Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Right now streets and websites are crowded with angry people and even angrier ideas. But anger is a secondary emotion. It comes from somewhere else. In this case, from a collective sub-conscious fear that the world is volcanically shifting under our feet. That we're in danger of losing both our footing and our way.

Quick, pan the camera from the chaos in actions out there, to the choices at work inside here. No matter the different times or country or issues, inevitably we all bump into the same life-choice: Either to seek or to settle.

SEEKING (the cliffs of our life)

Over the centuries, the times often sweep us along to the heady heights of exhilarating cliffs. Exhilarating worlds of imagination and possibility that exceed our own humdrum lives. Many factors come into play. Especially the magic and imagination of our restless youth. We may find ourselves caught up in the imaginary good&evil worlds in "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Harry Potter," to the good&evil worlds of political rhetoric,

In some ways we're hard-wired to seek out the new and the daunting. Lately for some it means the comradeship of fellow protesters and conspiracy aficionados. Not entirely unlike the Medieval Crusaders, Napoleon's recruits or Hitler's Storm Troopers, today's zealots surge with the pride and the passion of a cause. Bold causes always seem more important than daily routines.

Beneath history's causes and crusades is that inexact exhilaration that comes simply from being there! Predictably, though, there's usually the morning-after crash. The let-down when the causes and crusades appear to fail. When the rage and the ranks seem to break.

However, something's very different today. Neither the Pope nor Napoleon nor Hitler had the 24/7 billows of the Internet to keep fanning their flames. And re-baptizing their faithful. As usual -- time and fate will have the final report on all this...

SETTLING (the couches of our life)

Time even more than fate determines history. And so yesterday's rebels and warriors are often today's bankers and board of education members. Not regression, not retreat; simply settling. Settling into where their time-tested experience has now brought them. A plateau, as it were, from which they can see the past by a clearer light. And can strike a deal with the future by an easier conscience,

True, soft couches are less exhilarating than heady cliffs. And yet, these are very much the same couches you remember Mom and Dad settling into while rummaging through their editions of the Tribune. They had done their work, fought their battles, raised their kids. They felt entitled to take some time away from the ramparts, and simply read about them from home.

Sounds like a reasonable generational synergy. At least so it seems from this particular couch...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


We live in an age of relativistic morality and situational ethics. In the salons and on the campuses they often call this Existentialism. In everyday living it actually means: Doing your own thing because in the final measure, you're the only thing that really counts....!

Ask authority figures like cops and coaches, teachers and clergy, even swanky boutonniered floor-walkers. They'll tell you with a sigh: "The world out here has changed into an everyone-for-themself age." But I'm here to comfort your flagging confidence in society. Yes, Virginia, there really are certain absolutes we can all count on. Let me count the ways...

Once a politician counts on his office to make a living, count on corruption...once you reach a train crossing when you're in a rush, count on a slow freight just arriving...when you buy a medicine, count on the side effects being three times more than the cures...when you bet on your favorite team in the big game, count on them blowing it in the 9th...when reading the sports page, count on every we-play'em-one-at-a-time quote being like the last 20, only with different names....every time your account is surprisingly $500 over, count on a surprise tax bill about $600....every time you pick a line on a crowded expressway, count on it being the one with the gaper's block...every time you make the mistake of checking out a new reality show, count on reality being more phony and more fatal than you expected....every time you finally learn all the answers, the world change all the questions.

So no, ye of faint heart, do not fear a world without the stability of any absolutes. You can absolutely count on them whenever you least want them!

Monday, March 29, 2010



It's never a coincidence that Passover, Easter, Spring and Baseball all converge at this same time of year. It's that star-crossed time when our species seems to collectively reach out for salvation. Different kinds of salvation; but salvation all the same.

With Passover, the Jews of the world gather to remember and honor their salvation from bondage. And the exodus that would in time set them free. Freedom, not being a static thing, each year the sacred Seder celebrate its recurring requirement of them.

With Easter, the Christians of the world honor the salvation of their souls by the redemptive death and resurrection of the Messiah. Eggs help symbolize the opened tomb, recalling how His ascension into heaven opened the trail for others to follow.

With Spring and Baseball, Winter's refugees come out to hear the crack of bats against white balls. An annual ritual of salvation from the dark confines of the dark season. Cheering in the stands becomes a prayer to the breaking of our chains.

Strolling my park, I can sense each of these salvations in sunshiny progress....and it is good.


Scudding across the windy green of my park is this discarded sports page. The proper thing to do is to retrieve and dispose. Only, as I do, I can't help but scan the stories, and smile a dismissive smile. In all of western civilization, the sports page is indisputably the most tiresome litany ever framed by the human language!

Will there ever be found in any of the cities anywhere in the world a sports page without the same dreadfully dreary repetitions? The same teeth-barring athletes extolling their teethy scores...the same rehearsed quotes about "we play them one at a time"...the same concocted disputes among the same cockeyed athletes? It is as if these reporters simply mail in their stories by pre-arranged file numbers.

I rush to admit I am the least athletic anatomy in sight. But good god there must be at least one perhaps two different ways of reporting the same damn story. Let it be said here and now -- the joy of spring sports will forever be found on the playing fields, never on the sports pages.


There, holding hands under a billowing Willow, sit two old-looking young people. The love of a fresh new marriage seems to glisten in their eyes. Animate their conversation. I am embarrassed but drawn to overhear them.

There is the excitement of planning something. A birth. A child. A dream. A future. Hoping for a healthy baby to fulfill their new love, to complete their untested journey, to permit them to share in the enormous act of human creation.

It's hard to make out the faces from this distance, but the feelings are framed inside the glow of tomorrow. They see that their unborn child will be strong and healthy and happy inside the safe, little world they are planning for it. In the safe little community they have carved out for their lives together. I can't help but be drawn to their dream, to race through thoughts about who they are. And why they are here in my park on this Spring day.

As they get up and start to walk away, I want to hurry and ask who they are, and why I seem to recognise them. But then they wouldn't be able to see me. Not yet. Nor would I really need to ask them...

Sunday, March 28, 2010


When things are going well, most people don't pause to dissect their wellness. But there are those -- from behaviorists to philosophers -- who aren't satisfied just licking the ice cream. They want to know what makes it so lick-able before it melts...

Some of us are like that, even at the cost of missing some of licks. And so some of us have charted a hierarchy of human pleasure that's open for consideration. In ascending order: Contentment; Happiness; Serenity: Joy. Between licks, maybe you'll agree with a few of these arbitrary distinctions.

Contentment refers to a state of satisfaction. That opens up a fairly broad range of examples. Breaking 80 in golf... watching your home team win the big one...getting a raise at work....enjoying your garden re-bloom every spring.

Happiness is usually a notch up. More a state of palpable pleasure. Finding the mate of your birth to your children...up-scaling your way of life...being publicly honored by your peers.

Serenity can be understood as a state of enormous tranquillity. Reaching a long-sought goal...finding a long explored solution....looking about your life and sensing all the moving parts are at last moving in sync.

Finally there is the notion of joy. Is it simply another way of describing these other feelings? Most poets will define it as more transcendent than those. It usually has to do with being rapturously in touch with what is most transcendent in your life. Perhaps another way of saying: The one you love and admire and need the most. This could be a parent....a lover...a leader...or, more likely, a God.

