Monday, January 31, 2011


Let me begin with a small, self-serving fanfare. I spent some quality time with the great Marshall McLuhan in 1968; and I live only a few blocks from where Hillary Clinton grew up about that same time. So what...? So this....!

McLuhan got it right when he predicted modern communications would transform billions of us into a massive "global village." Instead of space and time continuing to divide us, we would once again become like the primitive villagers who could instantly see and talk and share with one another.
Hillary later added that to raise a child still requires a whole village, only now the village is a 24/7 electronic phenomenon.

But here's where they both went wrong.

Well, not wrong, but incomplete. With all their foresight, they still couldn't quite foresee what this new village would do to its inhabitants. Instead of us once again becoming collectively engaged in the same life-affirming village experiences, ironically we've often become more insular than involved. Day after day our little hand held screens bombard our sensorium with data and details too vast to really absorb; and night after night our larger screens hold us transfixed with news events from around the globe too horrific to comprehend.

Western humanity now has at its command more information and finger-touch power than any previous 50 generations put together. And yet we are often just as paralyzed with confusion and fear as were the primitive villagers of old. Still mystified and threatened by whatever out there looks different than us.

And so it is that what was meant to make us free -- our wondrous 24/7 communication technologies -- often have enslaved us. The voices and faces and data streaming out from our screens act like some enormous tribal witch doctor, directing us what to think, what to believe, and how to act. Think about it. Aren't most of our decisions influenced by the last news report or cabal pundit or speech we just heard? We like to feel we make our own decisions, but tally up how many of OUR decisions were really THEIR opinions.

One advantage the old villages had over ours. At least back then there was some down-time between village events during which to reflect. In today's 24/7 electronic village -- no such luck. No such luxury. No such lantern. So be careful what you last listen to or read. Including this...!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Over time, people gather up and honor the little wisdoms of life. We call them everything from platitudes to adages. One of the more respected adages is: "Don't judge another person until you've walked in their shoes."

On first impression, makes good sense. After some thought, though, could be seen in a very different light. It's not the people in the shoes that count so much as the shoes themselves. Every society considers certain shoes -- certain public roles in life -- as both special and enviable. Perhaps what we're really saying then is: given a chance, I'd very much like to walk in those shoes...!

Which president wouldn't like to stand in the admired shoes of a Jefferson, Jackson or Lincoln? Which Hollywood starlet with blond hair wouldn't aspire to be another Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe or Meg Ryan? Which quarterback wouldn't love to be another player-celebrity like Joe Namath or which pitcher would refuse to stand in the honored shoes of a Greg Maddox?

Here's the point.

When you turn this adage on its head, it's as much about wow as wisdom. Privately we all indulge in fantasies about being someone else, especially someone with fame and fortune. It's in the flawed nature of our species to be always on the hunt for something we haven't got. As Aesop reminds us in the tale of the dog with the meat. Chewing on a big hunk of steak, the dog stopped to look at himself reflected in the water. But when he saw a dog with what looked like a bigger slab of beef, he leaped in for the kill. Only to lose what he already had.

This yen to walk in someone else's shoes, bigger and better than our own, is at work everyday. Everywhere. Everyone. Sat -- it may even help explain why so far 76 people have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for president in 2012. Seventy of them totally unknown, but anxious to change all that. Perhaps they haven't read the Mayan calendar which predicts the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Or maybe they wouldn't mind, just so long as they're in a bigger pair of shoes at the time...

Saturday, January 29, 2011


The Bible reports Pilate asked Jesus: "What is truth?" People have been asking ever since...

Our courts speak of "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Lovers claim it, liers manipulate it, historians often decide for themselves. Such as those who did the research for THE KING'S SPEECH, a movie predicted for an Oscar.

But now here's where this truth thing gets sticky. Anglophiles are cheering the film. A few Anglophobes are questioning it. They rightly say the resigning Edward was a Nazi sympathizer. However, they go on to say so really was the entire Royal Family (itself of German descent). Even the British Lion -- Churchill -- is reported to have sided with Edward until it became politically inexpedient.

Life often shows us the truth that is best, is the truth that serves us best. Perhaps counted among such truths are the legends of everyone from Marco Polo and Columbus to Washington and Lincoln; from the likes of saints to Santa. And yet -- in the name of truth -- some historians have resurrected each only to revile them. With hidden faults, failures, affairs and pretensions. Now, just before the Oscars, it's Churchill and the Royal Family.

When old enough to have heard such indictments time and time again, the senses are dulled to them. However, what of the children? What of the young, unformed minds we are always talking about? How does truth best serve them? Delivered raw and bawdy? Or packaged with a few lies and lace?

Historians may find those questions easy. Parents, teachers and clergy will not. For it is their challenge to raise the young with at least as much hope as history. Better yet, hope emerging from that history! FDR and Reagen were good at that. So were my unflinching parents. Now lets see how Oscar handles it.

Friday, January 28, 2011


In the unlikely event we need examples of how the scales of justice get badly tipped, here are some recent numbers from "The world's four richest citizens -- Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mukesh Ambani -- now control more wealth than all of the world's 57 poorest nations."

If research had been this precise in the past, history would surely have shown the same tipped scales in ancient Egypt, Persia, China, Greece, Rome, right into the 20th C. It would have also shown that along with these few (on the heavy side of the scales) there would be the usual many (on the light side):

* There have always been the poor among us. Over the centuries, by the impoverished billions. Why this tragic state of affairs is often debated; rarely resolved. These teeming masses are forever pressing their faces against the candy store windows of the world. The few rich assuage the many poor in various forms. From ancient Rome's bread & circuses to modern America's welfare programs. But like Scrooge's Cratchit family, they never quite go away. And so the periodic uprisings, as in today's Middle East, which threaten and often succeed in toppling the few

* There will also always be the minorities among us. Different in different lands. Perhaps Armenians or Hindus or Coptics. In the US, usually African American and Hispanic. Once when national borders were sealed, the status remained fairly quo. Not anymore. Old Europe experiences waves of new citizens from abroad; and now the US faces a 2050 population 50% non-white. And so it is that we either integrate or disintegrate

* There will always be the wounded. Tens of millions in every land who exist wounded in either body or mind, with a pain that frequently becomes violence. The handicapped, the rejected, the ghettoed, the imprisoned. Often deprived of the what the few feast on, these many find various ways of trying to re-tip the scales. If not in the courts, then in the darkened city side-streets where most of us dare not venture

Sure, we all brush our teeth and comb our hair the same way. But after that -- well, out in the world where our peers don't often read the bold egalitarianism of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson -- we all takes sides on the scales. Those with the most, intend to keep it; those with the least, intend to change that. Now if "Justice" would just take off her blindfold, she might lose that serene look.

Every rich man and power broker in the world has already. What they do about what they see is each generation's biggest question...

Thursday, January 27, 2011


There's an attic in everyone's life. Some cobwebby place where important things get stored. Often to be forgotten. But meant never to be lost.

