Friday, April 30, 2010


Behold -- the new 21st C Media Man!

Media man (and woman) was born in the 20th C with the advent of radio, film and television. For millions of years largely singular and isolated, now the human species had 24/7 access to sounds and images from around the world. What had once taken months or days to hear about or to see for yourself, now poured across our sensorium in great gluts of music, entertainment, news and propaganda. We became destined to never be alone again.

What distinguished this Niagara of media in the 20th C was its uniformity. Audiences heard and saw the same things at the same time. And so, when Jack Benny told a joke or when Orson Wells reported the invasion of Martians or when Marilyn Monroe's skirt blew open, it was a universally shared experience.

For better or worse, that era has now come to a crashing Internet end...!

Here in the 21st C, almost everyone carries the whole world around with them on their desk or in the palm of their hand. To be accessed whenever, wherever and however we wish. There is little that is uniform now about what we experience, because now we choose what we will experience, where in our privacy we will do so, and when we find it convenient for our whims and schedules.

The thoughtless will report this as simply a matter of supreme technological convenience. The thoughtful will ponder some of its unintended consequences. Taken collectively -- this freedom of choice coupled with this gluttony of choices -- new Media Man exists inside his own private bubble of life. As secure as any president surrounded by legions of Secret Service, Media Man is now king of all he surveys. With a wave of his sceptered keypad, he can call up or dismiss virtually anything in his vast domain. An update from Bombay, a theatre in London, a game in San Francisco, a congressional hearing in Washington, a protest website, a conspiracy theory rant -- all is now at his digitalized fingertips.

Perhaps this description of Media Man sounds a little like God. Well, yes, it does. And thus what is meant by "unintended consequences." Exactly how ready is any of us to be God...?

Thursday, April 29, 2010



Movies and television documentaries are interested lately in featuring pets. Especially dogs, for after all, aren't dogs among the cheeriest and chummiest of species with whom we can find enduring love and affection? Now while I agree -- some of the puppies I've known had faces and personalities nicer than most people I've met! -- I've noticed something else about them.

As we enjoy watching the many dog-whisperers and dog-contests, it seems increasingly apparent to this canine-loving observer that it is the dogs not the owners who are running things. Oh sure, they wag their tails and turn their faces up to us eagerly, but I ask myself: Exactly what are they thinking right this moment?

I'll tell you what....! Evolutionary biologists have convinced this puppy-aficiando that what those wiggly Scotties and waggly Golden Retrievers are actually thinking is: "OK, so I wiggle and waggle a little for them. But, damn, this is a lot better than my wild-dog ancestors had to deal with. They struggled to stay alive; now my owner struggles to keep me alive. So what's a few silly tricks and chased-sticks cost me...?"

So there's the great Canine Conspiracy Secret. I don't know about you, yet in my case, it doesn't make any difference. I love them just the same. Maybe even more, because they're smarter than me, but never say it to my face!


What would be your worst nightmare...? Walking outdoors without your pants or skirt? Tripping on the stage as you go up to receive that award? Waking up with someone you never met before? Well, for many of us it would be sitting in a Congressional hearing with the world's cameras on you.

To be called is already a nightmare, because they're investigating something about you. And there's probably not a soul in all the world that hasn't got a few closet skeletons to fear. But when you're a fat-cat CEO from Detroit or an even fatter-cat CEO from Wall Street, now that's big time trouble. So big, you go to your big time lawyers to get some advice. What to say, what not to say, when to smile, when not to smile, plus a dozen other things like where to keep your hands, and how to make your Nixon-blinking eyes not blink.

The point...?

Simply this. Not one in 50 such big time executives have faced Congress as an honest-to-gosh, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human being with feelings and families and worries like everyone else. The result -- if you ever watch these hearings -- is preening Senators vs inanimate witnesses who have been so lawyered-up, they look guilty as sin immediately after the very first over-rehearsed answer!

Is there still room for the Jimmy Stewart kind of American who "went to Washington?" Question asked & answered...!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010



After more than 50 years of playful freedom, Peanuts has been scooped up and adopted by strangers. And no one even asked him...!

The rights to the iconic little guy -- and his flock of friends like Linus and Lucy -- have been sold for $175 million. This doesn't mean we won't get to visit, but now visiting rights come under a new name. Which is a little sad, for it's something like when your family moved to a new city and never asked you.

Some famous comic characters such as Blondie and Dick Tracy have been given a second life under the pens of new artists. Peanuts's father, Charles Schulz, is no longer with us. So fans will have to satisfy themselves with re-runs. But, then, when the originals are so great, there's no problem. Fans still love re-runs of everything from Gone With the Wind to The Godfather to The Way Were.

Oh, and other great re-runs like Hamlet, The Marriage of Figaro. and the Bible. I bet when Peanuts grows up, he'll enjoy such re-runs too...


Soothsayers and scientists have studied our dream zones for centuries. But few seem to bother with what happens in our twilight zones. Those momentary times when wisps of long-ago memories and faces and conversations flutter across the screens of our mind, only to get swallowed up in the events of the moment.

Think about it. Isn't there a suite of memory-friends inhabiting your twilight zones year after year? The little blond girl in fourth grade who blew you your first kiss after she read your Valentine card...the campus jock in high school who stared down the team's laughter when you tumbled all over yourself trying for that fly ball....the boss at the ad agency who bought you that celebratory cup of coffee the morning your idea was first used...and all the hundreds of other friends and strangers alike, whose smile or nod came at just the right scene in your play.

The funny thing about memory-friends is they rarely ever know about these friendships. They just happened to be crossing the stage of your life as bit players whose unrehearsed moments have become forever enshrined in the cathedral of your soul.


Like they say -- some of us eat to live, others live to eat.

Count me in the latter legions. A robust Italian heritage will do that to you. But if you're Italian, eating is not a real celebration until you're celebrating it with the ones you like or (better yet) love. And so it is that this second-generation Italian celebrates best when eating best with best family & friends.

Something extraordinary happens when the antipastos, salads, pastas and wines are loudly shared at table. Not only does it happen right down to the bottom of your tummy, but right up to the top of your theology.

Bono appetit.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


It's true. In Chicago there are only two seasons -- winter & construction!

I was trapped in another of those jack-hammer projects backing up the street for blocks. Bare-bellied city crews, barking foremen, thumping machines all keeping us from our appointed rounds. Maddening. And yet, maybe metaphoric.

Aren't most of our country's problems something like this? We have a goal, we have a route, and we have an inkling of what it all means for us. Then, quite abruptly and not at all according to our schedule, something goes wrong along the way. Unexpected and very unwelcomed. Including examples like our banking system...our auto industry ...our investment houses...our school grades and trade balances and whole damn health system.

Here I was, metaphorically speaking, today's bright and hopeful America on-the-road, but suddenly going no- where. Something is wrong up ahead. I can't see it. I can't understand it. And I certainly can't do anything about it.

