Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Lady Ga Ga promenades through the Yankees club house with black bra and matching panties bursting out from a half-opened baseball jersey...jihadists recruit pregnant women for their suicide offers female Viagra pills...the Venter Institute vows to perfect its recent synthetic life experiments ...and the Chicago Cubs raise their ticket prices to see one of the worst teams in baseball.

This can only mean one thing. George Santayana was right: "Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

When everyone from performers to pharmaceuticals feel the need to excel by exceeding, it makes you wonder. Is there anything left in our world that's enough just the way it is? Has no one reached a place where they can feel satisfied, at least for a small while? Or is the frenzy to zoom higher -- here in America labeled "aspiration" -- so relentless that we must remain forever restless?

To aspire is good; to obsess, much less so. And yet here we are, a culture of obsessions. And obsessors. Pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box, going for the gold. Enough is never enough. Which of course dooms us to an eternal fascination of frustrations.

Aesop told the wonderful tale of the dog who had a great slab of red meat in his mouth, and was about to make a mighty meal of it. But then he saw himself in the reflection of a pool. Couldn't stand finding another dog with something he didn't have. He jumped into the water; lost his meal; ended up wet, hungry and maybe a little wiser.

Enough just wasn't enough....!

Today, Aesop's little wisdom would be counter-culture and surely counter-intutive to any CEO, Wall Street hustler, oil driller, sales manager, think tank director, or general. More is the name of today's game, especially when you're in first place and can't bear the thought of second.

I couldn't help think about all this the last time I visited Rome and London. People there -- especially on a lazy summer day -- seemed a whole lot more content without their old hard-driving, first-place empires...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Who was it that said this...? Maybe Donald Trump or Bernie Madoff. "The winner in life is the one with the most toys at the end of the game." It's the plot by which many live, and call their version of the golden rule. With much more wisdom, Bertolt Brecht said instead: "Do not fear death so much, but rather living an inadequate life."

Either way we choose to live our life,
the Pew Research Center reports 58% of Americans expect life to change apocalyptic-ally by the year 2050. By then we expect either another world war, or the second coming of Christ. The US census Bureau's approach is considerably more statistical when they project by 2050 more than 50% of our population will be non-white.

Of course all this assumes our world won't already have come to an end on December 21, 2012. As predicted by the History Channel's favorite theme: the ancient Mayan Calendar!

Here's the point...

How really does our species measure life while we're still living it? Monks go to mountain tops....philosophers to campus seminars...poets to their pens...and musicians to their instruments. What's left for the rest of us? Well, in lands with caste systems there is always the privileges of your caste. In lands with tribal systems there is always the protection of your tribe.

In lands with a free-enterprise system like the United States, there is money. Money is the ultimate measure of most everything -- success, power, celebrity, court settlements, medical cures, and yes sometimes marriages. When you have neither nobility nor clan to resort to, cash is king!

The funny thing about cash is how the poor condemn it as "not buying happiness," and the rich approve it by spending it. But alas now claims to have put the matter to the test. And thus to rest. It states: "Money does not buy happiness," based on experiments among hundreds of subjects. Their conclusion: "When above the poverty level, the acquisition of money has little bearing on one's happiness, because wealth makes delights that were already accessible seem less enticing...."

Now if you want to study the full experiment, that will cost you some cash. You need a good computer.

Monday, June 28, 2010


We may not all understand counterpoint, but we can all appreciate this blending of different melody lines in music. It's what helps give majesty to a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven symphony, or a Dixieland riff. However, it's not always so easy to listen to the counterpoint in our everyday lives. Where different melody lines bang more than blend into one another.

Consider some glaring examples...

* Cops & Courts ~ All too often, the blue-uniformed team rounds up the bad guys in whatever ways it takes; then the black-robed team often seem to let them go free because of "the law." Each side holds fast to the propriety of their methods. Each side often rejects and resents the other. We could probably use a gifted composer to harmonize these differences; but in a democracy we simply have to work it out for ourselves

* Docs & Diets ~ The medical profession is almost on daily alert with its dire warnings about salt, sugar and fat. The irony here is that salt, sugar and fat are precisely what excite our taste buds. Even addicts them. The frustrations attached to this disharmony are not only psychological (driving millions to the latest health regimen), but even theological (driving other millions to wonder how could a good God be this cruel)

* Overt & Covert ~ In whatever wars we wage (legal, political, military) there is usually a vast difference between how we fight it in public and how we do it down-and-dirty in private. Until the Viet Nam war and the Watergate Cover-up went on television for all to see, a long history of my-country-right-or-wrong soured into a 24/7 gotcha media. Today's headlines are not so much about our overt heroes, but rather our covert spies and assassins and tricksters. The disharmony between what should be
and what is has grown exponentially

How then are we to survive, existing inside this giant contradiction of melody lines? Between what we usually say and what we often do? Well, here's a better question.Talking about music, what kind do you -- in the safety of your own home -- find yourself tapping and jumping to? Now admit it, you do sometimes! Maybe its Rock, Dixie, Blues even Rap. Whatever it may be, keep dancing to it. Its harmony may just help you survive the world's disharmony.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Willie Nelson -- whose craggy face catches some of the wisdom and weariness of life -- said recently: "Rednecks, hippies, misfits; we're all the same." In the same newspaper edition, CBS announced its new boxed set of the classic "Leave it to Beaver" TV series.

The series was on the air during a gentler time, just after the Korean War and just before the assassination of President Kennedy (1957-1963). On the other hand, Willie Nelson's America has been around from the very first time the Colonials started battling the Native Americans for their land.