Of course when all is said and done, human pleasure can't really be defined and distinguished this way. It's not a definition, it's not a gene, it's not a brain circuit, it's not anything that evolutionists have tried to pin down. Again, it's more what poets seek to express. How about this one...?

Human pleasure is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


What could be more counter-culture than to suggest we Americans don't love our liberty to the last drop of our blood...? But one of my favorite cynics so said, and I passionately agree with him. H.L. Mencken wrote: "The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe."

What makes this assertion so counter-culture is that it seems to defy and defile the noble bloodshed of all those who fought at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Flanders Fields and Normandy. Furthermore, it sorta makes John Wayne and Harrison Ford look a little pretentious. But wait a minute. Would not America's heroes have preferred sleeping in their beds at home, rather than bleeding on these lands away?

Heroes don't necessarily do what they want to do, more what they need to do. So in between times of great urgency -- legitimate like Pearl Harbor and Illegitimate like Iraq -- peace, comfort and safety are our most human passions. However, what seems to divide us is exactly what and when there is great urgency.

Case-in-point: 9/11.

On that tragic day, America woke up to a calamity that many somehow found surprising. Surprising that others so hate us they would dare do something like this. [It may have corrected for all time the happy assumption that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Americans and those who would love to be Americans]. That this was a calamity is unquestionable. What was questionable is how to marshal and sublimate the nation's righteous rage.

No need to rummage through this 9-year-long national debate. Everyone has a side. However, Mencken's rule might be applied this way: If our total safety is at stake, then it calls for total response. If
this is not actually the case, then a modified response may be the wisest course. Think teenage gangs waging total neighborhood warfare, because they don't understand there are effective alternatives to the gun, alternative choices for beating your enemy, alternatives and not simply ultimatums.

Whatever a nation's scenarios may be, at home as well as abroad, Mencken's reading of our human nature sings true. And perhaps that melody line should be played before, not after, the gun. For in the last measure, the safety of our beds is no less a human desire than the sanctity of our blood...

Friday, March 26, 2010


City public school systems across the country are mired, brain and budget deep, in recurring failure and futility. Poor teachers, poor grades, poor buildings, poor safety, poor families and a swirl of poor here-today-gone-tomorrow reforms have convinced many that this mission has become impossible. Mayors, school boards and patrol cars each try band-aiding catastrophic hemorrhages, while the teachers and the families who really care and could do the most, flee for relief in alternative schools.

As another flawed school year in Chicago comes to another flawed end, educators, editors and elders all trumpet new anthems for the new year. But few believe the trumpets anymore.

Perhaps it's time for a little less from the brass section, and a little more from the composition itself. We need to write into this score three lyrical new R's: Recognition! Recruitment! Reward! Yes, this would call for money, but money better spent on the hemorrhaging rather than just on the heartburn. Specifically, on today's relentless hemorrhage of gifted teachers in our schools and concerned parents in our neighborhoods.

No need to replace any of the good programs already working. But in the final measures, what's needed are good people even more than good programs! So unless we get and keep more gifted teachers and more concerned parents, nothing that's working will work for long. Here's how...


* Recognizing who they are is the critical first step. Of course we have competent teachers and even very good teachers. But when thinking gifted teachers, think the cinematic role models in "Goodbye Mr Chips," "Mr Holland's Opus," "To Sir With Love" and "Dead Poet's Society." Put another way -- think those two or three gifted ones in your own life who made such a difference.

Gifted teachers like these do exist -- knowledgeable in their fields and passionate about empowering their students. Many are already in the classrooms, but perhaps go unrecognized. Others are coming up in the ranks, but perhaps are deemed too unconventional. Still others exist like sleeper-cells in other professions where they often fantasize a life of teaching, but assume it's too late.

Until we full-throatedly recognize that these extraordinary ones are the missing sparks -- in contrast to the ordinary ones processed through the gulags of ordinary education schools -- few fires will burn in our classrooms.

* Recruiting them demands a paradigm shift. Think how they recruit the Naturals in sports and corporations. If we want the best, we're going to have to start recruiting the best. Rather than simply certifying what's there. Sure, we need required courses and certifications. But not always for the gifted Natural.

No less than in Baseball or in Detroit, the best results call for the best performers. Performers you go after any way you can. Wining and dining, wooing and wowing. If shortstops and MBAs are worth it, teachers sure as hell are too!

* Rewarding in this culture almost always comes down to money. OK, so once we find the Naturals, be ready to pay them. Not simply for their classroom gifts, but also by putting them in campus positions where their gifts will be shared. Give 'em a title -- master teacher, faculty coordinator, whatever! But if CPS can land and retain two or three of these per campus for at least a few contracted years, watch the fires flame. Like what happens to your dugout when you land an All-Star in time for the new season.


* Recognizing these in our local communities isn't hard. They're usually the ones who write, call, visit, maybe even complain. But they care! So sublimate that energy into what schools need in order to energize the other families. Somehow, our schools have to win back some of that old-time-backing from parents that once made kids actually worry about, not laugh off, their homework and grades.

* Recruiting these parents should be one of every principal's priorities. Lets face it, concerned parents are the other half to gifted teachers. So launch letters, phone-calls, home visits. As Dikta used to put his mission: "Whatever it takes!"

* Rewarding these parent leaders can be done with both dollars and dazzle. Some kind of compensatory allowances on annual school fees, coupled with some well-deserved prominence in their community. Once upon a time in America, they felt they were on the same side with their local school. Well, it's time we rewarded them to help bring the good times back.


There are no quick solutions to problems that have taken generations to fester. And yet, if we don't layer into our current efforts better people as well as better programs, nothing fundamentally changes. And be assured, today's educational changes have to be as fundamental as is the crisis. With 2010-11 looming in just a few weeks, it's already a little late...

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I grant up front that these two musings may seem peculiar and disconnected. But hear me out. I'm thinking here of Abraham Lincoln and a local dentist. The connection between them is in the respective loss of time in their lives...

Whenever I visit Lincoln's Springfield home, I enjoy the obvious: Parlor, kitchen, bedrooms, and ghosts. But I can't help be distracted as I walk the 50 yards between the kitchen door and the outhouse. I can't help but think of all those minutes and hours used (wasted?) as the great man had to trudge back and forth. Without the amenities of indoor plumbing, I calculate Abraham Lincoln may have "lost" a cumulative total of up to two weeks in his lifetime this way.

There will be those who argue great ideas have been nurtured in the toilets of the world. Somehow, though, I doubt it in the case of so many of the raw, rainy, cold days in our Illinois climate. And so there is this additional ghost for me in these respectfully preserved Springfield rooms. The ghost of all those thoughts and feelings and words and power that might have emerged from these rooms and this man had he simply possessed what we so take for granted: Wall-to-wall comfort within which we need not be distracted by the distracting elements!

All right, if you have trouble with that, consider this second example: A local dentist who had always wanted to be an actor. When a professional touring company came to town some years ago, he got a small but important part in the production. As fate would have it on the night we were in the audience, the good doctor apparently had a backstage change-of-mind.

When the third act was to have begun, there was a long delay. Then the lead character stepped out in front of the curtains to embarrassingly announce: "Mr. Jones, who is playing the butler, is unfortunately not able to continue..." And while the cast made do with an understudy, we were intrigued by what had happened. After the show, we found out.

