it to "us." So does Rush and Ann and Bill and all those other deep thinkers on Fox News, and in the National Review. The way I figure it, their voices are speaking for "us." The problem is with "them." They're always trying to get something from "us" for nothing!

What gets confusing, though, is when "they" insist they're part of the same America "we" are. You wonder, how can that be...? How can un-Americans call themselves Americans...? The way I remember it, there was not a single immigrant on the Mayflower when it landed here. And there sure weren't any Arabs or Jews or Gays. Hell, those wonderful folks were all big-A Americans, right? Gee, John Wayne explained all that if you were only paying attention.

Now some of you bleeding-hearts out there may disagree with me. And that's your big-A American right. But just answer me this: Was George Washington some welfare-sucking, Mexican gay guy or what....???

As I reluctantly return to my locked cell, I rest my case....


Like any good stage play, life is a study in counter-point. Sun and rain, growth and decline, beauty and ugliness. One of the more complex is the way we are scripted to enter and leave the stage....!

Women first entered as the wily Eves, Bathshebas and Cleopatras. Starting with the Greeks, while never allowed real equality, they became the object of enormous artistic devotion. Right into the 19th and early 20th centuries when this devotion stuck them on Victorian and Gibson Girl pedestals, safely removed from the smarmy levers of male power.

However, roles began shifting in the popular culture with the Flappers of the 20s, the Hollywood divas like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford of the 30s, gradually Rosie the Riveter and the Emancipated Woman in the wake of World War II. The dewy dressed-not-slacked Doris Days, Lucys and June Cleavers of the last great male age are now remembered (missed?) as historical specimens along the female ascent.

But if the way our species enters on stage has had a zig-zaggy history, leaving it is a new history in the making. With so many hospitals informally abetting assisted suicide, it doesn't take a Dr. Kevorkian or TV's Nurse Jackie to report old ethics are starting to yield to new exigencies.

For the average price of a wake ($9300), anyone who qualifies can be peacefully and chemically walked off stage by the staff at Dignitas in Zurich Switzerland. Similar opportunities legally exist in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and in the states of Washington and Oregon.

The accepted exit door is the one marked "terminal illness," and sufferers by the growing thousands are taking it. For those of us still in the audience, this is a chance to study the script and ask ourselves: What playwright has written these entrances and exits? Biologists and believers often read it very differently. Leaving it for us to choose between them.

Oh, unless it's already our cue!

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Some people like to call summer days juicy ripe pieces of fruit. On a sunny green morning, the metaphor makes sense...!

One way to eat them might be to dissect each into its components. Say like slicing a fat peach into halves or quarters you can enjoy before biting into them. Another way might be to simply devour them in big soggy gulps. What's important is not how we do it, but how much we savor doing it. Because in Chicago, Huckleberry sweet days are in limited supply.

Watch the kids at play, and you're seeing summer days being gobbled up like promises. Of climbed trees, hugged grasses, smelled flowers, fragrant balms in Gilead. Notice young adults in weekend action, and you're seeing the days being squeezed dry with every drive or dive. Study older adults in park bench repose, and you're seeing the graces of summer being inhaled with every glance.

The Bible tells us that Paradise was a garden of many fruit trees. Perhaps the writers' imagery of beauty. It's one you'll find easy to buy into the next time you stroll an orchard of orange trees or a field wine grapes. From Texas to Tuscany, summer and ripening fruits go together like -- well, like we do whenever we happen upon the meadows of our heart's desires. The person we love, the dreams we want, and of course all those secret desires we ache to satisfy.

So there it is, summer lovers...! A handy metaphor for like during our Julys and Augusts. Harvests of juicy ripe fruits waiting to be picked. When you think about it, that isn't so much just a metaphor for summertime, as it is a meaning for life. A lot of ripe fruit out there. Either it gets picked, or it withers on the vine.

Can't have that, now can we....?


When a loved one dies, family and friends remember. When an icon dies, cities and nations remember. But why...?

Poets like John Doone answer, because a little of us dies with them. Researchers at Stanford University have just come up with a more clinical answer. In "New Scientist" magazine, they report we remember because we need to find connections among ourselves. Being able to share stories about famous people -- alive as well as dead -- "serves as social currency, and connects us to a larger national conversation."

If this be true, does it suggest the deaths of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite along with the antics of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton have more to do with us than with them? Well, yes and no.

Yes..... especially if you understand our species as an evolved form of planetary dust whose irrepressible core drive is survival and reproduction. And while not even Darwin posited this, many Darwinians do. No.... especially if you understand our species as a created form of divine life whose irrepressible core drive is to be reunited with its creator. In other words, these two ways of responding to icons may offer two ways of understanding our existence.

Then again, maybe that's stretching things.....!

There could be a simpler, third way of figuring out those curious crowds that gather around living celebrities and dead icons. An old cowpoke who long ago rode the range always avoided both parades and wakes. When asked why, he poured a long drink and smiled this dungaree theology: "Ever watch a herd of buffalo? They just keep eating and moving. Eating and moving. When one of them stops to drop a newborn, or when another of them drops to die, some of the nearby buffalo pause and sniff. Then back to the herd without ever looking back...."