Which of the two Americas we wish to see depends largely on which America we prefer to see. These may be opposites, but philosophers have long argued that the finest minds are those which can hold and fathom opposing ideas all at the same time. Philosophers usually advocate subtle grays, not glaring blacks or whites.

The gray of Willie's ragamuffin world of proud hellions is no grayer than the Beaver's idyllic world of domestic harmony. It's just as real, just as compelling. Still, societies from always seek more harmony than hell. Our families, our schools, our religions and our governments all preach this. How then to balance these opposites...?

Tony Calvo -- wherever he is today! -- was my first and most enduring example of a hellion who did not and would not "fit in." He was my 7th grade locker partner who spent more time in the principal's office than anywhere else. Until he finally left school for a life of on-the-road freedom and mis-behavior. I, like the rest of Tony's class, stayed put, followed the rules, and occasionally wonder how much Tony's life was different than ours.

I always enjoyed Beaver's happy television family. I actually lived it as a kid back in the same neighborhood I shared with Tony.You see, fiction and fancy are not always foolish....! Especially when you discover they can come true. On the other hand, Tony and Willie and all the other passionate rebels without a cause continue to make more colorful stories. Even legends.

So here's a toast to them...from the safety and security of Beavers like me!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


This really has to stop! I mean, really, this can't go on! Michael Jackson is only the latest example of our nasty nature!

Why oh why do we always wait until someone is dead before we choose to say and feel something good about them? To test this question, pay attention at the next wake, and see if you can bear the mawkish gusher of goodness people finally find in the life of the deceased. I always picture the corpse rising up and snarling: "Where were you when I was still alive, and could have used some of those feelings...?"

Psychiatry has an explanation for this, but stripped down to its essentials, it's simply our prideful defenses now being safely dropped. There's no longer any reason to be on guard. Which is a kind of silliness that borders on madness.

Classic examples in public life are the obvious. Lincoln was a war-mongering buffoon the day before he was assassinated, a national god the day after! FDR was a secret socialist who insisted on four unprecedented terms in office as far as his enemies were concerned; the day he dropped dead in Warm Springs, he suddenly had no enemies!

Marilyn ...JFK...Bobby...Martin...Elvis...Lennon ...Princess Diane...and now Michael. In one big collective epiphany, the masses quickly find compassion in their hearts and love on their tongues. The same applies to all the kids gunned down in the streets of gang-infested cities, whose grades and goodness would never have made any front page any other way.

Marilyn Monroe's biographer callously -- but accurately -- quipped that her death made her an icon. "Best damn career move she ever made." Sometimes, though, death only brushes us; as with Pope John Paul and President Reagan. If we survive with their kind of forgiving panache, we are rightly endeared to them.

But just think how much more so if only those bullets had really found their target....!

Friday, June 25, 2010


This coming 4th of July we will celebrate the birth of the United States. But now 234 years later, we have to wonder exactly how united our many different states-of-mind really are. Diversity has always made us more "pluribis" than "unum;" however, never more so than this coming 4th.

In the past, we divided mostly along racial, ethnic and religious boundaries. While those rifts are still splattered with the blood of our prides and prejudices, the newest rifts among us run dangerously deeper. Right down to the loosening tectonic plates upon which our nation was built. Listening to those upcoming speeches and songs, we won't hear these rifts. But we may be able to sense them in between some of the lines and the lyrics.

About a third of us feel a sinking sensation of national helplessness [Nothing's going right, but at my age if I can just hold on a few years more, I won't give a damn!].

Another third feel an angry sensation beckoning them to political protest [Washington is broken, but I'm still young enough to fix it by bringing back the America I remember!]

The youngest third feel what youth always feels: Give the reins to us [We'll ride this bronco the way it should be, because the world belongs to the young!]

If that adds up to near 100%, what small slice of us are left to still recall and recapture a very different set of national feelings? The feelings that surged through the tattered ranks at Valley Forge...that thrilled to the boom years of the great new paddlewheelers and railroads...that inflamed the troops on both sides of Gettysburg, because they really knew what they were willing to die for....that made us charge into the 20th century in love with our explosion of cars and highways and radios and television sets and penicillin and vaccines and the all-for-one battle-cry that kept the plagues of Nazism and Communism from consuming our planet.

Those national feelings must still burn somewhere. But maybe now only as embers to be stirred every 4th rather than as torches to be carried back home with us. It's this small slice of us who may yet decide "unum" rules over "pluribus." Who may yet be willing to hear the trumpets from the leaders they elected. Who may yet sense our Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, was right that July 1776 when he said: "Now we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately...."

Thursday, June 24, 2010


It was about 2 AM at the blacked out military base in Chicago's O'Hare Field. Today it's one of the busiest airports in the world; in April 1951 it was where our 126th Light Bombardment squadron was stationed during the Korean War. I was on guard duty...

Just then I saw it -- sleek and silent -- the "Enola Gay." The B-29 that had dropped the fateful bomb six years earlier on Hiroshima. In the succeeding 70 months our world had changed forever. Now here I was guarding the instrument of death itself.

Today there remains only one survivor of that crew, Theodore Van Kirk. At age 89 he's like most WWII vets. Unhesitatingly sure it was the right thing to do to shorten a horrific war that had no end in sight. With my own family members stationed for a daunting homeland invasion of Japan that year, I was sure too. Still am, given that far more civilian deaths were caused by conventional weapons.