This is where, in my metaphor, my government steps into the scene. I need them here, in the form of these city-paid crews and city-paid machines and city-funded budgets. None of us is complaining about the city at this point, because at this point only the city has the capacity to wrestle such problems into submission.

Later in my metaphor, I'm happily driving past the repaired site. Wondering how many of my fellow drivers will be watching the news tonight, and cursing the city government. Actually, any government agency they can think of to curse, because they're hearing about something or someone there to curse.

The news is grimly reporting everything that went wrong today. In the White House, in the Congress, in the Gulf of Mexico, along the borders of Arizona, and in City Hall. But it's not likely to report what went right there along Cicero Avenue this morning where some imperfect city works imperfectly helped repair an imperfect sewer line imperfectly paid for with our perfectly unfair taxes...!

Monday, April 26, 2010


It all depends in which of Shakespeare's seven stages of life a person finds themself. Personally, I have only one in-door and only one out-door sport left. Neither is especially grand, and only one is possibly gratifying.

Inside, I find myself scouting the television & celebrity magazines which come to us by some computer glitch in paparazzi headquarters. Over morning coffee I have taken up the sport of scoring their pagan pages for how many items I can still identify. To date: Only 7% of the celebrities (I actually lost track after Marilyn & Elvis),...16% of the breasts (I lost track after my prostate surgery)....34% of the abs (I never any to work from in the first place) ...and a proud 0% of the trysts they relentlessly report.

Pathetic, I know!

But fortunately, there's also my outdoor sport: Nature. Always something majestic about clear blue skies, bulging orange suns, the fragrance of fresh-mowed lawns, the muscular challenge of some out-of-reach goal. I clearly remember such from my salad days in summer camps and at beach resorts. From hard-breathing moments reaching a cliff top or surviving another white-water wave. Outdoor exhilarations like these grab hold tight of your heartbeat, never ever to release you from their power.

And so it is I re-experience these same thunderous moments every morning I paddle out in slippers & robe for my morning newspaper. Usually scattered windily across our front lawn. You see -- the kid purposely scatters it like this, because he knows the old boy. And he knows how I still love outdoor adventure...


Science has been talking about this for centuries -- an actual time-machine. Serious breakthroughs are being made in its pursuit. But while the experts in the labs crunch the numbers and bend the light waves, the rest of us out here can take time-trips whenever we choose to ignite the booster-rockets of our brains.

Such travels call for precise navigation. We need to understand the times and the characters waiting for us. Among our prospects might be ancient Egypt to discover for ourselves what was that aura about Cleopatra that entranced an emperor and altered an empire....or perhaps the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth to experience what was this astonishing belief that a man could raise from the dead....or possibly the tavern next to Ford's Theatre that fateful night when John Wilkes Booth gulped his final drink to steady his trembling hand.

Each of us will have our own particular itinerary. And our own particular hopes of how we might alter the plots. I see myself arriving at the port of New Orleans in the year 1899. There just outside the harbor on a gray September morning rests the good ship Marseilles out of Palermo, Sicily. Among the eager passengers are eight from the little hill town of Corleone. Among these, my 3-year-old Father Vincenzio. The Spatafora family of farmers are hoping to land, then quickly migrate north to Chicago where cousins await them.

It was not to be....!

As any time-traveler learns, you can visit the past; but you cannot change the past. What is waiting for these passengers is a vile but invisible enemy: Another Yellow Fever epidemic. Still a generation before a cure, this ancient delta disease is once more ravaging the city. The port authorities order the vessel not to dock. The captain has two equally disagreeable options: Return to Sicily or land anywhere a coastal port will permit them.

Here I sit at the controls of my time-machine without any control over these frightened immigrants. One, a small scared boy who will someday become a man, a husband, a father. But where? when? how? and with whom? If he is now turned back to Sicily, there will be no chance to meet my Mother living in Chicago, or to have me, or for my little life to affect all the other little lives that wait just up ahead for my possibility.

My machine's control proves worthless...! My science friends are wasting their time...! But wait, the little port of Pensacola signals the wandering Marseilles it's OK to land there. Thank God, all will be as it was meant to be.

However, not at my hands nor at my controls. Both of these are to be found elsewhere...

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The hand-wringing over what's worse in our media, sex-or-violence, has really never been worthy of the name. There is no debate. The facts have been in for years. Ever since WWII, sex may come sooner in the plots, but it's the smash-mouth scenes of violence which have continued to soar. Smarmy bedroom action loses out 5-to-1 to gunfire, car crashes, fireballs, crushed faces and tortured bodies.

Good news or bad...? That's like asking are kids better gorging on writhing or on exploding bodies...? Norman Mailer once said, "There are only two things worth writing about: Sex and death." I've yet to find even Dante or Hemingway writing any paeans to the worth of raw violence.

However, Hollywood and television have! And do! In addition to the estimated 1400 acts of violence on television every week, movies have become an altar of indulgence to the gods of pain. Each director outfoxing the other in how ingeniously they can destroy human life in malevolent splendor. Purposeless gore may have had its brutish birth with "Clockwork Orange" in 1971, but the fiend-child has matured with the likes of "Rambo," "Pulp Fiction," "Natural Born Killers," "Gladiator," anything by Quentin Tarantino, and now the release of "Kick-Ass."

No one has yet been able conclusively to prove this relentless diet of media gore directly causes our splurge of street gore. And yet, San Diego State University psychologist Jean Wenge reports to Discovery News the "narcissism/self-centeredness levels" of students have surged from 18% to 34% in just the last 15 years.

Is there some connection here? While Self has always been hard-wired into our evolutionary gene pools, there actually have been times in our history when Other counted even more. When violence for violence's sake actually made far less sense than violence for the sake of a cause. Far instance, our wars. Against king, slavery, corruption, liquor, poverty, cancer, Hitler. Each tended to call upon the best in ourselves for the sake of others.

I think of this as I see milling crowds outside movie theatres featuring violence for its own sake. And I imagine the enormous body of potential human energy that hides just inside these crowds. If only someone or something might call their better angels to nobler actions. Actually, such calls are often being made; just not always being heard...

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Millions of folks have in some fashion or another, associated themselves with the Tea Party movement. They're usually more elderly, more schooled and more white than the average voter; but mainly they're more angry. Psychology tells us anger is a secondary emotion. So the question becomes -- what's really igniting the anger?

At the historical heart of it has been Americans' traditional fear of unseen government power (AKA, King George III). It was only a matter of time before fearful/angry colonists from Patrick Henry to Sam Adams to George Washington took up some of the same complaints we hear from the marchers today. Only today's rage has no King to hate. So it's found alternatives like banks and immigrants and most of all a plotting president from Kenya who intends to take us from Monarchy directly into Fascism.