My attic is now where I can no longer reach. It sits in the dusty silence of that great red brick bungalow now owned by someone I don't even know. The home in which my family and I grew up together so many long years past. Living, loving, crying, and of course enshrining prized items up there we knew we would forever honor.

Everything you can think of, smile over, or cry at. Christmas albums...gloves and scarves for the next winter, bathing suits and picnic baskets for the next summer...sentimental toys we never wanted to give up... needlework gems from Grandma and that scarred cornet from Grandpa...extra batteries we planned to use ...cherished autograph books our classmates signed and who we knew we would always remember...sheet music and LP records we intended never to give up...special toys and radio premiums (especially that 1939 Jack Armstrong hike-o-meter)...oh, and thick scrap books (like the WWII newspaper clippings liturgically cut and pasted from 1941 to the day the boys finally came marching home in 1945).

Our attic was not simply a storage room. More like a museum. A sacred palace where sacred moments were sealed, to be unwrapped only when and how the gathered family chose. As a kid you often visited the shadowy cathedral, but you never tarried long. After all, there would be time enough.

Only that time doesn't always come.

Children grow up and move away. Parents die. Neighbors change. The empty bungalow is sold. To whom, why, when and how is not yours to know. Only that whenever you drive past its aging face, you can almost hear it weep for you. You think of that great dark attic. What have they done with it? Why did you all forget about it? Yes, a quick post-funeral cleaning, but how come no one ever thought about together unsealing its gifts as reverently as we sealed them?

Too late. Too long ago. Too many relics gone with the wind. Somehow, though, the memory can fondle each lost treasure. And the heart, well, it can see each one again in all its living splendor. Like a family, a community and a nation needs to keep remembering and honoring who, why and how it got here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


President Obama, our candidates for mayor, all political leaders speak the same call -- we must win the future. And they're right, because after all we're going to spend the rest of our lives there. But where exactly do we best find and follow that future?

Well, some numbers for you. Right here in Chicago, riding their very own fleet-to-the-future. In 2011 this fleet of yellow school buses transported more than 5 million inquiring students to the Lincoln Park and Brookfield Zoos, 3 million to the Field Museum and Museum of Science & Industry, 2 million to the Shedd Aquarium, and another 1 1/2 million to the Art Institute.

None of those kids can vote nor hold office. But very soon now they will. The challenge for any futurist is to energize their minds -- both in and out of the classroom -- to seek higher goals and better ways. Right now, presidents and mayors depend on you and me, a population of minds already shaped (or mishaped). However, it's on these as yet unshaped minds that our future will soon enough depend (remember how young Gates and Zuckerberg were when they changed our world).

Nothing new about looking to our children for our future. Standard political rhetoric. But what's new this time is the time-line.Shorter and tougher than ever.And dozens of other nations are on the very same hunt with their kids

So the next time you see one of this fleet-to-the-future driving by, give 'em a wave. Better yet, a salute. Because you see, all those yelping little bodies in there are on their way to tomorrow.To help them on their ride -- really our ride too! -- we need to support them big time.

By the way we nourish them at home...send them our best teachers at school...and back those political leaders with the finest fast-track visions for our wavering educational system.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Chicagoans woke up this morning to learn that thus far this has been the 28th snowiest year on record. The kind of figure that statisticians love. But what about the rest of us...?

It would be anti-intellectual to dismiss the role of stats and facts in our age of science. But would it be anti-intuitive to suggest that we -- even as advanced and modern as we are -- live, love and leap more from feelings than from figures? Surely not even evolutionists would deny us our emotions.

So it's settled then. Modern humanity relies increasingly on the empirical data of the day, but at the same time is allowed room for its many and complex emotions.

How best to conflate the two? How best to cognitively saddle our bronco emotions? Well, that's what psychologists and psychiatrists are for, right? But wait...what about composers!

Most people will grant that even the greatest intellects can be swept off their feet and their game by great composers. [The New York Times just completed a study of the world's 10 greatest, starting with Bach to Bartok]. Most people would also include the popular song writers. You know, the tin pan alley and Broadway crowd who don't write for Carnegie Hall, but for lovers. Make your own top ten list, but surely it will include song writers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Rogers & Hammerstein, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan.

Want to pinpoint exactly how important such song writers are in our lives? Fill in the blanks below with the name of the song that first rushes to your mind [check that, your heart] >>

* They were playing ______ the night of my prom

* They were playing ______ my first year of college

* They were playing ______ the year I met you

* They were playing ______ at my last music concert

* They were playing ______ when the news broke in with that terrible tragedy

Remembering this is the 28th snowiest year in Chicago history is interesting. Remembering the music when that special someone/something happened is virtually instant. Is it still permitted to say: "Music is the language of heaven inside our hearts."

Monday, January 24, 2011


Is Beethoven really sexier in bed than your lover...? Before dismissing the question as absurd or offensive, first check with the neuroscientists at McGill University. In their discipline's relentless search for what chemicals help make us who and what we are, they studied the brain responses of their volunteers' favorite instrumental music.

Scans monitored the brains while playing everything from rock to bagpipes, from punk to Beethoven. They revealed that during particularly thrilling moments of the music, the striatum region of the brain releases that ever-popular, much-beloved neurochemical dopamine. The very same marquee-flashing chemical that gives rise to the pleasure we get from eating, drinking, drugs and sex.

No denying the satisfaction these scientists got from this discovery. No denying such neuroscientific discoveries help us map the brain. But there are those who will deny the brain is the mind, and the mind is the brain. Which seems to place them in science's own favorite role: skeptic.

This skepticism is found among philosophers, theologians, poets, mystics, clergy, not to mention passionate lovers who don't often think of their mate as a galaxy of churning dopamine.

However, Harvard neurologist Gottfried Schlaug was so impressed with the McGill study, he said toe USA Today: "This really nails it!"

The thought here is, nails what...? That what we are, is to be found in our brain? That whatever energizes our brain is chemical in nature? That we can be best understood in terms of our measurable brain activities?

With apologies, these are not new questions on this blogsite. They have mostly been answered by those who explain, "Science is not the enemy, simply the source of new and useful physiologic information." Which is perfectly correct! Science deals with physiology like the brain. It requires other disciplines to deal with the non-physical like: the mind. the spirit. the psyche. the soul.

The hope is always this. In face of the ultimate question "Who Am I?," the search for an answer will rise to higher heights than the brain, the lobes, the chemicals, the DNA. After all, we share each of these with all the rest of the evolved planet. But what the planet does not share with us are the unique human achievements we still stand in awe of: A Venus, a David, a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Monet, a Gaudi, a Mother Teresa.

And to be sure, a Beethoven. Both in and out of bed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


The universe may be expanding. China may be growing. Certainly most of our waistlines are enlarging. But there are things in America (circa 21st C) that are disappearing. It's of course the law of life to have change, to experience loss, to watch some things going, going, gone....

