Tuesday, November 30, 2010



Every year now Christmas becomes important not only to believers, but to non-believers and merchants alike. It makes for a peculiar three-part ballet: Faith, Fiction, Fortune.

Believers -- from young to old, from scholars to school kids -- find in the annual Christmas narrative a flame of hope. A flicker in the darkness that seems to say life is still worth living, because God came into our world to tell us so. And even when believers succumb to the seasonal sizzle of too much gifting and partying, somewhere inside they suspect the Jesus story is really what it's all about.

As for the non-believers, they once stood with their faces pressed against this annual candy store window. Lately, though, they seem interested in challenging the party. Scholars and skeptics alike question the ancient tale. And protest its public manifestations. They argue, especially in courts, that the Bethlehem story is a fiction, and a crime against the intellect.

As for the merchants, well they don't really have to take a side, do they? To them, Christmas means money, so merchandisers gamble much of their year on making it big during this month. If not now, when! And so our stores are usually even more decorated and crowded than our churches.

What to make of all this...?

Here's a thought. Christmas may be different things to different people, but watch a small child watch a small Nativity scene. Their little eyes always seem to provide a very large answer to the question.


It was like a Hollywood spy caper playing right there on the streets of Tehran. Out of nowhere, assassins speed by with plastic bombs that kill two men in their cars. Immediately the Iranian government protests espionage by Israel and the US. But there's more to the plot....

In an age of expanding technology, the world has come to believe that we are often like leaves caught up in the flow of a stream. Swept along by invisible forces beyond our comprehension or control. You know, that feeling you get whenever you sit in front of the nightly news and just shake your head.

In this assassination there is reason to revisit the old historical debate about the Great Man Theory. Many historians argue that history doesn't shape people as much as certain people shape history. People like Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, Luther, Elizabeth I, Galileo, Lincoln, Hitler, John Paul II. Without them, the course of history would have been entirely different. Their deaths as well as their lives make a difference.

Back to Tehran.

The two victims are reported to have been key atomic scientists in the Iranian program to achieve atomic status in the region. Such status would alter the balance of power in a volatile part of the world. Is it possible that Israeli and US agents would have been assigned to thwart the Iranian effort this way rather than by open warfare...?

The question is its own answer. And in its own way raises the old debate about people shaping history. Here in 2010 the 5000 year-old debate may be settled in the blood-stained streets of Tehran. Without these two experts the Iranian program may be hampered...and if hampered their weapon status may be delayed ...and if delayed other powers may choose alternate courses of action...and if, well, you get the idea.

As in the blood-stained seats of Ford's Theatre in 1865 or in the blood-stained streets of Dallas in 1963, this blood may change the course of history. Which, if nothing else, would seem to reassert the notion that people still count in the course of history. Often by no more than a bullet. Or a ballot. Or a belief.

Monday, November 29, 2010


The patient had been sick for some time. The situation was growing critical.

The patient, always strong and vigorous, had been steadily weakening. In frustration, the family chose a new physician. But after months of treatment, there were few signs of recovery. The family grew restless, The physicians who had been on the case before grew critical. Somehow, the new man was not delivering.

Huddled discussions throughout the house debated what could and should be done. More bed rest...less bed rest...more drugs...less drugs...experimental therapies...shock therapies....different medical advisers to the physician...even prayer sessions. But no consensus seemed possible, and so the arguments persisted while the patient became nearly comatose.

It was just then that the building inspector happened upon this grim family scene.

He raised an issue few had faced before. The house itself had grown unhealthy...! "Anyone living in here over these last many years was bound to get sick," the inspector observed. "Some of the basic foundations had rotted from excessive extravagance...too many people had been stripping the place of its value...many of the neighbors no longer considered this to be the finest home on the block nor were they any longer willing to follow its lead..and, frankly, many of the family members themselves had failed to keep up the payments on the mortgage and the on-going repairs required of any great building.

One of the relatives asked the inspector, "So you're saying virtually anyone living here over these last 20 or 30 years was likely to fall ill?" "That's how I see it, having studied the history of great buildings like this." "And so then the doctor on the case isn't bungling the job, just fighting something bigger than the usual instruments in his bag?" The inspector nodded: "I'm afraid so..."

The family members started talking to one another, wondering if perhaps the inspector was right. Maybe they had had a part in letting the old building slip, and in denying the fact that the new neighbors were coming into their own. The case was not just another winter cold as will happen during the usual cycles of booms and busts. Apparently this was something far bigger.

The inspector had a file full of case studies where other great buildings had aged poorly and eventually collapsed. His suggestion to the family: "Check the records. This took a long time coming and it will take a long time curing. If I were you, I wouldn't expect ANY doctor to wrap this up quickly. Besides, he can't do much without you facing some hard facts. And without you stopping the infernal, dis-informed backbiting..."

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Imagine this. A camera inside one of those eternally circling GPS satellites over North America. It starts to zoom in. Through the emptiness of earth's atmosphere...through the planetary cloud cover.... down to the swatches of white that illuminate the Midwest from Milwaukee curling down around the base of Lake Michigan into Indiana...ending up precisely where I'm standing in Chicago on this holiday Saturday night.

Behold, the brightly lit corner of State Street & Randolph at 11 o'clock. Here's our city strutting its best stuff -- cars, limos, taxis, traffic cops, street vendors, the oohing Christmas kids staring at the decorations. and especially the laughing crowds streaming out of the nearby movie houses and theatre buildings.

This is metropolitan life at warp speed. Living, breathing, doing. Despite a world full of wars and dangers, despite an economy full of greed and failures, city people do what city people do. And -- when looked at from just the right angle and attitude -- it's the greatest show on earth.

But talking about angles and attitudes...

I remember standing on this exact same piece of Chicago pavement 65 years ago. V-J night when the city poured out into this venue to celebrate the end of WWII. Then 45 years ago as we walked our three children past the dazzling Marshall Fields Christmas windows. And again 25 years ago when the crowds were thinner, because the city at night was a more iffy itinerary.

But State and Randolf is once more the place to be on a Christmas weekend. The proud lady of the street -- the marquee-flashing Chicago Theatre -- has been fully restored. Just around the corner the marquees of the Oriental, the Palace and the Goodman all jitter in the night. The noise, the energy, the humanity together capacitate you as you watch. In the midst of a long, dark night in America, this and other such happy corners pulse with hype and hope.

Some things here are admittedly different from those previous years. Marshall Fields, when I wasn't looking, somehow became Macy's. The old restaurant glories of Henrici, Fritzel, and ShangrLai are no more. Taxis are fewer, white stretch-limos more common. Weaponed police more evident. The people...? Well, we are what we are; and -- for good or for bad -- that doesn't change much. To be sure, we no longer "dress up" for a Saturday night. Blue jeans, Dockers, and athletic shoes are now de rigueur. And yet, there are reassuring similarities.