And yet, I can't forget the feeling of black awe that filled me as I found myself talking to that mass of gray metal. For its part, It offered nothing in return. It had already spoken everything it had to say.

I now live only a few minutes from O'Hare Field and what had been the "Enola Gay's" home that long ago night. I still find myself straining to hear if I missed anything....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


It's only a skip and a jump from helplessness to hopelessness. Helplessness -- as metamorphosed by the image of that relentless gusher -- has become the media's favorite bete noire. As they eagerly circle the carcasses of our catastrophes in banking, schooling, unemployment and warfare, we are daily reminded everything seems to be failing.

"World's Super Power Helpless to save Itself!"

That has just the right apocalyptic touch to it. But lest we forget, it's not unlike other apocalyptic moments of historic helplessness: Pharaoh confronting the plagues...Christ on the Cross...Napoleon at Waterloo....Lincoln facing military defeat after defeat ...FDR's vision for the CCC & TVA denounced everywhere as secret socialism Obama staked daily to the bonfires lit by naysayers from both left and right.

No one can deny today's dizzying episodes of national helplessness. However, in the final measure only History can meet the demands of this foundational question: How exactly did we reach this hazardous precipice?

When the textbooks are written in some distant day, they may be compelled to start by choosing between a Who or a What line of reasoning. If the Who, then the books will largely recount the crush of poor decisions by our leaders. If the What, the books will largely recount the crush of global events so large and intractable they were often beyond the reach of most human decisions. Global warming, global terrorism, global finances, global hatreds.

Now if future historians take this second slant, their title for our times might read something like: "Too Big To Solve." What's more, it's entirely likely future readers will tend to agree. Especially as they mull over how much worse it could have all been had we been led during these frightful years by an even more imperfect leader.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The infamous Catch-22 in the WWII Army was when you had to be sane enough to file a responsible request for relief of duty due to insanity. A logical impossibility. And in case you haven't noticed, it applies in civilian life too.

Consider poor Brittney Horstman, a Florida lawyer. She was recently banned from visiting her client in prison because her under-wire bra set off the metal detectors, OK, so she removed her bra. But not so fast. The guards now refused her entry because bralessness violated prison dress code.

For Brittney, this was her Split-Second. One of those unpredictable, unbelievable instants in which everything seemed to turn on a dime. Nothing she knew quite prepared her for this bizarre career snag.

We all have un-announced Split Seconds in our lives. Usually more startling than Brittney's. That dinner date when you gazed across the table and it suddenly clicked into place -- this is the one! Or the morning the test reported -- yes, we were pregnant! Or that day when the doctor called and quietly reported -- I'm sorry, but it's malignant! Or that night at the airport when you changed planes at the last minute -- later hearing your original flight had crash killing all on board! Or that cemetery scene when the only way you could explain that rush of comfort was -- well, to you it was God!

We consider ourselves a rational species. Fine, only rationality is not the same as control. In each of our lives there are those unpredictable and uncontrollable sequences of events -- fate, destiny, Karma -- that abruptly play out. When they do, even our finest planning and sharpest efforts are subject to their sudden whiplash. They become that Split Second which forever distinguishes everything that came before it from everything that now comes after it.

Ready...? Don't be silly. Of course not.

Monday, June 21, 2010


If ever you've walked the lonely streets of the city at night, you can sense it. Among the echos of empty avenues dotted with the occasional street cleaner and patrolling squad car, you can sense how the world is made up of night people and day people. Two very different creatures, really.

Just like other two's: Right brained and left brained...young and and poor...believers and non-believers ...Democrats and Republican...Wall Street and Main Street...celebrities and anonymous...optimists and pessimists .... sane and insane [well, the distinctions between these two are a little harder to pin down].

Here's the point. Each of us is an amazingly unique and unrepeatable act. But in that uniqueness we tend to pair off into either one thing or its opposite. Seems so much simpler that way. Something like the binary rule in the world of computers, where there is either 1 or 0. Everything else flows from these opposites

But does it...?

Perhaps computers require the credulity of a simple binary system, but humans are more complicated than that. No matter how black-and-white our simplistic minds insist on dividing the world, there are at least three not two of everything. Somewhere tucked in between our favorite extremes, there are an infinite number of nuanced a-little-of-this-and-a-little-of-that thinking.

These are the folks who don't quite fit under the simple auspices of either of the two extremes. These are the on-the-hand thinkers and doers. These are those among us who are blessedly cursed with a third eye with which to see just a little more than our passionate either/or zealots.

Come to think of it, this notion of threes versus twos can be found in the most important places. For instance, in the West we have the Holy Trinity. In the East we have the three Hindu Gods of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And everywhere we now have the three genders of humanity: Male, Female & Computer.

Maybe it's time to shed the simple, and get more complicated. As God (or Evolution) intended. The only losers might be today's self-righteous either/or zealots clattering from Alaska to Washington and from FOX to MSNBC. A loss I could live with....!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Here's the scene. Angry child goes to bedroom, slams door, and secretly rants: "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" Doesn't solve the issue with mommy and daddy, but it does relieve the rage.

Short leap from that scenario to today's BP scenario. Today we have a parade of I-can't-quite-read-the-questions-my-aide-wrote Congressmen, plus a barrage of blistering editorials, plus cable pundits ripping the president's performance in the Oval Office [accent on "performance" as if this were Oscar Night], all capped off by the network news snapping shots of Tony Hayward sailing, while eager reporters juxtapose closeup shots of hurting Gulf survivors.

