Thursday, June 30, 2011


The term "natural disaster" threads throughout the fabric of human history. There may be times we think of some friend or relative fitting the description, but that's gaming the language. Mostly it means violent physical phenomena laying waste to land and life.

There are spectacular examples like the 1883 Krakatoa earthquake which shook the entire Pacific southeast. Or China's 1931 Yellow River flood which drowned up to 4 million people. There are the less spectacular but even far more deadly disasters like Europe's Back Death in the 14th C consuming 25 million lives...China's 1950s famine costing 20 million lives...the Influence Pandemic of 1918 whose estimates reach 75 million victims worldwide.

That such natural disasters happen is a given. How we respond is relative to the when, who and where. Perhaps the most complicated part is the how. How we try to understand and live with such calamities. To be sure, the mind and heart of humanity do try! Must try!

Our gut reaction even finds its way into the gainful language of our insurance policies: "Act of god." Yet there are few religions that hold fast to the Ancient Greek and Old Testament divinities punishing mankind with malevolent thunderbolts from above. Rather, they seek to fathom the reason bad-things-happen-to-good-people. Indeed there are many profoundly comforting ones.

More and more, modern science has entered this arena with quantifiable facts of earth and sky which help intellectually explain what we victims find so inexplicable. This is seen as a quantum leap in deciphering ,for example, earthquakes like Vesuvius and Fukushima without reliance on earthquake gods.

Both religionists and scientists agree on this much. In nature there is a reaction to every action. When we mortals gather ourselves together to pick up the pieces and bury our dead, we too must each find a reaction by which to give meaning to the meaningless and purpose to the purposeless.

Enter the great literary minds whose talent is to weave the best of such reactions into their narratives. John Bunyan's PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, Thomas Gray's ELEGY IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD, Thornton Wilder's THE BRIDGE OF ST LUIS REY, and....

...and anything you can find right now to grab on to that won't melt from your tears.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend...!"

The classic movie line reflects the way history often comes down to us. Examples abound. Egypt's Cleopatra... France's Joan of Arc...England's Churchill...America's George Washington and the Cherry tree, the ride of Paul Revere, the Illinois days of Lincoln, MacArthur's & Patton's WWII exploits. And why not? So often we prefer -- need -- the legends.

However, legends are not only the property of the famous. The older we grow, the more little legends accumulate. First in our minds. Later at the family dinner tables. Eventually within the world we walk.

To some this becomes a straight-cut matter of facts vs fictions. These are the empirical, legalistic minds among us who live by "the evidence." An intellectual habit to be admired. At least until someone presents them with the "facts" that their college exploits were really never quite what their resume says, or their baby is actually kinda funny looking. Those are the moments when the efficacy of the legends by which we grow trumps the emptiness of the facts which we have worked to outgrow.

Of course our's is an age in which facts frequently become an obsession. Of the scientist, the reporter, the opposition party, the rival company, the nation. Facts for them are used like weapons to cut down the legends (read: lies) by the others. And yet these weapons can be painfully suspect. More than likely our facts are mostly our perceptions. Each scientist, reporter, party, company or nation sees only what it can or wants to. Until the Singularity, we are after all still human not computer.

Does all this mean we walk in a world of nihilistic relativism? where nothing is what we think it is? No. The earth is still not flat and north is still not south. However, neither is the earth exactly round nor north exactly true north. As Einstein reported, things bend and relativity co-exists with absolutes.

So there it is.

Facts and legend co-inhabit our world and our lives. To know the difference -- when and how to know the difference! -- just may be the most empirical lesson we can learn. Scientist, reporter, party, company, nation, and each of us.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


American director Woody Allen has this advice: "The Pentagon could use my wife's hormones for a whole new generation of biological warfare!" French poet Paul Valery has this advice: "The only way to let your dreams come true is to wake up!"

