Sunday, January 31, 2010


When life gets too complicated -- and it has -- whattya do? Either keep up or give up! Seems like most of us have chosen the second. We tend to reduce every complexity into a simplicity. Take today's gaffe/gotcha gig...!

Instead of thinking things through, too many of us go through life using cliff notes. They didn't teach us much in our Shakespeare or History classes, but what the heck, it's so much easier this way. So now every politician or celebrity is mainly defined by their latest gaffe (as if our lives aren't one long series of gaffes); followed by the inevitable sleazy gotcha report we laugh over at the water cooler (as if we're not being laughed at at the other water cooler).

What's worse, now the next generation is already way ahead of us in this gig. Stats show the average 8-18 year old spends almost every out-of-school hour on the Internet, watching television, listening to music on MP3 players, texting, tweeting or facebooking.

Thinking with cliff notes got us poor grades in class....what will they get us in life?


There's a lot of talk these days about the feminization of America. More specifically, of the American male. Historians tell us this comes from the closing of the Old West...sociologists explain there are role reversals critics analyze it as nice-guy-hunks Tom Hanks and Jude Law replacing tough-guy-hunks John Wayne and Charles Bronson in the hearts of women.

Much of it comes down to the sensitivity quotient. In our less primitive more sophisticated environment, women look more for men who can understand as well as protect. Lets face it, Wayne and Bronson are not the tea & sympathy kind. Tony Bennett doesn't call women broads like Frank Sinatra. And the female of the species is considerably more interested in what Oprah and Ellen have to say than what the NASCAR and rodeo gang have to offer.

If true, this leaves today's young male three basic options. First, read up on manners, and study how the gentlemen exquisitely execute them on Masterpiece Theatre. Or second, he can look for women who love NASCAR races and rodeos. Or third, he can let his beard grow scraggly, join an all-male country club, and explore the joys of rugged celibacy.

Actually, he probably doesn't have to become pro-active over this issue at all. Because the transformation has already subtly settled in. How can he tell? Well, all it takes is a simple history lesson. Has he stopped wearing chaps and smelling of horse manure...has he stopped spitting tobacco juice...does he attend church or temple on the weekends....does he drive a Prius, enjoy Barbra Streisand, hum Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes?

If he can answer yes to at least three of the above, he's already made the transformation. And aren't the women in his life glad...!

Saturday, January 30, 2010


OK, so we've got problems with our snow removal, our parking prices, and our local candidates. But there are some even more serious problems brewing at Wrigley...!

The Ricketts family is talking about "revitalizing" the Friendly Confines. Just 10 weeks away from opening day, we have to wonder if good intentions are going to mess up the last neighborhood ball park of its kind in America. Sure, the barnyard-like latrines need changes...some of the cramped seating needs repairs...and most of the food could use a little upgrading. But lets not try to turn a classic into just another copy.

Mr. R, , after 60 years of watching your Cubs, here's my list of the Untouchables. The unmechanized scoreboard! The uncouth bleachers! The unfriendly ushers! The unsophisticated beer hawkers! The unhealthy pizza slabs! Look, I know you can't do much about the unlucky team, but at least you can preserve some of your park's unduplicatabtle features.

Otherwise I'll think I'm in Sox Park...

Friday, January 29, 2010


Right after New Years Day I realized I had some stray yesterdays lying around. What to do with yesterdays in a tomorrow-minded culture?

Then it occurred to me. Whenever we come across old photos, love letters, music tapes, even check stubs, they capture our imagination. Gaps like time, space and generations seem to melt into a kind of impressionistic mural of our life. Suddenly no past, no present, no future. The painting becomes a single revelation of our days here.

Well, if random yesterdays can do that, maybe they're worth cherishing more than we do. Not just because of the comfort old memories hum, but because of the chorus of new possibilities they can still sing.

Heroes...? Jackknifed into the back seats of my neighborhood movie house during WWII, heroes were painted for me in great swatches of gritty red, white and blue. Today, so many failed icons. And yet from what I incandescently remember, they did exist. And can exist. So I seek them still.

Friendships...? When Johnny firmly caught my outstretched hand from the cold waters on that ice-cracking day, I understood what it meant. The burst of illumination from such a yesterday tells me to believe still.

Wisdom...? I watched Ms. Jenkins day after day handing us the keys to the kingdom of truth in her literature class. Her passion for the beauty of truth lite our fires. She remains a memory which insists embers of great truths can still be found. And fanned. And felt.

Duty...? I calculate Mom prepared 37,230 meals throughout the yesterdays of her marriage. Not exactly a banner in the book of feminism, and surely not always moments of personal fulfillment. And yet, the pedigree of her yesterdays sheds light on this easily neglected value of old-fashioned duty.

Honor...? At his age, my Father was exempt from service in that war. But escaping the honor of duty was for him unthinkable. Honor like that may be harder to find in our more self-serving todays, yet his example shines through the years. And, for me, cuts through the cynicism.

I see it this way. The past is not past. It is never past whenever its brightest moments are recalled. And re-lived. That's why there are books...and ballads...and theatres...and, oh yes, old photo albums to hold and share what was best about yesterday.


These are the days when every Chicagoan loses faith! Faith in the political system. Not because every candidate is so bad, but mainly because every candidate's campaign is. This month some of these campaigns have reached for new lows, like bringing dead politicians out of the grave and melodramatically suing their opponent.

However, what really kills our faith is how every candidate follows the same dreary, disillusioning script: They feature out-of-context quotes from newspapers they claim support them...they stage phony on-location testimonials by citizens they insist agree with them...they slam their opponent with half-truths, kiss a few babies, shake a few hands and always always promise to lower taxes.