Guys still tend to hold their ladies, and protect them into vehicles. Gals still tend to respond to their men, and allow them to protect them. Still others mix and match genders and races and nationalities more than ever. Altogether, a holiday moment to be savored. To be shared. And, hopefully, to remind us of something important: maybe we're still all worth liking and sharing like this during the other six days of the week too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Both old uncles and young coaches usually advise, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Makes great good sense. And yet something about human nature motivates us otherwise. We often end up sweating both the small dumb stuff, and call it news.

Consider the evidence in just one city, my Chicago:

So far this year, six police officers have been gunned down in the streets; along with hundreds of gang murders in the neighborhoods. The thin blue line between us and that jungle always trying to over-grow civility is at risk. But instead we read and talk mostly about the small, dumb stuff. The minority of cops on the take here....Oprah's final television season here...the mayor's last press conference gaffe here...some arcane residency rules about new mayoral candidates here....Black Friday sales receipts here..downtown Christmas shows here...what the chic holiday party-goers will be wearing here...what uniforms the Bears will be wearing...even, would you believe, what the Police Superintendent wore at the city's funeral memorials.

OK, everyone needs a break from the big stuff. [ What would the tabloids do with all that ink and paper! ] And yet, how long do we whistle through graveyards pretending that chirpy little distractions like these will keep the city ghosts from rising?

Cities, like nations, are always at risk. The bad guys are always figuring new ways of exploiting the good guys. Be it with bullets or ballots. So preserving civility and civilization against the encroaching jungle requires more of us than simply scanning the sports or style pages. Yeah, I know, that demands our attention. But if we're not paying attention, we can be sure the jungle is...

Friday, November 26, 2010


Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

At one time it was lacy grandmas playing their music boxes for you as they waxed sentimental about the proverbial good-old-days. With our cooler generations, nostalgia like that went out with the last episodes of "I Love Lucy" and "Bonanza." Instead, nostalgia has often been dismissed as the opiate of the people; and the good old days shelved as simply old, hardly good.

And yet.

There's this time-tested adage: The more things change, the more they're the same. Lets face it, there are only so many fruits in the orchard, fish in the sea, and dress styles from Paris runways. What humanity counts on is that if we all wait long enough, old styles and habits look new again. And again. And, in another generation or two, again.

Take the latest new thing that's become a rage in many large cities. Are you ready for this...? The neighborhood barbershop. Today's hunks and studs have "discovered" the charm and intimacy of local shops with local barbers in contrast to those sleek, downtown salons of all-look-alike hair cutters.

The mind staggers [and, if old enough, the face smiles] at such astonishing news. Why who knows, anytime soon now today's cool generation will "discover" other remarkable ideas. Say like virginity at marriage... children born in wedlock...stay-at-home mothers...family dinners...boiled food....oh, and reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "Bonanza."

Geniuses often are heard to say: "I got here by standing on the shoulders of giants before me." Now here's a quirky little thought. This might also be said by some of today's generations. The reason I say that, is this is precisely what our cool generation once said too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


History reports Hitler died from his own hand in his Berlin Bunker April 1945. Ironically, only days after Roosevelt died from a heart attack in his Warm Springs vacation home. Sixty-five years later, both leaders find their name constantly placed after "just like..."

To be "just like Roosevelt" is usually a positive. To be "just like Hitler" is surely not. But while Roosevelt's name is conjured up mainly when addressing great financial & military crises, Hitler's name is there for virtually any and every situation that is wrong, evil or maniacal.

Germany's post-war generations have banished Hitler not only from their history books but from their minds. They have admitted his tyranny, but assert they wish to move on . To bring up his name in German politics is to risk immediate censure. On the other hand, there is no such compunction about comparing others, like George Bush, as being "just like Hitler."

OK, so far so good.

But it is not so good when the label Hitler becomes a misinformed commonplace for anything you oppose. After awhile, the label loses its sting when politicians from both left and right insist that what they oppose is "just like Hitler." At the current rate, everyone is "just like Hitler" from Bush to Obama...from Saddam Hussein to Ayatollah Khamenei...from Hugo Chavez to Donald Rumsfeld...from my last boss to my mother-in-law. [Let the record show that I still believe my mother-in-law was once a poster girl for the Nazi Party!]

Still, the mass tyranny and human evil of Adolf Hitler is not anything to be mis-used by being over-used. Perhaps, then, the best way to use this name of names is how Mel Brooks did in his Broadway hit: "The Producers."

He ridiculed and laughed him off the stage. With music, no less...!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Where do you keep your most treasured possessions...?

Ancient kings had temples, early believers had tabernacles, and now modern man has computer files. But maybe it's all a lot simpler than any of those. Just maybe most of us still use old phone books and photo albums. Where we cherish most of the names and faces of those most important to us.

Chances are the phone book is tattered but nearby. The albums, on the other hand, may be pristine, but somewhere hardly as handy. We keep the first for use; the second for memories. And yet near or far, these small treasure troves house human wealth of inestimable value. Were a stranger to find them, they would have the first chapter to our biography.

What's interesting about the phone books is how many numbers and addresses keep changing over the years. The ultimate change, of course, when we reluctantly draw that line across the recently deceased. [Or not, if you decide they will always remain alive in your life].

What's interesting about the photo albums is how you and all those wonderful people inside there never ever change. [Sad to add that outside the covers, we and they are changing all the time]. But just so long as you and they remain tucked inside there, you my friend remain master of time, dictator of space, high priest of all that once was sweet and lovely and photograph-able. And no matter what anyone says, these remarkable blinks have been forever frozen in both place and time. For you to re-live with no more than the flip of a page.

Of course, if you are of the newer flashier generation who package your names and faces into your handy, portable, whatchamacallit... well, I suppose that really is the most efficient way to go. However, for those still old enough to prefer the palpable, you'll most likely find a tattered phone book somewhere in the kitchen, and a collection of photo albums somewhere in a closet.

Either way -- dowdy or digital -- these are the names and faces who remain close to our hearts. Hearts which, like the wise Wizard advised the hopeful Tin Man, "will never be perfect until they can be made unbreakable..."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Everyone talks about moderation, but few practice it. We seem to prefer the extremes. Take science on one extreme, and imagination on the other. One is a disciplined study of the facts and forces at work; whereas with imagination, there's usually less discipline and far more, well, imagination.

In the case of science, each new day finds new disciplined methodologies for managing our lives [for example, cybertherapy is an emerging field in which science uses planned stimuli to re-plan behaviors]. In the case of imagination, each new day finds another artist, sculptor, composer or writer giving expression to what no microscope or petri dish could ever quite explain.

And yet...!

A closer look at our imagination finds a few habits that are explainable and even predictable:

* We imagine ourselves in ways no one else quite does. Otherwise why so much in-denial embarrassment whenever we see photos and videos of ourselves? "Oh my god, is that really me...?!"