At the same time, there's something to be said for getting a grip on what's going and gone. To try to understand what's slipping through the fingers of a society's daily life. Instead of simply watching, we can wonder. If we wonder just right, perhaps loss can be a lesson. A useful compass into tomorrow for those with no real recollections of yesterday:.

What, then, is America losing and what might this mean for us:

* Family farms ~ Nowhere is there a finer figure than the sturdy farmer looking over his fields with his family by his side. Once a symbol of America, today it's virtually extinct

* Players who stay with one team ~ Once upon a time, athletes came up the system and reached the pros to remain with the same team till the end. Not one athlete in a thousand today

* House calls ~ The little black bag carried in the hands of the devoted family physician up to the front door of an ailing patient. Medicine says it's better in the hospital, and so ends the career of the black bag

* Gas station attendants ~ You have to be pretty old to remember what these are. But whatever your memory may be, a memory is all that it is in today's hurry-up, self-serve gas stops

* The milkman ~ Another once familiar sight lumbering down the streets or alleys in his crisp white uniform to bring your daily order of milk, cream, and perhaps a dozen eggs. Not only a service, a relationship

* The dining room ~ At one time the premier room in the house where guests were feasted and friendships solidified. The times they are a'changing. Today there are fast-foods, order-ins, and restaurants

* Men's garters and women's corsets ~ Gone with the wind, and in this case probably a good thing

*Teen age dating ~ An ancient tribal custom resplendent with its own joys and and sorrows. These days, though, far too formal when just hooking-up is the quicker, safer, less committed way

* The smell of burning leaves in the fall ~ Now for those noses that can fondly remember, this may be the most painful loss of them all

* Wedding night virgins ~ What can be said of this? Well, there may not be enough old men and women to recall the experience, so perhaps it's not so much loss as relic

The 21st C -- a brave new world with enthralling new opportunities lighting the horizons ahead. Onward...! With perchance an occasional glance over the shoulder.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


A quick show of hands. How many times have you heard of guys who smoked and drank, but lived into their 90s? How many times have you read about health gurus who did everything right, but died in their 40s?

There's this vast right-wing conspiracy -- they call it fitness -- about how staying physically active is the way to the good life. Treadmills, bar bells, exercycles, power walking. Step into any gym, country club or senior home in the nation, and you're immediately chest deep in flabby bodies sweating to become glorious bodies. The conspiracy is also into wellness -- staying socially active. Like being involved in book clubs, woodworking classes, chess tournaments and choirs.

Here's one uninvolved flabby body that respects their mission, but can't quite share their methods. I mean, running is something you do if there's a guy chasing you with a knife. Gyms are what you join if you enjoy pain. As for becoming involved in chirpy social groups, Noel Coward struck the right note for me when he said, "Whenever I feel like exercising or joining something, I lie down until the feeling passes."

My children and especially my doctors disagree. They make a good case when they say there's some denial going on here. And yet as I approach my 80th birthday in a few days, I have to assume I'm still walking and talking for reasons other than the wellness programs in which I never participated. Good genes? Good luck? Good angels? Whatever, it wasn't this ugly treadmill that's been staring at me these many years. Oh I use it, although probably not correctly; but if fitness and wellness mean dying a little later, I reason I'm still going to die.

In the meantime, I ask myself. Does my mind really need this treadmill...? Does my imagination actually require push-ups....? Does my taste in music and theatre and poetry demand I power my way through 18 holes of golf or discuss the latest best-seller or sing in a choir...? Not saying these activities are counter-productive. Just wondering what's demonstrably bad about sleeping late in the morning, eating eggs for breakfast and pasta for dinner, along with napping whenever and wherever my body asks me?

Oh, and what's really so bad about not joining grumpy strangers to sing "Climb Every Mountain"....?

Friday, January 21, 2011


People in general look for shortcuts. Americans in particular invent them. We're busy, so we prefer quick headlines, abridged versions, captions, slogans, soundbites.

This helps explain why we look for instant-impact images to take the place of an entire era. We tend to perceive ourselves and our history in specific faces. Colonial America...? The Pilgrims at Plymouth, Washington on his white horse. The Civil War...? Lincoln in the White House, Grant or Lee on their field horse. Industrial America ...? Thomas Edison in his laboratory, Teddy Roosevelt charging on his horse.

By the 20th C, Hollywood provides some of its own faces. This time they come without horses. The Depression...? Along with FDR and his jaunty cigarette holder, there's Henry Fonda's gaunt face in "The Grapes of Wrath." World War II...? Along with Churchill and generals Patton and MacArthur, there's Van Johnson's grimy GI face in "Battleground." The Sixties...? Along with JFK in the White House, there's James Dean in "Rebel without a Cause."

Throughout these last 50 years, though, it's been harder to find single images that capture the mood of the nation. We've become such a diverse nation, we're busy emphasizing the "pluribus" far more than the "unum." Now the real and the cinematic jumble together: John Wayne...Marilyn Monroe...John Lennon...Neil Armstrong ...Bill Gates ...Rocky Balboa...the New York firefighters...Hillary Clinton...Dirty Harry. But these days, no two dinner parties are likely to agree on any one of these.

If we insist upon images to encapsulate our feelings and focus, to whom might we look in this new century?

Maybe the answer comes from those who see America from outside America. If so, international poll after poll, and list after list, suggest there is still one film and one set of cinematic images that best project modern America. Among young and old, male and female, rich and poor, here and abroad.

"Casablanca" starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman,

May not be your cup of tea, but the people polled agree on some interesting basics. Bogart is the pro-typical American male -- wise and cynical in the ways of the world, but vulnerable and sensitive in the ways of the heart. Bergman -- luminous in the eyes of any man, but in the end the key to the plot and its purpose.

No need to debate. Maybe just think about those images the next time you look at yours....

Thursday, January 20, 2011


This week we took down the candles from our windows. During the Christmas season they symbolized humanity's search in the night. Science, however, will never extinguish its candles, for it relentlessly continues its great search. For answers. For explanations. For ultimate scientific truths about our species and its universe.

Fundamentalist believers will say humanity has already found the answer in the birth of Jesus. Rationalist believers will say there is indeed an intelligible higher-power, only we can't be precisely sure who and/or what it is. Secular scientists will say the only higher-power is in the many cosmic laws and forces it continues to uncover.

This search by science has become a great obsession in the West. However, in recent years, a reaction has grown among believers who challenge the integrity of this search. To some, it seems almost heretical, and thus the accusation of "scientism." The philosophical assumption that the real in our world is reducible to what the empirical sciences alone can verify or describe. Energy or matter or gravity or the Big Bang. In effect, scientism is the assumption, by the general public reading daily science reports, that matter is in the end all that matters.

Science writers like Hawking, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens seem to agree that anything outside the range of the empirical and measurable is mostly fantasy, the stuff of superstitions and primitive beliefs. That there might be a dimension of reality knowable in a non-scientific but still rational manner does not occur. This bias -- this blindness to literature, philosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, religion -- is best encapsulated in the term scientism

And yet, when today's scientists consider the shoulders upon whom their great works have been built, they will find the founding figures of modern science -- Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Tycho Brahe -- were themselves religious. Including giant physicists of the 19th C like Faraday and Maxwell.