Woody is funnier, but Paul is wiser. Currently our world insists on living in its favorite dreams of movie magic and political pipe-dreams. Inside those felicitous domains, the world still looks as if it is somehow, some way, going to make it. I mean, it always has, right...? Even the grim-est of grim reapers have to grant this. Still, a few un-dreamy facts here:

* Currently 1.02 billion people (15% of the world population) go to bed hungry
* Currently about 1 billion people have a disability including missing limbs, paralysis, blindness, mental retardation, and major disease such as cancer
* Currently there are over 55 wars of some kind going on somewhere in the world
* Currently there are more than 22,000 nuclear warheads hidden somewhere in the world
* Currently the US leads the world in concentration of wealth: its top 0.1 % of earners take home more than 10% of the nation's personal income, with business executives leading the way with a 400% increase in salaries since 1970
* Currently in the US farmers in states like Georgia reflect a new trend: there they are still looking for 11,000 workers to harvest this year's crops, but they can't find any because of its new immigration laws; and even though the state unemployment rate is 10%, local residents are not applying
* Currently in the US 64% of workers are white collar jobs, while only 36% are blue collar jobs which make anything tangible

Now if random statistics like these read like omens, they don't even touch the most impending one: natural disasters. Today's dream-less experts like Al Gore stay up at night and see the 20th C as the century of ideologies, wars, and genocide, but adding the 21st C will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises. Especially unholy coalitions of the two (see Fukushima, Japan for frightening details).

To the dreamers -- well, have a nice day!

Monday, June 27, 2011


This week -- 235 years later -- we are still proudly celebrating our independence. With fireworks, music, and most of all oratory. The audiences ohh, ahh, and applaud, for this is the day a great and noble experiment in nation-building was launched.

We might remember, though, there will be another audience on this glorious day. Only they can't ohh and ahh. They are the dead. The honored dead in all the honored cemeteries in all the states and lands on which they fell fighting so that this nation might still be here to celebrate.

So just a moment here between speeches to listen to what THEY might say.

They might say....please don't repeat the teary cliche "they gladly gave their lives for their country." Yes, we gave our lives, but not always gladly, for there is nothing about war and death that is glad. In our case, the first was forced upon us; the second, was rushed far too soon. Just like you, we would have wished to live, to celebrate there rather than here, to have had more time to appreciate this noble experiment.

They might say....but if there are to be other wars, let them at least be wars with a purpose as noble as the experiment. Wars for causes and crusades which have moral merit. Which are our leaders' last resort. Which are for the collective safety and welfare of our land and people, not mostly for the hubris and wealth of our rich and elite.

They might there, the living, please pause as the trumpets and star-bursts fill the night sky. Pause and think deep enough to value what you take as a given: one more celebration, one more year, one more chances to get this thing right. Try -- harder than ever before because there may be less time than ever before -- try to save your flags and furies only for the ideas and battles that count.

They might say....we do have one advantage over you. Our struggles are over, our rest is assured. You, on the other hand, still have the gift and the burden of life. Please, for God's sake, use them better than we did!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


The news of the world is no worse than ever before. Just reported more hysterically than ever before. It's why they feel obliged to give us an occasional break. In the back pages of the papers and at the end of the broadcast there's always that little save-your-sanity item of good, maybe even cute, news.

And who can argue with these tasty desserts at the end of a bitter meal. Never mind the big bad news we've just met -- wars, terrorism, unemployment, financial bubbles, political corruption. Even the little bad news begs for a break -- congressional stexting, the Washington State woman who drove her SUV down a boat ramp and into a lake because her GPS told her so, or how about the California high school that just classified their yearbook as child pornography because it had a prom picture whose background included a 17-year-old boy groping a 15-year-old girl.

On the other hand...

Our news organizations aren't really the best source for our everyday sanity-breaks. Looking for a break, there's still the world itself. Right around you. If you know how to look. Here's my Top Ten looks:

* The fiery red sun seeping up through our backyard Maples in the early morning, reassuring me there is at least one more day to try. Try living, listening, loving.....

* The summer birds that come with the sun, tweeting that same symphony of nature which has been playing for a hundred million million sunrises

* The perfect music that is Mozart or Bach as I ease into the private rhythms of my morning breakfast

* The perfect cup of fresh-brewed coffee I musingly strive to make with each breakfast

* The little children who giggly populate summer mornings with their pursuit of butterflies and beatitudes

* The wind-caught hair of their young concerned mothers

* The liquidy whispers from the forested river nearby

* Our supermarket's astonishing produce department with all the succulent gifts of the earth in one space

* The Zorba Dance I hope to dance this day, having waited far too long to try

* Finally, this video:

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Christmas and summer vacation are the child's first experience with joy followed by loss. The good stuff never seems to last. Then as we grow we keep learning the same lesson. Although maybe with some different images: The change of the seasons, the passing of those we love, the end of the world we knew.