* Celebrities especially imagine themselves as what they and their managers have created. It's why they spend a gazillion dollars air-brushing their publicity shots, and hiring sentries to stuff paparazzi candid cameras

* News organizations are pretty much dedicated to imagineering the news. Straight facts and stats don't sell. Flashy graphics, tabloid lead-ins, and pompous pundits do.

* Film and television studios call them scripts, but what they really are ways to re-imagine the stories and histories they're telling. In Hollywood it began with the 1915 "Birth of a Nation" re-telling D. W. Griffith's concept of the Civil War, Generations later "Gone With the Wind" took a crack at it. Later still, the TV series "Roots" added its twist. The power of the screen easily outdid the power of historians each time.

* Oh, and talking about historians, they often do the same thing; only they have degrees after their name.

Science and imagination -- in some ways two sides to the same human coin. Searching for answers to what we're doing here...

Monday, November 22, 2010


Deep into another bruising NFL season, fans may believe football is goalpost-to-goalpost action. Not true. Actually there's only about 17 minutes of contact in between downs. If we really want to study non-stop action, the better venues would be our Thanksgiving Season airports, train stations and highways. No other time of year when Americans are in more motion in more different directions for more different reasons.

This annual collision of human energy has a tale to tell. Tens of millions of us moving from and to. Most likely to. To important places, important people, and important purposes in our lives.

We've always been an in-motion people. By nature and history. (We even helped invent the rocking chair just so we could be in motion while sitting still!). But Thanksgiving days have become the designated days for this frenzy of motion. With places central to the frenzy. Usually the places we call "home." In far-off states or maybe just across town; but there's something about these places that holds powerful meaning for us. So powerful, it's like Delphi to the ancient Greeks or the Holy Land to three world religions.

And yet, lets be clear. Places are just spaces. It's the people in those spaces that are the irresistible magnet pulling us there. Parents, grand-parents, relatives, adult children. Blood is not only thicker than water; blood is the silent, secret that forever bonds and binds all those who share it.

Finally, the purposes. Virtually everyone in the skies and on the roads bears an agenda. Oh, not always expressed. Maybe not even known to themselves. But each year we understand there is some emotional bridge involved. One we understand, consciously or sub-consciously, must be crossed. A memory being re-visited? A mistake being corrected? A dream being fulfilled? An epiphany being greeted?

The places are easy to get to. The people, maybe less so. But as for the purposes -- well, that's where every Thanksgiving season can get a little complicated. If elections and wars are hard, if being president or pope can be difficult, satisfying your personal agenda this season can sometime break your heart.

And yet, each year we make the trip. We take the chance. And over table, we often succeed more than we dared dream. So -- whether on your way there or on your way back -- here's to the Thanksgiving season. With an encore of sorts coming in just a few more weeks....

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It is said the three most enveloping sounds in our world are the sound of the seas, of the winds, and of silence.

The sounds of the sea can be as roaring as North Atlantic waves smashing into New England fishing fleets, as gentle as Pacific tides lapping into San Francisco harbors, or as lyrical as blue surf romancing white Caribbean beaches. Wherever, the power and pugnacity of the seas remind us there will always be something bigger than the biggest of us.

It is perhaps why the stories of so many great figures in history involve water: The Pharaohs, the Greeks, Jesus, Columbus, the Puritans. It is the recurring dynamic between man and the ocean from which we are said to have evolved.

Likewise, the sounds of the wind are out there. They can be either songful or frightful, but forever with us. They whisper strange and wonderful messages when slipping through night-time forests or dawn-time neighborhoods. In other times, they scream terrifying pronouncements when they whip up into tornadoes and typhoons. The most invisible and thus the most mysterious of sounds, the wind can either cool you on a hot summer night or horrify you in a spring thunderstorm.

Finally, the sounds of silence. Now these are pregnant with possibilities. They are what your soul can hear that you ears cannot. The sounds of silence are like this enormous black comforter floating down upon your busy body, holding you inside its gentle grip. A grip many today struggle to escape with the knife of noise. Noise and more noise. From screens large and small, from instruments carried and held, from whatever we can find to silence the sound we most dread. The silence of being alone with ourselves.

Would it be too fanciful to suggest that the loudest sounds of silence arrive whenever we do something really dangerous? Like lying on our back and looking up into the summer stars. All alone. All by our-self. The danger? That we might discover that, yes, we do have a soul that can hear the stars...

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Philosophers, even some cosmologists, speak of finding the "mind of God." Artists from the first cave-dwelling-scratchers speak of finding the "face of God." I've been looking for both for years, so you'd think I might have something worth sharing. The embarrassing fact of the matter is I don't...!

The best I can do is list some of my discards.

I quickly discarded the "mind" search. It demands minds mightier than mine. The "face" search seemed easier. For instance: Nature. When you look into the face of the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, the fields of Tuscany, the deserts of Egypt, the peaks of the Alps and Himalayas, or the heaving North Atlantic -- well, somewhere in there is His face. Only it's never come into complete focus for me.

Next are the faces of great faces. Of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Reuben, Rodin, Picasso, right down to my Norman Rockwell. Each of their faces have blessed and haunted the world ever since hand was put to canvass or marble. Only these faces belong to their creators, not the Creator.

So then, on to the faces of those you know and love. I begin with my parents, my wife, my children, my family and friends. Extraordinary faces, all, each crafted by nature and refined by living. A fountainhead of faces which remains always in the ripples of my thoughts.

And yet...

Does it diminish any of these to admit that the face that most often comes into focus is Maggie. My grand-children's gently aging Golden Retriever. It has been reported that the "Mannie" in Barry Manilow's song was actually his dog. All I can say is the face of a good dog is perhaps the face of faces. Eyes alive with affection...nose smelling your affection in return...teeth and tongue curled into a permanent sense of devotion.

Crazy? I don't think so! Maggie (just like my own Spotty when I was a child) often seems to be the closest face to the face of God anywhere on earth. Always there. Always attentive. Always willing to give me another chance. I try to live up to her expectations, and when I fail she never fails to forgive me....

Friday, November 19, 2010


Science and sci-fi writers weave their spells about the startling prospects of parallel universes. Mysterious. Incomprehensible. Distant. And yet, there are some of us who have already discovered one of these universes. While it is rather mysterious and incomprehensible, it's anything but distant...

The "us" in this report are, well, it's us. You and me in everyday life. Consider, if you will, the universe as we usually DEFINE it; and then as we actually LIVE it:

* We define education as studying knowledge; actually it's studying for the test
* We define our courts as seeking justice; actually our lawyers seek wins
* We define advertising as informing; actually it's hypnotizing
* We define political advertising the same way; actually it's libel
* We define flying as travel; actually it's survival
* We define entertainment as entertainment; actually it's pre-meditated shock
* We define sports as a game; actually it's a business and we're the game
* We define computers as our tools; actually they're our masters plotting among themselves at night
* We define Christmas as an annual joy; actually it's annual joust for toys and office parties

You see, people have this peculiar habit of figuring mysteries as something strange and far away. In fact the mystery of parallel universes exists right here next to us every single day. Our mission -- if we choose to accept it -- is not to discover this universe. It's to survive it...!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


If anyone/anything is out there among the stars, this is how I imagine they/it would see us down here on our crowded little blue planet. A maze of ant-hill networks furiously moving in all directions all the time without ever once looking up -- at one another or at the stars.