You'd think just once, one of them would tear up the script and try something revolutionary. Like telling us what's gone wrong and exactly how together we have a fighting chance to change it. Oh wait, come to think of it, that can get you killed! There was Kennedy, McKinley, Lincoln...well, you get the idea.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Did you notice it too...? The way Apple's Steve Jobs just drove another nail into Christopher Columbus' coffin...?

With this week's flashy intro to their new iPad, Apple continues our trend toward personal insularity. Along with our iPhones, iPods and Blackberries, we can now put the entire world into the palm of our hand. In another age, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong were trying to reach out and put themselves into the entire world.

Something's happening here. As malls shrink, world cruises diminish, and big-audience events grow fewer, Chicagoans are finding more and more reasons to go out less and less. Nothing's wrong with having the power of the world right in our own hands, but sometimes that world misses us. And what we could be doing for it in its time of need!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The premier quarterbacks are the ones who, when they fade back, have this gift of somehow seeing and sensing the entire field of play. All in an instant, all as if in slow motion. That's what is meant by "seeing things in context." And that's the gift only a few of us have when playing in game called life...!

News in the media and blather in Washington are usually here-and-now rhetoric. Saying things without ever understanding how these things fit into the large screen. For instance, all the disastrous "firsts" today are hardly first-time events with only here-and-now meaning. Consider them. Terror...? Think of living on an isolated 19th farm near Indian country. Failing economy...? Think of all the booms-turned-busts throughout our nation's history right up to the Crash of 1929. Angry politicians...? Think of the pre-Civil War days when Senators often carried hidden sidearms during their bitter floor debates.

And talking about arms, as we read the tragic deaths of hundreds of our nation's warrior-sons, remember the hundreds of thousands who died at Gettysburg, Flanders Fields, and Normandy. So as we give vent to our anti-government, populist frustrations, remember these same furies of hatred were also unleashed against Washington, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR. Many of us working from scripts written and shouted generations ago.

No, such previous failures and furies are nothing to be proud of. But they can remind today's doomsayers that we've struggled down these very same paths before. Our times have no monopoly on anger; no exclusive on graft, corruption and failed promises; and no lock on foretelling our apocalypse.

We're still here. As are so many other imperfect civilizations that have survived the very same traumas and tragedies. A reason to feel good about ourselves...? Not really. But maybe a reason to fade back and pass judgment in the long light of history.


While we worry about the world around us -- and we do with every new edition -- there also exist worries about the world within us. Long after presidents and court decisions, long past the expiration dates on terrorism alerts and global warming signs, the human race is destined to deal with what its boldest innovators hand us in their next series of hand-held wizardry. One especially bold leap we seem about to take -- directly connecting our brains to our personal communicators...!

Here is science-fiction with far more science than fiction to it. And It's taking place in university campuses and think tanks all around us. This involves vastly more than family photos, favorite music, and intimate tweets. Now when you die, you will pass on to you children the complete experience of who and what you have been in this life. Just as, in helping create them, you passed on your genetic structure. Only now their heritage will not be your money or your property or even the cherish-able cliches from your wake. Instead, it will be the actual heritage of a life lived. The experience of a unique organism traveling through its unique human environment. All there encoded in a billion billion hand-held gigabytes.

So while we live, love and learn during our time here, really the only thing we can ever own and pass on is the experience itself. Which is what scientists promise to place in the palm of our children's hands. Ready to be conjured up anytime they may wish!

I've spoken with my adult children about such a Star Trek legacy. I don't believe they've yet processed the possibilities. Or the problems. Would yours? Perhaps once around for each of us is enough. And yet, progress never asks permission. To paraphrase another president: This generation has a rendezvous with deification.


No one has to report we're living in a stormy world. Failing jobs and flailing politicians everywhere. But some of us would like to report there actually are some moorings to hang on to. This is not about the big ones -- like our faith or our family -- more about the little ones that may get overlooked.

Say the same dependable aroma of fresh-brewed coffee every morning...the taffeta kitty who reliably nuzzles your slippered feet...that Golden Retriever who travels down the street in precisely the same route while I'm picking up the morning editions...the lanky young moms who steadfastly stroll their kids to the waiting school bus...later, the same dogged mail carrier who hands me the day's nastiest bills with the world's biggest smiles...the reliable distant drone of jets readying for their flight patterns from nearby O'Hare Field....even that tattered old phone book on the kitchen counter with names who've helped make my life. There's something unfailing here!

This is the point. While we tend to look for big organized answers, perhaps we forget that even without them, there's an almost invisible webbing of small comforts. It wraps itself around our daily life virtually unnoticed. And yet, were it not there to hold the rhythms of our day in place, we'd suddenly know it. It's so damn human to never notice what we have until we don't!

So, yes, I read the papers, write my Congress members, and pray my prayers. But I try also to remember those invisible moorings that never seem let the storm drown them. Those small reliables that usually slip past our radar like smoke, but which afford our little boat snug harbors of hope. Hope that so long as they're are still here, just maybe so will I. And so will my world. In these times, such hope is no small comfort.

Someone once told me, hope is the last mooring you can afford to lose. I'll bet someone very special in your youth told you the same thing...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Here's news that didn't need an Oxford professor to prove -- we can handle only a limited number of friends in our life. No matter how many times we're "friended" on Facebook or reached by phone, Dr Robin Dunbar says the maximum number of meaningful friendships is 150. In the case of political and corporate leaders, the number drops to 7.

Dunbar, an evolutionary anthropologist, says that while technology can expand our reach, our brain's neocortex cannot. Which makes sense, even though dedicated Facebookers may argue.

However, perhaps there's another reason. Not the brain but the heart! As the Scarecrow learned, having a heart means being able to have it broken. So, just maybe it's our heart not our brain protecting us from too many friendships.

Something to think about when that screen or that phone doesn't light up...