During the American Revolution only about a third of the colonists were looking for a fight. Today it's more like a fifth. No matter the percentage, the protest is just as intense. Fueled especially by fearful fictions that have replaced inconvenient facts. For example, the fiction that government is raising our taxes (the facts from the Congressional Budget Office are the average American pays 20,7 % of their income in federal taxes, a figure that has not risen in 30 years). Or the fiction that government is meddling with our Social Security & Medicare (the facts are the government is not meddling but managing them for us). Or the fiction that the new health bill creates death panels (the facts are nowhere in the entire 1200 pages does such an idea ever appear).

But look -- 21st C Americans are really no different than 1st C Romans, 7th C Arabs, and 20th C Germans. Fear is a powerful emotion, and there are always so many things to fear in this life. Fear understandably translates into anger with something, anything out there that's scaring us. In such plights it is perfectly clear why we hunger for a savior. The Romans got Caesar...the Arabs got Mohamed...the Germans got Hitler.

Who's left...? Sarah? Glenn? Rush? Well, they've certainly made themselves available!

Friday, April 23, 2010


Ever since Orson Wells uttered the shadowy word "Rosebud" in his 1942 classic "Citizen Kane," the world has come to know there is one in every life. Rich or poor, great or small, we all bestride our adult world carrying a precious small secret close to our heart. A forever distant image in which we can hide ourselves whenever adult life becomes too unbearable.

For Citizen Kane it was the small wooden sled he joyfully played with until it and his youth were abruptly snatched away. For others, a Christmas toy...a first-school-day pen set....a lilac bush in Mom's backyard...the fish you helped Dad haul in...the English teacher who wrote that special note of encouragement on your composition....the Bonnie or Johnny to whom you first gave your childhood love. Or maybe someone you didn't even know, but whose kindness forever captured the wonder of being valued by another. Like the bus driver who helped you while you self-consciously struggled aboard with all those holiday packages...the Good Humor Man who'd let you ring his summertime bells....the pool guard who snatched you from out of the deep end while shushing the thoughtless giggles from your buddies.

When the great English General Montcalm lay dying at the 18th C battle for Quebec, he recalled a childhood poem he had memorized. When Gandhi fasted for a nation, he held high the memory of his Mother's love for a small son. When we face our own fates, small shards of safe pasts often crackle through the circuitry of our brains. Evolution's way of protecting our survivability? Heaven's way of keeping us in touch with our innocence?

Philosophers and poets tend to ask such questions. Builders and bankers may not. Perhaps too many adults have mistaken St Paul's reference to "putting away the things of a child." Goethe nuanced Paul: "Life is the childhood of eternity." The days of our lives are an unbroken necklace of beads from womb to tomb. Pluck one out, and the necklace breaks.

Which is why Kane never quite forgot Rosebud. Nor wanted to.....

Thursday, April 22, 2010



Sometime we get things backwards. Like packing a picnic before checking the weather. Or, even worse, reading the side effects before checking what the medicine is for.

Sure, warnings should be noted. But lately, our paranoid culture has begun making decisions based on what could happen rather than on what should happen. So now if there's a 0.1 % chance the medicine could cause headaches or a 1.5% chance the proposed legislation could deny stuntmen coverage or a 3% chance there could be an oil spill, some people insist the deal's off.

Wait a minute!

No one pitches a ballgame planning on that 1-in-1500 chance for a grand slammer, just as no one proposes a sweeping new plan based on how it's possible it could fail. Being scared is never the way to being successful. So, yes, check the warnings; but lets not have long-shot warnings paralyze big-time achievements.


I submit this hypothesis to every neuro-biologist I meet: "Reading the news and/or the sports will atrophy your brain." Admittedly, I don't meet many neuro-biologists, but I still stand by my proposal.

After a few years -- try almost 80! -- of scanning these sections of your newspaper and/or website, I submit you can actually sense the atrophy taking place starting from the right side of your brain inexorably crunching toward the left. The same numbing repetition of murders, of car crashes, of fires, of floods, of tax fraud, of corrupt politicians, of street protests; and most numbing of all, the very same spring time pennant dreams, batting order changes, failed 9th inning saves and clubhouse in-fighting.

The brain screams for relief, begs for something fresh and enduring. Where to find this...? The comics...! Hypothesis # 2. Here are gathered some of the keenest minds and fastest wits around, who can graphically do what the best stand-ups can do....

....capture in one or two lines the sum and substance of our silly but striving humanity!


USA Today reports beer in moderation "can be a health food that builds strong bones." Why? It's all in the silicon, because silcon increases bone mineral density, thereby helping to prevent osteoporosis.

You can hear the boys bellying up to the bar in every saloon in the country: "This one's for my shoulder blade... this one's for my thigh bone...this one's for my neck bone."

Considering the number bones in the human anatomy, the boys may not get home till dawn. But, damn, won't they feel stronger and bonier than ever!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010



Well, now it's official. In its April 21 edition, the Chicago Sun Times finally drove the silver stake into the heart of Christmas. Right there on page 3 for all the world to see, it lists how Americans spend over $500 billion each year on holiday gifts. But now here's where the silver stake enters the picture. While it identifies St. Patrick's Day, Easter and St. Valentine's Day by name, the 2000-year name of Christmas is nowhere to be found.

To be sure -- this is political correctness in action. Christmas is neatly grouped in with Hanukah and Kwanzan under the new name Winter Holiday. But here's the question. If my wife and I adopt two children, what do we now call our only birth-child? A triplet...?

No, I think we'd still call her by her own name!


Millions of us have become aware of -- often intimidated by -- the relentless battery of public cameras monitoring our actions. Cameras which are especially important in modern police work.

There are those who have raised alarms about a Big Brother state. Such paranoia is to be expected in a democracy where individual rights are deemed sacred. However, then there's a fellow in Darien, Connecticut who has displaced paranoia with chutzpah.

Last month he not only robbed the local bank, he did it wearing a bright blue yarmulke for the cameras to snap. Later when captured, he was heard to shrug: "So, I'm religious...!"


While the religious world is buffeted by reports about long lost gospels such as Peter, Thomas and Magdalene, there's a new story bubbling to the surface. When a tourist in the Vatican was studying statues of the Virgin Mary, he looked puzzled. A rabbi nearby asked, "May I help you?"

The tourist replied, "All these statues and paintings of Mary make her look so serious and so sad. Why is that?"

The old rabbi winked, "Maybe she was expecting a girl....!" So long as the tourist wasn't Dan Brown, no one need worry about another sequel to "The DaVinci Code."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Now here's one of my problems -- so much improbable information, I can never reach any impeccable conclusion. Which conjures up in my mind these wise Jewish rabbis sitting at the West Wall, each one "on-the-other-handing" the others. After a few hours of exhaustive theological give-and-take, the only thing left is to break for tea...!