If activity is your thing, then the image will be impressive. We ants are action-oriented if nothing else. Accomplishment-oriented is a whole other thing. It seems that while real ants have Queen Ants to provide them a sense of direction and purpose, we ants occasionally elect them only to protest them.

The sight from the stars must, then, be a rather discouraging one. Personally, I suspect this is why the pillow was invented...!

Consider for a sleepy moment the grandness of the humble pillow. It comes in different styles -- large or little, plump or firm -- but blessedly always comfy. Yes, I said "comfy" because this is precisely what the pillow was meant to provide us. Comfort! security! rest! renewal! and perchance a few sweet dreams!

Don't smirk, for my pillow is extraordinarily important to me. In the morning I never forget to reassure it I will be returning soon. We have this symbiotic relationship. I need it and it needs me. [Well, actually my need is greater than its, but at night why quibble].

Pillows -- like Linus' little-blue-blanket -- are meant to bend, fold, twist and respond to our littlest demands. My routine is fairly precise, and my pillow understands it well. First I rest on it from a back-lying position ...then from a head-to-the-left-position...finally from a head-to-the-right position, from which blessed sleep eventually comes.

There is of course a vast number of position-plans available. What counts is not the position so much as the preparation. Preparing to enter into that mystic realm of rest and REM, dreams and discovery. Frankly, no matter how amazing the agendas of my days, the agendas of my nights are often significantly greater. Traveling to places and meeting people and doing things simply impossible on the waking side of my pillow.

Hence the indispensable pillow.

Which is why I [you too?] usually hate to hear the accursed alarm in the morning. It means this little ant will now have to re-join all the other little ants. Never once taking the precious time to really look at one another or at the stars...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


There I was, inside an elevator inside a building inside a crowded neighborhood of Chicago skyscrapers. And still it rang. My cellphone. My nifty little Captain Kirk communicator which had arrived with a 57-page users guide that makes absolutely no sense to anyone without an engineering degree. Incredible. Even without degree and even sardined inside this sealed steel shell, someone could actually reach me. Even if the phone were off, their message could still actually reach me. From anywhere anytime in the world...!

The hefty guy in the white hospital jacket next to me seemed annoyed. Not with the ringing, but with the degree-less user trying to figure out how to answer it as it played "When The Saints Go Marching In" my daughter had programmed into it. I can never exactly remember -- press the black button, squeeze the silver do-dad, or just flip the cover.

To the relief of the irritated passengers, the hefty guy in the white jacket finally showed me. Yes, yes, now I remember. My daughters had repeatedly instructed: "Just lift the damn cover, Dad!"

The voice was Joan's: "Did you find your way there...?" "Yes, I got lost a few times, but I'm here...." "Where's 'here',,,?" she asked. "Inside here with the others..." The others sorta shuffled in place. "Don't forget the book, Jack..." "The book...?" "Yes, the gift book you're bringing him. You took it with you, didn't you...?

At this point -- some passengers gladly having got off and quizzical new ones having got on -- I was stumped. I knew I had taken the book, but where was it?? "Hello, hello...?" she said. "Yes, I'm still here..." I replied. "Where's 'here' now...?" she pleaded. I looked around for the floor number, but the silly thing was nowhere in sight. "I'm not sure..." The well-coiffed lady in the leather coat next to me (she had been with me throughout this whole ugly ride) finally explained: "This is the 16th floor..."

But I wanted the 15th. Leo's room was on the 15th. "Honey, I think I missed my stop..." "All right, don't get excited, " she soothed, " you know this always happens. Just get off at the next floor and go back to 15..."

She was right, of course. It's not my mind -- Joan and the girls assure me it's been this way as long as they've known me -- it's really all this technology. Automated garage gates, automated elevators, Dixieland phone calls. I'll be all right as soon as I get off this thing.

When at last my mission is accomplished and I find myself heading for room 1501, Joan asks one more time: "Did you remember to bring the book...?" My voice is strong and clear: "Yes, yes I definitely brought the book. Only..." "Only what..?" she begged.

Only it was back in the car back in the automated garage with the talking gates and I simply can't do that all over again. Leo will simply have to be satisfied getting me without the book. And Joan, well she'll simply have to expect I'll be late for dinner.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The Music Man" marched into Broadway 53 years ago this season. An instant hit, because it touched -- and still does -- the American nerve-center: Us!

Who doesn't like to be seen as glib and optimistic as Professor Harold Hill? Or as sweet and wholesome as Marion the Librarian. The entire cast is stuffed with sweet and wholesome, if not naive, Iowans at the turn of the last century. A bracing theme carried over from Mark Twain's Huckleberry days on the Mississippi...the pastoral Americana of Currier & Ives illustrations...the radio soap operas of the 30s & 40s...the cozy family sitcoms of the 50s & 60s...the siren songs of the Great Communicator in the 80s.

Every country has its mythic legends. The Greeks their Olympian gods...the Germans their Teutonic gods ...the Irish their forest gods....the Americans their frontier-busting cowboys and gunslingers. And now lately our costumed Tea Partiers whose magical thinking and fairy tales re-enact Thomas Jefferson and Betsy Ross parading down the streets of Washington.

We dismiss legends at our own risk! These are real and powerful things in the lives of people. When crowds leave the theatre after "The Music Man" or today's parades and rallies, they carry with them a spirit and a zeitgeist akin to a bronco daring to be saddled.

Hollywood and manufacturers have been profitably lassoing these passions for years. However, movies and merchandise are fleeting affairs. What can be more lasting are movements. Political movements led by the proverbial man-on-the-white-horse. How many well-funded Americans are today standing along the corral fence ready to jump in and ride this snorting horse...?

Let me count the ways.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Have you noticed -- people have two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs. But only one face. Which by simple subtraction makes the face especially important. In particular how its form and shape convey what stirs within its heart and soul.

Take the face of Jesus. Neal Thompson of Missouri was kicked out of his Church for arriving dressed as Jesus. Including beard, white robe and cross.Congregation was horrified. For his part, Neal said: "I forgive them." But while he ponders his theology in the local poky, the incident brings to mind the 6 billion other faces. Mainly the few hundred we encounter each day with perhaps too little attention.

There are neighbors scooping up their morning papers, kids trudging to classes, street crews, not to mention fellow drivers and/or commuters. Happy faces and sulking ones. Calm faces and intense ones. Faces come in all shapes, sizes and smiles; but how often do we take the time to tell?