Feel good and angry now...?

Three-year-olds might, but voters shouldn't. This catastrophe is far too troubling to be relieved by shoot-from- the-hip hysterics. Humanity is being reminded once again that it has a magnificent tiger by the tail. It's called technology. It made America what it became in the 20th C, and now it has swept us to dizzying new heights from which we either leap blindly or pause to ask a few more of the unasked questions.

All establishments (military, medical, energy, computer) begin with "If I can dream it, I can do it." Few, in this age of racing-to-be-first, pause very long over "If I do do it, does this serve the general welfare as well as the stockholders?"

In the eager hands of science itches keys that promise to unlock cosmic secrets. About our universe, our planet, our resources, and oh by the way our very human existence. Aristotle, Galileo, Newton and Einstein would have paid for the privilege. Would it be too much to presume they would have occasionally interrupted the stockholders' annual meeting with that question...?

And would it be too easy to suspect they would have usually been shouted down...?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


The cosmic clockworks have once more clicked and meshed into their solstice place. The warm whispers of summer are now fast upon us. Each of our seasons has a claim to our heart, but, oh, summer is really what life ought to be. Fat red suns inside azure blue skies...greenery bursting and budding everywhere...wild gardens ripening into fierce colors and and puppy dogs scampering ....young lovers loving...elders remembering.

What can be bad? And if you insist on reminding us of the humidity and insects, you're dis-invited from the banquet.

Summer is like a piece of plump fruit. To fully appreciate it, you have to bite into it. And true to form, the biters are all around us. Lean bare bodies beaching and jogging along the city lakefront. Picnickers on red-checkered table-clothes juggling plates of chicken breasts and potato salads. Boaters and concert-goers, strollers and sleepers, players and punks. They're all out there, each to his or her particular devotion.

There's this worldly-wise Swedish proverb: A year without summer is like a life without love.

OK, I'll admit there can be some downsides to the season. One I no longer am held prisoner by -- the social pressure of striding the beaches and parks in a bathing suit. When you're young and scrawny, the pressure can be excruciating. When you're old and flabby, you no longer give a damn!

Another terrible summertime curse -- the media's pressure to find something to write about. Behold today's New York Times. The editors chose to splash a front page story challenging the White House's description: "This is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." I know all about freedom of speech and the value of historical scholarship. And yet, the story reminded me of a manger telling his charging fighter in round five: "Well look, kid, you don't have to try so hard. After all, other fighters have had tougher battles."

While I disavow my old bathing suit, perhaps this reporter can disavow his invitation that we "put our Gulf efforts into calmer perspective." Now pass the lemonade...

Friday, June 18, 2010


It's been said that in politics, two wrongs make a precedent. We're now waiting to see if a second court case goes the same amazing way the Sharma decision went this week in India. In the city of Pune, Aditi Sharma became the first person on record to be convicted of murder based on a brain scan....!

This has caused philosophers as well as lawyers to weigh in. Has modern neuroscience actually reached the point where it can begin supplementing 5000 years of Judeo-Christian ethics in matters of human behavior? The prosecution suggested so when it argued the MBA student had given her former fiance sweets laced with arsenic. She denied it, but a Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test (BEOS) "proved" she was lying.

The prosecution successfully argued the test proved she had "experiential knowledge of the murder." The judge stated, "the expertise of the BEOS operator can in no way be challenged." He sentenced her to life imprisonment

The case is on appeal, but suggests how some neuroscientists are resolutely deterministic in their understanding of the human being. In their view, the mind is the brain and the brain is the mind. In effect, our ideas and our behavior have physical explanations which apparently transcend such traditional constructs as fairness, altruism, love, beauty and free will.

Time and the Indian courts will decide this case. But the ethical cat is out of the bag. Modern secular thinking has been traveling the slippery slope of defining us by our physicality for years. Now the slope grows more insistent. A leading American biologist, Anthony Cashmore, has gone so far as to write in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Progress in our understanding of the chemical basis for behavior will make it increasingly untenable to retain a belief in the old concept of free will....."

Whoops...are we starting to slip off the slope?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is more than matter that matters in this existence. And that assumption includes fathers....

This is not only the starting point for many theologians, but even for many Big Bang theorists. Because they cannot explain how and why the Bang occurred, some reluctantly yield to the possibility of some pre-design. They're not creationists -- that might jeopardise their cosmological credentials -- but they do grant there may have been some design preceding the Bang. Not necessarily a biblical God, but something.

Among these reluctants stands the 21st C's leading atheist, Richard Dawkins of Oxford and best-selling-author fame. Like your own Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Hawking and Dawkins postulate we each exist in a vast cosmic maelstrom as temporary custodians of this cellular mass we call a body. A mass whose matter will continue swirling on in this maelstrom long after our deaths.

However, nowhere have these luminaries had anything to say about the matter-less matter of fatherhood. Rushing to fill that embarrassing scientific void, some of us have simply concluded: A father is, at heart, a man who expects his children to be as good as he meant to be.

If true, here may be the best example of why matter is not all that matters. For while the materialist logic of evolution can explain a father's genetic passage into his children, evolution is silent about the matter-less design behind those paternal expectations. In other words, why really should he care?

But we do, each in our own way, and this caring surely has more to do than with our genetic disposition to survive. Ask any evolutionist to explain why a father rushes late at night to an ER or a police station where his child has been injured or arrested. To reduce his fierce concern to the mere matter of cellular matter would not only insult my own good Father, but all the good fathers that came before him.