Christianity has this way of making the lesson more bearable. Actually more embraceable. It speaks of Good Fridays always followed by Easter Sundays.

While it's easy to feel the regrets in our Good Fridays, not anywhere near as easy to envision the resurrections in our Easter Sundays. Still, those Sundays do come. Especially when you believe. Belief, though, comes hard when all around you keeps changing, disappearing, dying. A sinking feeling particularly felt as you age and accumulate so many more people and things you want to hang on to forever. But there is no forever. At least not here.

Right now, so many many Good Fridays. Plants disappearing...opportunities drying up. Old-time stand-bys like newspaper boys...milk men...librarians...gas station stores...front porches and safe schools hard to find. Not to mention dining rooms...over-the-backyard-fence calls...teenage dating...labor unions...and the entire middle class almost nowhere to be found.

But here's the thing. Between Good Fridays and Easter Sundays we have the Saturdays during which to gradually let go of what's been lost, in the expectation of something better to follow. Quick fact check..! That isn't likely to take place cheering at some pumped-up-be-your-dream seminar or exhilarating at some tai chi group exercise or channeling your rage into some heady alternative like a Tea Party.

Most of the world's survivors have a much different story to report. First , you take the time to grieve what you lost, to value what it did for you, then realize what it failed to do for you. Now, but only now, can you look to Sunday as a new resurrection, a new beginning, a new new for which we've all been waiting even without always knowing it.

Sorta like the day I lost my heart to the Joan who had always been waiting. Even without either one of us knowing it.

Friday, June 24, 2011


You have to get a little older to appreciate this. With age, something -- lets be bold enough to call it wisdom -- coats your view of your world. Instead of measuring your success and satisfaction by the number of plays, parties and events you can attend, you start measuring it by the number you don't have to attend. Known privately as the nobility-of-the-no!

If, for a candid moment, one can take their eye off the prize-of-power, it's entirely possible to draw some comparisons to one's country. As it ages, perhaps it too can ease into the nobility-of-the-no. No to the passion for power...the obsession with success...the need be number one...the demand to be first at everything...and especially the entirely unprovable premise that bigger is always better.

In the case of Americans, this thought is entirely and ridiculously counter-intuitive. I mean, what do you mean being anything but the best! Anything less than the most! Such thinking is downright un-American!

Yes it is.

But it once was for other great national powers too. Consider the fates of the greats of the past. Then consider how they have comfortably -- often joyously -- eased into the nobility-of-the-no to many of the challenges they once simply had to meet head on. In Europe alone we have the narratives of Greece, the ancient world's center of civilization, now the center of civilized memories...Italy, the great Rome, now the relaxed land of wines and tourists....France, the powerhouse of kings and Napoleon, now the warm magic of culture and Paris...England, the capitol of the world's largest empire, now better known simply for Shakespeare, London and charming country homes.

These were not necessarily national retreats. More like national awakenings. Awakening to the relaxed realization that there is something good about taking the slow road. About not seeing everything in life is a call to arms. About a nation wisely discovering what the adolescent tree-climber and adult deal-maker has discovered in older age...

...that it's perfectly OK to be second. Even third. Especially to stop breathlessly counting and start joyfully living.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


There was a moment of remarkable significance in the history of American culture. September 1960 virtually all the long-running radio soap operas were being taken off the air. They were no longer attracting the vast audiences they had ever since the early 1930s. Shortly thereafter Americans realized a new young president, a Vietnam war, and a swarm of angry, tradition-shattering events called The Sixties.

Now 50 years later network television is doing what radio did -- taking the last of their soap operas off the air. Is it possible this national encore moment is about to foreshadow another shattering array of events?

But, soap operas...? Who cares...? Hold on, we might wish to care a great deal! During the 1930s, radio soap operas may have hardly been the lantern of literature, yet 20 million Americans a day (15% of the total population) were all listening all at the same live-time to these 15-minute washboard-weepers. Which was why sponsors were putting up 350 million in today's dollars every year for LIFE CAN BE BEAUTIFUL, OUR GAL SUNDAY, HELEN TRENT, MA PERKINS, and PEPPER YOUNG'S FAMILY. Among avid listeners were Cole Porter, Elsa Maxwell, and the Mayor of New York city.