At work there are more faces. Busy ones, distracted ones, gossiping ones, maybe even a few transcendent ones. But best I keep my face to myself, and let them do the same with theirs.

Then all those posed faces on the walls. Banks and law firms are infamous for posting past presidents and employees. Faces we pass and ignore every hour of every day. I can't be seen staring at these dead faces, right?

Also the faces in local lunch counters or truck stops. Solo faces hunched over chicken sandwiches, considering their newspaper, their menu or perhaps a few of their private dreams. You wonder who these strangers are. What their dreams must be like. No...? None of your business...? Well, in our culture, we're programmed to give everyone "their space." Unlike some where faces go face-to-face whenever a conversation begins.

Of all the faces in all the world, the ones that count most fill the walls of my room. A haphazard gallery of posed and candid shots of when she and I were still young...our children still children...our parents still with us for the holidays...when family, friends, even pets had not yet left.

In "Anna Kerenia" Tolstoy has her muse: "I need my things about me..." So do we all. For safety. Security. Comfort. So we busy our homes, wallets and purses with the faces we love. At times, though, the other faces out there are worth a second glance. For they, just like us, yearn for so many of the same things.

Perhaps one of them is that you might smile and say hello to them....

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Introducing this week's latest confluence-of-dots....! You know, those little and large pieces of history which float around your attention span begging to be connected. And daring some fool writer to try.

Here they be: November is the 160th anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson...also the month the Keith Richards autobiography is published...the Pew Opinion Center reports that the Millennial Generation (1981-2000) is the most open minded in history...and the latest batch of secret documents is revealed about US aid to ex-Nazis after WWII.

Here's how to make these disparate dots fit.

Stevenson is among the 30 most-translated authors in all the world. In my own experience, his "Treasure Island," "Kidnapped," and "Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde" opened my adolescent mind to a galaxy of fascinating fictional characters who lived by enormous appetites and ambitions. Villains, yes, but mostly heroes. And great heroes have always been the food of future greatness.

At the same time, we are told that this generation is far more tolerant and open to others. Which is in itself a good thing. And yet, if you live in a world where everyone is equally tolerable and tolerated, where are your exceptions to the norm? your great heroes and heroines? your shining horizons?

Well, Keith Richards may fill that bill for some. After all, he is the current personification of all things wild and bold and distinct. Perhaps, then, a great anti-hero? Well, yes, at least that. Nothing pure and paper-maiche about him like past heroes such as Notre Dame's Gipper, flight's Lindbergh, fiction's Tom Sawyer, Frank Merriwether, Jack Armstrong, Rocky and Captain Kirk.

In defense (or explanation) of the tolerant Millennials, it's hard to have heroes when your nation's capitol is a whorehouse of exposed secret documents. Each one another expose of how our heroes behaved badly. During our wars, our peace, and every year in between!

We are told -- by our Bikers, Libertarians, and other assorted Existentialists -- that it's time America and Americans grow up. Bite the bullet of history. Realize we are not the city on the shining hill populated with Hallmark heroes and heroines. No argument. But to today's blooming Millennials, a thought...

Humanity, even you, do not live by bread alone. There are times when we all need some desserts to look to and hunger after!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Everyone on-board is crying: "The ship is sinking!"

To be specific, the ship of state. And the cry is about the only thing both Democrats and Republicans can actually agree on. Polls show 85% of Americans are dissatisfied and/or angry about the economy; 54% blame both parties.

But lets catch our breath before jumping overboard.

After almost 200 years of Yankee bravado -- climaxed with our unconditional victory in WWII -- this recent sense of self-doubt has become a recurring habit. In the 50s it was the Soviet's "sputnik surprise" which made us feel we we're losing the technology race. In the 60s, riots in the streets sucked a lot of wind out of the national sails. Our oil crisis of the 70s and Japan's rise to super-poower in the 80s all took their toll.

Now, we're being told, China is ready to surpass us, leaving the US in the dustbin of history. [See the Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman and British empires for grim details]. With so many things gone so wrong so fast, what do frightened passengers do...? Well, of course, you blame the ship's captain...!

Now that we've done that in our November elections, here's the passengers' dilemma. Republican usually have great THEMES like "smaller government" and "individual liberty," backed up with iffy POLICIES like "deregulation" and "tax cuts." Democratic THEMES like "community" and "compassion" have less appeal, but are backed up by better POLICIES like Social Security and Medicare.

The helm right now is in neither party's hands. The passengers are both angry and scared. Up ahead, the waves are getting higher and the clouds heavier. Behind them, the calmer sunnier seas from which the ship of state has somehow drifted. The young on-board have no real experience with those better times and tides. However, the elders do!

Is it just possible that the elders -- you know, the grandparents and the good ol' boys from the local VFW, Kiwanis, Shriners -- can still pitch the ideas and values they lived by? Not cool, I grant, not always cutting-edge or pushing the envelope. But those earlier ideas and values helped get them through the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, and Watergate. The sorta stuff Hallmark Cards, Sunday sermons, and Fourth of July speeches still wax eloquent about.

This is not to suggest turning the ship of state backward. What has been has been. And yet, some of that very same cargo of ideas and values can still be found on-board. And used during the voyage ahead. Maybe some someone will have the vision to dig it out, re-polish it, and see if we can't save this ship.

I know, I know! There's this new vampire movie, play-off game, and concert waiting. Trouble is, at this rate of self-indulgence, we may never even get there....

Friday, November 12, 2010



" DEAR _______ (President, Teacher, Coach, Boss) YOUR _______ (Policy, Curriculum. Game-Plan, Assignment) IS JUST PLAIN _______ (Misguided, Outdated, Dumb, Inappropriate) MAINLY BECAUSE AS A LEADER YOU ARE TOTALLY ________ (Clueless, Under-Educated, Out of your League, Crazy). SIGNED, A LOYAL SUPPORTER"



One of the language's more seductive words. Maybe because it conjures up images of wild hedonistic pleasures. And that's OK if that's what works for you. However, the word packs so many many different meanings. Let us count the ways:

* Beauty is always seductive to us. Both in its human and its aesthetic forms. Consider the classic human examples like Eve...Helen of Troy...Cleopatra...Dante's Beatrice...Napoleon's Josephine...Hollywood's Clara Bow, Lana Tuner, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Catherine Zeta Jone. Along with aesthetic ones like Parthenon...Mona Lisa...David...Beethoven's Fifth..."Gone With The Wind"...anything by Arthur Miller or Steven Spielberg

* Glory too is seductive. Who doesn't dream about noble achievements and grand honors? It's what lured Alexander to conquer half his world...Columbus to find a new world...Newton to fathom the mysteries of the world...Edison and Bell to create their breakthrough inventions...Pasteur, Curie and Salk to find cures...Grant and Lee and Patton to win battles. As a tiny subset to glory there is celebrity. Nobodys who thirst to become somebodys if for no other reasons than just being a somebody. Inane examples from Octomom to Paris Hilton clog the mind

* Power is especially seductive. The power of brawn or brain. In the first category, behold the plethora of bronzed athletes smacking hits, throwing passes, body-checking on ice. Their physical prowess mesmerizes the men who would be them; and the women who would have them. But there is also the power of brains. Great minds are wildly seductive to the onlooker. Ask the female of the species intrigued by the Orson Welles, Henry Kissingers, and Tony Blairs

* Laughter is particularly seductive to the young who are often too innocent to yet be grim. And thus the exponential growth of stand-up comedians, comedy clubs, comedy TV, and all things that keep us laughing so we don't have to start crying

A little seduction goes a long way in getting us through this ornery life. But if you've noticed, each of these is fleeting. Here today, long gone tomorrow! Very much like our appetites for them. Which brings us to the ancient emperor who ordered his wise men to scour the empire for the wisest words that could be used in both good times and bad. They returned with these: "And this too shall pass..."