I was thinking about all this while packing our candles away. You want to embrace the undeniable contributions of modern science, but without denying your own long-finessed beliefs in the divine. Wrapping the candles you remember the proud Enlightenment writers of the 18th C who told us religion had only been a temporary delusion from which humanity was now freed. You also remember your philosophy prof who counter-suggested that this new secular, scientific way of thinking is more likely just one more existential choice; a particular moment in human development rather than the final stage in human development.

Good to get these candles tucked away for another season. Might also be good if modern scientism reflected more carefully on the fact that every time it pierces a cosmic curtain, another curtain seems to be waiting. Just maybe the cosmos is answering scientism's presumption that humanity can empirically crack all the mysteries.

Maybe the answer is "no." And maybe aren't some of us kinda glad....

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


America is in danger of losing something great. Its "greatest generation." Not to death, but to disbelief.....!

When history and Tom Brokaw called the generation of the 30s and 40s "the greatest," I was there watching them. Parents, family, neighbors. They struggled through the Great Depression and World War II with a tough brand of resilience that authentically earned the accolades.

But lately the accolades -- like most accolades -- are being questioned. Worse still, being dismissed as inaccurately sentimental. Today's younger more skeptical generations, accustomed to higher social standards, often look back and see all the racism, sexism and prejudice of those days. "How is that great?" they ask.

The answer from those who were there sounds self-serving. Perhaps gilding the past with stardust. Memories do play tricks. But that may miss the point. The term "greatest generation" is not meant to paint an imperfect population as perfect. It's meant to look back to a population that was surely imperfect, but which was also much younger. More innocent. Better connected. More willing to believe in something so corny as larger than itself.

Despite all the poverty and causalities of those years, there may have also been a greater respect for the ideal. Divorce rates, abortions, drug use, homicides and gun violence were all at dramatically lower levels in most cities of the nation. Something else. Family, schooling and praying were generally taken more seriously. Flags, parades, the Oath of Allegiance, and good-guys-finish-first movies were too. Oh, and just about anybody could sleep safely out in the park at night when the summers got too hot

Now -- of all things -- the annual Super Bowl may help make the point.

During the 30s and 40s there seemed to be a more Norman Rockwell sense of community and camaraderie among families, neighbors, congregations, entire communities. So now when 21st C Americans gather for the Super Bowl -- at the game and in millions of homes -- this all-together-at-one-time-feeling is fairly rare for today's more diverse generations. But back then, it was far more common as we experienced -- live and together -- our presidents rally us, our radio comedians tickle us, our reporters inform us, and our heroes inspire us us.

Just as a lot of Americans today feel connected on Super Bowl Sunday, even more Americans then felt connected throughout the year. Let the record show, becoming more profoundly connected is what can help make a society once again "the greatest"....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


There are many battles that rage in the world. Then and now, there and here. But perhaps the greatest battle of them all is the eternal battle of the sexes. Beginning with that apple caper in Eden. Wounded men have been writing about wily women ever since. Sometimes with humor, mostly with suspicion.

It seems that in the very early stages of post-Eden civilization, fertility was seen as the center of life, and thus female gods. Later, when power was understood as more important than fertility, male gods. From then on, women usually get the short straw in the stories. Jezebel...Bathsheba...Salome...Helen of Troy...Cleopatra... Lucretia Borgia...Lady Macbeth...Anne Boleyn...Madame Defarge...Mata Harri.

But then there are a few undisputed heroines. The Virgin Mary...Dante's Beatrice... Joan of Arc...Elizabeth I... Madam Curie...Susan B Anthony....the Gibson Girl....Mother Teresa...Margaret Thatcher,,,Golda Meir...Hillary Clinton.

And yet, as with all historic struggles, the story is rarely simple black&white, right&wrong, Venus&Mars. The sisterhood of modern women today have a great many leaders to look to who are debated as hotly as they are honored. These are not the ladies-who-lunch. These are those who stir the national waters, generating equal parts praise and panning. Betty Friedan...Gloria Steinem...Oprah Winfrey...Jane Fonda....Barbra Streisand... Barbara Walters...and lately the Dragon Lady professor from Yale Amy Huan who has a brittle new theory for raising girls.

There are biologists who will explain this competitive dynamic in terms of our genes. Psychiatrists in terms of our mother. Hollywood producers in terms of our sexuality. Rock singers in terms of groupies. My wife and daughters in terms of my dis-informed cultural conditioning.

The French who wisely, unlike their American counterparts, linger over long lunches and wax eloquent about all things sensuous, approach the differences between the male and the female of the species with the usual Gallic flair. Hard to argue with this toast: "Viva La difference'!"

Monday, January 17, 2011


Young and old alike, today we confront the same central mystery of life. How to understand our increasingly complicated world? We read, we listen, we ponder, we pray. But exactly how can we best make sense of so much complexity coming at us so fast?

How about this. How about seeing everything in terms of what it has actually become -- show business? Seriously! Something like a physicist sees his universe within the framework of quantum mechanics, maybe we need to see our society within the framework of the entertainment world.

At first that seems counter-intuitive. After all, the history of show business starts poorly. For centuries it was mostly court jugglers and jesters. Later, vagabond carnivals and riverboats. Even by the early 20th C, its minstrel singers and vaudeville actors were hardly among society's elite.

But now...!

With 101 fan magazines and scores of glitzy award ceremonies, show people have become society's creme de la creme. Welcomed by popes and royalty, honored at universities and the White House, its members are sought after, their every word or fashion a gem.

It's here's where life becomes show business and show business becomes life. You see, today, everyone has become a performer. Presidents, senators, court justices, generals, news anchors, coaches, players and clergy alike. No one dares go out there presenting them self to the public just as they are. Not good enough. Presidents need cued lights and fanfares, senators work the cameras among the DC news crews, court justices stage campus events for their latest book, reporting generals are rehearsed, news anchors and their on-location team hit the airwaves with all the fuss of a Hollywood sound-stage. As for the coaches, players and preachers, well they've learned how to play the audience and sell their product with as much zeal as most rock groups.

The name of the game, folks, is show business. Because the American public has come to believe Irving Berlin was right: "There's no business like show business/no people like show people."

Only thing is, the real world out there is actually a lot more than just a stage; and the people running it need to be a lot more than just good performers. Beneath the make-up, there better be some real substance. If not, this show's run may be a lot shorter than we hoped for.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Ever since the first signs of human life on the planet, humanity has been at war with one another. We can debate the reasons, but not the fatalities.

While most people say they deplore violence and war, most people engage in both on a regular basis. Some even laud its merits. Caesar, Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler and Patton are among those warriors who have said war can bring out what is best in us -- zeal, struggle, courage, victory.