Look, it was a given that ever since statisticians [ Rabbis or otherwise! ] got computers, they would keep generating a gazillion new studies. That's fine. Only not when each new study triggers another new study which totally contradicts the first new study. We've all seen the on-again-off-again reports about coffee...salt...dairy... aspirin ... vitamins,,,red wine...white wine...and risque women [ actually there is no statistical study on risque women, only some occasional improvised hands-on experiments ].

But now enough is enough...! Now the prestigious New York Times reports another new study that contradicts the last new study about the Internet. Just when we were beginning to believe the Internet allows us to slip into our own little cocoon of fellow thinkers/zealots, this new study says No! The new study claims the last study was wrong. The Internet is actually the "ideal marketplace of ideas" for thinkers/zealots of all kinds

Come to think of it, this new study rejecting the old study is simply returning to that even older study by Al Gore which claimed after inventing the Internet, he pronounced it "the finest tool democracy has ever had." He may be right. At least until the next new study currently being planned to investigate exactly how democratic risque women on the Internet really are...!



Does it make sense to say the ash clouds from the recent Iceland volcano somehow caused the death of the Polish President...the scandal in the Vatican...and the passage of the Health Bill?

Don't laugh! Several centuries BC there was another cataclysmic volcanic eruption, this one on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean. According to some current biblical archaeologists, the clouds of ash from this event help explain the story of the Hebrews during their Egyptian Exodus.

In furiously trying to find human explanations for biblical miracles, the scholars use these ash particles to explain everything from the ten plagues brought on Pharaoh's Egypt to Moses' parting of the Red Sea.

I'm thinking if these folks are so anxious to de-miracle our Bible, maybe they can de-curse our Cubs...!


Other serious scholars believe there are surely life forms throughout our cosmos. With trillions of stars out there, the mathematical likelihood is strong. However, what about aliens here on planet earth?

Hollywood makes a speciality of this presumption, but apparently they're not the only ones. In a recent survey of 22 countries, 20% of the respondents report they are convinced alien life forms have already reached us. And are walking among us in earthling disguise.

It seems the Chinese and Indians are most inclined to believe this, while the Swedes and Dutch are the least. Funny -- my last boss was none of these nationalities, but surely an alien life form!


Ding, dong the witch is dead/the wicked wicked witch....!

But now, sadly, so is the beloved Munchkin who pronounced her death. Mainhardt Raabe became iconic in the 13 on-screen seconds he had as the Munhckin Coroner reporting to Judy Garland that her house had fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East.

Raabe was only 3-foot-6, but he grew mammothly over the generations as one of the last surviving members of a glorious cast which continues to remind audiences all over the world: "There's no place like home..."

Monday, April 19, 2010


Here in a green new spring, a dark old debate rages hotter than ever. How did we get here? And why? For centuries, we turned to religion for answers. Recently, to science. Somehow we've confused them as toe-to-toe enemies instead of shoulder-to-shoulder allies. Big mistake....!

The face of science has come to look like Darwin and his magnificent theory of Evolution. Meanwhile, the face of religion has come to look like smarmy televangelists and scandalous cardinals. And yet, many Darwinists believe in God, and many Religionists believe in Darwin. So maybe this state-of-war between science and religion is unfounded (possibly concocted).

Einstein presciently advised: "If you can't explain it simply, you just don't understand it well enough." Agreeing with that, lets see if we can explain this simply. After the evolutionists have had their eloquent say about the origins and mutations of the species (including us), we are still left to hear from the cosmologists. Accepting that evolution has been at work from the instant of the Big Bang, what can the cosmologists tell us was there the nanosecond BEFORE the Bang?

While the evolutionists quite properly say "that's the domain of cosmologists," the cosmologists quite properly add "we don't really know." Enter a third player -- Intelligent Design. Oh no, wait a minute! Isn't that introducing religion into science, trying to sneak it into the science classroom like they've done in the Kansas and Texas school systems?

Not necessarily.

True, some ID advocates are religionist wolves in sheep's clothing. However, other ID advocates are evolutionist sheep who just look like they're in wolves clothing. What this latter group argues is that the animal & human cells that have originated and evolved ever since the Big Bang are far far more complex than Darwin could ever have imagined. And so, as they examine these eloquent animal & human complexities with their vastly more complex instrumentations, they seem to be saying: Wait, this debate is not over yet. There's solid scientific evidence of intelligent design here, and not simply accidental evolution.

Voila, God....? No, not necessarily. But these neuro-biologists do posit some kind of design at work. OK, then how does that strike the high priest of atheistic Darwinism, Professor Richard Dawkins...? In a recent interview with TV documentarian Ben Stein, Dawkins granted this much: "Well, yes, I suppose there may have been some design or designer before the Bang; but that in itself must have had some design or designer before it."

Stein -- pressing his case that Intelligent Design does not have to mean a Biblical God -- concluded: "So you're admitting, sir, there could be some design or designer if we just keep looking back far enough before the Bang?" Dawkins sniffed, "Well, If that makes you feel better...."

Stein smiled, "Yes it does. That means we need to keep looking back and back before we shut our telescopes and say case closed." I'm not at all sure Dr Dawkins agreed. I am entirely sure that I do.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


My last letter from Rome was dated the spring of 1944. My 29-year old-cousin Peter was serving as a gunner In Mark Clark's 5th Army which had just entered the city following the escaping Nazi divisions. I'm glad I saved it, because it was to be my last letter from Rome, from Peter, and from World War II. As I re-read the yellowing pages, I still treasure the words he scribbled to this admiring 14-year-old back home. And yet I fear his words might echo empty now in the spring of 2010....

"Jack, I'm not good with words, but seeing folks here cheering us with tears in their eyes makes me feel something I never felt: Pride in my country..." [66 springs later, instead I read about people angry at their country, because they say its government can't be trusted]

"I can't tell you how many of my buddies died ugly in this mud, but when we're done over here, no more wars...." [66 springs later, instead I read about new wars and why we have to keep fighting them]

"When I get home, I want you to stand up for my wedding. Dawn and I are going to raise a dozen beautiful kids..." [66 springs later, I read how marriage has sometimes become a little outdated, and having kids a little foolish]

"Yesterday, Pope Pius XII blessed the crowds in St Peters, and I was there with joy in my heart...." [66 springs later, Pius is being called a Nazi sympathizer, Benedict a criminal, and religion a fraud]

"If President Roosevelt ever comes to this city, they'll make him king for life..." [66 springs later, being an American president is more like being a target than a king, and he receives as many taunts as he does cheers]

We were told Peter died 10 days after this letter. Sniper fire from some die-hard Nazi left-behind. My hero cousin never returned to his America. The family wept for years. Sometimes, though, in a green new spring like this one, I wonder. If he were still here...

....would he recognize what many of us have become?