When he was asked to explain that, the old cowhand is reported have slapped the young questioner in the face. "Hey, what's that for?" The disenchanted reply he got back is maybe where today's bumper-sticker came from: "Stuff happens and then you die!"

Personally, I reject that sticker. Still, every time I notice one of them, its hard not seeing the honking cars around you as a herd. The question then becomes -- how do you break out?

Friday, July 17, 2009


This age thing -- it never much occurs to us until it's begun to pile up on us....!

Aristotle, who always said smart things, said about youth: "Youth is easily deceived, because it is quick to hope." Several thousand years and miles later, Lincoln said: "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A beautiful friend of mine summed it all up this way: "Youth is really not wasted on the young."

I leave it to the reader to choose. Or not. Because maybe youth is more to be lived than defined. The only snag to that is just about the time you've learned how to live it, you've begun to lose it. Ahhh, but John Updike to the rescue. He insists -- and proves it in his meticulous writing -- that our most vividly powerful memories are of what took place in our first 20 years of life.

Now if he's right -- and I'd bet my keyboard on it! -- this means no matter how old we grow in body or mind, there is this exquisite repository of remembrances from which we can withdraw. In the flash of a wish. Like coffee is a pick-me-up in the morning, drinks and drugs a rush in the night, distilling those 20 years can be a high without the crash. A 4-star movie without the price of admission. Maybe even some of the psychic fulfilment's Freud promised without the couch.

The only problem with these repositories, say in Proust's classic "Remembrances of Things Past," is so many of its chapters are marred with small hurts and large failures. True enough in anyone's book. And yet, when we read look-backs like Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" or Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again," closing the book we remember mostly the victories. Victories replicable in anyone's life.

This in no way damns our prestigious pharmaceutical industry, and its rejuvenating pills and potions. But then, who needs an industry when we have those first fresh 20 years....?


This word reality really bothers me....!

Frankly, it's lost all meaning. Not long ago it was defined simply as: "Quality or state of being real." Today would anyone be willing to say for sure what's real? Skeptics are still debating the reality of everything from the Warren Report on JFK's assassination to the NASA Moon Landing, from the batting averages of ballplayers to the market values of Wall Street, and from the computer-enhanced faces in movies to the cheating-tinged verifications in Missile Treaties.

Now this miasma has spread to television. Big time! Cable channels devote themselves to a screaming skewed reality of politics, while the networks to endless clones of interminably un-realistic game shows. Viewers are being asked to accept the chatter of self-appointed east-coast savants as the real America. And to embrace the childishness of willing-to-do-anything-on-camera buffoons as real Americans.

OK, fun is fun! But now will the real America and the real Americans please stand up? Quick, before it's all too terribly late. Here, let me take a desperate stab at what I remember.

To me, the real America has traditionally been this arguing but cocky pilgrimage of seekers. The next horizon has always been the goal. Sweat and swagger has always been the means. Sure, some of us got richer and trampled on the rights of the stragglers. But even the stragglers could see the same horizons, could believe there was still a way to reach them. Blue collar or white, brawn or brains, hi-tech cunning or maybe just old-time courage.

As for the real Americans, few I've ever known looked for fame in foolishness. Or believed that pretending in front of cameras was anywhere near as rewarding as producing something of value.

None of this is to say Norman Rockwell's America and Americans were ever really the majority on this scrappy, hard-living pilgrimage. And yet, there have been enough of them to make this pilgrimage one of a kind.


Thursday, July 16, 2009


We're an anticipatory people. Proof can be found on two particular dates. July 15 and September 15. Nobody formally assigned them, our anticipatory instincts simply selected them...!

An anticipatory culture usually has little time for remembrances of things past. That's for the old, and here everyone's young. Or at least can buy the things that make us feel that way. And so historic sites, aging homes, fading churches are usually displaced rather than preserved. It's intuitive for a country less than 300 years old, in a world with many more than 3000 years old.

Now as for these two dates -- well, simply notice what begins to happen just afterwards. Subtle at first, but irreversible thereafter.

I'm not sure what astrology says about July 15, but back here on earth chronology says it's the midway point in our June/July/August summer zone. Although merchandisers and movies still revel in summering themes, they're already anticipating the beginning of fall. Of school. Of crisper football times rather than lazy baseball times.

Your first back-to-school ads in the paper, accompanied by a chorus of young groans, is exhibit one. The earth has just subtly but surely shifted on its axis. Soon you're noticing your first shriveling leaves as the dog-days of August arrive. Congress is home on vacation having done all the harm they had time for, while your own window of opportunity is gradually starting to close.

But there's a problem here. You see, in an anticipatory society, folks sometimes plan and push so intently, they miss their todays in the expectation of their tomorrows. Not the sort of thing you'll find in the brown hill towns of Italy or the white islands of Greece. Like their three-hour midday meals, time there is spent slowly, not planned efficiently.