So a salute to fathers and fatherhood this month. Not to their genes, but the genuineness of their love...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Here in Park Ridge we claim celebrities like Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford as our own. But also Thomas Frost. He died this week at age 88, but is survived by his 1967 creation, Officer Friendly. The ubiquitous, blue-uniformed visitor who reminded our children of the many ways the police "serve and protect."

It's a good image, but maybe with some graying at the edges. Why? Because in today's more sophisticated, hurry-up age, kids barely have time to accept Santa Claus let alone Officer Friendly. It's a great time for them to learn, to explore, and to travel like no other generation before them. And yet, also a great time to doubt, to challenge, to nourish an abiding cynicism.

When kids see and experience so much so soon, it's not as easy to convince them authority can be gentle...good deeds still exist....everyone new is not a threat...and following the rules is not being dorky.

Mr Frost was a friendly neighbor here in Park Ridge. Let me guess -- Park Ridge isn't the only place where people hope his happy creation will live on in the lives of the young.

And while we're hoping, perhaps nine other hopes will add up to a new Top Ten for the little ones: Talk as well as text, play outdoors as well as in, have some games without adult supervision, climb a few trees, waste a few days, set up a lemonade stand, make something without a keypad, call grandma & grandpa, and for heaven's sake don't forget to lie flat on the grass to study the clouds.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Lately the most common words, written and spoken, are sweeping ones like: "Terror attack!" "Environmental Disaster!" "Plunge in Market Value!" In contrast, there are smaller more intimate words like "Thank you."

Thank yous often suffer from perfunctory over-use; or, more likely, thoughtless under-use. Still, it requires only the slightest reflection to understand how powerful and nourishing these small words can be to their recipients.

We consider all the nameless, faceless providers whose services are taken for granted. Bus drivers...cabbies ...train personnel...sales staff...cops on the beat...checkout people in the stores. The list is long, but the words are easy. Funny, and a little cruel, why we don't use them more often.

Dig deeper and there are other lists. People from our past we've used up and moved on. Can there still be a moment when a simple thank you is in order? Surely in the case of long ago teachers...sisters...priests...rabbis...
ministers ...schoolmates...scout masters...den mothers...crossing guards.. There's no expiration date on gratitude.

Highest on the hierarchy of thank you lists is family. Rarely seen aunts...uncles...cousins...siblings. And then, of course, the two people to whom we owe are finest thanks: Mom and Dad. If they are still with us, this is the appointed day and the appointed time. If they are not, we have a choice. If there is a God in our heart, speak to them through Him. If not, perhaps a special rose at the grave of their earthly remains.

Like breathing, we take the most foundational things for granted. An error of epic proportions! While we can't re-write the words in the daily news, surely we can orchestrate these two tiny words into a rhapsody of respect. For all those whose lives we have hurried past much too quickly....

Monday, June 14, 2010


Consider a dish of rainbow ice cream. There it sits -- in all its splendid traditional distinctions among the vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Put a kid into it with a hungry spoon and the distinctions are quickly lost in happy stirring and slurping.

Maybe it's that way with some countries.

The older the country, the more distinct its traditions. Conversely, the younger the country -- like the United States, Canada and Australia -- the more tradition has to share equal time with the future. Here, ambitious change is just as important as reverent preservation.

Enter this year's Broadway Tony Awards. At one time the tradition was a proud distinction between the worlds of the stage and of Hollywood. Not anymore...! In recent years it's hard to tell the difference. Hollywood stars and studios along with rock concert celebrities have invaded the pristine venue of the theatre. Disney producers are transforming movie to musical; luminaries like Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson, Jude Law, and Katie Holmes are trodding the boards; and musical legends, living and dead, like Bon Jovi, Johnny Cash and Elvis are becoming the stories.

This melting of the old traditional distinctions has been almost a way of life here ever since WWII. Almost anyone can now lease a luxury car, buy a backyard pool, take a cruise on the Caribbean, visit a 4-star restaurant, and wear rip-off Paris fashions. This melting of traditional distinctions is even rampant in politics where it's hard lately to tell the difference between an official and a reporter. They attend the same black-tie dinners, participate in some of the same conferences, and are forever talking to one another supposedly off-the-record.

This is why reporters today tell us what the President is going to tell us 24 hours before he gets the chance to tell us. Now that's one tradition some of us miss! For example, when FDR gathered us before our radio sets for one of his "fireside chats," there was no Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow or James Carville to breathlessly inform us as did the New York Times this morning: "Obama plans Oval Office address in attempt to project presidential strength in Gulf Crisis." Almost like the flight attendant whispering to us just before take-off: "Our pilot is a little new at this, so just remember he's doing his best!"

Maybe it would still be better to let Broadway be Broadway...Hollywood be Hollywood...and the President be the only one giving a presidential address.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Tucked behind two great oceans, "splendid isolation" was how we described our foreign policy the first 150 years. No more...! Today, if a banker sneezes in Athens, Wall Street catches a cold. If BP's stock drops in London, your personal pension fund takes a hit. Instead of isolation, today we live in intimacy. Whether we want to or not.

While 43% of us can't name our neighbors, strangers we've never met are helping shape our lives. We love the instant global communications, but are our brains and pocketbooks prepared to process the pressure of it all?

At one time -- you can still spot it in countryside America -- there were miles of croplands between homes. The pace was slower, simply because we were farther apart. Isolation like this meant lonelier nights, but perhaps deeper thoughts. Isolation like this meant quieter living, but possibly more thorough reflection.