Hollywood's cash boxes have never been adverse to cashing in on a good thing. And so it has been grinding out celluloid warfare from the days of "The Birth of a Nation" ( ) to its current spate of military spectaculars. But if we can't always agree on why war, we can probably on why movie wars sell. They permit a collective outlet for the semi-civilized beast in us all.

Th patrons in the cineplex may not roar like they do at a football game or a wrestling match, but the passions perking just beneath the popcorn surface are surely present. The films are exquisitely designed to achieve this effect, as they first set up the "enemy," then the "hero," and finally the blood-churning denouement when at last good-guys-kill-off-bad-guys to the brass section of the soaring soundtrack.

The younger the males in the audience, the more you can sense the passions at work [you don't want to engage any young stud on your way out of the theatre!]. As for the female of the species, tradition has it they curl up in soft dependence upon their man. In truth, evidence suggests women no less than men harbor gorges of repressed rage.

Why bring all this up...? The better question might be: Why hasn't the species learned by now how to better channel such rage toward more worthy enemies...? Say, prejudice? Incivility? Weapons? Ignorance? Oh, and all those folks who spill sticky Cokes and gum on the floor?

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Four seasons every year. Each has their very own sights, sounds, smells and story...

Spring is a collage of stirring black soil and sprouting green life. It echoes with the sweet songs of a thousand returning birds. Its fragrances are a heady mix of budding foliage and scented flowers. Its story...? every year, the same great narrative of hope rising from the fact it has once more slain the great white dragon of winter.

Summer is a big fat juicy chunk of life which arrives in bold colors, like blazing orange suns and bright blue skies. The sounds of summer are the robins during the day and the crickets at night. As for what is smells like, well summers smell a little like heaven come to earth with all its flaming incense. Its story...? every year it unfolds like the pages of the greatest story ever told.

Fall is nature's grand funeral of browns, crimsons and yellows. It's a chorus of harvest sounds as the earth's bounties are gathered in the fields from where they will travel to the tables. As for its aroma, fall is a liturgy of pungent perfumes rising up from every part of the dying land. Its story...? every year this is the season which reminds us that God's beauty in the spring and summer is not only meant to be appreciated, but to be reaped.

Winter is many things to many people. Cold and barren, yet there is a crystalline beauty to its mornings and a silent whiteness to its nights. The sounds of the season are children laughing in the snow and waiting for the Santa. The smell of winter is something you imbibe more than just inhale. Its story...? the world is pausing to honor its God as it gears up for the next new year to which His children hope to again participate.

Four seasons. Every year. Right on time. They hardly seem like an accident....

Friday, January 14, 2011


I'm thinking of all the faces in the world. Well, at least in my world. Family, neighbors, co-workers, leaders, villains and heroes. They say, like snowflakes, no two faces are exactly alike. Each life therein an unrepeatable act.

Faces can be examined physiologically. Better still, psychologically. Better still, spiritually. After our hearts, our faces are perhaps our greatest works of art. The eyes and mouth, the lines and folds, they are the composite of our living. Which is why young faces still remain so very clean and smooth.

Older faces display all that has happened along the way. The joys and successes. The fears and sorrows. To look closely is to see and sense a Rorschach test coming into clear view. A Renaissance portrait emerging from its canvass directly into your soul. All of which is why it's hard not to stare sometimes.

On commuter trains. In buses. In planes. Across restaurants. I know some dear ones who take such staring as an intrusion or a sneer. Maybe. More likely people are simply drawn to interesting faces. And -- when as old as me -- prompted to address them. A hello, a nice-day, a my-how-happy-you-seem. To date -- not a single grumph or slap Perchance because even pretty faces may be lonely people.

Tallying up the score, this has included such loneliness as: A pair of cops on a lunch break...a passenger thumbing mindlessly through a magazine....a mother carrying her infant....a waitress struggling with her orders. I put it to you: Are any of these any less warmed by a friendly greeting than you? I didn't think so!


And accompanying these faces, these fates...

How is it one wonders that scores of unknown but headlined faces have somehow converged upon your own small world? Within precisely 4.5 mile of this keypad there have occurred at least four singular events: America's worst domestic air crash (at O'Hare Field)...John Gacy's home and body-burial site for America's worst mass murderer....the hotel where O.J. Simpson got rid his gloves the night after his wife was murdered in Los Angeles ....and now Illinois's tenth and potentially richest casino.

You get the feeling in this world of faces, their fates sometime come right to your own front door.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


So I was sitting there in my warm summer-green park, thinking about all the people I love. Only I couldn't quite remember what they looked like.

Well, I could those I see on a regular basis. But so many of the others. Old school buddies... long ago girlfriends ...faraway cousins...even my beloved parents now long gone. They have reluctantly become fuzzy photographs in my mind, hard as I struggle to bring them back into full focus.

It's the human condition, isn't it. To watch some of the precious sands of our life slip through the fingers of our memory. And not only of those we know and love, also those who stand higher and farther in our lives.

And yet, even when we do remember these special ones, we often have this habit of remembering wrong! So many times, so many people, so many voices. Moses and Jesus, Lincoln and Churchill, Shakespeare and Hemingway. We didn't know them personally, but we thought we knew them profoundly. How often we merely remember them incorrectly.

Countries are like this too. America is more than the image of a warrior like George Patton, Germany more than a fanatical leader like Adolf Hitler, and China more than their marching masses at the last Olympics. But still some of us remember entire countries this shortcut way. Likewise entire companies and cities and political parties. For example, McDonald's is more than Ronald, New York is more than Broadway, and Democrats are more than just the ones who hate Republicans.

Shortcuts. That's what the mind and memory tend to take. Especially when it's been a long time since the real thing. And yet, we are fully equipped to deal with the real thing. Eyes and ears, intellect and will. As human beings, we've got what it takes. Now will we take what we've got....? Sitting here in the park, it's clear this is not simply a question. It's an imperative.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


One of Chicago's mayoral candidates is known for his political acumen: "Every crisis is an opportunity not to be wasted." To some, the sound of cynical calculation. To others, not so fast.

Not to the weary General at Valley Forge; to the mourners at the Gettysburg cemetery; and to the nation after the tragedy in the Harbor called Pearl, in the streets of Dallas, Oklahoma City and the Twin Towers of New York. Something deeper than calculation was going on here. Just as in the case of happy images like the flag being raised over Iwo Jima, the Moon landing, and the Hubble space telescope.

Our senses can witness such collective sorrows and joys, but the spirit alone can experience them. Deeply. Profoundly. Still, even at that level, a people don't at first know what to do with their feelings. Which is when the opportunity for leadership shines through the swirl of events. There are always stars hidden inside the swirl. The glimmer of something important that might be given birth here.

Like the surgeon who helps a painful delivery, leaders are in a unique position at these times. They don't bear the child, but they can make this birth something transcendent. A moment in history that is not allowed to simply happen. It is frozen in time to be held high before the people. To be remembered and respected as something which has somehow changed us forever.