Not long after July 15 is that other pivot-point: September 15. By this stage in the planet's perennial twirl, what we were anticipating back in July is already well underway. School. Football. Back-to-work routines all picking up speed again. But there it is -- this speed thing in all anticipatory cultures. Those same merchandisers and movies begin to anticipate still more. You guessed it. The grand American trilogy of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ads, music, decorations, store aisles all start to pick up the tempo. After all, these holidays are the fun times, the family times, most of all the selling times. When they arrive, hang on to your hat. Your heart. And mostly, it seems, your money. This year-end trilogy of festivity is the one we anticipate the most. But this year lets spend it the best.


When you're 20, you're going to live forever. When you're 50, you suspect this is not true. When you're 70, you notice something creeping up on you. That's right -- old age and all it means in a youth-oriented culture...!

Democracies by nature are not hierarchical arrangements. Social pyramids with honored elders at the top make little sense. The ideal of individualism means everyone at every age has the right -- and obligation -- to blaze their own trails. And so the ancient notion of the young caring for the old grows more irrelevant.

Entrepreneurs may not read the geriatric research about aging, but they do read the Census Bureau about numbers. Every new member of AARP is potentially a new customer for what we once smiled "old people's home."

We don't call them that anymore.

The flashy new lexicon now includes: Senior Communities...Adult Living...Senior Campuses. What's more, the geography has changed as well. No longer just Florida and Arizona, it's everywhere USA. Where the amenities abound. Such as day spas...aquatic centers...cyber learning labs....activity hubs....themed restaurants...wellness home technologies.

Damn, suddenly it sounds as if growing old is fun! Maybe Bette Davis was wrong when she grumbled, "Growing old ain't for sissies!"

But then -- as you twinge with arthritis and are tortured by lost opportunities -- you look in vain for what you most want to find in these splendid brochures. Some reason to believe that independent living does not mean independent of the rest of society. That our amenities are not disguised isolation. That our gray lives still count in a green world.

Of course, this takes effort on the part of those of us in here. But no less so than on the part of those still out there. The best of worlds is still a We World.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Researchers are still trying to crack the nocturnal codes of dreaming. MRIs and electrodes are being deployed in more than a dozen major universities. Results remain mixed. Or is that the right word....?

Mixed suggests we haven't locked in on any final explanations for how and why our minds travel these strange and forbidden lands. What makes the research especially difficult is that the portion of the brain which dreams is not the portion which remembers. And so that morning-after slippage of what just moments before we seemed to remember.

For centuries, seers have spoken of dreams as predictive of our future. For generations, scientists have spoken of dreams as re-constructions of our past. Dreamers are free to choose.

One thing, tho, seems certain. Awake or sleeping, there will always be those fragile, elusive realities that are hard to hold onto long enough to define. Why that detailed face last night that you're sure you never met...? Why those hazy faces you know you've met, but not in last night's ways and places....?

So many wispy un-definables in our lives. And the lives around us.

Like the loves we have chosen, the dreams we have chased, the fears we have constructed. We weren't born with these. We've somehow fashioned them by ourselves. Or maybe not. Are we simply excavating them from primordial genetic pre-dispositions like jackals fight tigers, whales mate, and apes socialize?

During the daylight, the human mind searches. During the nightlight, that same mind seduces. Luring us into preternatural, bohemian corners of existences sometimes never lived before. What we take back from there is just one of the extraordinary un-definables with which we are destined? or designed? to live.

Now that's something to sleep on tonight!


Here's a contradictory thought -- there's nothing mysterious about the mystery of summer-night silence...!

To consider, or even to dismiss, this thought, you first have to define mystery. Problems are smaller than us, therefore can be solved (what is 2+2?). Mysteries are larger than us, therefore can only be embraced (where does 2 come from?). And so while the problem of summer-night silence can be solved with an instrument, the mystery of how its dense fragrance envelopes you can only be embraced with a soul.

And yet, having addressed this mystery it's still fair to assert there's really nothing mysterious about mysteries. Not if you can modify your intellectual aspirations with your intuitive expectations. In effect, not if you grant we were not made (evolved ?) to understand everything in the Garden (the Cosmos?). Rather, to live comfortably with some of its mysteries just as we find them.

Genesis tries to make this case. Personally, I learned it with considerably less theological fanfare. It was that immensely black, cricket-songed night I was driving her home, and lost my way on a dark country road. Quick now -- a big GPS problem to be solved! Actually as it turned out -- a small opportunity to surrender to the mystery of that which may be unsolvable!

There we were. Cushioned under a canopy of stars, captured in a melody of night music, mesmerized by the way long-sealed curtains parted ever so briefly to let us peek into eternity. On that eccentric August evening, being lost became being found. For a sliver of time, highways and headlights were quite irrelevant. Caught inside this gossamer tick of time, we watched ancient tales blending into modern spacewalks. It became an ET moment in which we were the ET's.

Fortunately -- I prefer to think unfortunately -- a pair a passing headlights stopped long enough to guide us back to the highway, the city, and the everyday problems of our little lives. But for that brief shining hour, I can remember how we embraced -- not solved -- the mystery of the silence of summer nights

For the doubters, remember this. All stories are true...and some even happened.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Three recent revelations from three different regions of the world seem to re-affirm the adage, "You're never too old to feel young."