Mr. Jones -- who had a tooth extraction scheduled early the next morning -- just felt he had to go home and get his sleep. So -- that's it! -- so he just picked up his makeup and went home. Not being a professional, he had no compunctions. And thus was "lost" an hour of his life, the life of the cast, and the life of we the audience. All because of a whim.

While Lincoln lost quality time due to circumstances, Dentist Jones did due to a lack of conscience. And in this small, peculiar mind, I can't help wonder if any of that lost time -- like the lost time in our lives -- might have made some kind of difference...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Sometimes the pieces to a puzzle can come together in surprising ways. Take these pieces: Paddy Bauler, George Steinbrenner, Lou Piniella and Barack Obama. When you shake 'em up and position them together just so, you get a picture of why reform in America comes so hard. Stick with me here...!

Paddy Bauler -- a sleazy but popular old-time Chicago ward boss -- infamously said: "Chicago ain't ready for reform!" George Steinbrenner -- outspoken Yankees owner -- called down to Piniella his manager during a 1987 game with the California Angels: "I want you to make the umpires check the Angel's pitcher. He's scuffing the ball!"

Fast-forward to President Obama's mission to reform the health care system. Whether you agreed with him or not, you knew and he knew that getting anything reformed in this country is tough. But not always for the reasons given. Go back to the Yankee/Angel's game.

The Angel pitcher that day was Don Sutton who was notoriously known in the League for scuffing. He was a ball-doctor with a reputation in every dugout. So Piniella patiently explained things to his boss: "George, do you know who taught him how to cheat...? Steinbrenner didn't. "The guy who taught Don Sutton everything he knows about cheating is the guy pitching for us tonight! Do you want me to go out there and get Tommy John thrown out, too?"

See, here's the problem with reforming anything in this life. Everything is somehow connected to every other thing. Picture one of those human pyramids the cheerleaders make along the sidelines. If you find one of the cheerleaders isn't performing just the way you want, you could yank her out. And you call that reforming the problem. Only when you change one thing, all the other things change too. And, well, we just don't like change in our lives once we're used to something.

Call it the Law of Inertia or the Law of Paddy Bauler, but it ain't easy to revoke any law. Somebody just did. Now we're about to see how the pyramid reshuffles itself.



Sometimes the pieces to a puzzle can come together in surprising ways. Take these pieces: Paddy Bauler, George Steinbrenner, Lou Piniella and Barack Obama. When you shake 'em up and position them together just so, you get a picture of why reform in America comes so hard. Stick with me here...!

Paddy Bauler -- a sleazy but popular old-time Chicago ward boss -- infamously said: "Chicago ain't ready for reform!" George Steinbrenner -- outspoken Yankees owner -- called down to Piniella his manager during a 1987 game with the California Angels: "I want you to make the umpires check the Angel's pitcher. He's scuffing the ball!"

Fast-forward to President Obama's mission to reform the health care system. Whether you agreed with him or not, you knew and he knew that getting anything reformed in this country is tough. But not always for the reasons given. Go back to the Yankee/Angel's game.

The Angel pitcher that day was Don Sutton who was notoriously known in the League for scuffing. He was a ball-doctor with a reputation in every dugout. So Piniella patiently explained things to his boss: "George, do you know who taught him how to cheat...? Steinbrenner didn't. "The guy who taught Don Sutton everything he knows about cheating is the guy pitching for us tonight! Do you want me to go out there and get Tommy John thrown out, too?"

See, here's the problem with reforming anything in this life. Everything is somehow connected to every other thing. Picture one of those human pyramids the cheerleaders make along the sidelines. If you find one of the cheerleaders isn't performing just the way you want, you could yank her out. And you call that reforming the problem. Only when you change one thing, all the other things change too. And, well, we just don't like change in our lives once we're used to something.

Call it the Law of Inertia or the Law of Paddy Bauler, but it ain't easy to revoke any law. Somebody just did. Now we're about to see how the pyramid reshuffles itself.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Now look, there's no disputing the fact. Our culture -- from votes to stocks, from movies to fashion -- is driven largely by what the Wise Ones advise us. I mean, what politician or CEO or studio head doesn't have a research department bubbling with smart guys churning out smart answers? But when it comes to reaching Joe-Six-Pack, maybe you can be too smart...!

Bud Light has been the #1 brand in America forever, but last year it posted an almost 3% sales decline. Whoa, with the baseball season arriving, the Bud boys had to figure out what went wrong. It now looks like what went wrong is they spent four years and millions of dollars in "exhaustive advertising research" that flopped.

Seems their high-priced consulting firm, The Cambridge Group, hasn't been studying the TV series "Mad Men" closely enough. Instead of using Bud's "traditional emotional appeals," this more cognitive cadre sold the company on "emphasizing the product's rational benefits like drinkabillity."

Bad call, it seems, and the Bud boys are angry. Some have called it a "debacle, with this scientific approach to a discipline traditionally reliant on gut calls." In an age in which science and scientists have emerged as the new high priests of a nation's zeitgeist, we may be trying to statisticalize too much. From getting votes in Congress to getting customers into movie theatres to making batting line-ups to selling beer, maybe it's still true: It's the gut, stupid!

I expect this conclusion drives some math-minded experts nutty. I mean, they're rational and logical; why can't the rest of us be too? Maybe a good way to find out would be to temporarily shut off the data banks, file away the research surveys, get out of their high-rise business complex, and belly up to the bar with the Joe-Six-Packs who feel what they drink more than think what they drink.

Good god, that's not to say Joe should be running the company and the country...! But it is to say some of the people who do now, need a little more dirt under their fingernails.....

Monday, March 22, 2010


Most of us would relish discovering another Tut's Tomb in the sands of Egypt...or a lost culture in the Aegean Sea...or a new scroll in the hills of the Holy Land. But that takes passports and perseverance. Much easier to uncover the sacred secrets of the past right around your own home...

Oh, they're there all right! We simply take them for granted. Much to our and our family's loss. You see, if we don't retrieve some of these relics now, after we're gone there will be few if any left to understand them. And so another inevitable little tragedy will be played out -- your children will innocently toss them sometime after the funeral.

Where to start...? With the usual suspects: Garage, attic, basement, and bottom drawers. How to spot them...? With archaeology's standard tools: Tireless digging and dusting.

Old photos are usually the premier find. Drying and yellowing in the most unexpected corners, they freeze forever in time the moments and faces and places which in mysterious ways explain how you got here. And even if the dreaded lack of dated captions denies you some of the facts, the images alone can help fill in some of the stories.

Letters are another prize. Especially the ones you don't remember you wrote or received. There, in a burst of surprised realization, your fingers can trace across feelings that once burned within you and within those you treasured. How incredible -- that you or they had such powerful things to say. And how stunning -- that it has taken you so long to re-remember them.

Then come the memorabilia of a 101 different past needs and nuances. Rusting skate keys, thingamajigs from childhood caches, autograph books, sealed prom corsages, ticket stubs, restaurant receipts, IRS documents, Christmas cards, Father & Mother Day cards. Also -- memory-be-praised -- little lost notes from little loving hands that once slipped into yours with such dependency. Remember?

Faraway tombs and scrolls will makes headlines. Become integral to Dan Brown's next novel. But your uncelebrated treasures will be worth more than all those millions. Because your un-museumed cast-offs hold within themselves the unrepeatable power of lives once lived, and loves once breathed.