Not everyone can deliver such grandiosity without sounding like cheap grandiosity. It may be a witness to the event whose image is forever captured by a camera. Or perhaps a piece of film footage at the scene. Or later a powerful docudrama. But more than likely it will be someone in authority who can speak to the moment. A survivor, a mayor, a president. People need to hear from someone who can make some higher sense of it all.

Its history can turn a people skeptical. Tributes these days are a dime-a-dozen on television award shows. Likewise so are candle-lite memorials and tributes. We cheer and we tear on cue. After awhile we even realize our own programmed performances.

But still....

There are these inner sanctums in us all which crave filling. When we celebrate, we itch for someone to make higher sense of our joy. When we weep, we beg for someone to make higher sense of our sorrow. As children there was always mom and dad. Now on our own, we still look for this filling to come from outside our little selves

Enter a leader. Enter someone who can lift our joys and our sorrows up to some higher altar on which we can place our best beliefs and strongest efforts. Finding such leadership -- ah, now there's the rub.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Anthropology -- and watching my grandchildren -- makes clear that one of the distinguishing features to our species is our ability to play games. Easily one of the most universal is hide-and-seek. However, what if we re-spin the game?

Instead of hiding and then seeking, what can we say about our species' habit of seeking in this life but then hiding from some of what we find? It seems true in so many ways:

* As children we seek the freedoms of adulthood, then often hide from its many responsibilities
* As citizens we seek our right to free speech, then often hide from its ethical responsibilities
* As parents we seek the pleasure of children, then often hide from their awesome responsibility
* As politicians we seek the power of office, then hide from its dutiful responsibilities
* As celebrities we seek the glory of status, then hide from glory's responsibilities

The list is much longer, but the fact is already clear. All too often -- in the life of an individual and of a nation -- we hide from some of the realities that come from our search. Our rights are so much easier to live with than our responsibilities. Ask any mentor about this -- teacher, clergy, coach, general.

Right now there is an enormous flush of grand scientific discovery in our age, which continues to identify genes and codes and lobes which help explain our behaviors. We are told that certain of these human elements (we even give them numbers and names) are what channels our actions to fight, to flee, to love, to mate, to war, to create, and ultimately to believe.That last one has earned the honor of being labeled the "god gene."The search for such amazing scientific data is what helps mark our modern Age of Science.

Now here's the question...

In seeking (and finding) so much about our physiology and psychology, has the search become the solution? In other words, has discovering and naming and engineering these various human elements at last begun to crack the code grappled with by a thousand thousand philosophers and poets: What is man? Or is it ironically possible in this very search we are hiding from ourselves the possibilities of human elements that operate beyond the reach of science's searchers?

Who can say? And yet, who can deny the smiling serenity of someone like the Dali Lama which seems to bubble up from somewhere other and more than any smiling gene or stimulated brain lobe...?

Monday, January 10, 2011


Everything between Washington to the East and Hollywood to the West is often dismissed by East/West celebrities as fly-over country. Especially the Midwest which is considered good for corn, wheat and hay-seed thinking.

Some Midwesterners beg to differ. We take seriously the alternate reputation that here is where the authentic America exists. Broad-shouldered, shirt-sleeved Americana where the icon of celebrity is held with slightly less reverence. Not because we are immune to its aura, rather because we may be more attuned to its price.

"Be careful what you ask for, you might get it," has many authors. However, it has only one meaning.

The pathological synergy between celebrities & paparazzi makes the point, headline after headline. From bosomy starlets to junior senators, they pant for attention. Alas, once they get it, they pant for privacy. The human condition -- forever wanting what it doesn't have. The Buddha once clarified the problem when he said: "Serenity is not getting what you want, but wanting what you get."

Surprisingly, a great many Americans really want anonymity. Daily they watch the rich and famous gunned down. If not with bullets -- like a JFK or a John Lennon -- by the withering fire of insult and slander. Fame is tough. Hardly the perfect-life the cheering crowds dream of. To those who lust for it, they must be prepared to pay the price. All too often they are not, as the records of rehab-stints and squandered-fortunes testify.

Publicists for the stars of the screen to the residents of the White House have intoned the same wisdom: "When you reach the top, there's only one direction left..." And with a culture so quick to turn on its gods, the plunge is often monstrous.

Still, without these warriors of fame, our society would be without their various contributions. In sports, art, government. So from the anonymous hayseeds of the great American Midwest, a tip of the hat. You wanted it, now god bless you, lets hope it's what you expected. Wiggle your wings as you fly over....

Sunday, January 9, 2011


In the life of a person or nation there's a galaxy of daily lessons to be learned. Really to survive, must be learned

How not to put your finger back into that to get mom's or teacher's to drive this first car without getting into an to prevail in these white water to find and hold the right job to find and hold the right mate. All too quickly, though, many of us will say: "Been there, done that."

There's a presumptive finality to any such comment. No matter the years under our belt or the wrinkles on our face, we travelers through the thickets of life will be confronting new lessons to the day we die. If we don't, well, then we're already a little dead.

This life imperative -- that we continue to learn -- has been written deep into our evolved consciousness. And yet both people and nations often live the imperative poorly. There's this pedestrian phrase we all use: "You just got to get through it."

Wrong...! What the wisest people and nations have said throughout history is: "You just have to go through it." One small verb shifts the entire challenge. The whole lesson, The very chances of survival.

To "get through" something like a firing or a divorce or a death. Like a Depression or a War or a 9/11. Simply getting through it really means little more than managing to hold yourself together. With whatever is handiest -- anger, denial, sleep. However, the demon is not mastered by simply holding-yourself-together. Only by facing its full furies, fathoming its full terrors, and then putting the sword into its black heart.

The people and nations who best prevail are those who wield the best swords. Consider. The honest knowledge of what is at stake...the total commitment to tame it...the full peace of mind at the end to live with the consequences. We all know a few good friends who have done it. A few great leaders who have done it. Time again to strap that sword to the belt, and "go through" the next lesson.

You can be sure it's just up ahead...

Saturday, January 8, 2011


We all get the same 60 seconds to each minute. We don't, however, all get the same number of minutes. There are even those who posit we are born with a specific allotment of minutes, no more not less. Maybe so. And maybe knowing this would change the way we live our lives. Yet -- just like the way we keep putting our fingers in fires even after being burned -- it's more than likely we'd still live our little lives pretty much in the same little ways.


Probably because our Will -- the snorting bronco in us all -- tends to fight our Intellect -- the strict-fitting saddle in us all. Some theologians argue the disconnect between the two is really very much what "The Fall" in Eden was all about. All about the perfectly created human now and forever cursed with a bronco that continues to rage against the saddle.

But back to those 60 seconds of time. Ever since Eden, time has ticked our species through one grand and grimy episode after another. It is in the nature of humanity -- and each of us within this tribe -- to waste probably even more time than we use. Precisely why there are so many tearful eureka moments in old age. One of the classics is the German lament: "Too old too soon, too smart too late!"