Monday, January 25, 2010


In his latest message, Bin Laden seems desperate to prove he's still in complete charge of things. Here's a big secret. No one is really in complete charge of anything...! Maybe in the days of pharaohs and emperors, but today's worlds has become too big and too complicated.

That's why it's delusional to write or speak about: The White House...the GOP...the FBI...Wall Street... City Hall ...Hollywood...Red Cross...Bears. Yeah sure, it's handy and it gives you a feeling there are actually large, efficient operations with one set of hands running them. Sorry, folks -- it's simply not true anymore. Because it's not possible anymore.

What's the lesson here? Just this. In a world of 6 billion straining, struggling ambitious human beings, there's far more chaos than control going on. But since you and I are are riding this tiger, it would be best to hang on a little tighter and little less gullible than ever.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


'Tis the season of political attack ads. Drives you crazy, right? But to really understand them, you have to crack their code. You see, what they're telling you is not the real message; it's how they're telling you. Check them out, and notice how they're always telling you with anger.

Psychology tells us anger is a secondary emotion. In other words, there is, primarily, fear behind it. Like a parent's fearful anger at seeing their child playing in the street. It's very much the same with the anger to the attack ads. Primarily fear about certain specific advantages your rival may have.

Is it your rival's eloquence, income, appeal to certain socio-ethnic-economic groups? Fearing such advantages makes you angry, and angry makes these ads. Get it...? To figure out X's strengths, just study Y's angry attack ads...! Unwittingly, Y is tipping you off to why should vote for X.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


OK, so most January days are sunless and depressing. We can't change planetary nature. But maybe we can change human nature. At least this much -- by remembering sight unseen the sun is still up there.

Just like so many other things in our life that we can't always see. Like the love of our parents, our partner, our family, our kids, our pets. Oh wait a minute. If our pet is a dog, well yeah, we're sure to see it. However, in the case of a cat, well -- just like our silent sun -- we just have to take it on faith!

Friday, January 22, 2010


We're the chicken coop...the foxes are the political forces outside the coop trying to devour us with their political messages...the gate is the 1st amendment. That's the scene. Now here's how the foxes just sneaked in...!

In the Illinois gubernatorial election, one of the foxy candidates just used the 1st amendment to unleash a package of TV ads featuring one of Chicago's long-dead mayors criticizing the incumbent. Out of context, out of date, but still awfully slick. Which says to the rest of the foxes, hey, the gate's wide open to virtually anyone saying anything...

Meanwhile, in the Supreme Court, five of the gatekeepers there just opened the gate to any brawny corporate fox with enough money to devour us chickens with their political messages saturating the media...

Speaking as one of the chickens, things in this coop ain't looking real good right now. Because the gate -- the 1st amendment -- is being picked!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Chicagoans like to grouse about winter. And with good reason. However, there's an even more brutal winter looming, and it has nothing to do with snow or ice. It's called The Demographic Winter, and it's coming to the entire planet, ready or not...!

Governments have known about it for years. It's one reason they work so hard to reform their struggling health care and pension systems. Because in a few decades these systems will be groaning under the weight of more elderly people than the world has ever known. Or that the systems can easily support.

The facts are as simple as they are devastating. The global population is shifting. Not necessarily exploding as we once thought, but shifting. From a larger percentage of the producing young to a larger percentage of the retired old. In other words, what's actually happening is not a population explosion, but a health explosion. We are not producing so many new babies as we are saving the lives of so many older citizens!

Soon now there will not be enough producing young to support the health & pension plans for the retired old. And while some whisper the need for some form of eugenics, they themselves are of course always young. Rather than killing off those of us in old age, maybe we should all figure out why this demographic winter is happening.

A complex of factors are at work including: The pill, more working women, more divorce rates, therefore smaller family sizes. So small, that projections show the overall populations in the northern hemisphere will thin while those in the southern hemisphere will continue to grow. But in both spheres, the old faster than the young.

No easy answers. Not much time. Oh, lets see, we could always stop spending so much on wars and invest it in health/pension planning. But then as Malthus taught: Wars are a handy way to kill off excess populations. Hmm, do you think that's evolution's way of handling the problem...? Or is it maybe just dumb politicians....? Or how about dumber citizens who don't do the math with their governments...?


Have you ever smelled your way through a day? Oh, not a fragrant summer day; that's too easy. I mean a flat winter day? Now that takes a little more effort. But well worth the work...!

Unlike sights and sounds which must first pass through the brain to translate them for us, smells slam instantly into our deepest senses. They're not translated, they're experienced. Right down to our most primitive memory banks. Like the aromatic smell of our coffee and toast in the day's first hours. A medley of scents to stir sleeping recollections of mornings and kitchens past.

Stepping out to meet the day, there's the sudden whoosh of clean Arctic air, subtly polluted with the fumes of nearby trucks and cars, all bouquet-ed by the unhurried rot of a hibernating earth.

Later when you step into the marketplace of 9-5 lives, other smells wreath round you. If only you're willing to distinguish and delight in them. There's the different perfumes of the different stylish women passing by, each fragrance making its own decisive statement. Also, the odors of cigar and after-shave by which each man you meet reveals something secret about himself. Or the distinctive smells to each of your co-worker's clothing which unguardedly tell you something about their times and tastes.

Lunchtimes are little rhapsodies of smells as busy people select from a variety of garlicy, mustardy, deep-fried menus, all commenting on the dietary habits of an overweight restaurant and nation. Still, it's not the weight but the ways of your fellow beings that should be of most interest to your under-used olfactory glands.

The smells don't stop with the setting sun. As you arrive home, the cacophony of aromas persists. Remember to give it some of your best attentions, for it's whispering something. The sweet cedar of fireplace smoke, of animal bodies, and of hot dinners being readied. Finally -- if you're very lucky -- the smell of the ones you love in your arms.