In Malaysia, authorities uncovered 900 boxes of premier coffee laced with Viagra. The manufacturer was selling his brand as an "energy booster." The reports have had little to say about the female customers, but a great deal of feedback from the male consumers. The government's dilemma now is do they celebrate or criminalize this blend?

Meanwhile, in the Vatican, art scholars have at last figured out who the mysterious face is in the corner of Michelangelo's famous "The Crucifixion of Saint Peter." It is Michelangelo himself, looking on in a blue turban. Apparently for the sake of posterity, the master portrayed himself in his vigorous youth.

Back here in the culture-of-youth we call the United States, the Pew Research Center reports the majority of younger Americans expect life to degrade rapidly after the age of 60. Whereas those over 60 often feel much younger than their chronological age. Pew's survey did not ask the over-60s to identify either their favorite coffee or painter, so any conclusions drawn remain open to debate.

The most elusive conclusion still persists. Why do the young always want to be older, and the older always want to be younger?Shakespeare describes old age as "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Woody Allen says, "Art is ageless if only the artists didn't have to get old doing it." The Bible says, "Graying hair is a glorious crown."

Maybe everything depends on who you're reading...

Monday, July 13, 2009


Here's a test for you. Do you think kids have too many tests to take these days....?

When you were a kid, you would have answered with an indisputable Yes. But with the distance of what adults like to call maturity, how do you feel now? Some educators strongly agree with the patented complaint, "Teaching for the test is bad teaching." Lately, however, other educators have a bold new answer to go with this complaint. Their pedagogical pitch is, replace end-of-course tests with week-to-week computerized assessments.

Here's an open secret. Educators have been arguing like this about education ever since the first school opened in that first village hut. Simply because -- like scientists can't really explain electricity -- educators can't really explain learning.

The best definition I've heard is: "All learning is an individual act of self discovery."

Naturally, that's open to argument too. Just listen in to the teacher's lounge in your local school buildings where it's ego against ego, degree against degree. And now with this assessing versus testing theory, these lounges could really turn ugly.

No prediction here, just a bet.The very first argument will be over the question: "Just because we have the computers to continually assess, is that automatically a reason to do it?" Hmmm, exactly the same question folks battled over when it came to the wheel, the printing press, the telephone, radio, television, space shuttles and rap music.

All pretty profound ideological questions. Except maybe that last one, where the very first rap song usually answers its own question!


"One of the biggest problems with getting old is everything else gets old too..."

I wish Mark Twain had said this, because that would have given this small truth a higher sheen. Unfortunately, only I said this. But anyone getting older surely understands. What comes with the graying years is that incontestable been-here-done-this feeling. Especially as you scan the news of the day.

Master comedians like Will Rogers, Mort Sahl and now John Daley make a career out of scanning and satirizing the news this way. Their genius, like that of political cartoonists, is surgically extracting the punchlines from underneath all the fleshy pretensions. What breathless young editors and anchors call a headline is often just another ho-hum to the folks living in Sunset Manor.

Who is better off -- excited newcomer or ennuied old-timer-- is open to debate. What isn't, though, is the recurring nature of our news. I mean, our species just can't help coming up with the same stuff century after century.

When new journalism grads are shocked today's newspapers allow advertising on their front page, ho-hum they only need check our first newspaper edited by Benjamin Franklin back in 18th century Philadelphia. The message is always the same: Expenses trump ethics!

When concerned readers try to stay abreast of the health news, ho-hum they keep running into the same old conflicting studies. One from the University of California reports "people with post traumatic stress disorders are more likely to suffer dementia" while a study from Wake Forest University states "people over 70 who have one or two alcoholic drinks a day have a 37% lower risk of being diagnosed with dementia." While dementia is a serious disease, ever since the old folks in the tribe started forgetting things, the witch doctors never seemed to consider maybe they simply didn't what to remember them anymore!

When reporters come up with stories using the always-good-for-a-fast-headline male vs.female scenario, ho-hum it seems they forget this news is as old as Adam and Eve. For example, in a recent flash from researchers at the University of Massachusetts, tests revealed "in asking subjects to pound away at targets on a metal plate, men hit the surface twice as hard as women, but women were 10% more accurate." I'm thinking Mark, Will or Mort would hardly be as surprised as these young researchers. After all, history suggests brains almost always have to make room for brawn!

This is not to argue there's nothing new under the sun. But it is to suggest what's new to some is ho-hum to others. Happily, the generational tension between the two is what keeps life interesting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


If you can read Frank Rich's July 12 column in the NY Times, you'll get a bristly liberal take on Sarah Palinism... but if you paid any attention in your US History classes, Rich's roast of Barracuda Sarah is right out of the 1890s, the 1930s and then again the 1960s...for if his charge is correct that her "politics of resentment is impervious to facts," your teacher was talking about some similar examples when you were dozing.