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Consider, for a moment, the fetal position. That perfection-of-pre-natal-comfort in which we curl into just so within the warm liquidy world of our mother's womb. You say you don't remember? Nonsense. Maybe not consciously, but deeply sub-consciously. For this is where it all began, lo these many (or not so many) years ago.

Certainly there are other positions of comfort in our lives. Lounging on couches...floating on the water ...stretched out on the grass to study the clouds. And yet, there is something enduring about the fetal position. Back softly arched, knees gently tucked up to our chins, and heads securely coiled inside it all.

Plato mused that when we are born, we are entering this life from a previously wonderful one. Any fetus would, if it could speak, speak with concern about departing its magnificent fetal universe where there are no threats, and everything needed is supplied. But of course the fetus (and perhaps Plato too) would likely dismiss such a small universe once they enter this much grander one.

As we climb into bed at the end of each day -- alone or with our love -- notice how the fetal position is eventually assumed. It is all so natural. So right. So safe. Lets face it -- this is why sleep was invented. And beds too.

It's not all that different than today's ingenious electric cars. Stop. Park. Coil into the correct position to re-charge. It's what happens as we drift off to sleep. Coiled under the security of our blanket, we take time to re-charge our little lives for one more go at it..

Now on the one hand we have our battalion of evolutionary biologists to explain why our anatomies have developed this way. The genes and cells and blood streams cannot function without re-charging. I'm good with that! On the other hand we have our legion of playwrights and poets to probe the mystery of sleep. Those worlds of dark wonder in our heads:

"To sleep, perchance to dream..." "Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care..." "Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep..." "Anyone can escape into sleep; we are all geniuses when we dream, for here the butcher and the poet are equal..."

This is why I often skipped my biology classes, but never my literature ones. Looking back, it still looks like the right choice....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Question -- how do you picture your world? As Einstein's little blue planet in an immense black cosmos? As Shakespeare's sea-of-troubles? How about my image of a giant Gothic Cathedral filled with hundreds of golden tabernacles?

Stay with me here.

The metaphor works if you think of your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers like so many sealed containers each holding an infinity of mysteries. All their life-long hopes and dreams, joys and terrors, success and failures, favorites and hatreds, loves and lusts. We all contain inner-sanctums like these, whose doors we part only when and for whom we feel it safe.

The tabernacles are hardly over-night affairs. They've taken lifetimes to build and seal. The task begins from our earliest consciousness as our childhood eyes and minds begin encountering other little tabernacles. We watch, we learn, we accumulate. We laugh, we weep, we hurt. And now here at our present age -- be it 21, 45, 53, 57, 79, 82, whatever -- we have become part of an exquisite network of tabernacles that adorns the cathedral.

If the word "adorns" seems pretentious, all right lets use "crowds." Either way, our finely crafted tabernacle co-exists with all these other tabernacles who we wish so passionately would understand what we hold so dear inside. Not surprisingly, they wish the very same. But here's where the metaphor turns dour.

Whatever the relationship may be -- parent, sibling, uncle, grandparent, teacher, boss, clergy -- they can never completely fathom my mysteries any more than I theirs. We all exist inside the same cathedral of life, and yet we all know one another so imperfectly. We take so little time to really look and listen to one another. The cause celebre' for a thousand torch songs, poems, symphonies, and grudges!

Now stretch the metaphor. Picture this cathedral housing billions of tabernacles beyond the ones you know. Far, young, old, white, black, friend, foe, Christian, Jew, Muslim. Why one wonders has, over all these eons, the great planet-cathedral grown so much, but our little tabernacles so little?

Could it be the planet-dwellers have watched their cathedrals flourish, but their tabernacle doors jam....?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Let's begin with my sweet grand-daughter. When I showed her a picture of grandma & grandpa on their wedding day -- young, lean, beautiful! -- she looked at me. Then the picture. Long pause. What I think heard in her polite silence was: " Oh my God, how they've changed!"

No argument there. But now here's a corollary thought: "Oh my God, how the world's changed!"

Permit an antiquarian to suggest there's at least one change the world should not have allowed: The end of the Saturday Movie Matinee. Now wait, this is more than syrupy sentimentality. It just may be a hint of what the world has lost that it could still use again. You see, those Saturday serials -- in the 30s & 40s in movies then in the 50s on television -- had this unique way of instructing us how to face our challenges.

Let me explain.

The challenges today are as big if not bigger than back then. Failed economy, lost jobs, terrorism, global warming, bitter partisanship. The difference, though, is that with today's crises, everyone gets scared! then angry! then bitter! then chooses to stand toe to toe rather than shoulder to shoulder. If only more people today would have those old Saturday Matinees to enlighten them.

Seriously. Watch the classic cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter: "The Perils of Pauline," "Superman," "Flash Gordon," "Hopalong Cassidy." There was absolutely, positively no way the good guy or gal could survive. And yet, next week the camera shots show us exactly how they did survive. Wow! amazing! didn't think they could do it!

But they did. And as we left the movie theatre or our TV screen there was this subconscious sensation that spoke hope to our little hearts. To our national hearts. By golly, good guys do prevail.

No one can postulate that Saturday Matinees solved any national problems. But a soft-lens case might be made for the flames of hope and camaraderie they fanned. In place of today's 24/7 jack-hammering from sanctimonious pundits, bitter rivals, disgruntled losers, and cheap gotcha reportage, the country might do well with a dose of hope-against-the-odds. Belief-in-the-unbelievable. Good-guys-finish-first.

No, good feelings aren't solutions, But they are where most good solutions and victories begin....

Monday, November 8, 2010


Too often people brush myths aside as silly, childish, made-up. Not so fast! There are trivial myths, but then there are towering myths. You better know the difference.

Under trivial come urban myths: Ghosts haunt Broadway theatres...Florida is the elephant graveyard for elders ...Buffalo is the snow capitol of the nation...the Chicago Cubs operate under a curse. [Well, those last two aren't all that far wrong].