Amazing all these taken-for-granted everyday smells. Today is as good as any day to give your nose the reward of discovery.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Columnist Lynn Sweet reports critics have taken to stinging the White House with the description "Chicago style politics". Here's one Chicagoan who thinks that sting doesn't have any real bite to it. First, because politics is played the same tough way in every part of the country. Second, because whatever the myth-makers want to say about rough-and-tumble Chicago, they better include its dazzling accomplishments.

Find me a city with more architectural innovation and skyline splendor...a lakeshore with more sweep and spectacle...a Magnificent Mile more magnificent...a network of world class hospitals more dedicated....a theatre community more fabulous...a galaxy of teams who may not always make playoffs, but sure always make headlines....oh, and the nation's Top Chef.

When the critics derisively toss around "Chicago Style politics," they're playing with half-baked fictions much more than fully-cooked facts. Catch us this coming Fourth of July for proof.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Science is always talking about "other worlds." What they may be like, who may exist in them, and how we may relate to them. Actually, we've already discovered them...!

They are the peculiar worlds of cable television and worldwidewebsites. Peculiar places where whole different agendas exist, and entirely unique languages are spoken. But unlike the real world which sleeps every 16 hours, these other worlds are relentless 24/7. They never sleep. They never stop.They are virtually irresistible.

However, once you enter cableland or wwwland you may not recognize life as you've known it. These sites thunder with screeching talking-heads and headlines, evil news, arrogantly confident predictions of our impending doom, all accompanied with the names of exactly who the monstrous villains are!

So all you scientists can close your telescopes, we've already found what you were looking for. We're just not sure we like what we found...!


Notice how all the health reform critics sound alike? Well, they're all working from the same playbook. Catchy talking-points handed out by the usual D.C. suspects -- insurance companies, hospitals, Republicans. But if the talking points are catchy, the answers are credible:

* "Take more time..." [The first proposals for government health reform began as far back as WWI!]

* "Get it right..." [The right data to get it right has been available for years!]

* "The bill is too long & no one's read it..." [Bingo, the definition of any major legislation!]

* "It means socialism..." [Like American capitalism hasn't been quasi-socialist ever since the New Deal!]

Next point....

Monday, January 18, 2010


Among the many conundrums to our lives is trying to live in the midst of opposites. Sunshine and storms...success and failure...happy times and tragic times. Consider the awards season glitter in Hollywood just a 6 hour flight away from the graves in Haiti. You can't help feeling a little guilty...!

But guilt is the wrong feeling. From Hollywood to our own telephone, we try to ease the guilt by making donations. And that's fine, however, there's a better way of co-existing with tragedies. Try preventing new ones.

Here's a vision and a mission that can be accomplished right in our own backyards. In our homes, our communities, our jobs, our circle of friends. If there are earthquake rumblings there of anger or jealousy or discrimination or misunderstanding -- well, roll up your sleeves, and see if you can't dig them out of the wreckage of these lives. Now before it's too late like in Haiti.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


News reports are chattering that "God is back!" Some of us assumed He never left. So why this sudden declamation...?

First, Hollywood's stunning box office receipts for God-themed movies like "The Book of Eli," "The Blind Side," and "The Lovely Bones." Second, the spectacular flow of funds for the relief of Haiti from so many people sending god-be-with-you messages. Third, the giant spike in Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" audiences.

What do the O'Brien numbers have to do with God...? Only this. The executives running NBC have played God for so long, they were starting to believe it. This latest collapse in their scheduling may help remind them that Rockefeller Center headquarters reach pretty high, but not that high!

Saturday, January 16, 2010


The answer here is almost as easy as the question: What does Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson all have in common? Obviously -- certitude. In an age when few of us has any sure explanations for unemployment, terrorists, bank corruption, and earthquakes, these guys have....!

Excuse my certitude here, but I'm guessing they're doing is what all conspiracy theorists do to make sense out of a chaotic world. They're finding vile little conspiracies that have set this chaos in motion. Obviously they have no convincing solution, but all it takes for some people is a convincing conspiracy. Terrific -- now I can go to bed at night not being sure of a better world, but at least being sure why it's so bad.

For Palin, the conspiracy is "that other America" (ie. multi-cultured, big-city non-whites) that has taken over our traditional small-town, Norman Rockwell America....

For Limbaugh, the conspiracy is anything that's not hard-right Republicanism (ie. specifically defined by his own gifted understanding of what is "hard" and what is "right")...

For Glenn Beck, he's a chattering showman who revives our history of past populists by finding conspiracy in some hidden someones plotting a Socialist (or what the heck maybe call it a Fascist) take-over of America...

For Pat Robertson, the conspiracy has been hatched in the hearts of evil people who somehow have not come to the feet of the Almighty specifically learned in the Gospel of Pat....

Not really bad people or bad Americans. Just wealthy, fellow citizens who are the unintended consequence of the 1st amendment!

Friday, January 15, 2010


I suppose letters should be complaining about something or someone. Let me change the rules here!

One of the most complained about targets are cops. Sure, I've heard all the stories abut graft, beatings and donuts. But my experience has always been a positive one. Protections, help, even kindness. So whenever I see a pair of cops on a meal break, I have this need to tell them how appreciated they are.

Two guaranteed reactions. First, surprise (wow, someone really gets it!). Second, appreciation (wow, maybe this grind is worth it!)

Oh, and I do this even if they're eating donuts at the time....

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I have this theory. If George Will is right in advising us life is something like a baseball game, then perhaps baseball's latest fiasco is something like life. If we look at this in just the right way, Roger Maris may be America's last mortal man...!