Thursday, April 15, 2010



Finally someone's put some facts to the face of the Tea Party movement. Up until now, it's just been splashy impressions of angry crowds cheering Sarah Palin. CBS-TV conducted a research study which confirmed three assumptions, but also revealed three surprises.

The confirmed assumptions about the followers: Mainly white, mainly anti-government, mainly anti-Obama. The three surprises: Mainly higher income, mainly better educated, mainly confused by facts.

When it comes to facts: First, the Tea Partiers were confused when reminded the government they were against was providing them with the Social Security & Medicare programs they found "very essential." Second, the Tea Partiers were confused when asked if they would still pay big money to hear Sarah Palin speak at their rallies if she wasn't "very hot?"

No chance of that, though. With the fees she's collecting, Ms Palin can afford to stay looking "hot" right up to election time...


It's official...! What you've always suspected...! You and lots of other Americans are always tired....!

The National Sleep Foundation reports that the average 25-60 year old American gets 6-7 hours of sleep leaving them chronically tired. On average we need 7-9 hours. Foundation chairman Thomas Balkin said, "One in four people report they missed work or family events because of tiredness. We call it 'poor sleep hygiene.' "

Balkin rounded up the usual suspects: Too much worry and/or too much pre-sleep stimulation such as TV watching. Who can argue with the obvious...? I just hope they didn't waste too much research funding to tell us what we already knew. Oh, and also to kill my standard excuse to my wife: "Honey, I'm just too tired to go with you...!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010



In today's global economy, it's really true: If someone sneezes in New York, they catch a cold in London and Sidney. What in the world are we to do when we are so sardined into one another's lives like this? One thought is to remember that specific corner of the fish can that belongs just to us and no one else...!

thinkers -- religious and otherwise -- have been addressing this little corner for centuries. How to seek and find and secure that part of us which is the best part?

Some find this region of their lives while praying. Other while reading. Still others while holding the ones they love close to them at night just before going to bed. The finding is an action for which there are no specific maps, only compasses. However, it's the seeking which is most important. That commitment of head and heart to strip down the grand pyramids of our lives in order to excavate from their inner chambers that which is most sacred.

Each digger has their own particular tools, but of this much I am sure. What we all eventually find is vastly more than the contained remains of our goods and our body parts. Plaques, genes, hormones and DNA -- these are only the footprints hinting at the amazing journey which continues beyond the grave...


No argument! Kitty Kelley's new tell-all book about Oprah proves once again that Oprah is Chicago. And Chicago is Oprah. Buyers are already flooding bookstores around the country. Rome may have its Coliseum...Cairo its pyramids...Oregon its bald-eagle. We've got Oprah.

Is this a good or a bad thing? Should a mayor close his city's streets and open his city's coffers to someone who doesn't even reside here? Well, those morality and money questions belong to others. All I know is I've watched her show from the wings at Harpo Studios where I once worked. When she hits that stage, they respond like the crowds did in Galilee 2000 years ago. Without Kelley on hand, other writers covered the story. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

We're left to wonder. Does Chicago have another messiah on its hands...? Or has the required resume been watered down over the centuries....? Or is it just that nobody else sees a future in being a messiah anymore...?


What traditionally siphons off the envy and anger of the poor when they look upon the rich & famous is the Great American Dream. The belief in our heart of hearts that everyone has a shot.

Xavier University just gathered some troubling news for the rich & famous looking to protect their lives from the mobs. The study shows 60% of Americans say, "It's become harder to attain the American Dream than it was for our parents' generation!" The report goes on to say, "68% think it will be harder still for our children."

Does this call for better studies or higher walls...?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The stats and facts are being endlessly debated -- global warming or not? But while academicians studiously debate in labs, others furiously rage in streets. Their rage is usually described as "social unrest." Code-name in the mahogany-paneled halls of governments and corporations for: "The raggedy poor out there getting restless as they press their envious faces against our candy store windows!"

Is there some connection between global warming and global unrest...? Think about it.

Governments and corporations quite naturally believe the restless must be contained. Thrown some chocolate to sate their rage. Roman emperors did it with bread&circuses. Welfare states do it with vacations&pensions. Capitalists do it by flying the flag of the Great American Dream to which we are told everyone has a fair shot, so cool it a while longer.

Sometimes, though, the social unrest has little to do with ideology. Often it's simply what happens to us when temperatures go up. Currently they are predicted to rise worldwide between 2 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. As sociologist Matthew DeLisi at Iowa State puts it: "Hot weather is known to fuel hot heads. And because they are now outdoors more, there are more opportunities to engage in crimes."

According to his research, the number of violent crimes in the US between 1950 and 2008 rose with the rise in temperatures. Whoa, wait a minute...! If the power-brokers in those mahogany-paneled halls start projecting these numbers, what do they see...? "If the average temperatures in the US go up 8 degrees," DeLisi projects, "we'll see an extra 100,000 assaults and murders every year." He goes on to tell "National Geographic" it's a given that such trends can also trigger food shortages, increased poverty, mass border-crossing migrations, all having the potential for wars and even genocides.

Now you'd think here are some pretty big reasons for the big boys to take global warming more seriously. But then whoever said the big boys are that smart? Oh, right, "The Wall Street Journal" does. But then notice which side of the candy-store window its editors eat...

Monday, April 12, 2010



Our backyard neighbor has a grand little garden I enjoy watching erupt each new spring. This year there's been a charming add-on. Their little girl has grown out of diapers, and hesitantly into the seat of her new tricycle. Watching her the other day from my second-floor window was a lesson in triumph...

At first she sat on it trying to reach the pedals. Then to pump the pedals.Then to maneuver the handlebars. She didn't make a great deal of progress down the sidewalk, but really it was her many pauses that were the most instructive. There she would sit, pondering her journey. To pump or not to pump? To turn or not to turn? Especially, to be or not to be?

Unlike Hamlet, she was not contemplating her death; she was speculating on her life. I couldn't hear her sing-song chattering from my window, but I'm sure I heard some of her thoughts: "Gee, I wonder how long before I get the hang of this thing...I wonder what tomorrow morning will look like...what will I do with it...what kind of tomorrows come after that...will I grow as tall as Daddy and as nice as Mommy...?"

Everything around her was static and today. The tricycle, the sidewalk, the garden, her secret observer. On the other hand, everything about her was mobile and tomorrow. Her thoughts, her questions, her hopes, her expectations, most of all her exuberant curiosity.

And so as closed the curtains of my private sky-box, a comforting thought slipped into place. Springs still happen, gardens still sprout, children still grow, their tomorrows still arrive. And with their arrival, this amazing world of ours still keeps spinning and trying and occasionally -- because of little grownup girls and boys -- succeeding.


Whether or not your parents are still alive, the operative question always remains the same. Have you ever met them...? Chances are, not likely...!