Then the political myths: Democrats are tax-and-spend...Republicans are for the rich...there are no good politicians. [All right, so these myths may have something going for them!]

But it's the big national myths that really count. Because these are not simply fictions, rather they are sweeping collective beliefs which have over time created their own truth and their own tenacity. They actually help make a nation who it is. Three in particular have wrapped themselves around our nation's heart like a first-time love:

* American Exceptionalism ~ From the day the Puritans first landed they spoke of their new world experiment as a biblical "city on the hill." This bravado was still being expressed 300 years later, only Ronald Reagan added the adjective "shining." From our exceptional victory over the Redcoats to our exceptional Constitution to Lincoln's exceptional definition of America at Gettysburg to FDR's exceptional Four Freedoms, Americans have thought of themselves as a little different, a little better, than the rest of the world from where they left to come here

* The American West ~ With the first coastal settlements, there was always a "place out west" where struggling Americans back east could dream of. A place for second chances. Generally called the frontier, it kept moving westward until 1890 when the US Census reported no longer any contiguous line distinguishing populated and un-populated America. And yet the myth lived on even as late as Kennedy's vision of a "new frontier." An America in which there are forever second-chances, as typified by the old frontier's favorite game of draw poker

* The American Dream ~ This myth amalgamated out of the other two to speak to our hearts. Mythically speaking, anyone here can, and probably will, catch the brass ring on the merry-go-round-of-life, Good job, good marriage, good family, good living. Tens of millions of people from around the globe have continued to pour into our ports seeking -- and often finding -- just such a dream. But the dreamers who get it often grow selfish about sharing it. And so America has and continues its angry suspicion of anyone who's "different" and who "hasn't earned it."

Most myths help make us who we are. The trick is to pick the right myths...

Sunday, November 7, 2010


And now for the latest flash of fear -- smoking can trigger dementia!

As if cancer and emphysema weren't frightening enough, Kaiser Permanente research center tracked 21,000 heavy smokers to reach this conclusion in USA TODAY. And a valuable conclusion it is. Yet, is this not another reflection of a national obsession? To rush to journalistic judgment about whatever some someone believes may be lurking somewhere out there.

Neanderthal felt this every time he risked leaving his cave, and so he existed in a permanent state of fear. But I ask -- how different is this from Homo Sapiens today? And just in case you weren't aware of any possible fears, we have the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and its weekly press releases to make sure you are.

Surely knowledge is power, and therefore to know these threats is important. On the other and scarier hand, to keep knowing them, even when still only theories, can be downright harmful to your health. Take all those non-smokers, vegetarians and joggers who -- contrary to statistical projections -- die before their time. I admit in-activists like me use such reports to excuse ourselves from any rigorous regimens, but still....

At one time my friendly neighborhood cigar-smoking doctor used to prescribe the classic two-aspirin-and-call-me-in-the-morning. I did, and it almost always worked. [Ahh but I was in my twenties back then so that anything worked, because there was a vigorous young body doing the healing!] Now at this advanced age, those threats outside my cave seem far more complex, and far less susceptible to self-healing. What then to do...?

Gathering up all the cob-webby wisdom of my many years and experiences, I have arrived at a 3-part conclusion: (1) stop paying such pathological attention to health warnings (2) start doing everything from eating to napping in moderation (3) get used to the chronological fact no one on this side of the ground can really promise you life a minute longer than has been already prescribed for you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have an important nap to take...

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Among an infinite number of candidates for the dumbest words in the English language, I choose: "Poll results show..."!

My theory is now that we have so many new computer systems, we have to keep finding new ways of using them. What more ego-gratifying way than divining what people are thinking? Editors, politicians, and millions of everyday readers love to learn who's the most popular? most likely to be elected? most likely to sell? most likely to invest in? At one long-ago time we had shamans and mystics studying entrails. Now we have college campuses and opinion centers crunching numbers.

The quickest way to get some client's attention (or commission fee) is to start with: "The top ten are..." Consider here the latest crunched numbers in the good old US of A:

* 37% say they believe in ghosts
* 23% say a ghost has visited them
* 20% say they've seen or heard a ghost
* 23% say Sarah Palin is qualified to be president
* 67% say she is not qualified to be president
* 47% of Republicans say she is qualified
* 46% of Republicans say she is not qualified
* 50% of Tea Party supporters say they drink coffee

Now here's the thing -- somebody got paid for crunching these particular numbers (AKA, Zogby Poll Inc, ABC News Inc). Statistically speaking, how guilty they felt spending their commission fee is hard to say, because no one polled them on the question.

All of which leaves us to ponder over several other questions:

* Is Sarah Palin more likely to be a president, a ghost or a coffee drinker...???
* Is there any reason not to take up arms against a sea of troubles & statisticians....???
* Is there any reason not to take away the citizenry's voting cards for the next election....???

Or to paraphrase Ms. Palin: "How's that democracy-thingy working for you now!"

Friday, November 5, 2010


The Pyramids and the Acropolis are thousands of years old. Chartres and St Peter only hundreds of years old. And yet, each in its own way a sacred place. A place where you simply can't avoid thinking about humanity and your tiny part in it all.

In my case, I need only travel 10 minutes from my front door for another kind of sacred place: O'Hare International Airport. Only a few years old, it too evokes stop-in-your-tracks thoughts about our flawed yet always seeking humanity. Grab a cup of coffee some afternoon, and experience the drama hurrying and shoving all around you.

A crash course in what it means to be human. The pride, the passion and the purpose.

The first thing you feel -- an oh you will feel it! -- is the sense of urgency. Everyone on their way to somewhere. Or something. Or someone. A sprawling ant-hill microcosm of the human experience in a state of perpetual motion. Virtually every race, nationality, gender, religion, party, and career. But woven into this crazy-quilt tapestry is the same universal need. To believe that all of this -- and all of you -- are somehow of consequence in the scheme of things.

Armed police, drug sniffing dogs, security check-points are there to reassert another universal. To be human is to be always in danger. The moment we're torn from our mother's womb, we're in a state of danger from infections, accidents, and other assorted calamities. Thankfully, we've all made it this far; but new risks will always lurk. And so our species will never rest.

Perhaps the greatest universals pulsating throughout this hippodrome are the ancient twins: sorrow and joy. Both are here, playing out before your eyes at almost every terminal.The little and large sorrows of goodbyes...but then the very large joys of hellos. Watch the family and friends bunch up to play their respective parts. Hugs and tears where loved ones are departing for who knows how long; but in rich counter-point, terminals where eyes pop and arms explode at the first sight of the one they've been waiting for.

Sitting here nursing another cup of Italian Roast, I may be guilty of an arrogance of sorts. All these flesh-and-blood people with flesh-and-blood agendas -- somehow I've made of them a cast in a three-act drama. A remarkable piece of theatre without even the price of admission. But why not...? No harm to them, and great reward to me.