Why even that mind-of-minds, Albert Einstein, felt somewhat the same in his final years. He once put it this way: "I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious now in the years of maturity."

Lets be clear...! The young and the old are walking the very same bridge of life. So generational gaps may be over-estimated. However, the old are at one end of it, whereas the young are only first stepping onto it. Hard for either to see the bridge in the exact same way. And yet, the aging Einstein and probably the aging Adam surely slipped into their graves wishing they could have somehow spared the young at the other end of the bridge. Having already lived that half, there were some ropes of advice they could have thrown them.

Tick, tick, tick. Too late, too late, too late. Oh but wait....! If not sturdy ropes, maybe a few stout shouts. Hellooo, can anyone hear me....?

Friday, January 7, 2011


Right now Chicago is caught up in yet another whirlwind of politicking. This time about the next mayor. But instead of the usual claptrap collision of soundbites, how about actually doing what everyone says they're going to do but don't? Instead of being whip lashed by the city's day-to-day headlines, how about getting in touch with the city's year-to-year history? Headlines are one day deep; history is generations deep.

If the voters stand back to size up the working history of this remarkable 173 year old city, they can better see and sense who's better equipped to lead it from here. It's a roaring history in the key of A. A for audacity... adaptability ....artistry. The candidate who best understands these, is the one best qualified to carry them forward.

There has always been an Audacity to Chicago. Beginning with its early settlers who clawed and carved it out from the wilderness. Then willed it into becoming the new nation's most western citadel of commerce. Later, of railroading. Later still, of air traffic. In time it cleared its muddy streets, bridged its ornery river, and started growing the wealthy merchants of 19thC State Street and Prairie Avenue fame. There was never an obstacle the city couldn't leap. And proving it is one of the world's thickest networks of thriving ethnic communities.

Also its hell-bent-for-leather Adaptability. When the times called for a better transportation system, Chicago literally wrestled nature into submission by reversing the course of its river. When the times demanded more space, Chicago continued to annex surrounding communities. When the Great Fire of 1871 leveled half the city, the other half rose up to re-build it bigger than ever. When world trade beckoned, Chicago beckoned the world with its dazzling White City world fair of 1892.

As for Artistry, few Easterners considered the rough-and-tumble prairie town good for anything except hustlers, stockyards and grimy broad shoulders. And yet, behold some of the continent's greatest outdoor architectural wonders. The nation's grandest lakefront. America's most ambitious galaxy of opera houses, theatres, parks and museums. Mayor after mayor has rolled up their sleeves to create great art shoulder to shoulder with, well, with those grimy broad shoulders.

OK, Chicago has been labeled -- and often earned -- some shameful reputations. Crass. Corrupt. Cunning. And yet few world-class cities can boast as many firsts. Including its skyscrapers, its festivals, its comedy clubs, and now the Presidency. The person who next strides into the Mayor's Office not only has to be a sharp-elbowed politico who knows where the bodies are buried, that person better know where the next dreams are waiting.

Here's a guess. Each of the candidates actually does. Deep in their hearts. Now if only they can couple their hearts to this history, then even our celebrated out-going mayor can feel good about giving them those keys....!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


The cosmos started with a very big bang. But the human species with a very small whimper. We have evolved over trackless trails of time so very slowly. Today's thinkers estimate the accumulated knowledge of humanity did not technically double until about 1800. Which means millions of years and billions of people taking that long.

But then...!

Humanity's social and scientific knowledge began to explode. It doubled again by 1900. Then by 1950. Again by 1980. Do the math -- we're on a roaring tiger-tail ride with another 100,000 books and documents being released worldwide every hour of every day.

Far too much to read, to learn, to use. The best we might do perhaps is consider how this whirring force of human knowledge exists in three parts: The knowledge + the recipients + the method:

* Whereas much knowledge was once philosophically driven, today it is scientifically driven. Of all the scientists who ever lived, 90% of them live today. Work today. Strive today. It is an age of inexorable scientific advance from neuro-biologists to psychologists to cosmologists. If the ancients honored many gods and medievalists one god, modernists honor how their elite scientists can decipher us in terms of our libidos, brain lobes and genetic codes

* The recipients of all this knowledge can in part be distinguished by how they accept it. Fundamentalists -- from Bible Belt Christians to Jihadist Muslims -- reject what they see as the reductionism of modern science [reducing a God-created species from its spiritual whole into a network of its physiological parts]. Existentialists -- from post-WWII skeptics to post-modern new agers -- find no God in the cosmos, only each of us working our valiant but dangerous way through it. Which means half the world can't dialog with the other half

* The method by which all this knowledge boils and bubbles into humanity's consciousness is today's multi-sensory, 24/7 barrage of recipient experiences. From our libraries, networks, big screens, and everywhere-I-go hand held screens. No time for meditating monks on mountaintops, this new age has plopped humanity right smack in the middle of a Fourth of July flurry of flashing theories and studies and data which we may not quite understand, but gosh it's stunning isn't it

Too late to figure out how and why we got here. For better or worse, we're here. Of course, if all this knowledge were actually that great, then why can't we figure out the common cold? And why do we still refuse to save a few bucks for these incredible post-Christmas-sales?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011



Like chiseling tools that burrow into the brain, sculptor's hands which re-shape whatever they touch, bee stings which stun our complacency. Since the first grunts in caves, words have changed the world.

"Let there be light..." "Let my people go..." "Do unto others..." "I am Allah's prophet..." "Cogito ergo sum..." "We will plant a new city on the hill..." "The audacity of hope..."

Words by the billions have been uttered in every family and tribe, every city and nation. Humanity is distinguished from the animal kingdom because it has a voice.

"Give me liberty or give me death..." "When in the course of human events..." "We are a nation of laws not men..."
"Four score and seven years ago..." "A war to end wars..." " The only thing we have to fear is fear itself..." "Ask not what your country can do for you...."

Words are formed in the mouth, but originate in the mind and heart. As we have been shaped by the words of others, so do we use our words to shape the world. Once sounds that could only reach as far as the voice could carry them, today's words are generated by a billion minds and hearts every digital moment of the day. Many burning like lanterns in the night; others hissing like snakes in the day.

"After me, the deluge..." "Let them eat cake..." "Thus be to tyrants..." "Jim Crow...." "Master race..." "Kamikaze..." "The Great Satan....""Too big to fail..."

There is no sure way to measure all the words ever spoken, but our cathedrals and our cemeteries are filled with clashing examples of how they have been read.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." "We forced them into a trail of tears..." "I come to hunt the white devil, Moby Dick..." "In America there are no second acts..." "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again..." "I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers..." "He was not only liked, he was well liked..."

Mothers coo them into the ears of their feeding infants. Teachers into the ears of their reluctant students. Popes and presidents as they seek to lead. So many words. So many voices. So many times. So hard to distinguish which to hear, which to ignore.

For instance, starting right here........