For historical details see (1) William Jennings Bryan from the angry Midwest in the 1890s (2) Huey Long from the angry Louisiana in the 30s (3) Barry Goldwater from the angry America in the 60s (4) subtly and sweetly, from Norman Rockwell's Americana artwork throughout some of these very same years.

Frank Rich quotes Palin fans Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and 'Morning Joe'...he concludes Palin is the "self-proclaimed representation of the 'real America' as if white rural America still was the nation's baseline... putting a happy, sexy face on ugly emotions that can solidify her followers."

This isn't to say Frank Rich is worth the time reading. But it is to say Ms Palin's supporters will take the time to passionately deny him. It's also to say between now and 2012, Sarah will make 100 times as much as Frank


Whenever anyone quotes anyone else, they usually do it to sell their point. But here's a quote from that feisty philosopher Bertrand Russell which almost anyone should be able to buy: "Every person, wherever they go, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with them like flies on a summer day....!"

Sometimes it's hard to cut through these clouds to see the world as others do. Because others are seeing that world through their own clouds. And so it is that in our intensively over-reported culture, we're often choked with more informational dots than we know how to connect.

And yet connections can be made be most writers if we try hard enough. Consider these five seemingly disparate dots of news --

* Rising oil prices have triggered the sharpest decline in driving since the invention of the automobile. Annual rates have fallen by 123 billion miles from their peaks [USA Today]
* The European airline Ryanair plans to offer cheaper standing-room tickets. Passengers will be buckled to a metal pole [La Figaro]
* In nations like Japan the demand for porno videos on mobile phones is so heavy it's leading to rationing during peak hours []
* A Turkish TV station is promoting a new game featuring a priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and an imam competing to convert each week's volunteer group of atheists [TV executive Seyhan Soylu]
* In Latvia, a credit company is offering small loans to cash-strapped customers with a clause pledging "my immortal soul" if they don't repay the loan [the Kontora Loan Company of Riga]
At first blush -- and these news stories do tend to make you blush a bit -- these five dots have nothing in common. However, there's always a serendipitous writer's line to be found connecting the dots under our mysterious heavens.Following a transcendetal-meditation meal at a local Himalayan restaurant, the connective lines grew clearer
In the first three dots, the global recession is obviously shifting customer habits to new alternatives in living styles. Which, in turn, is shifting Turks and Latvians to new alternatives in dying styles. The Turks and Latvians seem to be saying -- when things get bad down here, it's time to start thinking about up there.

Now maybe you wouldn't connect these dots this way, but then you didn't just have a seven-course Himalayan dinner.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Ever since we got shut out of the Garden of Eden, Jews and Christians have been trying to figure out what the subsequent "Fall of Man" in Genesis actually meant. And means. Now in 2009, could major league baseball have something to say on the matter...?

Here's the deal. Theologically speaking, we are both rationality and animality. Reason and will. Head and heart. While Adam and Eve didn't play baseball, we are lead to understand their rationality was always in perfect control of their animality. Good planning. Until that zero-fun serpent messed them up. By getting them tossed out of Paradise, it left them (and us) without this perfect rational control of our animal selves.

Until, that is, modern science came along a few hundred years ago to put human reason back on the throne. How? Modern science has brilliantly found ways to rationally splice and dice data into irrefutable formulas and cures and inventions. The human reason Adam and Eve screwed up, modern science has brought back. Bigger, bolder and more confidently than ever.

Now baseball is pushing the envelope to an astounding new frontier. The New York Times reports, "A new camera and software system in its final testing phases will record the exact speed and location of the ball and every player on the field, allowing the most digitzed of sports to be overrun anew by hundreds of innovative statistics that will rate players more accurately, perhaps altering forever how the game itself is played."

Talk about our rationality in complete charge of our animality...! Attention fans, when MLB gets through, your game and your players will be so scientifically re-packaged, even Adam, Eve, and the snake would be impressed.

Not exactly what the God of Genesis meant by mind over matter. Or what guys like Ruth and DiMaggio meant by baseball. But there it is fans. Well, except devoted Cub fans whose minds haven't mattered for 100 years!

Friday, July 10, 2009


Here's something everyone can agree on. We have more human communication networks going for us since our first grunts and drums. Trouble is, most of the time we're not communicating anything new....!

When you think about it, maybe that's because they're right when they say: There's nothing new under the sun. I'm not sure who "they" are, but it seems they got it right. From cave dweller to astronaut, we're still communicating the very same fundamentals that go with being human -- Help! Look at me! Love me! Stop doing that to me! Here's an idea! Lets try it! Lets try it again!

For those of mighty libraries and even mightier degrees, this may sound foolishly basic. But, then, isn't our human species rather foolishly basic? Dressed in skins or gowns, young and eager or old and cautious, we humanoids haven't changed all that much over the eons. In case you forgot, it's called the Human Condition.