What these 25-year running daytime serials lacked in literacy, they made up in relentlessly espousing the traditional virtues of work, honor, honesty, and respect for family and flag. Most of which began to steadily seem less relevant in the angry, free-spirited, anti-convention decades that followed.

James Thurber defined the genre: "A soap opera is a kind of sandwich whose recipe is simple enough, although it took years to compound. Between thick slices of advertising, spread 12 minutes of dialog, add predicament, villainy and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce, and serve 5 times a week."

His humor is valid, but may have missed the cutting edge to this maligned art form. For the generation who endured the Great Depression and then WWII, these daily cultural sandwiches helped feed the body politic with many of the very same virtues that were to see them through the agony of their times.

The television soaps now going off the air hardly embody the same "corny, post-Victorian" values. Could that be their loss..? and that of their audiences...? Hard to say, but for someone who grew up in those old radio days, I'm drawn to the poet James Grahame: "What strong, mysterious links enchain the heart to regions where the morn of life was spent."

Wish you had been there, to judge for yourself...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Prometheus stole fire from the gods. Sir John Herschel perfected the camera. With the first, humanity was now able to control the space around it; with the second, the time around it.

The camera allowed its owners to seize and freeze time where and how they found it. Before, only the few and their commissioned artists could do so. Not anymore. Now photography's way of democratizing our control of time took a rapid journey. At first, cameras were too expensive for the many; then with Kodak's Brownie in 1900, anyone could capture time; with the Polaroid in 1948, anyone could shoot and develop anything anywhere; finally the digital.

The evolving democratization of time reaches its apex today with hundreds of millions of us -- from Manhattan to Madagascar -- packing pocket cameras in our multi-duty Iphones. In vain do police, TV studios and theatres warn patrons about using them. Once people have their heart's desire, the heart insists they use it. Which today is why at every major event, behold a thousand-points-of-light.

OK, history of camera; end of story. Right...? Wrong... ! The real story is the way inventions by the few in the hands of the many soon alter the lives of the many in ways never anticipated. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Equipped and armed with our palm-held cameras, we the masses march forth as if we had a rendezvous with destiny. Now virtually every child and every sleeping puppy in every family home becomes an object of art... every moment from a city parade to a block party becomes a headline event...every tree-climbing kid, every new flower garden, every new house roof, new car and spring outfit becomes a camera-must.

None of which is wrong. It's good and it's fun. Still you have to wonder. As the democratization of this technology makes virtually anything worth filming, is this perhaps why we think virtually anyone is worth watching, becoming a celebrity, and electing to office? Just asking...........................

Monday, June 20, 2011


In music, counterpoint is the composer intentionally inter-weaving different melodies into the same piece. In society, it's the culture doing much the same but unintentionally. In music the result is usually harmony; in society it's often cacophony. The audience, even the orchestra, have to wonder how this happened.

Three melody lines in today's America help drive home the point:

* Greed -- in the Judaic-Christian ethos it had long been deemed a sin. The work of the devil. In modern Western culture, it has gradually become a virtue. Take one 16th C part Protestant each-man-a-priest...add one part 18th C Adam Smith profit-seeking-fuels-the-economy...result is modern day Capitalism. Vast personal and national wealth has resulted in the Western democracies where Gordon Gekko neatly summed it up in the 1987 movie WALL STREET: "Greed my friends is good...!"

* Idealism -- a very different melody line has experienced a very different historical fate. From the days of ancient Greece where gods, goddesses and their statuary glorified the ideals of beauty and virtue... through the high Renaissance when European art rediscovered this ancient ethos...up through the formulated idealism of the Victorian and post-Victorian America expressed in MGM, Norman Rockwell and Hallmark iconography, Americans have often enjoyed preaching and pursuing the ideal in life. However, in today's harsher tell-it-like-it-is culture, such idealism seems discordant to the ear. Especially the young less sentimental ear which has learned to mistrust any promises or heroes that seem too good to be true.

A sharply different summary comes from the Deep Throat character in the 1976 ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN: "Follow the money...!"

* Conservatism -- once a powerful political philosophy based on the reality of human nature, it has morphed into whatever excuse can be found to protect a personal philosophy: "I've got mine; if you don't, don't count on anyone or anything to give it to you...!"