When Maris broke Babe Ruth's legendary home run record in 1961, he did it the old-fashioned way. With mind and muscle. However, just about ever since, athletes (and a growing number of Americans) seem to have decided mind and muscle alone are simply not enough.

For the last half century there's been this relentless spike in our passion for perfection, for greater success, for higher highs. The new mantra is: "Whatever it Takes!

Musicians were always known for finding another high between gigs. In recent generations, Americans of all kinds have accumulated so much power and wealth, we want to keep this high going. Whatever it takes. And so -- in baseball locker rooms, corporate board rooms, Washington, Hollywood, the weekend party with friends! -- there's this unshrinking appetite for more. More energy, more excitement, more spectacle, more fun, more of anything that can keep the party going!

Will we ever again find being mortal enough....?


God doesn't need a defense attorney, but maybe a little defending in disasters like Haiti. Why? Because we now hear the roar from the right saying this was God's vengeance; and the roar from the left saying can't blame him, he doesn't even exist!

Let me volunteer my Mother's services here. Mom lived only a few miles from the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. I remember her clear-cut, non-geological explanation:

* Parents don't send their children to play where disaster strikes. Neither does God. He permit, but never plans...

* No matter how nature-made a disaster, there's always a man-made factor. With earthquakes, the construction of buildings; with tsunamis, the location of settlements. It's the old free-will theology come to life...

* After such disasters, shaking fists are never as good as helping hands...

Right now, the heroic aid workers down there are doing God's work. And if you don't believe in God, OK blame evolution!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


If your house is on fire and you can save only one thing, would it be something you bought or someone you love?

Judging from this week's conversations, most people seem more interested in things that have to do with money (say, NBC's Leno/O'Brien dust up) than things that actually count (say, the state of the union). I surmise this from the number of headlines, newscasts and Google hits this week alone. Fortunately, just in the nick of poorly-spent time, comes this latest embarrassment from ex-Chicagoan Hugh Hefner. He's now promoting what he calls the new Hefner love seat.

Based on TV's "Mad Men" and Hef's Playboy Clubs from the 1960's, his latest gig is hustling these chairs for $15,000 per. Now we can all understand what Leno & O'Brien have to do with comedy, but what in the name of a Vegas lounge-lizard joke does Hef's Playboy seats have to do with love...?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


What really counts....? According to the headlines and the Google hits, what seems to count most are the trivial tangibles. You know: Words! Statistics! Records! Which is why everyone's talking about words like "Blacker than Obama," statistics like China is now the world's number one in autos, and Mark McGuire's home run record has been compromised.

OK, but are these tangible tidbits really all that important to us? Dig a little deeper and listen a little closer. Stuff like this disappears with the next gust of gossip at the watercooler. What really counts -- always has -- are the intangibles. You know, like: Character! Courage! Commitment!

These things can't be squeezed into a brassy news headline or a quickie Google report. But they're what count every time a team fights for victory...a company looks to grow....a nation pursues greatness...and you and I reach just a little higher than we did the day before.

Monday, January 11, 2010


OK, everyone defends the 1st amendment. It's made every talker from Sarah Pain to Glenn Beck to Rachel Maddow very rich, and every protester from teabaggers to skinheads to pro-lifers very recognizable. It also permits me to write this. But here's the question -- when does a right come back to bite you...?

One simple test. Google the US Geological Survey about the Bakken oil formations in North Dakota/ Montana. It reports 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Sounds good. But in a currently circulating blog sensation, some someone out there is insisting it's actually worth 2 trillion barrels! "The largest reserve in the world, eight times the size of Saudi Arabia that could service the US for the next 2000 years."

Why isn't more being done with this energy bonanza...? The blogger has the 1st amendment right to stir the oil fields of our mind with the un-edited charge that environmentalists working with unarmed lobbyists are killing it. Sounds like the next Oliver Stone expose movie? Well, it could be, but Stone is working on another epic for cable addressing another conspiracy: Why Stalin & Hitler have been given a bad rap.

See why news editors still count? And so far, they usually work only for newspapers, not basement bloggers.


The Mayor plans up to 16,000 video gambling machines in Chicago. That gives your political cartoonists a chance to cast him in a fresh new light -- Wild Bill Hickok. Why...? Because Hickok, like most of his frontier compadres, was a lifelong draw-poker player. He even died playing the game, holding the Dead Man's Hand of Aces & 8's.

I'm not sure if the Mayor plays, but poker is in the American bloodstream. Draw-poker machines around town would simply be living out our own myths and legends. In contrast to the Old World where roulette was king, in the New World draw-poker was the crown prince. Whereas in roulette you get to play only one number, in draw poker you get to swap cards right in the middle of the game. The very same spirit of almost every American who swapped the hand they were dealt back East to try a fresh gamble out West.

So anyone who wants to stop our Mayor's bid is first going to have to stifle our nation's instinct...!


Free at at last....thank God, free at last! I can now admit I have been a closet Doris Day fan for years. The NY Times Sunday feature on Doris & Oscar has freed me to say this in public. Doris was the finest studio singer & film entertainer of her time.

Look, lets just get it all out there. She was the only star to whom I ever wrote a fan letter. Did she answer and what did she say...? That's still in the closet...!


The Mayor plans up to 16,000 video gambling machines in Chicago. That gives your political cartoonists a chance to cast him in a fresh new light -- Wild Bill Hickok. Why...? Because Hickok, like most of his frontier compadres, was a lifelong draw-poker player. He even died playing the game, holding the Dead Man's Hand of Aces & 8's.

I'm not sure if the Mayor plays, but poker is in the American bloodstream. Draw-poker machines around town would simply be living out our own myths and legends. In contrast to the Old World where roulette was king, in the New World draw-poker was the crown prince. Whereas in roulette you get to play only one number, in draw poker you get to swap cards right in the middle of the game. The very same spirit of almost every American who swapped the hand they were dealt back East to try a fresh gamble out West.