All that children see in their parents is all that their parents saw in their parents. Only what's there to see as they are, here and now. But children forget their parents were people before they were parents. They had braces and acne, hopes and dreams, youth and vigor, all nothing to do with having children.

Un-tombing their long ago youth is not easy for a child. Perhaps it's not even possible. But here's a spring-cleaning idea! Stay on the lookout for forgotten old photo albums, because somewhere, somehow, they just may house the sacred key to this soulful search... old candid of your parents before they were parents. When they were lean and young and beautiful and full of tomorrows. If you come across some unseen scene like that, hold it close in your hands as you feel the sweet tears in your eyes. This will be a meeting like none you've ever had before.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Has this ever happened to you? Sure it has! You're in your weekend grubbies picking up some milk at the store. You see some people standing outside a nearby church. Wedding or funeral, they're all in their finest. Neat black suits, sparkling white dresses, impeccably shaved and made-up. For a moment, you feel like maybe you should hide somewhere...

Here's one of those little mirrors when you suddenly look at yourself and ask: "What's really real in life? Showing up at your best at important moments, or just showing up as you are each new morning..?"

Maybe this is how to look at the question. Life comes in two parts -- the on-stage part and the back-stage part. Both really are real; but each calls for a different part and heart of us to show up. On stage -- at weddings, funerals, events -- we're inclined to bring our best self. Our best effort. I mean, this in the best sense is a performance. And performances do call for our best.

Backstage is different. Effort, yes; performance, no. Backstage -- most of those hours in most of those days in most of our life -- is mainly a matter of doing what needs to be done, more than what others expect us to do. Eating, reading, resting, watching, throwing out the garbage, getting the bills paid on time. No one's watching, so no need for a performance.

Does the difference mean our backstage self is somehow less? Not really. Just distinct, and yet at the same time, complementary. The better we use our time backstage, the better we probably have to offer when we're onstage. In an actor's terms, it calls for a good audition...good rehearsals....learning your lines...knowing when and where to move on stage.... most of all, getting to really understand the part you're playing.

If, as Shakespeare insists, life is a stage and we're all players, then the best way for the audience to get comfortable with our role, is first for us to get comfortable with it. But that, my fellow players, usually takes the better part of a lifetime...

Saturday, April 10, 2010



Scientists at the Scripts Research Institute in Florida have conducted experiments with rats (what else?) that strongly suggest: "We are now making our food very similar to cocaine. Especially junk food like cheesecake, frosting, bacon and other fatty, high-calorie foods."

If you're like me, your appetites won't want to hear the rest of this, so proceed at your own risk!

When given unlimited amounts of these foods, lab rats quickly became addicted as these meals lit up the pleasure centers of their brains. As if they were taking drugs. The more they ate, the more they needed to eat. Then when the foods were removed, the rats at first refused to eat anything at all. It was the crash after the high.

Dr Gene-Jack Wang concluded: "Fast-food meals and other heavily processed foods are stripped of fiber and nutrition, thereby designed to trigger our innate preferences for fat, sugar, and salt." So the next time you pass a MacDonald or a Burger King, remember this yummy stuff actually alters your brain chemistry in much the same way that cocaine does.

Carrots, anyone...?


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water....!

There is this other group of research scientists in England who have studied another region of the brain (the right temporoparietal junction just behind the right ear) which they say is responsible for our moral reasoning. To verify their hypothesis, they placed a painless magnetic pulse to the scalp, scrambling the electronic signals of the neurons there.

The human subjects, with this moral center now inoperative, reached moral decisions in which "they gave less emphasis to the good or bad intent of selected actions." Researcher Liane Young told BBC News: "You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior. So to be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing."

What may be still more astonishing is how today's relentless experiments by neuro-biologists seem to make of our species just another member of the animal kingdom. Slightly higher on the food chain than the baboon and dolphin, but not much...!

And thus we are left to wonder if 5000 years of philosophical & theological thought about good & evil, honor & justice, virtue & morality has been wasted on a species no more significant in the cosmos than any other pile of planetary dust?

If so, does this mean we best burn down our libraries and universities to replace them with sophisticated Orwellian human hatcheries....?

Friday, April 9, 2010


They say once our bodies grow cold enough, we slip into a state of painless semi-consciousness, and gradually die. Is this what could be happening with today's cynics? The what-the-hell shrug of those convinced to go with the flow inasmuch as it can't be changed anyway?

Often this is the cue for the old-timer to step in and say something like, "In my days, the world was a lot better place to live in." But the young cynics have heard that and refuted that many times before with, "The good old days were old, not good. You just don't remember, old man."

Here's what I remember...

Each age has a role model for its times. In the 18thC, Washington and his cherry tree. In the 19thC, Tom Sawyer and his whitewashed fence. In the 20thC, Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in the movies. Please -- no knee-jerk reaction about how all those images are only fictions. Of course they were only fictions, but fictions whose influence was far greater than mere facts!

If you intend to really know a country, don't tell me about its laws and its GNP. Tell me about its songs and especially its popular role models. We can't bring back George Washington, and Tom Sawyer seems a long way ago. But most nights you have one of the 16 "Andy Hardy" movies from MGM, produced in glorious black&white between the years 1937 and 1958. Years when America was deep in a depression. Deep in a world war. Deep in a cold war.

In other words, Americans weren't a naive society dancing their way through buttercup times. And still, Rooney's puckish, irrepressible Andy Hardy was the number one box office hit in the world. City after city. Year after year. What did these cotton-candy scripts have that so held the hearts of kids, parents, politicians, and soldiers alike?

Ahh, now here's where the old-timer has the edge over his hard-living, hard-loving iPhone and iPad generation going with the flow. He remembers something from America they can't access on their technology. Exactly what...? Well, there's really nothing exact about it....! You simply have to immerse yourself in these small-town USA Andy Hardy films, and sorta get the feel that 200 million Americans back then sorta felt.

Careful, though! The experiment doesn't mean you have to believe 150 million Americans believed everything Andy and his family believed. But for the experiment to work, you do have to believe this is pretty much what 150 million Americans wanted to believe, because they felt these were the right things they should believe --

America is a good place to live...neighborhoods and neighbors are good to have...parents love their love their parents....everyone respects their teachers, their police and their president....boys and girls fall in and out of love more than in and out of bed...goals are good...honesty is right....honor is rewarded...happiness is possible...God smiles over our nation...oh, and we're still trying to learn how to make this Equality thing work.

Music up. Fade to black....

Thursday, April 8, 2010


No argument here! Steve Jobs and his new iPad have all the makings of the second coming of Moses on the mountain top, carrying brand new tablets for the people. "Time," "Newsweek," "The New York Times" and virtually every print medium was quick to salute their own demise...!

Well, not exactly demise. However, from now on it's very likely that millions more each year will be reading, watching, computing and gaming on this, Apple's revolutionary evolution of the personal computer. Ever since time began, there has been Male and Female. Now there is also iPad.