Newsman Walter Cronkite used to say it best at the end of each broadcast: "And that's the way it is....!"

Sunday, June 19, 2011


One more Fathers Day across the land. A day to remember our fathers, yes, but also to remember we fathers first were sons...

So while our children do us honor this day, we can't (and shouldn't) forget our own good fathers. In a mom-centered society, dads are often an also-ran. I can live with that as a culture, but not as a son. Not when it comes to the man I call Dad. Whatever good I may be today, so very much of that flowed straight from him.


It wasn't so much straight like it was from a loving hands-on Mom. More often it was in-direct, as in the case of an occasional smile, a surprise wink, an extra-tight tuck of my bedtime blanket. You see, the fathers in my time would in this time be labeled "absent fathers." They usually weren't there to play build join in supervised hikes and games and father-and-son events at the local community hall.

My Dad, like most dads in those days, was absent because he was working 10-12 hours a day to bring home -- as we would say -- the bacon. They weren't our buddy or our coach or our troop leader. But they did love us, because -- as we would say -- their actions spoke louder than their words. The bacon was always on the table!

A father's love is quintessential, be it boldly expressed or gently implied. Long before George Santayana said, "The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool," my Father showed me what this meant. How well I showed him what he meant to me is open to a debate which has no winner. But there was and is no debate that I did.

It goes without saying -- but I'll say it anyway -- we sons have some regrets about our fathers. Perhaps most of them come in the form of unasked questions: What were you thinking and feeling when you were my age...? When and how did you first know you were in love with Mom...? Can you remember everything that happened the day I was born...?

If you still have your Father with you, I envy you. You at least have time left to ask. Don't wait any longer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Each time at this time it's summer again. And yet each time at this time it's slightly different than the last time. The magic and mystery of nature.

If spring is a pretty girl twirling in her yellow gingham dress, summer enters the room like a seductive woman moving in rich greens and reds. Promising wonderful things if only you give yourself over to her.

For youngsters, it's so easy because it's so natural. Their buoyant bodies have been itching for these fat succulent days all winter long. With the sun rising in the morning sky, they're ripping ready to plunge into summer's wide-open arms. So many games to play...pools to swim...trees to climb...heroics to achieve. Why even their ubiquitous keypads and screens can't match what the woman called summer is offering outside.

For adolescents, summer is still spectacular although a bit prickly. It's no longer quite so easy to throw yourself into it with such glorious abandon. Now suddenly you're aware of other eyes you know are watching you, other conversations you're sure are about you. Now games and pools and trees are not simply there; now they are there for you to prove yourself. When did fun become so hard!

For adults, summer is a stunningly mature woman beckoning you. For the male, a call to adventure; for the female, a call to enjoy. Either way, it's a call you feel as you first wake to the crisp green fragrances of the morning outside your bedroom window.

Of course, the lady known as summer takes on slightly different auras in different venues. In the mountain country, she is the intoxicating beauty that explodes from among the slopes and peaks...along the seashore, she is the laughing foam of the waves that splash across the sands beneath your the scattered towns and villages of the country, she is the perfumes of the fields and the songs of the jaybirds

But in the city, where I come from, summer is the exquisite woman who takes her place among the parks and boulevards and side streets as if she always belonged. But has been reluctantly away for awhile. Now that she's back -- may I insist just for me -- I once more find myself falling desperately in love. Exactly like the moment the curtains open on a play I have long waited to see, I am already a little sad to think her visit will be so short.

Ahh, but what a visit. What a gift. What a chance....

Friday, June 17, 2011


Educator John Dewey famously said: "A problem well put is half solved." To test this, here are three problems:

* Why do the folks who publish magazines like the NATIONAL ENQUIRER achieve such extraordinary circulation using such undistinguished language to print such unsubstantiated gossip about such really unimportant people?

Researchers at Northwestern University conclude: "Humans are hardwired to pay special attention to scandals and other negative information about other people.....not so much a character flaw as a good evolutionary tool for survival." The study proposes early man needed to avoid untrustworthy or threatening members of their tribe, hence the special attention given to them and their behaviors.

While the proposition sounds reasonable, it is equally reasonable to assume not many paparazzi are thinking evolution as they slither through the slime of celebrity faithlessness and fecklessness. To them and us, their un-admitted readers, gobbling up gossip is not a societal problem as much as salty habit.