So anyone who wants to stop our Mayor's bid is first going to have to stifle our nation's instinct...!


Free at at last....thank God, free at last! I can now admit I have been a closet Doris Day fan for years. The NY Times Sunday feature on Doris & Oscar has freed me to say this in public. Doris was the finest studio singer & film entertainer of her time.

Look, lets just get it all out there. She was the only star to whom I ever wrote a fan letter. Did she answer and what did she say...? That's still in the closet...!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Hard time to make predictions. Especially about the future. But here's one that's guaranteed -- Spring is looming!

Yeah I know it's winter, and all the birds and half the Chicagoans have gone south. But there are three places where you'll find the evidence. Drug stores! Florist shops! Sport pages! Check 'em out for yourself.

The backroom in your local drug store is already filling up with Valentines, baseball cards. kites, and sunglasses. They know the number of daylight minutes has been ticking up ever since December 22...

The florist around the corner is importing lots more spring flowers, because folks locked inside their homes so want to pretend...

And the sports pages -- well, sure they're talking football/basketball/hockey, but notice the growing number of little sidebars. Oh yes, from the stirring world of baseball. Unlike those other sports, baseball means Spring and Spring means baseball.

Now you too can make a prediction even the economists can't argue over...!

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Any Chicagoan can diagnosis a winter. Cold, white, raw. But a prognosis is a little harder; and yet after all these winters I have a foolproof one for you. Sixty days of the standard 3 B's: Beauties, Barriers, Bamboozles!

The beauties out there will be missed by almost everyone over 16. As we grow up, seems we're hard-wired to look only at what we see with our eyes, not with our hearts. Big mistake! This way we almost always miss seeing the angels and forts and snowmen waiting there in the snow....

Instead of the beauties, we now sees only the barriers. Sidewalks to shovel, driveways to clear, traffic to fight. Another mistake! This way we almost always ignore everything beautiful between every point A and point B.,...

Along with the Chicagoans who find beauties and barriers, come the pols. Pols forever find chances to bamboozle us. That's right! Winter is a whole Pandora's Box of ways one pol can blame the other. Pick any issue -- snow removal, CTA stops, salt supplies, homeless families out in the cold....

OK, got it? You can now plan on 60 days of all 3 B's. Guaranteed!


This over-strained cliche about connecting the dots may have a point after all. The "dots" of Hollywood, Broadway and Fox News are surely scattered, but Eureka! this week there may be a "connection."

With the success of animated films like "Avatar," Hollywood seems intent on pursuing the rainbow of receipts all the way into mythical lands and creatures. And while these creatures can be computerized into something beautiful to behold, they're still fabrications rather than females...

Meanwhile on Broadway, real females trod the boards in such revivals as "A Little Night Music." A critic as sniffy as Ben Brantley has awed over the 'drop-dead gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role of Desiree. Having bean awed by her in film, I can hormonally imagine what she's like in the flesh. The fact that she reminds me of the woman I married may have something to do with this, but still I'm of that male gender that appreciate a beautiful woman even more than a beautiful computer...

Then we have our third "dot" Fox News. Recently anchor Brit Hume made an on-air plea to the adulterous Tiger Woods that he convert from Buddhism to Christianity: "I don't think Buddhism offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith...."

Now here's how one dot-connector sees this curious trinity. Each party is seeking to make its own 21st C statement. Hollywood: Women are nice, but computers are forever! Broadway: We still like a woman as a woman! Fox News: Women are a proximate occasion for sin, but repent and sin no more!

I'm buying a ticket to Broadway...

Friday, January 8, 2010


At least ever since the 18th C Enlightenment, Western societies speak of "progress"as one of our specie's destinies. Once freed from the irrational age of ancient religions, humanity's intellect was now to be our passkey to relentless progress in everything we do. But wait a minute....!

Why one wonders does our enlightened humanity so relentlessly reject progress whenever it may cost something? Five examples rush to mind:

* For generations Detroit inventors have tried to patent energy-saving, even gas-less cars. Each time, the Big Three bought the rights to these innovations and locked them in some company safe, lest they upset an immensely profitable gas-guzzling culture

* For generations contractors have come up with ideas for road paving that could last four and five times as long. These idea have also been marginalized, lest there no longer be the profitable need for year-round road- building contracts

* For generations folks have had ideas about eliminating men's daily growth of beard. You guessed it -- the multi-billion-dollar Gillette Company seems to have bought up each one of those money-losng ideas

* And don't even start with the pharmaceutical industry's counter-intelligence strategies for keeping cheaper drugs off the American market


Four arguable examples of where the Western faith in progress has sorta been marginalized. Oh, that fifth example? Here's my guess. The West once embraced the possibility of divinity, but that belief has also been marginalized. Throughout Western Europe, now inching its way westward across the Atlantic. You'll have to decide for yourself whether that's progress or not...


The ancient Chinese had this curse: "May you live in interesting times." Well, we do and sometimes it is a curse. In addition to the obvious worries that plague our times, there are two just now breaking across the horizon...!

* Famine: Perhaps the most frightening of the biblical Four Horsemen, famine may be just years away. Global famine as the planet struggles with a 7 billion-plus population and a lagging agricultural system to feed them all. When people (and nations) grow hungry, they grow restless. Restless, hungry masses seeing others get fat off the land traditionally rise up to take what they need from those who have. Wars of future famine may be the most apocalyptic of all, especially when we're the ones who have

Genetics: Here's what science hoped would be a boon to mankind. Cures for long-undeciphered diseases and longer healthier life spans for all. Right now, some of those hopes are being realized, but not as much or as fast as expected. Instead, the genetic re-sequencing data out there is likely to reveal more about human evolutionary history, regional uniqueness and ethnic differences. It's that last one that's the ticking bomb, for a few generations ago there was a fella named Hitler who almost conquered the world based on his convoluted belief in a superior race. If current genetic studies open that Pandora's Box again, a hungry world can expect a frightening revival of nationalistic retro-racism

Sorry, but it just seemed appropriate that you worriers out there have something really big to worry about....!