The gift of archaeology is how it brings the dead to life. Now, while there is still life, be sure you don't permit them to die. All it takes are a pair of old gloves and a great beating heart...

Sunday, March 21, 2010


When Robert Browning penned this poem, he was thinking of his beloved. But, like you, I have accumulated a number of complementary beloved's over the years. I imagine you can juxtapose each of mine with your own:


I love the green green grass of my childhood in Austin and Oak Park; shaded under their oaks and elms, I chased baseballs and dreams to somehow arrive where I now stand...I also love the great green expanses of Wrigley Field, for it remains one of the few places in my city where I can still find baseballs and dreams in play....I love the blue-green waters of Lake Michigan as they lap against the shoreline of Loyola University; it is where I strolled between classes to muse about the world and the woman I was soon to join....I love my small, treed backyard which each spring persists in transforming barren white into aromatic green; one sure sign that even while my life grows old, the world always becomes young again in this the month of my relentless birthdays


I love the foods of God's green earth; they are a daily bounty that arrives at my table from all parts of the world which I like to imagine each had me in mind....I love the hours of sleep which cocoon me every night; they wrap me inside a generous oblivion of black in which I can both rest and travel to my mind's content....I love the sounds of music and the power of theatre; these are excursions into realms beyond the brittle limits of our everyday routines and into the limitless expanses of our borderless imagination....I love the look of words on a white page, whose power to reach the human heart is a power that continues to transform lives and nations; but it is a love laced with fear when I see some of these words shoving weak minds over steep cliffs....I love anything out there which has the capacity to preserve what has been, so that it can be used for what might still be; these are bridges that must never be burned so they can always be crossed


Charlie Brown once said it immensely well: "I love humanity; it's just people I can't stand"...How right he is, for loving places and things comes easy; loving people calls for work... And yet the work is worth it if you can tally at least a dozen good family and friends by the time you start making lists like these....I love my few truly dear friends; I love my amazingly lovable parents; I love my beautiful striving children; I love the only woman I have ever wanted or needed to love; finally (or is it firstly?) I love my God, for I believe whatever, whoever and wherever, this God is my only assurance that all this has been worth it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Were you in Persepolis in 330 BC? Or Jerusalem in 70 AD? Or Rome around 450 AD? No, but you are in Paris in 1940 when the End Times crash into French society as Hitler's armies enter the defeated city. We're all there whenever we watch that rain-soaked train station in "Casablanca" as Bogart desperately looks for Bergman.

In that tragic scene we're caught in a collision of noisy fears. Panicked people fleeing the enemy... order crumbling into chaos...families ripping apart...authority dissolving from sight. As in the other cities, Paris' institutions are failing to hold. The very ground beneath their lives is crumbling!

Whenever and wherever this happens to a society, it's like the End Times. Very much as in today's America where virtually every institution is teetering under the assaults of doubt and rejection. Government... The pillars designed to hold up the structure of civilization are suddenly out of joint. No one seems in charge. And if they are, their charge seems under suspicion.

When the leaders in those staggering cities were no longer being heard or believed, what was left? The only sure sensation left was the sky had at last fallen. Now it was every person for them self. And even though on the face of it Americans in 2010 still get up in the morning, go to work, pay attention to stoplights, answer the census, and tell their children to follow the rules, somewhere deep inside a terror gnaws: Is all this a charade just before the collapse...?

History is not always a sure answer, but surely all those other cities are still here. Well, in the case of Persepolis it's only a tourist attraction in Iran these days, but it has long outlived its destroyer, Alexander the Great. At least one reason to keep getting up in the morning, and paying attention to the stoplights....!

Friday, March 19, 2010


Tick...tick...tick. The sound of time. The relentless progression of seconds into minutes, minutes into days, days into lives. Time is many things, not the least of which is a test.

In the final measure, if you don't pass the test of time, you pretty much pass into the same harmless anonymity in which most of us end. To put that another way, we can be today's feature-story, but tomorrow's foot-note all in just one news cycle! Go ahead, ask the features and the footnotes from history for their opinion....

Da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, Scriabin, Picasso, Cecile B. DiMille, Bernstein, Tennessee Williams -- they all suffered the slings and arrows of critics whose names and assaults have long been forgotten.Time was the filter through which their art had to pass, gaining glory with each successive generation. That's earning your fame the only way that counts. Over time.

Ideologies are much the same. Zoroasterism, Gnosticism, and Communism have come and gone. Meanwhile generations later, entire courses are devoted to Hellenism, Stoicism, and Transcendentalism. Some ideas make the cut; others fall by the wayside. The rigors of time eventually decide.

Celebrity is always the quickest to fade. Manufactured in the studios of Hollywood, promoted on the late-night shows, and rushed into touring concerts papered with screaming kids and followed by breathless Oprah interviews, these wispy confections are swallowed whole. But then after the proper number of ticks, the screamers and interviewers find fresher candy. You have to have that indefinable something that can stand up to the merciless test of time. Which is why a Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Elvis and Meryl Streep stand taller with each tick; while all the what's-their-names show up on the occasional "Whatever Happened To" retrospectives.

Oh, and then there's history. It's pretty much true: Newspapers are the first draft of history. So when we pore over the daily ballistics of angry bickering, we should try listening to those ticks. In the history books, what takes up entire editions today will simply melt into a few passing sentences tomorrow. Sentences that might someday sum up today's daily traumas about reform into something our grandchildren will simply read as: "The Year America Found Its Way Home."

Tick... tick... tick....

Thursday, March 18, 2010


"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise...!" When Shakespeare penned those waggishly insightful words, he set down a marker for all of us. In today's age of such accomplishment and sophistication, it may seem counter-intuitive to demean wisdom. But not really. Not when you plumb the true bliss of true ignorance. Here, lets consider some obvious examples...


Be honest -- can you think of any ignorance more totally blissful than your childhood? Those first six or seven years when life is a butterfly you cup in your hands...when what you feel you do...what you fear your parents take care of...what you know of the world outside the lair you know only through the protecting eyes of a tigress of a mother.

St Paul speaks truth when he speaks of "putting away the things of child." Still, those early years were blissful in direct proportion to the ignorance within which we moved. And played. And dreamed. And slept totally secure every night.

Victor Herbert spoke truth too when his lyric said "we can never go back again." And yet, the fragile memory of such bliss is locked somewhere inside the vault of our heart. To be gently taken out every now and then in order to re-polish its shine.


For a long time, death is simply a word. Not even a fact. Certainly not a reality. In our Western culture. death has been politely excised from our lives, and placed in the hands of antiseptic processionals in hospitals and funeral chapels.

The duration of this bliss depends on how early and how often death intrudes upon our ignorance. This usually means we are starkly unprepared when its black wings suddenly hover over our lives. And yet, the dark angel's banishment may help explain how we manage to survive. Somehow always with the ignorant expectation that: What is, will always be.

So yes...death, take your place in line while my ignorance of you helps get me through another day. Time enough when the time comes.


If Childhood and Death are part of this little tale, two smaller thoughts also come to mind: The Ten O'clock News every night and Spring every March. No, seriously...! Let me explain.

The Ten O'Clock News may be the most insidious of modern institutions. Why one wonders would anyone planning to go to bed want to first watch this 30 minutes of murder, madness and mayhem? Also, why do we so anticipate Spring when what it really means is all this sunshine now illuminating all this dust and dirt the clouds of Winter have kept hidden from our eyes?