Religions seek to explain it, artists try to capture it, governments work to control it. And yet when it comes to all the important moments in our lives, little or large, our lives have been cloned by cosmic -- or comic? -- forces that simply can't be ignored. To prove this well-worn postulate, check any scrap of evidence at hand. Your daily news reports...your tax returns...your personal letters...your favorite novels...your last wake. Candor and courage impel us to grant this embarrassing yet energizing truth. They're all pretty much the same in our life as in every other life that's ever been or ever will be lived. Be those the lives we know and love, or those we read and study.

Which surprisingly means that meeting Caesar, Charlemagne, Joan of Arc or Albert Einstein in a weekend supermarket line, we'd be able to hold a conversation. Really!

To be perfectly frank, this thought is hardly original. Poets and people, heroes and harebrains, have been saying pretty much the same thing ever since they've clocked enough years to figure out that it's astoundingly true...

....there's nothing really new under the sun, including the sun itself. Which quite properly calls for a soulful: Amen!


Neither the Mayor nor the Sun Times is lying. They're just not telling the truth in July 10's editorial. The quibble over the achievement scores of our city schools (Daley - 69.8% vs ST -- 67.5%) is not the bottom line issue here. And everyone knows it...!

Every teacher and every school administrator knows the real numbers where it all starts. With the numbers of kids coming to class from uneducated homes. Just in case you're a few generations behind the times, folks, here's classroom rule #1. Educators can't really educate kids from uneducated homes!

Do you want an exact number of these homes? Exactly too many.

Those of us who've spent a career in the classroom will tell you the truth everyone's looking for, but won't publish. When you send us kids from a broken home, a fighting home, a jobless home, a drugged home or a ganged home -- don't figure us to turn around your job. We'll try, but you have to try just as hard.

Now if the two of us ever get on the same page, neither the Mayor nor the Sun Times will have nearly as much to quibble about. Because if we do, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


There's something about speed in our culture. We love it more and more, faster and faster. Speed is good. Slow is bad. But there's another side to this clock and to this story that unfolds right here in Chicago every day...!

Getting things done fast has its obvious advantages. In business, government, media. What's more we have every conceivable instrument by which to do so. E-mails, Iphones, texting, twittering and whatever new nanosecond widget they come up with. On the other and slower hand, poets and philosophers are always talking about the gift of time. Good point. So lets put an even finer point on it. The gift of waiting.

Today's fast-tracking, instant-gratification Chicagoans are supposedly in a 24/7 state of fulfillment. Whatever we want, we get. Stock reports, business data, weather and sport updates, answers to questions, questions for answers, a perpetual Facebook-Society in which there's no waiting for anything. But wait here with me for a moment....

Neuroscientists remind us our brains aren't designed to function anywhere near as fast as our technologies. That suggest a reason. God and/or Evolution did this for a purpose. Psychology 101 in any college in town can provide the fast-moving movers-and-shakers in town with an answer -- waiting time is not wasted time!

Just as in the world of Yellowstone important things are quietly happening in-between the big geysers and fires, so is it in the busy world of Chicago. Especially in the busy world of our minds. While unnoticed bubblings and seedlings help make Yellowstone what it is, small pauses and reflections help make us what we are.

Waiting for an important personal letter...waiting for the results to a test or an interview....waiting for the answer to our love...waiting for an answer to our prayer. These ticks of time are hardly wasted time. Hopes, doubts, reassessments, corrections are being processed. The space between A and B, the ticks between now and then, these are all misty lands the mind travels in ways we may not quite understand. And yet traveling them -- taking the time to travel them -- is what helps determine our destinations. Be they the answers to our questions or our questions to the answers.

Maybe, Chicago, it all comes down to what the few farmers still left in our state tend to say.about the crops they're waiting for. What will be will be. In the meantime -- in the waiting time -- there are important things to do. Just don't rush me!


In reporting Michael Jackson's body was "riddled with needle marks"(July 9), you help distinguish the four different classes of enhancement-users in our society: celebrities, athletes, national politicians, and of course Illinois politicians.

Show business celebrities are in and out of rehab because of drug abuse. It's almost a given that big-ticket performers fall back on big-drug habits to keep them going. Star athletes are being caught season after season sneaking locker-room juice to keep them playing. National politicians are being discovered time and time again getting high on sexual dalliances from local hookers to South American beauties.

But here in Illinois our guys (and mostly it is the guys!) are usually hooked on highs you can't get in a shot or locate in a bedroom. In Illinois our guys have been getting high on the most seductive drug of them all -- power! Check the history books and the stories jump out at you like a bad novel.

Inspectors, ward heelers, council member, mayors, state officials and of course governors. No dope for them -- not when there's power to be had. The power to cheat, bilk and corrupt with dazzling indifference to the rules they've been elected to uphold. Hey, in Illinois power is always the needle of choice....!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Novelist Christopher Morley once tried to capture that large phantasmagorical castle in everyone's life that goes by the name Success. He did it with a small but precise army of words: "There is only one real success anyone can achieve -- to be able to spend your life in your very own way."

Instantly the thought yanks you out from the daily din and drone of the world. It sits you firmly down in front of your own mental mirror. True, there is that loud insistent everyday reality outside of you; but inside here is where you think and feel and fear and dream. So very likely it is inside here where you must gather up what you need to capture that castle for yourself.