There will be few people at the foot of this mountain who will challenge the new Moses. Or his sacred tablets. Progress is progress, and the iPad is surely progress in every way. Except, maybe, for two among us. The Monk and the Amish. While I have no personal relationship with either, I'm imagining how a conversation among the three of them might sound:

Steve: "I have come to set you free."

Monk: "Free from what?"

Steve: "From the time&space limits of your everyday world."

Monk: "But I am not of this world; my world is in the life of the spirit."

Amish: "And in my world, time&space are not something we try to overcome; instead, to take in stride."

Steve: "I'm not saying everyone needs the iPad; but I am saying, everyone can gain something with it."

Amish: "Ahh, but gaining things like faster and easier isn't quite what we're all about."

Monk: "And actually, Steve, gaining something makes no sense once you've already found everything."

Steve: "Well, thanks for listening, fellas. [LONG PAUSE] But, you know, maybe I should come down from here, and listen to you for awhile!"

Cue the lightening...! Oh, and also the enlightening...!



Richard Roper is a thoughtful journalist, and yet in his April 15 column he offers us a perfectly thoughtless idea. An idea that ripples far beyond his own self-promoting purposes. He defends his appearances on any and all outlets (Fox, Leno, Stern), because as he instructs us: "This is the land of I believe it's perfectly acceptable to tell your stories on a wide variety of stages."

It's not his instructions here that bother me; it's their implications. Roper weighs his book-promoting appearances based on a "I go by how people treat me" scale. By implication, that tells me he would therefore cooperate with any City Council member who treats his parking tickets for any candidate who treats him and his career generously any general and his war who treats his opinions favorably.

Richard, this may be "a land of opportunity," but using your logic, I wonder what kind of news favors you would have shown Nazi candidates running in the elections of the 30s? I mean, if they had "treated" you nicely, would you have felt comfortable returning the favor? See -- this is what I mean about the ripple-effect implications of your logic. A logic my three grandchildren unfortunately just read and quoted...


When Dan Brown invited himself to daVinci's "Last Supper," he concocted a colorful collection of villains for the price of his headline-making book. But for all his jaw-dropping implications about the famous painting, he forgot the meal itself!

Nowhere does his "DaVinci Code" address what the food on the table might have been telling us. I mean, while he was busy de-constructing 2000 years of researched religious history, why one wonders didn't he find something conspiratorial about the food itself?

Turns out he didn't have to. Others now have. Not authors, but art experts. The "Los Angeles Times" reports they can document that in the "52 renderings of the Last Supper painted between the years 1000 and 2000 (eg. El Greco, Rubens, etc), the size of the loaves of bread grew by 23%. and the meal itself by 66%."

So here's the thing, Dan...! What you may have missed is the "conspiracy" of how the Western world has been seduced into eating bigger, and growing fatter ever since that long ago Seder.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Of course you're all busy. But here's a quick test for you anyway....

How can a 21stC American adult measure happiness? I realize that's an imperfect question to a perfectly immeasurable inquiry, but bear with me a moment.

In scanning today's news, literature, and screens, I submit there is one recurring answer. Happiness has something to do with a creative combination of the following: Power...Wealth...Beauty...Military/Political/Corporate Status. Name a headline or a storyline or a songline that doesn't say this!

OK, now meet 13-year-old Aaron Gyllenhaal who lives near where I grew up on the westside of Chicago: Columbus Park. Leafy, lovely, green Columbus Park is one of the last to have been created in Chicago's splendid panoply of public parks. Now, every year, Aaron does what I used to do. Count the White-Fronted Geese that use this turf- grass habitat as a stopover snack bar on their way between Central America and the Arctic Circle.

Aaron and I don't know each other, but over an 80-year period we somehow have shared the very same tiny green happiness from tracking these magnificent heather-colored birds. He knows all about them, because he's part of the Audubon Conservatory Sanctuary Program out there. In my time, I didn't have access to such data. And yet, I'm sitting here imagining our uncelebrated happiness-quotient strolling Columbus Park was (and is) higher than any that will be reached by the world's rich-and-famous.

Big unsubstantiated boast, you say...? Well, just go ahead and see how many of the rich-and-famous know anything about White-Fronted Geese families chomping across the green green grasses of our Columbus Park...!


I regret to report three new victims of the Catholic Church pedophile scandal. I found them on a North Michigan Avenue elevator between the 5th and 6th floor...!

A middle-aged priest got on. Instinctively the mother of a young boy tugged her son closer as she whispered, "Stay away from men like that!"

Adding to the inexcusable tragedy of this Church scandal, what we passengers were witnessing was the further tragedy of three new victims: A panicked parent, a confused child, and one of the vast majority of scandal-free clergy whose image and service have suffered for the crimes of a few.

Justice must now be served, swiftly and surely. But as it is, multiply these three additional victims by a factor of, say a thousand, and you have an idea of what some terribly errant men have done to an entire church. And an entire city. The hope is the guilty few do not go on to stain the work of the guiltless many. Because if it does -- like on that elevator -- what is already a tragedy for some becomes a paralyzing disaster for all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Everyone forgets. Names, dates, events. Not even the most sophisticated iPad or GPS will be able to help us remember everything we should remember. However, it is immensely important to understand the distinction between forgetting and unremembering....!

It's possible to forget the day you first fell in love -- but it should be impossible to unremember why you did. Likewise, why you chose this career, moved to this community, celebrated this event, visit this cemetery. To unremember what should be memorable is an act of sacrilege. History bursts with memorables -- from Christians dying in the Coliseum to Jews dying in the Holocaust, from Jonas Salk curing Polio to Neil Armstrong walking the Moon.

We each walk the world with distinct memorables of our own. Little moments and large discoveries which must not be taken for granted along with such all-too-common unremembereds like the day mom helped us take our first step, and dad toss our first ball.

Some among us -- saints and poets -- try to take upon them self to never unremember the little epiphanies which first opened such large lessons. In all likelihood, each of these will find an echo in your own heart: Bullies when challenged will cry...neighbors when asked will help...clergy when needed will come... Christmas will arrive even after Santa has left it...cops when indispensable will act indispensably... Wrigley Field's dark concrete innards will always emerge into green ivy and lawn. Also, planes are faster than buses and buses faster than streetcars, but streetcars meant time to think before you acted....movies may be in 3-D technicolor, but life itself is usually in 2-D black&white....when they say with a tear they will never forget you, remember they always do...oh, and in this great gleaming world of new technology, so far it still takes us to turn them on.

If we forget incidentals, certainly we can forgive ourselves that. But if we unremember what the world has revealed to us, we cannot forgive that! And we must not forgive that! For if we fail to bring what we've learned to the distracted attention of tomorrow's learners, tomorrow becomes even less than yesterday. Which would make those of us living today the most forgettable generation of all.