I know, I know -- strange reactions. But once again, just a matter of trying to hang on to the bliss of igorance in the face of the folly of facts...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Have you ever heard of the poet Charles Bukowski? Well, I haven't either. But he makes a good point when he wrote his editor: "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live."

Which is, I believe, the very lesson the straight-laced Englishman learns from the wonderfully crazy Zorba The Greek in the 1964 movie of the same name. The Englishman lives by the cool and proper rules of society; Zorba knows no rules except those that pour out of his heart like hot lava. The Englishman co-exists with raw nature; Zorba virtually has sex with nature. The Englishman is cerebral and contained; Zorba is emotional and knows how to dance at the whim of a wish.

By all the rules, Zorba -- played pitch-pefect by Anthony Quinn -- is a foul-mouthed, foul-smelling brute of a man. And yet we are immediately sucked into his glorious primitiveness. He loves the land, the sky, the drink, the food, and especially the women of his Island paradise. It's the kind of unbridled, un-orthodox, un-disciplined, un-educated love the well-bred Englishman cannot possibly understand.

And yet...

While he watches Zorba break and make rules as he travels his day, the proper young man realizes that you can't really live life in a gilded cage. Everything he has learned -- from books, from schools, from society -- seem so reedy and brittle here in the blazing Mediterranean sun. Life is not something you study. It is everything you feel. And not year to year, but moment to moment.

The final scene -- after all of Zorba's good but uncouth intentions have collapsed -- allows this un-lettered bear of a man two choices. Either cry over the tragedy of life. Or dance at the ecstasy of life. But dance to what? To nothing more than the beat of his beating heart.

I don't know if God is Geek, but on that island on that day, I'm convinced He was. And He smiled down to whisper to His groaning world -- yes, children, dance. Dance whenever, wherever and however you can. For this is what you will be invited to do here with us....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


The human heart was long believed to be the essence of a person. And so warriors cut them out from their victims to finalize their victories. The human brain, in contrast, was often discarded in ancient burial rites as a totally dispensable item. Over time, humanity has switched tracks. We are left to wonder if we've made the right choice.

It's easy to say we need them both. Of course we do. Still, their differences in our life should be better appreciated. For instance, consider the brainiest guy we know: Albert Einstein. He shook the world with his theory of relativity. It is his-head-to-our-heads explanation of how this phenomenon known as time is not an absolute. Rather, relative to other forces.

It takes about 16 pages of higher math top reach this astonishing conclusion...and yet my children understood it even before they could read words let alone crunch numbers! All you had to do was ask them how relatively long the days were before Christmas in contrast to the days after.

Everyone knows -- with their hearts -- that time is either terribly or wonderfully relative to whatever we are awaiting or dreading. Certainly this fact -- and It is a fact -- doesn't shove Albert off the stage of intellectual history. But it does remind our heads that our hearts have a say in all this too. It's not only the Tin Man who feels incomplete without one.

None of this is to say our feelings should supersede our facts. Emotions shouldn't over-ride intellect. Better to say our emotions should ride our facts. Like a sentient horseman rides in the saddle of the stallion. We have entered an age of roaring, rearing intellectual energy -- computers, data banks, Internet, smart-phones, Google. By themselves, all this energy can sweep us virtually anywhere. But with a feeling rider in the saddle, our chances of reaching good land is far better than if all this intellectual energy were to remain saddle-less.

Might this be called a modest alert....? A warning that the inexorable accumulation of more and more intellectual gadgetry is "progress" only "relative" to the "time" it takes us to accomplish something good with it...

Monday, March 15, 2010

COLLECTING STUFF & GHOSTSWith the years, we inevitably collect more stuff. But also more ghosts. The stuff half was brilliantly codified by comedian G

With the years, we inevitably collect more stuff. But also more ghosts. The stuff half was brilliantly codified by comedian George Carlin; the ghost half just comes along by itself. Here's how....


Everyone has tales to tell about finding boxes of stuff collecting dust and disinterest somewhere in the garages and basements of our lives. Old shoes...postcards...newspaper clippings...some invoices...a few photos...and little metallic things we can't for the life of us imagine what you do with.

As Carlin wisely points out, stuff just sorta accumulates over the years. Whether we're trying or not. Lately, slick retailers have decided that folks over 60 don't buy anymore stuff, so why bother trying to reach them anymore. That's why advertising, movies and television are aimed mostly at the young.

A point of correction here. What Carlin and the retailers forget is this. It's not that older folks don't need more stuff. It's mainly because at this stage of the game, we simply don't want more! You see. kids, it's really true: "You can't take it with you...!"


In contrast to stuff, ghosts are a more arguable subject. But this is not meant to be a theological consideration. Just an everyday, tug-at-your-heart consideration. With the years, ghosts simply happen...!

All those people we've loved (and not) have this way of hanging around our heart. When important people in our lives die, their memories often choose to live on with us. Moms, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunts, school chums, first loves, first bosses, first sergeants, first-and-last of all sorts. So long as our brain circuits still arc together, these ghosts will still persist.

There is the saying that our eternity exists in the memories of all those who live after us. How the truth to this slams home whenever you come upon a street corner where you can recall a fateful goodbye...a house now occupied by strangers in which you know the ghosts of your family still walk....stores and schools, theatres and beaches, streetlights and cafes where you can still catch a wisp of all those beautiful people with whom you once shared this sacred space.

Ghosts -- all around us all the time. All they need is our permission to let them inside this tiny shard of time. But unlike our stuff, usually our ghosts are well worth collecting. And keeping...

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Ever watch a custodian sweeping in slow motion? That means he's killing time on the job. While comparisons are odious, it might seem some scientific researchers are doing the same thing. Finding projects to carry out whose purpose and payoff are a little marginal. Take the ones digging up "Lusitania," Titanic" and "daVinci."


In 1915, with WWI being waged in Europe, 118 Americans died when a German U-Boat torpedoed the French liner "Lusitania" off the coast of Ireland. Americans -- still neutral at this point -- had been warned by Germany not to book passage on ships traveling war zones.

OK, so everyone who paid attention in history class knows this. What they may not know is that the young, able-bodied passengers survived at an 8% rate higher than people over 35. The liner sank in 18 minutes, so the researchers have concluded: "When people have little time to react, their survival instincts kick in more than their altruism instincts."

The elderly who went down with the ship discovered this the hard way...


In the case of the "Titanic" iceberg sinking in 1912, it took about three hours to go down to its watery grave. Researchers argue that the time factor explains the difference in the survival rate. With "Titanic," women and children were up to 53% more likely to survive than men. Research director Benno Torgler tells "Science News" that when there is more time, social instincts play a bigger role than survival instincts.

"People will sacrifice themselves, but time is crucial. The elements that re-trigger social interactions only emerge after time."

True or not, that's how director James Cameron told it...


Another research committee is hard at work in Italy trying to exhume the body of Leonardo da Vinci. Why? They want to check a pet theory about his masterpiece "Mona Lisa."

Anthropologist Giorgio Gruppioni, of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage, suggests that they have long believed da Vinci was gay. But some also suspect he may have been a cross-dresser.