Everyone assaults the castle ramparts differently. At different ages and stages of their life. The young and the restless marshal battalions of education, cunning and courage to seize the prize. Older ones tend to count more on experience, patience and persistence. The elderly often are content simply to live in the comforting shadows of the castle.

Then there are those among us who choose less direct strategies. Frequently these are found anywhere from monasteries to mountaintops, from driving a cab to roaming a range, from writing the great American novel in some garret to waiting tables between Broadway auditions. These are the individualists, the mavericks, the Thoreaus. They seem to be saying there must be other castles to win other than the ones always portrayed on the picture postcards of American culture.

Perhaps this castle (or castles) is as delusional as the Arthurian tales of noble knights and gleaming round-tables. And yet, if Morley -- and millions of other reflective Morleys throughout history -- is right, the castle we call success is not captured but created. It's soaring towers, solid walls,and interior splendors must be built brick by brick with our own hands. Using our own schematics.

If so, then our castle will hardly look like anyone else's castle. Nor, in contrast to what our celebrity culture commands, will it have to. It will be a shining fortress for one! And, of course, for anyone who sees the same strength and beauty in its mists that we do. "Build it and they will come..." was the theme to a baseball movie fantasy. Maybe that's what Morley -- and those of us who vibrate to his words -- think about Success. It's for each of us to build with whatever small precious brick and mortar we have available to us.

Then throw open the gates to those who may wish to come in, without regretting that others may not....


The Sun Times reports "digital TV switch not smooth for all." (July 8). But this all depends on how you feel about not being able to receive some of your local channels. Is this a curse or a cheer...?

To answer that question for myself, I took out my calculator and estimated the breakdown of the local programming these TV owners will miss: Talk 32%(anyone from a chef to a comic)....Commercials 26% (anyone pitching anything just so long as they're pretty and they're smiling)...Re-runs 18% (anything the station can pick up on cheap syndication)....News 12% (anything so long as it focuses on Chicago favorites like scandals, gangs and mayhem)...Weather 8% (anyone at the station who can read a script, because no one really knows what the weather is going to be anyway)...Jokes 4% (any of those little anecdotes they can toss out like a life-raft after they've just drowned you in an ocean of bad news).

Are these stats accurate...? Well, my calculator hasn't switched over to digital yet, so I can't be sure. But I'm calculating they're sadly pretty close.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


In today's sound-bite world, we love catchphrases and cliches. Saves on time. And on thinking...!

Here's one the east coast literati and DC think tanks love to use: counter-culture. It always sounds terribly sophisticated to decide what the flow of the national culture is. And then to decide what's going against that flow. These are the so-called experts who tell us what's the "norm," and then instruct us on why not following that is somehow "counter."

Consider such experts as the cosmetic industry and the Hollywood studios. Somehow they have taken it upon themselves -- and we have allowed them -- to establish the norms of feminine beauty in our culture. If you thought we are born hard-wired with these norms you're largely wrong. While evolutionary biology suggests our genes react pleasurably to such things as physical symmetry (ie. facial lines and body contours), the specifics to these norms change from culture to culture, from era to era.

And so the ancient Persians, Greeks and Egyptians were pleased by some very different female lines, contours, and even body weights than we are today in America. That's because what cultures consider the norm and/or its counter are not only learned experiences, but manufactured ones as well. And thus it is that the pleasures of young American womanhood have been manufactured to various specifications at various times by various men.

Turn of the century -- the Gibson Girl. The 1920s -- the Flapper Girl. The 1930s through 1960s -- the Blond Bombshells (see Carol Lombard, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe for sensuous details). For the next half century the specs have continued to fluctuate according to the cosmetic impresarios who want women to keep buying their new baubles, and the movie moguls who want women to keep paying to see their latest silver screen discovery.

No big deal, right? Just good old fashioned American entrepreneurship at work, right? Perfected with the manufactured magic of promoters like P.T. Barnum and Cecille B. DeMille, right? But not so fast. Manufacturing beauty is much different than manufacturing say cars and computers. Tens of millions of little girls drenched in a sea of beautification specifications have been whip-lashed from style to style and taste to taste. So that the American Psychiatric Association continues to report serious behavioral damage to young impressionable minds and bodies that can't quite fit that dreadful notion: The norm!

And that do fit that even more dreadful notion: Not fitting the norm!


The press is reporting on the pending sale of the Chicago Cubs. Big story for our town. But there's back-story...!

Major League Baseball officials are worried about the 26% jump in big-ticket players stuck on the disabled list. Last year teams paid a half billion dollars to DL players sitting on the bench. So the question for probable Cub owner Ricketts is how to reduce this risk to his investment?

MBL officials theorize the plague of injuries might be because players, now living with drug testing, are afraid to use some of the meds that once helped them play through the pain. Maybe! But here's another theory. In a scandal-ridden era, maybe high-profile players are afraid of something else. Being caught by a gotcha press.

After all, how can a pricey player concentrate on his game when the lady he had dinner with last night may turn out to be the daughter of a Chicago politician? Or a member of the University of Illinois Admissions Board? Or a Latin American relative of our banished Governor??