Say, I wonder...Is this a little like God sees us?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Sorry, Tweeters, but a recent study by Sysomos [a social-media analytics company] found that 71% of the 1.2 billion tweets posted in the last two months generated "no reaction whatsoever!" While we may have a lot to say, frankly my dears the world may not give a damn.

Ah, but now turn this around. Instead, try listening to the world. Say, to the eternal tides of the oceans. Here it's virtually inevitable we will experience -- body and soul -- the rhythms of our planet. In and out...higher and lower... forever leaving and then returning. If science is right that we first evolved from out of the ocean, it's easy to understand why we respond to the rhythms of its tides.

Find a beach. Stand toes to the tides. Now give yourself over to what they're telling you. Life is change...! Change is growth...! Growth depends on how you ride the changes...!

There's a man who, at his 100th birthday, admitted: "I've seen a lot of changes in my time; and I've been against every one of them!" He said it with a smile, which seems to say he learned the law of the tides the hard way. Then there are those eternal optimists who have never met a change they didn't like. Somewhere in between these two tide-riders ride the rest of us.

When you watch the surfers riding the great waves in Hawaii, there's a wedding that takes place between the rhythms of the water and of the rider. An instinct, a skill, a determination to catch the cadence, thereby becoming one with it. The same is said about great leaders. They don't so much choose the direction, as they find the direction things are going and then get out in front of it.

Time Magazine will be coming out with its annual New Years edition featuring the greater tide-riders of the year. In politics, industry, education, religion and entertainment. OK, that's good copy. However, what's far better copy are what we can do with our own tides.

But remember one thing. While no one can control the tides, we can watch out for the cross-current that can sweep us off course. Where are these found? Most times while we're passively sitting in front of screens, little and large, seeking to inundate us with everything from slanted news to suffocating nonsense.

Ready now...? Tide's up....!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


There it stands to this day. The gnarled old Oak still spreading its limbs arrogantly over the small back yard I once called my world. It's been some 70 years since I first tried climbing it. More than once, mind you. But my shaky little legs were no match for that Everest of a tree.

Now as I drive by it I can see it wasn't all that tall. Most of my buddies scampered up with notable success. Successes I recall with particular pangs whenever they did it for Rosemary, Peggy and Barbara. Conquering Everest in front of their admiring eyes would have been such grandeur. Such triumph. But such was not to be.

Why, in all God's green kingdom, did He choose to honor my backyard with that damn tree? I felt like Job even before I had even read Job!

Now, of course, I've aged. Grown wiser. What will be will be is my mantra. I care not a fig for that damned Oak!
OK, maybe a little.

The lesson, though, is what counts. [There have to be lessons to life, right?] In the case of my mighty mean Oak, the lesson is that failure walks with us every step of the way. Little failures, medium failures, horrendous failures. But there's never been a traveler free from failures. [Please, tell me I'm right!]

And yet, the patented comforts aren't much comfort. [No-pain-no-gain or it's-not-the-cards-you're-dealt-but-how-you-play-them-that-counts!] Instead, this might be the time to consider how failures are almost always serendipitous bricks that wedge themselves into your Yellow Brick Road, leading you in directions you might never have taken.

If I had climbed more trees, I might have impressed more neighborhood girls, one day marrying one and never meeting my Joan...! If I had gotten that advertising job I fought for, I might have spent a lifetime hustling products instead of teaching pupils...! If I had been promoted to a higher rank in the Air Force, I might have been given some command which surely would have meant losing the entire Korean War...!

Well, you get the idea. Next, I intend to e-mail my lesson to the White House with all good wishes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Right now, in restless America, the latest hot storyline is all about vampires. The world of the undead clogs our television and movie screens week after week. Why, we wonder? While psychologists and producers can offer their theories, here's an offer you can't refuse: Find out for yourself...!

Well, OK, you may refuse the way the offer is being extended. And yet, why not push the envelope? Why not take it to the next level? From the undead to the dead? Or, more specifically, to your local cemetery.

This thought should be no more unsettling than the thought of sitting in the dark to watch your next orgy of vampires. However, to make it easier, don't do it in the dark. Pick a nice sunny afternoon. Find a comfortable piece of lawn. No one is going to scare you or hurt you here. Actually, a quiet green cemetery can be one of the most calming and creative venues on earth.

While you and I struggle -- to exist, to stay healthy, to figure out what this stormy world is all about -- we rarely take the time (or the wisdom) to consider where it's all heading. Here is where it's all heading...! Here in the silent serenity of a manicured graveyard. At least our mortal remains.

So consider this offer as an opportunity. To rest...to reflect...to pray...to commune. Yes, the dead here have something to communicate. If only we listen. Not fearfully. Stoically. To anyone who thinks of themself as more than simply evolved planetary dust, death is surely not the end. Actually a new beginning. And very much like the fetus moves from the small comfort of the womb into the vast wonders of the world, this new beginning just may be all the paradisaical things we've been promised all these centuries!

So make the visit. Stay awhile. You won't find any vampires. But you may find some answers....

Monday, November 1, 2010


Try these on for size:

* If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong
* To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research
* I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you
* A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory
* I used to be indecisive; now I'm not sure
* Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech with a surprise twist at the end. Stand-ups call it a punch-line. Presidential speechwriters call it a gift. Ted Sorensen, who just died, was one of the best. He helped John F Kennedy with soaring passages like: "The torch has passed to a new generation" and "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country

Words have power. Even in this age of visual action and computer sizzle. Actors are only as good as their playwright, presidents only as effective as the writers who help design their public narrative. FDR had: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Kennedy had: "The new frontier." Bush 1 had: "A kinder gentler America." Obama's narrative is still being written [not written-off as the rival speechwriters would have us believe].

Sometimes, though, words alone don't always cut it. Cut through the layers of ennui or doubt that clog our willingness to embrace them. Having scripted countless political speeches, I've had to listen to finely crafted passages collapse in the mouths of their incompetent presenters. If only they had some music behind them...!

Aha, that's exactly what the American Musical is really all about. Scripts of fine words complemented by orchestrations of equally fine music. There is the Book plus the Score. Try one without the other, and you have dead stage. But when woven together in just the right way, the stage explodes into magic like: "Showboat"... "South Pacific"..."The Sound of Music"...."Gigi"...."My Fair Lady"... "Hair"... "Godspell"..."Music Man"..."Ragtime."

OK, so it's not likely our politicians will take up singing anytime soon. But in the meanwhile listen to some of the songs you love, and imagine these melodies without their words. Or these words without their melodies. Upbeat experiments come to mind: "God Bless America"..."Oh What a Beautiful Morning"..."The Summer Wind" ...."Born in the USA"...."What a Wonderful World."

Oh and by the way -- that last one can only be performed by only one voice: Louie...!

If you had to be told that means Louie Armstrong, then reading this has been a waste of your time. But even if you can't find the right voice to express the right words, both political & religious history report that the best things we do as a species have almost always begun with words....