Too late now to test the premise, for today most of the world's 6 billion people are either crowded together into large metropolises or are within a cellphone's reach of anyone on the planet. Think about it -- if we were all doing wonderful things for humanity, how inspiring such reach would be.

However, inspiring is not what the news does. More likely, what pierces the protection of our personal isolation is the 24/7 news of threats, of violence, of disasters. None of which we can personally do a thimble-worth-of-good about, but which now we have the dubious privilege of knowing about.

I can remember as a kid visiting cousins in the turn-of-the-20th C farms in southern Illinois. Lonely out there...but as I recall it, everyone slept pretty snug at night. Isolation or ignorance -- it had its rewards.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


What do each of us have in common with H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke...? That's right, time travel. And while science is taking steps in this direction, isn't time-travel already well within our grasp...?

Only three requirements: A place! A predisposition! A purpose!

I've time-traveled dozens of times. Most recently last June 6 morning (exactly 66 years after the historic Normandy invasion of Hitler's Europe). I stood there quietly at the corner of Potomac & Menard streets in front of my old school. The precise place where I stood June 6, 1944 as a patrol boy for the student traffic on the way to classes. The physicality was exactly the same -- red brick bungalow, trimmed front lawn, large Poplar tree shading it -- only now had suddenly become then.

My predisposition was to re-experience something of how I and my world felt in that remarkable then. Closing my eyes I could sense the energy of memory sucking me back into that little vortex of a bright June past. Kids asking each other what it meant...neighbors gathering in front of their homes...teachers organizing these enthusiasms as best they could...and a young me with a rush of prayer and pride rarely felt since. Really, I could see and hear it all

Finally, the purpose. Why? After all, then is then; we really only have now. Well, yes and no. Yes, seize the day for this is the only day we have; but no, it is no more foolhardy to revisit where we've been than it would be to smash all our cameras, tear down all our monuments, and deny all our predecessors.

None of us simply happened. We traveled to get here. And that's a journey too extraordinary to simply forget...

Friday, June 11, 2010


They tell the story of one of the programmers for the first atomic bomb. He was strolling with a friend through the woods when they came upon a turtle. The scientist paused over the beautifully-spotted turtle, then picked it up. It would make a splendid gift for his children.

A few steps later, he stopped. Carefully re-tracing his steps, he returned the turtle to exactly where he had found it. The friend asked the scientist, "Why?" His answer is worth sharing. "Perhaps for one man, I've tampered enough with the universe...."

He wasn't denying science. More like recognizing that science is not enough for man. Contrary to so many of its modern apostles, science is not the high road back to the Garden, because that road runs directly through the heart of man. Not until we see this, not until then will science become what it was for Bacon, Newton and Mendel.

The great leap for our times is not simply to produce greater and better instruments. Rather, it is the long- deferred leap from Homo Sapiens ("rational man") to Homo Humanus ("human man"). The Gulf disaster has reminded the proud among us that somewhere deeper than the splendor of our creative brains, beats the majesty of our created souls.

Might the soul be the missing tool...?

Thursday, June 10, 2010


To get away from it all, Thoreau went to Walden...Thomas Merton climbed his seven story mountain...and Gandhi fasted. But in these days of 24/7 communication, it's harder to escape the angst of our everyday world.

If inner serenity is catching, perhaps the people we want to be around are the clergy, the poets, and Oprah Winfrey. Well, no, Oprah only packages serenity. The real deal is harder to find. And even harder to internalize.

Try the country roads of southern Illinois. Roads where the fragrance of the fresh earth hangs thick in the air. And where farmers can be found sitting and gossiping in small towns and farm equipment centers. If it's early spring they're waiting for the crops to seed. If it's summer they're waiting for the rains to come. If its fall, they're waiting for the harvest to arrive.

The instructive word is: Waiting.

Those who work with the land understand nature has its own rhythms and requirements. The noise from distant politicians and generals don't much affect them here. Here you don't talk much; you work and then you wait. It imposes the sort of stoicism that Alpha types far removed from the land have forgotten. If ever they knew it.

And so if one wants to catch the cadence of serenity, maybe hang around the toilers of the land for awhile. It doesn't mean they have no problems; but it usually does mean they've learned to match their problems with patience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Everyone is afraid at one time or another. Terror, though, is something else. Terror is fear to the 10th power, and when it captures you in its black claws, you are paralyzed. War will do that. Impending danger or death will do that. The loss of what you hold dearest will also do that, for the darkest terrors are those in which you feel desperately alone in an indifferent world.

Terror, though, is not only a feeling but a weapon. Politicians wield it to frighten you into supporting them and their agenda. Clergy use it to threaten you into better behavior in this world before the accounting of the next. Hollywood is especially good at orchestrating little terrors in your life, for they have been offering us slasher & vampire movies from the very beginning.

Turns out we seem to love terror. Well, at least respond to it. It gets our votes, our prayers, and our summer tickets at the box office. Psychiatry explains that we often indulge in terror just so long as we sense there is always some redemption in the end. Like the masochist lover in violent sex games or the parachutist waiting till the last moment to yank the cord.

My only experience with terror and parachutes came in the Air Force. Not in toying with death on the way down, but in convincing myself to climb into a chute in the first place. As I tried to explain to the sergeant, ignore the uniform I'm wearing, because really, sarg, I'm a civilian at heart!