"If we manage to find his skull," said Gruppioni, "we could rebuild Leonardo's face, and compare it with the Mona Lisa." The theory here is that the "Mona Lisa" was a self-portrait. Requests to dig up the master's remains at Chateau d'Ambroise in France are under -- shall we say, questionable -- consideration.


Are these examples of modern science at its best...? At it's silliest...? Or is all this what we are often told -- humanity's relentless need to know who, what and why we are....? In any case, I personally don't believe these are the ones who can tell us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


If we begin with the premise that large, modern American cities -- with all their noise, congestion, and violence -- have often become hells on earth, are there any havens to be found in them? The answer is obvious: Yes. The examples, however, are not so obvious. Each city dweller will have their own particular choices. As a committed urban dweller, I have found at least two havens. One, a musical universal: Mozart. The other, a surprise choice to many: High School.


Wolfgang is an easy pick. Everybody from musicologists to biologists to new parents have joyously discovered the musical magic of Mozart. This dead-by-36, foul-mouthed genius generated some of the most dazzling yet sedating compositions ever penned (and, yes, he is said to have used pen, because he rarely had to make corrections).

Life is a bombast of musical beats, but Mozart drew from deep within the mystery of his soul to craft beats and notes like no other. It has been said God himself permitted a Mozart so the rest of us could hear a little of what Heaven is like.

All I know is when the mathematical majesty of Mozart's music fills my heart, I am become someone else. A better someone for his energizing presence. But wait! This is no esoteric elitism talking. I'm talking everyday subways here. I still remember the afternoon I watched this monstrously large, rapper-looking kid from the city streets plugged into his iPod. Any other time I would have felt fear. This time I got to see what he was being transfixed by.

That's right...! Mozart would have been pleased.


High school is also a universal. Universally shuddered at once we've graduated it. You know -- the acne, the self-consciousness, the cult of popularity that was always just beyond our reach. But I'm not talking about the kids here. I'm talking about the faculty.

Until you've been on a high school faculty, you have no idea of what an astonishing haven these campuses can be. Oh, not the worst schools (some of them are as disastrous as they report); but the good ones, where order and learning and friendships have somehow been preserved.

Think about it. A good high school campus is a city within a city. It's own borders...buildings...schedules... arts....romances,..expectations...inspirations...pursuits. From 8 to 5, the place throbs with energy, with growth, with fun; and as a member of the faculty, you're a vital part of it all. Now that's a feeling hard to find throughout most of our cities and their humdrum daily lives.

This is not say being part of the faculty isn't challenging. It is. But once you've been there, it's hard to ever be as important again...!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Long gone are the days when Rousseau and Thoreau waxed eloquent about the nobility of our savagery. Whereas they dreamed of the bliss of being isolated within nature, our modern world has seen to it that virtually no one will ever be isolated again. Like it or not, we are now and forever connected every minute of every day. Left here to speculate what wonders and/or wretchedness this shall mean. Consider the chronology of our connectivity.....


When the first telegraph line was laid between New England and Texas, Thoreau creatively asked: "But does New England have anything to say to Texas?"

The same question could soon be applied to Bell's telephones and Marconi's radios. By the early 20th C, nations like ours were so thoroughly cris-crossed with wires/lines/waves, locked closets were often the last refuge of the private person. Progress? Yes, in many wondrous ways; and yet what emerged was this genie of compulsion that we now had to stay connected all the time.

Curious to watch how the consensus-building power of these connectivity tools has recently been resisted, as each race and ethnicity among us demands its "own voice." The results include niche broadcasting and individualized courses of study, all emphasizing the Me much more than the We.


Thanks to those intrepid Wrights, mankind at long last gained wings. In its early days, aviation was the new freedom. Freedom to fly and soar and hold the entire world in the palm of our flight tickets.

But once again, irony struck. Hijackings and terrorists eventually transformed flight into frenzy. What had once been a joy, has now become a gamble. Long lines ....intrusive security checks...endless tarmac delays... pinched services have all made air travel as much hassle as happiness.

Hard to explain this irony. What began as the blessings of global connectivity have somehow soured. I can still hear my skeptical old uncles grunting: "If God wanted us to fly he would have given us wings!"


The final touch on the canvass of connectivity has been television and the Internet. Right now there isn't a place or a person on the planet that can't somehow be reached by their invisible fingers. A marvel. A miracle. A masterpiece of human ingenuity.

And yet, the same-old, same-old. Television...? Still that vast cultural wasteland. The Internet...? Often becoming overwhelmed by the voices of the inmates to the asylum. Why is this so? Why does it seem each time our species climbs a new mountain, it seems to trip into new valleys?


When all is said and done and communicated, here's where we once again find ourselves. A zealously ambitious herd of mammals that simply can't be satisfied with what is. And so the eternal hunt for what can be.
This is our wiring and our wonder. Also, it would seem, our fortune and our fate.

So here we are, connecting with one another whether YOU really like it or not.....!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010



Reduced to our most common denominator, we're a mix of womb and wonder. There's this eternal tug of the protective womb from which we came, but also the daily lure of the exciting wonder toward which we dream. Sometimes it simply comes down to the way we get up in the morning...

Rainy days and Mondays get us down. Outside, little more than another sunless, gray routine; inside, the warm womb of our bed. A compelling metaphor for the perfect safety of our mother's womb. Plus, along the way, all those other wombs of safety. If we were lucky -- loving parents and family; caring teachers; interested neighbors; safe streets at night tucked inside secure neighborhoods of friends and playgrounds, kites and penny candy.

For anyone blessed (cursed?) with such felicitous memories, life can seem as if a series of womb-like moments. Inside the arms of the one you fell in love with, the rooms you lived in, the feel of the infants you helped bring into the world, the faces of all those neighbors and store owners and Good Humor drivers and mail carriers that have populated your life.

Oh yeah -- that warm bed looks awfully inviting. And yet, we also feel the lure of the new day. The love of the hunt. The passion of pursuit. All that wonder that waits just outside our front door. It's called life!

When you think about, maybe you can have both. Like Linus's little blue blanket, you can always tuck it inside your deepest pocket during whatever new adventure you take on. Now that's womb coupled with wonder -- the best of both worlds.


One of life's longest debates has to do with how good and/or evil we are. Theologians, philosophers and of course Fox News have all checked in on this question. Everyone has their preferred answer.

Speaking for myself, I've finally reconciled these apparent opposites -- the inherent Goodness of humanity side by side with its equally inherent Evil. Perhaps it all comes down to the numbers. That is to day, as individuals we're a pretty decent lot. Work for our wages, love our mates and kids, pay our bills, pick up our litter.

This Evil thing gets into the picture mainly when we come together in groups. On the expressway, in malls, at concert halls, in sports stadiums, and in street rallies of whatever kind. Something sorta happens to us! And usually it's not good!

Call it group dynamics, mob psychology, or the power of the majority, but so much of what's best about us as individuals changes when we're gathered together. As citizens, as voters, as spectators, and especially as angry protesters who always seem to be looking for a lynch rope to solve their anger.

If true, the "me" may always be slightly better than the "us." However, having suggested the problem, neither "me" nor "us" has much of a solution...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Being lonely is different from being alone. The loneliest people may be standing in the busiest of crowds. The feeling, the experience, is all inside you. It's a little like standing on a deserted island beach, watching the ocean liners of the world drifting off into the distance.