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Life is many different things, but one thing for sure. It's motion. We are -- even in our dreams -- in a kind of perpetual motion. Traveling from there to here.

"There" is who we used to be and what we used to do. For those with short-term memories, their past is often a web of gossamer images. For others, their autobiographical recall is stunningly accurate. Either way, the roads we've traveled -- both as individuals and as nations -- helps determine and shape the roads we're taking now. We cannot un-walk the past; but what we can do is try to decode its map.

As it turns out, part of the code is locked inside the lives of those who are no longer with us. Parents, siblings, teachers, clergy, intimate friends. What they knew about us -- what often we didn't even know about ourselves -- is now gone.Virtually irretrievable except stirring in our personal remembrances and written in our national histories

But the road beckons. Life is motion. So the walk here continues.

"Here" is who we are at this point in time and what we are doing with it. Few of us are what we expected to be, fewer still are what we wanted to be, and perhaps none are what we thought we were. But we try. And the trying on this road is called: Life.

Biologists plumb the depths of our physiology to identify those genes and lobes and circuits which can help explain our personal journey. Historians plumb the layers of our parties and politicians and generals which can help explain our national journey. There are also philosophers who plumb the mysteries of our souls which can help us draft new and better maps. These are good men and women doing good work on our behalf. The kind of people we study in college, argue over in coffee shops, see reflected in our novels and theatre.

But once we move on, once we get caught up in the whoosh of everyday living and embroiled in the clash of everyday partisanship, how much head and heart do we devote to these wise ones...?

This is perhaps the epic question in the life of every individual. And every nation. Motion -- yes, it is the stuff of life. But direction -- now that is the essence of life. Traveling from "there" to "here" is either ascent or descent. Take your choice. While you still can....

Monday, January 3, 2011


Some things are so funny they're downright instructive. Take stand-ups like Cosby and Seinfeld. How often you find yourself laughing at the punch line the very same time you're thinking: "How true!"

This morning, taking the garbage out to the front curb, I was laughing at my own instructive punch line. "Morning ..." says I to the truck driver whose automatic lift scooped up the container. "Nice morning..." The voice from the driver's seat replied, "Sure is...."

What's so funny? He drove off and I walked back without either one of us looking at the other. I can't tell you what he looked like, nor can he me. Here we're talking without looking, greeting without caring. In a sad sort of way, that's funny. But at the same time, instructive. When you think about it, it's very much how we go through our lives. Each day. Never quite looking at one another.

Popes and poets, novelists and neuro-scientists talk about this. But, as Mark Twain wryly reported, we always talk about the weather too; but we don't do much about that either.

When you look at the Greek's armless Venus or Michelangelo's stunning David, well you sorta feel good about our species. Consider all that splendid form and beauty. Whether a gift from the hand of a creator or simply the evolution of some distant stardust, humanity is spectacular to behold.

And yet....

Why is it we spectacular humans will devote more time to reading or watching about Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, and Donald Trump than we will about the guy who keeps us from drowning in our own garbage? About the neighbor who shares the same community? About the bus driver or airline pilot who makes our journey possible? Or -- lets be honest -- about our own family and friends whose value we so casually take for granted?

Extrapolate this to the way generals interact with their troops, bosses with their workers, coaches with their players, democrats with republicans, my generation with your generation, my countrymen with your country men. You can see why it can be so laughingly instructive. There's this peculiar passion for self that blurs the other selves with whom we walk the planet. Always has, always will.

Over the centuries we seek to overcome this dangerous blurring by bonding. Into families, tribes, societies, religions, nations. Now if I can just get to know my garbage collector better, and he me, then that might be one small step for me. And one large step for mankind.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Everyone from theologians to televangelists, from philosophers to the Pew Opinion Center, are slicing and dicing America's faith and/or failure with traditional religion. They have pretty much dismissed western Europe as a lost congregation, but obsess over America's once-thriving religious allegiance. Is it still here? still growing? still real?

Regardless of what Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Sartre told you, God is not dead. The scholars have just been looking in the wrong places. He no longer dwells in churches, temples and mosques. At least not in America. Here you will find him, alive and well, hovering over the sports stadiums of the land.

Fellas like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris tell us there is such a thing as a God Gene, which pre-disposes some of us to believe in deity. I don't know about that, but I do know 100,000,000 worshipers gather every sporting event to believe and share their belief with their fellow congregants. To believe just the way traditional believers have always believed. In a higher power outside themselves which gives their life meaning, purpose, destiny.

If you've ever been swept up in the mass hysteria of team belief in those stands, then you know this to be true.

The god here is the great deity victory...the liturgy here is the precise way in which the service is divided into quarters or innings...the vestments here are as spectacular as any traditional worship service, from specially designated shoes to uniforms to helmets....the catechism here is bristling with heroic tales from the broadcasters in the booth to the high-fivers in the pews.

Talk about the faithful...! These stadiums pack 'em in like the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages once did. Fans -- pilgrims, really -- trek here for hours or even days just to catch a glimpse of the great deity victory. And his acolytes, the stars on the playing fields. It's not simply the greatest show on earth, it's the greatest adulation since Moses came down from that mountain with The Word.

Here The Word is "victory," and we gather in prayerful throngs to see it, smell it, share it. God is good...! God is here...! God is victory in which I can share for about 50 bucks and a couple beers....!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

20011, IT CAN'T BE! OH, BUT IT IS!

A new year. A new series of trials and triumphs. Among them, new lessons to be learned.

Well, frankly, none of them are all that new. Same old lessons, because lets admit it we've been trying these very same lessons on for size for years. Will we ever ever get the fit right! For example:

* Every December ends with the same unanswered questions ~ Where did the time go? Where did the money go? Where did the true meaning of Christmas go? Am I not ever going to get this thing right? Hmm...why do all these questions sound exactly like last year's!

* Every January begins with the same unexamined expectations ~ This time I'm going to work smarter not harder. I'm going to take time to smell the roses. I'm going to remember to let the people I love know I love them. Hmm ...why do all these resolutions sound so darn familiar!

* Every spring arrives with a fresh fragrance in the air, a new bounce to our step, a renewed passion for life ~ It's time to clean out the garage. It's time to plant that garden. It's time to organize those old photo albums. Hmm... come to think of it, I made these very same plans last spring. Certainly are fine plans!

* Every summer looms with dreams of beach-side delights ~ But beaches mean bathing suits, and I never look good in a bathing suit. On the other hand, the older I get, the less I care about how I look in a bathing suit. Is that progress or just indifference? Hmm... I suspect it's progress, because after a few hundred beaches you find out everybody else is too busy worrying about how they look!

* Every fall means the same things ~ Harvests. School. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Wait a minute -- I'm right back to December again, and nothing about me has changed. Hmm...I guess it's true, we're all born originals, but we all die copies!

Only the first day of the new year, and here's some grumpy skeptic dismissing it and all its promises, right...? Wrong...! The only thing that might be wrong here is the way we choose to live this perfectly un-lived new year.