Monday, April 5, 2010


We've always been told, "Little boys are made of frogs & snails, and puppy dogs' tails; little girls are made of sugar & spice, all that's nice." Then, my friends, came the iPad....!


We've always been told that taxes are too high, too unfair, and all they do is re-distribute the wealth from the good guys to spread among the not-so-good guys. Actually, aren't taxes the rent we pay for living here? And if social justice isn't your thing, then consider this. Re-distribution does have the effect of keeping the hurting have-nots from rising up and slaughtering the haughty haves in their beds. Check the Caesars and Machiavelli on that...!


Everyone carries special images inside us. Frozen-in-time national moments like Washington at Valley Forge... Lincoln at Gettysburg...FDR flashing a smoke over Pearl Harbor...that nameless GI endlessly shot in that B&W film from the Normandy beaches...Sinatra belting, Elvis rocking, the Godfather brooding, man walking on the moon, Wall Street ticker tape, Vegas showgirls and Babe Ruth pointing to the Wrigley Field bleachers. These and 101 more.

So which 1 in those 101 is the one you most closely carry....?

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The Associated Press reports almost 7 million American households are now home to three generations of family members. A 30% spike since 2000. The poor job market has squeezed 'boomerang kids' back home to live with their parents after college. And grandparents too, who can't afford the increasingly costly and/or impersonal senior communities.

What we have here is what was once old but now becoming new again -- "The Waltons."

If you're too young to remember that popular old TV series featuring the narrative voice of John-Boy, then you're too young to finish reading this. But not too young to be living at home, where millions of Americans are discovering (re-discovering?) the assets and debits of sharing meals and memories with three generations.

I did. Some of you did. Some of you may soon do the same. With what social/psychological consequences? Well, the professional behaviorists may have a tough job profiling an adequate answer, because now each generation can exist inside and at the same time outside any place in their world. It's called personal communicators.

So -- Mom, Dad, Grams -- maybe I'll met you at the refrigerator some night; but in the meantime, just pretend me and my pc aren't here...!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


For one small sad moment, imagine a world like this.

A world of wombs without fetuses...hearts without loves...minds without thoughts...Springs without birds....Junes without marriages...Winters without Christmases...moons without lovers...pitchers without batters...organs without choirs...pianos without fingers...newspapers without readers...."The Wizard of Oz" without "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"...dreams without dreamers...oceans without beach parties...passions without purposes...prophets without followers...teachers without students...parents without pride...kites without kids....and constitutions without devotees.

A perfectly dreadful place. A world with all potential and no payoff!

One has to wonder sometime if this has not become the fate of our own hard-earned 1st Amendment. To have shed blood to achieve it, to have spilled ink to compose it, to have fought to preserve it, what are we left with...? Perhaps you hear and see what I do. Blind, blistering arguments in Congress, in sports bars, on commuter trains, on college campuses, in board rooms, in backrooms, in the Wrigley Field bleachers and on the worldwide web.

A cacophony of ranting voices exercising this sacred right like a fraternity gang chug-a-lugging vintage champagne. There's something almost sacrilegious here. Oh, we are assured that this is how democracy works; that such public-forum messiness can eventually translate into legislative majesty; that when Mr Smith goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart can eventually warm the cold heart of Claude Rains in the final reel.

I'm no longer sure.

And so it is that we live in a great irony. More freedom of speech being exercised by more citizens in more formats than ever before. From the office water-coolers to the family dinners, from our barbershops to our beauty salons, from our town halls to our street marches, and from talk radio to 24/7 cable. And yet, I feel the restless stirrings of our Founding Fathers in their graves who hear this babble of angry dis-informed voices, and whisper: "Don't you yet understand? Reason not rage is what we tried to enshrine in this amendment. If all you can bring to it is your rage, how will your reason ever prevail...?"

Friday, April 2, 2010


Wherever we look these days there are Save signs. Save the the our our us from the government. Often the true believers march or conduct vigils to drive home their point for the media. So far, though, darn few marches or candles for our most endangered species: The local merchant!

America -- especially blue-collar cities like Chicago -- has been built by the sweat and swagger of local retailers. Butchers and bakers, barbers and beauticians, tailors and shoemakers, bookstores and florist shops, plus cozy mom&pop stores of all kinds.

Instead of faceless franchises owned somewhere by invisible bankers, these are friends and neighbors. Sure, you're sympathetic. But so long as you keep trekking to the flashy malls and buying on the glitzy websites -- poof! there goes a big chunk of America.

But here's the problem...

Once people get something fixed in their mind (really, their gut) it's hard to dislodge it. For instance the recent Toyota debacle. Overnight, the company's prestige crumbled. A new and disquieting narrative about their product took hold of the American mind (gut). Despite a massive PR campaign by Toyota, this negative narrative is lingering. Very much like the negative narrative about local merchants being unable to compete with the big boys.

True or not (and it has often been proved "not"), this narrative may have found its way into our minds (gut) to the eventual detriment of Little Local America. You don't have to be old to start missing the sweet-used-to-be...

Thursday, April 1, 2010


"Go, West, young man, go west!" While Horace Greeley uttered that grand call back in the roaring frontier days of the 19th C, the old fox stayed East and made a fortune. Still, I hear his voice echoing in my April thoughts. Last week I did go West, and found something I never expected...

Like most of you, I've spent a little time in the Grand Canyon, Big Sur, the Canadian Rockies, Provence and Tuscany. The sights pour over your senses like an ocean of sinful pleasure. You find yourself drowning in inexpressible natural grandeurs. But you never quite expect to find any of this just 20 miles west of Chicago.

One sun-dappled afternoon I traveled west of O'Hare Airport on Irving Park Road in search of an appointment. As whenever I wander more than an hour outside my own community, I proceeded with exact predictability to get myself lost. And no sweet-talking GPS avatar was able to help! Ahh, but what joy getting lost turned out to be. Made me think of an old adage I could never really believe before: "Happiness is being able to enjoy the scenery on a detour."

Twisting and turning on these western roadways, I soon found myself in a series of cozy green hamlets lined with staunch white fences protecting proud paneled homes. Like being snatched up inside a Norman Rockwell illustration where neighbors are chatting over front-porch coffees, and kids are giggling in squadrons of tricycles.


Or had I just eased into one of those B&W "Twilight Zone" episodes in which Rod Serling is on another relentless search for his lost innocence? For a moment, I think I wanted to think so. But the car clock snapped me back to attention as I realized I was now late for my appointment.

What to do...? Fact versus fantasy! Reality versus remembrances! One look at this lost little world of yesteryear Americana, and I could only do the right thing. I stopped the out to stroll the streets...and felt not a pang of guilt. That terribly important appointment grew remarkably small in the light of this surprisingly large discovery.

And that's what can happen to you traveling just a little west of Chicago....!