In celebrating Elvis' 75th birthday, sure we're celebrating an icon. But icons like Elvis are actually mirrors. Reflecting what each of us wants to see in them. That's why they survive as long as we survive...!

When The King exploded on the scene in the mid-50s, it was still the big band/crooner era. To the kids, he reflected their suppressed feelings for something bigger and badder than their parents' world...

When the parents encountered him (and his hips), he reflected their inherited fears that kids-aren't-like-they-used-to-be-when-I-was-their-age...

When African-Americans found him, he reflected exactly how they'd been singing and swinging for years, but without the white world paying any attention....

When I discovered him, I was too young to be a parent but too old to be a kid. So for me and millions of others, Elvis reflected a scary doorway I could cross to find for myself there really was a different way of understanding America. Different than what I had learned all these years from MGM, Bing Crosby and Doris Day...

As it turned out, Elvis was kinda good for all of us!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The game used to be called "Truth or Consequences." Lets make it "Truth AND Consequences:"

The truth is John Kerry was right 9/11 called for a global police & intelligence response instead of sending US armies to stir up the hornet's nest of Islam...the consequence is Obama is stuck with one foot in, while trying to surge our way out with the other

* The truth is the economy collapsed largely due to grossly unregulated Wall Street greed...the consequence is Obama is stuck with 10% unemployment demanding an instant solution to a generational crisis

* The truth is America remains the only industrialized nation with only a slap-dash, money-wasting health system...the consequence is everyone wants it fixed, but Obama better never use the government to fix it

* The truth is polls tell us people are angry watching our slippage and China's rise...the consequence is people are unable to find a smoking-gun cause for this historical shift, so they go after the handiest target their fears can find: The guy in the White House

Interesting game...dumb rules!


The game used to be called "Truth or Consequences." Lets make it "Truth AND Consequences:"

The truth is John Kerry was right 9/11 called for a global police & intelligence response instead of sending US armies to stir up the hornet's nest of Islam...the consequence is Obama is stuck with one foot in, while trying to surge our way out with the other

* The truth is the economy collapsed largely due to grossly unregulated Wall Street greed...the consequence is Obama is stuck with 10% unemployment demanding an instant solution to a generational crisis

* The truth is America remains the only industrialized nation with only a slap-dash, money-wasting health system...the consequence is everyone wants it fixed, but Obama better never use the government to fix it

* The truth is polls tell us people are angry watching our slippage and China's rise...the consequence is people are unable to find a smoking-gun cause for this historical shift, so they go after the handiest target their fears can find: The guy in the White House

Interesting game...dumb rules!


If we learn only one history lesson in 2010 it better be this: Generals are usually fighting the last war....!

Unlike WWII, this is not force-on-force. Like judo, this is the opponent using our force against us. Translated: The US is so big and so large, we offer an infinity of targets; our military is so big and so large, we're burdened with the problem of trying to move it quickly enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Then fueling this new kind of asymmetric warfare is our enemy's ideological passion -- a thousand years of anti-Western Islamic resentment, now inflamed by Israel's and our presence felt throughout their lands.

President Obama nailed it a few days ago when he said the jihadists only have to be right once (in our skies or in our military bases) to ignite screaming, unnerving headlines. We, on the other hand, have to be right all the time to prevent such consequences. Bad odds...! Especially with hysterical critics who want to spend their time scapegoating each individual failure, rather than spend their commitment supporting the overall strategy.

As I remember it, that's the only way we finally won the last war which we clearly won. Clear back in 1945....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Here's a thought for our confusing times -- God is becoming all too handy as the fall guy. Take His/Her take on gays and disasters. We're always trying to read into Him/Her the blame for these. Not fair. If you believe in God, He/She doesn't need me for any defense. But let me try anyway...!

* People's hangup with homosexuality is neither inherent nor historical. Societies have been co-existing with homosexuality from the get-go. Some of our greatest heroes (Alexander the great, Michelangelo the brilliant, Nathan Lane the hysterical, Ellen DeGeneres the engaging, a few unnamed NFL stars) are pretty good examples. The big deal comes from a few tortured passages in books like the Bible and the Koran. God has never really confirmed these rumors!

* People's anger about disasters is understandable yet not especially rational. If you've lived past puberty, you've lived long enough to know bad things do indeed happen to good people. To suggest God is aiming thunderbolts at the victims is about as logical as suggesting parents enjoy gouging their children's eyes out!

Conclusion -- I leave it to the philosophers to do a proper job with these complex topics. For me, I'm of the mind that God has better things to do than curse any of His/Her children. Heck, He/She has Hell for that!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Now, look, Chicago took a big hit to the heart when Macy's took away our Marshall Fields. But now the Great Recession is taking away our Pump Room too? Can the urban gods be this cruel! Can our all-powerful Mayor allow such desecration! In your story (Jan 5) you say, "It thrived on a celebrity culture that no longer exists." But that misses the point to our pain. Just having the Pump Room made us all feel like celebrities....

When Fields was closed, your own Roger Ebert led the parade of credit card protesters. Somehow, though, both Macy's and we seem to have survived. But can we survive this second blow as well?? I'm having stomach churning doubts.

I remember staying at the Ambassador East on our honeymoon...I remember returning for our 50th anniversary ...I even remember having lunch with Kup at the celebrated table one. Now are all these moments and memories to vanish in a puff of recessionary statistics? Someone please say "no."