So here's how some of us Cub fans figure it, Mr Ricketts. To avoid more lost millions on DL players, pass out a fact-sheet that lists which meds are legit and which girlfriends have absolutely, positively no connection with anybody in Illinois government.

OK, that might make for a pretty short list, but it could help. Right now, anything could....!

Monday, July 6, 2009


I've read the Bible, skimmed the Koran, and surfed the Internet. But I don't believe I ever found a more succinct profile of our strange human nature than on page 4 of your July 6 edition....!

First, we learn that after 117 proud, staid years the University of Chicago has discovered a new gender. In addition to the Biblical male and female, now the UC has added "transgender." Translated, that means students who are "more comfortable" with the opposite sex, even without sex, are considered transgenders, and can live together in the dorms. I take that as either progress, pragmatism, or simply weary surrender!

Next, we learn that Facebook is breaking exciting new frontiers by showing England's new national spy chief splashing around in his swimming trunks. I take that to mean the era of Jame Bond has been replaced by middle-age guys in speedos!

Finally, there's your story about ex-DC mayor Marion Barry arrested for stalking. I take that to mean reading about our American politicians has now become even more popular than Danielle Steele novels!

Oh, and the SunTimes tossed in there an ad for cut-rate garage prices. I take that to mean there's no place like home even in a recession!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


All through history people have tried to foresee the future. Now the SunTimes is making it easy for everybody. It's front page stories are written so anyone can become a prophet...!

Take just a few of your latest headlines: Sarah Palin Resigns...Iran blames Obama...North Korea fires missiles...Jackson family quarrel over will. I didn't check their bylines, but the way these reporters wrote these stories, any reader can now predict what's coming next. I mean, your stories write their own next headlines. Here I'll prove it:

* "Palin dumps low-paying Alaska job with no future for fat speech & TV gigs in 48; it's a beauty-over-brains market where Coulter & Limbaugh are yesterday's news!"
* "Mullahs got troubles; time to play the Great Satan ace-in-the-hole-card!"
* "North Korea gambles noisy stunts still get D.C. money; like Wall Street & Detroit whenever they need new bailouts!"
* "Hollywood never buries rich celebrity without everyone making bid for the bucks; the race is on!"

See...? Thanks to sharp coverage today, any reader can become a prophet tomorrow. No magic between incantations, just a few minutes between the lines. Now for my next prediction, I predict I'll be posting a fortune-teller ad in your weekend editions!


The ancient law of unintended consequences is not really new, but it's never been more active than today. Just ask John McCain and Sarah Palin...!

According to this law, once X happens, you can never tell how Y, Z and everything else might follow. In Genesis, X is the appeal of that darn the Greeks in the Trojan War, it was the beauty of that darn the Brits back in 1775, it was that darn Tea Tax on their American colonies....and to the Cub fans, it's been that darn goat they wouldn't let into the park.

Now here come two ironic new ones: (1) John McCain very unintentionally creates Sarah Palin, which might turn out to be the only thing his illustrious life will ever be remembered for (2) Sarah Palin very unintentionally becomes the new litmus test of American politics, because instead of voters being divided over abortion now it may be over Palin.

So I ask the SunTimes -- can you find any laws on the books with intentioned-consequences any more amazing than these unwritten laws of unintended-consequences? Makes you think, maybe life's neither a journey nor a joy. Just a great big casino....

Saturday, July 4, 2009


It's not news to report on the latest widget or website -- our world is exploding with them. But you took the time to sneak in a little explosion that might just have some large consequences (July 4, page 20)...!

At least half your readers have heard of the Saturday Evening Post. The other half are in for a surprise. As you reported -- it's back!

The charming old magazine started by Benjamin Franklin almost 240 years ago featured folksy art, fiction, commentary and health articles. Including those classic front covers by Norman Rockwell and his take on America.

Speaking for both halves of your readership, hats off to you for taking the time to slow the time down with this timely item. In a time when we have billions of cell phones, millions of websites, and thousands of digital & print publications dedicated to hurrying up...this magazine revival may test whether there's still time to slow down.

Friday, July 3, 2009


The July 3 front pages are a powerful statement about the current drift of our world. They featured the role of the old-time bike in contrast to the new-age Batmobile. A nifty metaphor for the value of experienced humans in contrast to exotic technology...!

A couple of Chicago paramedics on bikes helped save the life of a woman who collapsed at the Taste of Chicago. True, they were packing some technology with them, but what saved her was compassionate human intervention more than any hardware. Which is something people need to remember when we're being told -- and seem to believe -- "there's a machine for that!"

Keep the machines, god bless them, but lets not stop being human in favor of being bionic. Lets remember it's still humans who save lives, prevent accidents, teach knowledge, achieve victories and change the world. Not hardware.

Every time the lights go out, or O'Hare gets shut down, or markets jam, or the Internet goes black, it's always a person not a tool that's needed to get our world moving again. So hats off to all the guys on bikes, more than the ones on Batmobiles!