Now you are with only yourself. A Robinson Caruso moment which can happen at very different times in your life. Obviously, when you have suddenly lost someone or something indispensable. Not so obviously, when you have just tasted a great success which suddenly sets you apart. Either way, loneliness calls for response.

Some rush to fill the void. Activity and participation; noise and revelry; agendas and more agendas. Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Hugh Hefner were infamous for this. Then there are those who seem to savor their loneliness. From hermits to hunters to Thoreau, nothing sounds better than their own breathing somewhere far from the nattering crowds.

One thing seems sure. With technologies like the phone, television and the Internet, it will be a lonely mission in this world to ever be alone again...


What does Jennifer Lopez and Kate Moss have in common....? Certainly not their figures! And so a stalwart -- if not a tad sexist -- team of Georgia researchers studied the brain reactions of men who were shown pictures of these two celebrated anatomies.

Their conclusion may have startled them, but not likely many others. The report in the "Atlanta-Journal Constitution" documents the way the reward-lobes in the male brain were highly stimulated by J. Lo's famous glass-hour figure. The conclusion drawn by the study's author, Steven Platek: "Curviness is worth its weight in reproductive gold, because men's evolutionary indicators prefer women who seem most fit to bear children."

In a scientific sidebar, the all-male research team added: "The Caucasian, Westernized female has somehow been duped into thinking men prefer the very skinny, waify Kate-Moss type girls."

Well now. I've never met a man this side of a Paris runway who needed a research project to confirm this. To be perfectly sexist about this whole silly affair, whenever I've see Jennifer Lopez strut the Hollywood red carpet, I always get this image of a remarkable metronome undulating its way straight to me.

It's the kind of image the researchers might want to consider for this next project. Then again, the guys just might want to move on to something of real value!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010



"Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes." Ever since Noel Coward (and others) uttered those words, there's been this roaring debate between exercising and napping. Contrary to today's drumbeat of medical advice, the more I age the more I nap.

Now vengeance is mine....!

In a recent research study, psychologists at the University of California, Berkley, have voted for napping too. Their studies demonstrate napping in the early afternoon does indeed increase productivity. "A 90-minute nap re-boots the part of the brain critical to short-term memory," writes author Matthew Walker. "After this, you're ready to soak up new information."

When I wrote executive addresses at MacDonald's headquarters in Oakbrook, Il, I happened upon this plushy, sealed-room "think tank" on the 9th floor. Executives were encouraged to visit and relax here. I don't know if they concluded this was a good investment, but really all they had to do was ask the passionate devotees of the siesta in Italy and Mexico. They've been joyously re-booting their brains for centuries.

And now you'll excuse me for about 90 minutes....


Crows are infamous for never forgetting a human face. So -- for what reason I can't possibly imagine -- ecologists in Seattle decided to test this premise. They used a variety of face-masks, including one of Dick Cheney.

Sure enough, weeks later, the same crows recognized the same face-masks. The "New Scientist" reports crows may have evolved this way in order to "adapt to living in close proximity to human beings."

My own experience was once the mistake of checking the nests of Starlings near our front door. Innocent curiosity notwithstanding, flights of Starlings perched across our street, and swooped down for my eyes every time I left the house. The attacks -- and I kid you not, they were attacks! -- ended only after the eggs hatched, and the Starlings left in self-righteous disgust.

Lesson? I scare birds as much as Dick Cheney. Which for me is really scary...!

Monday, March 8, 2010



Kissing is a universal expression of affection, friendship, and of course love. It is executed in different ways in different cultures. The elegant head-bowing kiss of the hand....the dainty touch-of-the-lips on both cheeks...the bear-hug kiss...the passionate mouth-devouring-kiss. At its core, the kiss is an act of union between you and the object of your attentions.

What's especially interesting about kisses is the way we choose to dispense them. To friends they are a family, a lovers, a prelude.

Union is the operative word here. As frightened and self-conscious as we mere mortals all are in this staggering world of dangers and complexities, there is always this little hunger inside that can best be sated only by contact with other equally frightened and self-conscious mortals.

Yes, there was the Judas Kiss; and we all fear the lie behind some kisses. On the other hand, there is the Mother Kiss; and from birth forward we find ourselves seeking its enormous comfort again and again.


Colors...! These are the visual splotches and splashes that fill the canvass of our life from the palette of our god. Life in a black-and-white world would hardly be life at all.

Green -- it registers spring and summer and bounty on our retinas. Orange -- it is the voice of the sun in our lives. Blue -- the feel of sea and sky that brightens our faces. Brown -- the strong earthen smell of soil under our feet. Red -- the surge of festivity shooting through us.

There is an entire rainbow of colors this side of the rainbow, in which we move and live and feel and thrill. To lose one's sight is to lose this ecstasy. Perhaps this is why a young Galilean long ago walked the shores of the Jordan. He said he had come to make the lame walk, and especially the blind see.

While we have it, our sight is surely among our noblest gifts.

Sunday, March 7, 2010



Spotlights are among the busiest items in our world. Why? Because they're always looking for someone new and exciting to target; and for the rest of us to gawk at. But then there's a question to be answered: What about all those not in life's spotlights? They are obviously in the majority, so why don't we pay them at least equal attention?

I'm not sure if it's being counter-culture or simply contrary, but my eyes always drift toward those at the margins of the action. When the soloist is glowing in the concert hall spotlight, I can't help studying all those musicians back in the shadows working hard to make the star sound good...or in the theatre, all those crew members and volunteer ushers who remain in the shadows, but make what's happening happen...or the nameless but indispensable guys around the baseball dugouts...or the uncelebrated but imperative custodians in schools and on campuses...and especially those remarkable Secret Service agents behind their dark glasses protecting our President 24/7.

Am I missing something by watching the folks in the background rather than the ones in the foreground...? I don't think so. Because they're the untold back-stories that truly flesh out the stories...


For the serious students of history, they may want to step beyond their libraries and websites to understand todays from yesterdays. What I have I mind is a simple object lesson no further away then your local checkout counter.

Most of these have little Penny Trays. Somewhere customers can leave their left-over pennies for the next customer. But now here's the lesson! Watch to see who usually do this. That's right, the younger cooler customers who have little time for trivia like pennies. On the other hand, the older the customer, the more likely they will not toss those pennies away.

Habits from another time when pennies really did count. As a matter of fact, more of every little thing counted before our easy-money-Wall-Street ethos replaced our once-upon-a-time work ethic. Not a big thing, maybe, but a convenient lesson in generational history.

Oh wait...! There is one thing that seems not to have changed. The concept of what makes a star on Oscar Night. Watch him. George Clooney would be a star no matter what generation he happened into...proving that maybe after all some things never change.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


The number three has forever been considered a magical number. All sorts of theories-- religious and otherwise -- so here are three cases where three is central to the tale. One can decide for themself what all this means, if anything. At the end, this trinitarian offers his own theory >>


Cornell researchers have found third-place Olympian winners (Bronze) are happier than second-place winners (Silver). "Silver medalists tend to fixate on the near miss, while bronze winners are thankful to win anything."


An Oregon man is suing the police arguing they have harassed him for giving them the middle-finger salute over what he calls police brutality. An obvious devotee of the 1st amendment, Robert Ekas, 46, says: "I did it because I have the finger and right to do it!"