But somehow I don't hear anyone offering to rescue the Pump Room....or the economy...or our city's love affair with having a Pump Room to attend at least every few years where you could feel like a celebrity. Does this mean that from now on the only way I can sense a feeling of celebrity is by looking at Bill Swecker's coverage of Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan? The gods just can't be that cruel...!


Monday, January 4, 2010


Cecil Bothwell, 59, was recently elected as councilman in the leafy little town of Asheville, in the Caroilina's. You know, the state featuring the congressional "You lie" taunter, and the "I loved her soul" governor. Well now, true to form, the council just fired ol' Cecil, because he calls himself a "post-theist." The gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight is dumping him based on an 1868 law that disqualifies anyone who "denies the being of Almighty God."

Well, you just know that the zealots on both extremes are fuedin' and fussin' over this. The southern fundamentalist have raised their voices in a mighty Hallelujah. The few atheists in town are writing letters to the New York Times.

Here's what this God-believing seeker believes. God doesn't read Carolina statutes...He/She doesn't care what the Asheville Council thinks....He/She doesn't even care that the atheists don't believe in Him/Her, because He/She still believes in them.

So I'm neither going to rally to the God-fearing Council, nor the God-denying New York Time letter-writers. I just plan to go to bed tonight, pull up the covers on this chaotic world, and figure that if I wake up tomorrow morning, something or someone good was responsible...!

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Have you ever excavated an Egyptian tomb? Well, neither have I. Until last month. A cousin found an old photo album of our extended family which we had never before seen. Let alone experienced. The experience was stunning...!

There -- in a wide-frame, long-shot -- were 24 members of my maternal ancestors looking up from their long summertime picnic table. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles. Now long dead, but here magnificently rediscovered in all their youthful vigor. It is their DNA, their dreams, their wounds that have helped make me me. You know the feeling too.

I was a pink, two-year-old cuddled in my Mother's apron. And yet, seeing oneself that young and that innocent does not so much make you think of the untombed past, but of the unfolding future. Their genes and my genes and my children's children's genes flowing on into what I expect to be an eternal community.

That frozen summer moment was more than three generations ago -- a very different, simpler America. Today Nancy Gibbs reports: "Half of us live in suburbs, the center of the population has shifted 324 miles west and 101 miles south to Phelps County Missouri, America used to be majority male but by 2000 only seven states had more men than women, the average household [in that photo] contained five people which has now dropped to three."

So where is my country -- my family's DNA -- moving toward today?

On June 27 1937, President Roosevelt accepted his party's nomination for a second term with these words which may answer that question for our generation: "The economic royalists complain we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain is we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and Constitution.

"In their blindness they forget what Flag and Constitution stand for. Now as always for democracy, not tyranny; freedom, not subjection; against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike....there is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny!"

Mom, Dad, my dear departed family -- I only hope we can realize that destiny as well as you did!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


January is the prescribed month for resolutions. OK, how about this one...? Since art imitates life, can our camera pros (print & video) resolve, for heaven's sake, to try something fresh and new...? They've been using the same warmed over shots and angles since forever!

Sports...? The same bared teeth and jutting index fingers. Celebrities...? The same glamor poses and caught-off-guard-at-the-beach fatty shots. Tragedies...? The same intrusive closeups of the victim's weeping family. Candidates...? The same carefully planned casual look. Advertising...? The same smiling faces grinning into the camera or romping lyrically across meadows.

If this seems cranky, look at it this way. Today's cameras -- large and little -- are everywhere everytime everyday. We're drowning in this stuff, every gene in our body titillated with images, every circuit in our brain stimulated by what someone with a camera has decided we should see. OK, if that's the deal, can they please please resolve to give our poor battered senses something different...

....say like they always do on those pretty Hallmark Cards?

Friday, January 1, 2010


Forget the "DaVinci Code." I've recently cracked an even bigger code lurking no farther away than your refrigerator. For generations, the powerful (imperialistic?) United Fruit Company got bananas out of South America only to mesmerize us with the cute little Chiquita Banana song: "Never put bananas in the refrigerator." I tremble at the brink of daring to suggest they lied to us. Seems they just want us to keep buying, not preserving, their bananas...!

I'm not saying this arguable deceit damns Capitalism to the many Socialist hells Wall Streeters warn us of. Lets face it, without the creative greed of entrepreneurial Capitalism, I wouldn't have this computer to write with or the meds to live by. On the other hand -- and really, Mr Beck & Ms Palin, there is one -- some of us find it either dumb or dumber to explain away our economic woes with the ghosts of encroaching "big bad government."

From philosophers to theologians to popes, our less pre-fixated minds have argued for years that neither Capitalism nor Socialism is bad. Or good. Rather, that a creative blend of both is the answer. Freedom laced with planning....individual entrepreneurship matched with collectivized other words, the best of both.

For anyone paying attention to history -- in contrast to the single-minded zealots from either the extreme right or left -- it's self-evident that ever since Bismarck in Europe and FDR in America, the mythic Capitalism of the raw-frontier has mutated into various forms of what can be correctly called State Capitalism. The so-called arrogant takeover of Detroit by the government was hardly a dangerous new leap, but rather a logical extension of how government has worked with & against industry for generations. And for the most part with reasonably good results. Most industries, from 19th C railroads to 20th C communications to 21st C energy wouldn't have succeeded as they have otherwise.

So a modest suggestion, please. Lets enter the new year without the angry rah-rah passions of the alumni at the big game with "the enemy" from the team "we love to hate." Instead, lets grow up and start realizing our best chances of "winning" this historic game start with learning rather than despising each other's playbook.

You want something to despise...? Maybe the upcoming Chicago winter can feed your hate gene...!