I can report surviving that terror. And a few others along the winding way. What I can't report is why we continue to allow ourselves to be terrorized by the two latest masters of terror: The cable news networks and the giant new pharmaceutical advertisers.

The first are dedicated 24/7 to packaging the news in ways that would scare the hell out of anyone from Jesse James to George Patton. Dark musical intros...flashing graphics...breathless reporters. No item is so sweet and soft that it can't be sharpened into a fiercesome point.

The second is committed 24/7 to burying us in ads and commercials about things we never even knew existed. Vitamin Z deficiency....numbness,...ringing.... and everyone's newest favorite, restless leg syndrome.

Terror is not something to be played with. More to be understood so that this tail doesn't wag our dog...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Great prophets and tortured artists often spend their life searching for the secrets of life. So do dedicated archaeologists who turn skilled spades among the sands of time. But here's a thought -- don't each of us hold secrets deep beneath the sands of our subconscious? Secrets there all these long years which we might wish (or dread) to excavate?

The human brain is being stretched every day by the dazzling digital tools now at its disposal. However, thus far not even Google has found a spade that will do this job.

Think about it. All the hidden, long-unplayed videotapes secreted in our memory banks. What Mom used to whisper while feeding us at her breast...what Dad always laughed as he played with us on the grass....what exactly that special teacher in our lives said that was so special on that remembered afternoon...what precisely happened that summer night when their beach-time passions welded into specifically did I behave that terrible cemetery morning?

I know all these moments occurred, and yet I have no way of accessing and activating them here on a rainy June afternoon when I am so lonely and want so much to re-live them again. Easy to believe some Silicon Valley wunderkind is almost on the brink of patenting such a device. What a breakthrough! What a chance to finally recover such lost details! What a time trip into my own journey!

Or are such specifics better enshrined only in gossamer recollections...?


Stephen Hawking's comment -- "when compared with religion, science will win, because science works" -- hasn't been used in BP's current multi-million-dollar ad campaign. This omission suggests BP may not be able to shut the oil, but it can shut its mouth.

Lauren Rosenberg is now bringing Google to a court in California, because she was hit by a car while following a route provided by Google Maps. Lauren suggests she is a poster girl in humanity's campaign against the machine.

The Indian police department is currently detaining a pigeon because it is suspected of "conducting a special spying mission" for Pakistan. The bird is being kept under armed guard without visitors. The fact that no lawyers have come to the pigeon's defense suggests they may operate by a different protocol than here in Washington.

The British consulting firm Mercer ranked the "quality of life" in more than 200 cities throughout the world. The top five were Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver, and Auckland. Not one US city was ranked among the top 30. Which perhaps suggests it's high time we considered joining the EU.

To top off the week with a flourish, released its surveys addressing the role of the US court system. They reported nearly 66% of Americans cannot name a single member of the US Supreme Court. Which suggests one of at least two thoughts: The Justices need shorter names or the citizenry need longer attention spans.

And this is only Tuesday! One trembles at the thought of what looms in the days ahead. And yet, one relaxes into the assurance that humanity can always top itself....

Monday, June 7, 2010


Thomas Jefferson's reference to the wall of separation between Church and State has helped canonize walls in our political discourse. But of course there are walls and there are walls. Take for instance some of the most famous: The Chinese Wall, Hadrian's Wall, and the Berlin Wall. The first two to keep them out, and the third to keep them in.

Right now Washington DC is a landscape of all walls and no bridges. And that can hardly be good.

It is a given that there will be walls (or separation of powers) among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. This represents the genius of the Founding Fathers. However, when there are walls within the walls, have we not out-built ourselves? Right now this is what we find within the Supreme Court itself. An institution built upon the premise of consensus is now a judicial battleground of 5-4 votes between warring factors waging battle from behind their receptive right/left walls.

Justice Kennedy has arguably been dubbed the "swing vote." As he goeth so goeth the court...? Not exactly what those Founding Fathers envisioned. Nor did they seek this battle-of-walls to prevail during the confirmation hearings as well. These are now some of the bloodiest most ideologically silly confrontaions in the nation.

History records that most walls eventually fall. While that can become an achievement in the affairs of men, the achievement is usually incomplete until we can replace the walls with some bridges. And that, my fellow architects, is usually the harder of the two to construct...

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Here's a question you and I may have forgotten how to ask: What do kids do during summer vacation...?

I'm not talking about the throngs of libidinous college students who trek the planet. Or the ragamuffin high schoolers who often enjoy nothing better than doing nothing. My question has to do with the kids in elementary school who are the true connoisseurs of time: who relish it, manipulate it, fantasize with it, and in general have a talent for squeezing 25 hours out of every vacation day.

Can you remember how delicious it was to be that young? That free? Probably not. It takes a heap of remembering to conjure up those tasty days of summer innocence. For as the song goes, "Once you've crossed the borders of childhood, you can never return again..."

But you can look!

Like some exquisite painting beneath museum glass, you can look at the children and the grandchildren at play, just maybe maybe recapturing a little shred of the magic. Not their video-game magic; the magic that leaps from their deepest soul as they giggle at the fresh sunrise..rush their way through dressing and breakfast...pounce on the morning the dirt as they squat in it....explore the heaven from their back...scamper up trees, concoct games, announce races, rush in for drinks. Then repeat the giddy routine all over again.

Whether sugar and spice or naughty and nice, little girls and little boys are God's greatest works of art. As attentive adults we get to put a frame around the painting, but its glow comes from a higher place.