Three Nepalese villages recently celebrated their annual 10-day Cursing Festival. The village youth engage in an orgy of insults like "Monkey face, I hope your sons are as ugly as frogs" and "I hope your buffaloes die of diarrhea."


In trying to connect the three dots to these three dots in a world of dots, I submit: one and two are self-explnatory. It's the third that's the real payoff! It introduces to the Western World a fist-and-gun-free opportunity to blow off steam without blowing off heads. A suggestion that will forthwith be forwarded to Washington DC. If they can count as high as three, it just may give them all an idea....

Friday, March 5, 2010



Ever listen to that great 1924 Jones & Kahn hit "It Had To Be You?" There's a line that reads: ...being glad just to be sad thinking of you. Can you think of any simpler yet nobler way of capturing the essence of an all-consuming love? If you've never felt this, perhaps you've never really been in love.

Consider that the next time you listen to Dooley Wilson sing it in "Casablanca." Or then there's an old Chicago friend, Megan Cavanagh, who sings it in "A League of Their Own." Sometimes tin pan alley composers can penetrate the human soul more deeply -- yet simply -- than even the Aristotles and Aquinases.

And what's nice about them, they're not a homework assignment....


Gratefully, Spring is about to melt our long dreary Winter. But wait....! Did you let another Winter go by without building a snow fort??

I'm guessing you did. Just like I did. Bad idea! Why should snow be left just to the kids? If you're anything like me [and I'm not saying you would ever want to be] you certainly must recall the fun of snow forts. Building them, stocking them, defending them. The giddy sense of accomplishment is one of a long ago kind. But these next few Chicago days may be your last chance.

First, though, you have to be willing to get a little messy. And also be able to get down on knees long unaccustomed to plopping in snow...


Sometimes the most accurate reading of a society is what makes it laugh. A few generations ago, we laughed at movies with Abbott & Costello, Lewis & Martin and Red Skeleton. TV shows like "I Love Lucy," "Father Knows Best," and "Leave It To Beaver."

Today...? Well, we mostly seem to laugh at "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." And you don't even want to get into today's angry, crouch-grabbing standups.

So what does it all mean? On one end of the ideological spectrum we hear dire warnings of the End Times. On the other, we hear proud brayings about an Open Society. All of which leaves some of us in the middle, mostly chuckling at ourselves. Really, what's funnier..?

Thursday, March 4, 2010



Here's a trend that's been unfolding ever since the Founding Fathers argued against it in the Constitution -- the rich getting richer while the poor get children. It's one of those exquisite contradictions in American democracy whereby everyone is equal to become as financially and fashionably unequal as they can...!

The trend has been with us from the very start of our republic. Recently, it's been re-illustrated by the way the income of the 400 richest Americans just rose a whopping 31% in 2007 (before the recession hit). However, due to a medley of tax cuts on wages and capital gains, the super-rich paid only a 16% income tax rate. This on incomes which average $345 million/year. [Reported by the nonprofit Tax Analysts in the "San Francisco Examiner"].

Protecting the rich in America began early on. Alexander Hamilton, Washington's first Secretary of the Treasury, sought the support of the wealthiest Americans by favoring their wealth. He said, "They need to feel they have a stake in this new republic." One hundred and ninety years later, President Reagan called it "trickle-down economics" and President Bush called it "bailout." Either way, in America the Rich Man has become more indispensable than the Common Man.

Every few generations, the Common Man notices this, and rises up in another populist outcry. This time they call themselves the Tea Party. Next time -- who know, but there will be a next time. All part of the recurring discordant notes in the symphony of democracy....


Another trend that's been with us from the start is the pull and tug of religion in America. Some argue we were founded as a Christian nation. Others insist we were founded in large part by the very rejection of religion back in Europe. Still others simply say it doesn't make any difference...!

Well, it does to Arthur Mijares from Contra Costa, California. He's launched a campaign to rename Mount Diablo, because "to me and millions of other followers of the Christian faith, the devil is derogatory, pejorative and offensive."

Mijares wants the mountain called Mount Reagan. President Reagan did like to associate himself with the role of the Gipper from Notre Dame. I'm not sure, though, that he associated himself as the rival of the Devil. But while the courts work this out, Mijares' outrage is one more discordant note in our democracy where everyone is always passionately against something.

We call it the American Way....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010



The Olympics are a global marvel. All that talent and beauty and commitment. And yet from the sidelines, one wonders. Taken collectively, the number of work-hours by these athletes and their coaches must total in the tens of millions. All those hours eventually come down to just a few minutes or seconds of achievement.

As splendid as these achievements of the human body and spirit are, there is an inevitable self-absorption involved. The Olympics are, in the final measure, a Me affair. I think of all the achievements those tens of millions of brilliant work-hours might have realized in the world beyond these individuals. All those hours instead dedicated to society's pursuit of health, education, welfare, environment and peace. As in the case of such traditional communal efforts like scouting, volunteering, Doctors Without Borders, and the Peace Corps.

This is not a call to cancel the magic of the Olympics. No! Simply to raise the question of what marvels all this Olympian time and talent might mean invested away from the games and out in the world...


We've long been a litigious society. We sue at the drop of a mistake, little or large. This habit has become a virtual convention when it comes to our manufactured products. Lately, the automobile industry in particular. From a culture of "buyer beware" we've become one of "seller beware."

Now while safety is important, how many times do the litigants admit that the most serious safety issues with their cars are not an occasional mechanical defect...but rather the monstrous defect of their own bad driving and maintenance?

Human nature -- this amazing proclivity we have for finding fault everywhere but within ourselves. I'd guess that for every fatality caused by a car, there have been countless thousands caused by the defect behind the wheel. I know this to be true, because I'm one of those defects. And you...?

Monday, March 1, 2010



The culture seems to keep coming back to the wizardry of its gadgetry. From Silicon Valley to the local Radio Shack, we're daily dazzled by these new powers we're being handed in the form of palm-size magic. iPhones, iPods, iPads, Blackberries. Like a child in the middle of a Christmas toy pile, which and when to use first...?

It's always hard to make predictions. Especially about the future. But here are two that both captivate and contradict at the same time:

* These hand-held devices are allowing us to become little mobile universes of instant information and communication. Their power to bedazzle us is easily documented by scanning your everyday horizons. People everywhere clicking and clacking on their devices with the intensity that always accompanies great power

* And yet at the very same time that we're reaching out and touching someone somewhere in the world, we're ironically doing it in The seclusion of a cocoon. Our own private world which connects us at the same time it cocoons us from the real world

There's no reason why contradictions can't co-exist. And so this media contradiction will continue. But always with the whisper of a question -- with what unintended consequences? No, you won't find them listed on the manufacturers warranty. Rather, you and I are writing them as we go along....


We've now begun the sweeping job of the 2010 US Census. I've checked the questions, but found one important one missing: What pills do you take...?

Hey, don't laugh. that's a big one. In today's America virtually everybody takes pills. From vitamin complexes to memory enhancers...from birth control pills to death control pills...from legal to a gazillion other options that bulge out of our pharmacy's behind-the-counter stacks, and on-the-shelf displays.

When I was 20, my number was zero. Today it's nine and counting. I ask the government: How in the whole wide world can you leave off this enormously revealing question...? Oh, I hear you...! Americans don't like revealing themselves. Something to do with our sacred right to privacy.

A right we seem to readily give up any night of the week shouting at the local sports bar. But that's another story...