Probably the best thing we can do is treasure it, for it is with us only such a little while. Oh -- and about all that mud they keep bringing into the house. Someday you'll look at your clean, shiny floors and miss it...!

Saturday, June 5, 2010


There is incredible presumption in doing this ~~

Taking the liberty of taking up space in your in-box with a string of words and a series of ideas totally uninvited. This Internet is of course the capitol city of such presumption, for every minute of very day it's glutted by tens of millions of messages just like this one. As are also the pages in newspapers and the minutes in broadcasts.

Plato described humanity as living in a cave seeing only the shadows from the real world outside, He argued that if someone ever escaped the cave and returned to tell everyone the truth, they would think him insane and put him to death.

Haven't we all witnessed this in our own world? Someone -- teacher, reporter, whistle-blower -- has escaped from the delusions of their world and reported back a discomforting reality. Teachers have been fired, reporters have been scoffed, and whistle-blowers have been bought off.

In the whirlwind of such events, what remains is the same question Pilate rhetorically asked Jesus: "What is truth?" The question remains essentially unanswered 2000 years later. Essentially because truth is so often something behind the eyes. Neither the shadows in our cave, nor the objects outside. Our own developed perceptions and our own evolved priorities become the only truth we believe enough to act upon.

This makes for a planet of 6 billion truths. Little reason to pretend any 1 pair of eyes is seeing the truth any better than the other 5,000,000,099. How's your eyesight these days...?

Friday, June 4, 2010


It didn't take James Baldwin to say it, but he said it so well: "Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

There has never been a lack of ignorance in the world, but sometimes a lack of the power to give it wings. Now that power exists...! In a planetary-size wingreach that would have been the envy of Caesar, Robespierre and Goebbels. The Internet.

The power of this instrumentality is in itself neutral. Like water -- which can either give life to a parched desert or flood an entire city -- its digital power is molded by each of its movers. And so.... If you search the Internet you can access all the power of information (eg. medical facts, historical data, biographies) or all the power of defamation (eg. edited biographies of virtually anyone).

Consider one example...

If you searched the Internet for the phrase "Obama is..." the top six possibilities offered as of January 1 were: "antichrist," "idiot," "racist," "liar," "Hitler,""socialist." A search for "Obama is destroying America" yielded 719,000 sites. Now six months later these numbers have grown into a staggering interpretation of free speech. And each of us has the power to contribute to the stagger.

Here's an image. You're suddenly in ancient Rome. In the Coliseum with thousands of screaming spectators. You're handed the reins of a snorting four-horse chariot, and told to play Charleton Heston. Staring immediately. What do you do with the reins...?

Thursday, June 3, 2010


A quick life-or-death test.

What was the world like in 340 BC...457 AD...1348 AD....1863 AD...1942 AD? The answer: Very much like it is here in 2010. Only back then we didn't hold in our hands he power to control things the way we do today.

The dates are another grinding lesson in human history that insists on being learned. In those years years, Egypt was in crisis...Rome was collapsing...the Black Death was unchecked....the American Civil War was bleeding the nation... the Axis Powers had enslaved half the world. In each period, humanity stood naked without the tools to save itself.

Glowering at us here in 2010 is a brute irony the size of a planetary Tyrannosaurus Rex. For here in 2010 humanity holds in its hands the tools necessary to manage large parts of the universe itself. And yet the beasts of danger still prowl unchecked. From Wall Street to the streets of Gaza, from the halls of Congress to the mountains of Afghanistan, from the crime-stained alleys of our cities to the bloody borders of our states.

If peoples past hunkered behind shuttered windows in a state of paralyzed fear, peoples today hunker in front of television screens in a state of numbed helplessness. Something has gone terribly wrong here...! For in our vast arsenal of modern technology we have cached stunning instruments of power that can tame the oceans and assault the heavens. And yet, not a switch or a dial that will save us from our own savage hatreds, bestial greeds, and incalcuable pride.

We stand in the center of the arena without a weapon anywhere near the size of our threats. Except the only authentic weapon our species has ever had in this cold cosmos: The moral courage with which it was invested by the authority of its creation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010



When you're stuck inside an out-patient waiting room you're stuck between the macro and micro of your world. Up there on the wall, a screen that assaults you like something from "1984's" Big Brother. On this particular morning it's that unremitting gusher of black gloom in the Gulf. A cynical coda to the over-reaching technology sung by modern man.

But then they call you in for your tests. Exotic radiological tests carried out by extraordinarily sophisticated technology. A brass section fanfare by doctors and nurses poised to do here what can't be done down there. Salvage something that has broken!

On that macro planetary stage -- technical disaster. On this micro personal stage -- technical achievement. The life of an entire coastal region is surely worth more than the life of single small soul. And yet, a single small reminder here that humanity is not only as bad as its worst disaster, but as good as it best achievements.

And to their enormous credit, this hospital staff is a symphony of races and nationalities working together in ways that would have one really believe: Yes We Can!


As Al and Tipper Gore announce their parting of the ways, how sad that we as a society are so trivial as to remember only the trivial. In his case: The Kiss. In Bush's case: The aircraft carrier landing. In Clinton's case: Monica Lewinsky. In Gerald Ford's case: The trip coming down the plane steps.

And so on and so on and so on...

The mind struggles to explain why the media reports and we remember mostly the silliest of moments. One possible explanation -- large complex achievements are too large to hold, and so we cling to the littlest and silliest of foibles. You know -- just to convince ourselves the mighty aren't all that much mightier after all...