* Why do theists and atheists appear to differ about human sex and sexuality?

Another university, Kansas U, decided to study this question. Using responses from 15,000 volunteers the researchers found "almost no difference in the sex practices of atheists and highly religious people." Chief researcher Darrel Rey explained: "In the case of adultery, masturbation and certain other acts, the frequency was the same, only the guilt was different." Summing up their work, Rey added: "The guilt didn't stop them, it just made them feel bad."

* Why do reporters now act like archaeologists?

Night after night cable channels travel with archaeologists to distant lands, none more frequent than Egypt. Notice how they endlessly peruse the hieroglyphics of the ancient kingdoms. King Tut is one of their favorite subjects. A Pharoah who lived, loved and died thousands of years ago, but whose narrative for us today continues to depend on how each succeeding archaeologist decides to interpret and re-interpret a fist, a face, or a facade.

Which, in a funny way, brings us back to how modern reporters will use much the same to reach what they like to call their psycho-social "interpretations" of everyone from Mel Gibson's scowl to John Boehner's tears.

I'm not entirely sure Mr Dewey would have approved any of this. I'm just saying......

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Progress is like a perfect summer day, everyone's all for it. But progress, even perfect summers, has its price. Take two examples:

* Throughout human history, half the human race has been consistently denied its rights. Throughout half the world this is still true. Not in the West where women have at long bitter last started to assert themselves and their place in the sun. Here they can take special satisfaction in this progress.

However -- always seems to be a however in such matters! -- we have the strange example of many women being pushed into progress perhaps faster than they would wish. For every 10 women who publicly wish for a powerful career, how many privately wish the culture would equally bless their desire to be a wife-and-mother? I have no idea the percent, but I do have an idea this is a less publicized but not less qualified number of such women,

It's almost ironic, isn't it, that now men are free to fulfill their wish to be a House-Husband at exactly the same time being a House-Wife is sniffed at like last week's fish. Perhaps in the press for long-delayed progress, the women's movement has forgotten not every woman wants to move out of home-hearth-and-family.

* In a parallel shift, there has been a movement in our cities to also make them more modern, more today, more sophisticated. But in this well-intentioned progress of grand parks, architecture and transit systems, here too a price. In our splendid rush to make our city's sleeker, gentrified, more homogenized, what's happened to those many small inelegant enclaves we once affectionately called "the neighborhood?"

Most metropolitan dwellers today have little memory and often even less interest in the way-it-was. The way neighbors knew neighbors over back-fence conversations, in local taverns, in local mom&pop store trips, and in evening strolls down the block to the echo of playing children and barking dogs. Harder to do in today's cities where doors are shut, front porches are no more, and being "neighborly" means a quick honk of the car horn as you and they leave in the morning to entirely different worlds.


It's been said, to know who you are you have to remember who you were. What's true of us, is also true of our cities...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


So it's come down to this, has it...?

American democracy is show business and show business is American democracy. Clearly there is no longer any clear line of demarcation between them. Not when actors become pols, pols become actors, presidential campaigns are run like Oscar campaigns, and everything in both Hollywood and Washington is costumed, scored, rehearsed and cued right down to the carefully planned ad lib and photo op.

Most voters by now have come to accept -- well, at least admit -- this is the way it is. And inasmuch as most students and adults don't know a tinker's damn about our national history, then perhaps this current putrefacation of democracy is not as disappointing and painful as it should be.

But if this is the way it is to be, at least one last plea. A plea not only against celebritizing politics and politicians, but against the disingenuous way in which we are constantly being cued to cheer. I mean if we citizen lambs are to be slaughtered by this frenzy of political show business, can we at least be allowed to find our way on our own...?

But no! As it is now, in both Hollywood and Washington there is always the required crowd warm-up. Those Pavlovian ways in which we are primed and prepped for the big moment. Take your usual music concert. First the room fills with the roar of soundtracks from something like ROCKY or STAR WAS...we are suddenly engulfed in a spectacle of sweeping beams and flashing lights...the dramatic baritone on the PA announces the moment like Biblical the curtains part, the drums roll, and then -- Then even an entrance by the building custodian would bring the frenzied crowd to its feet.

Same thing in television studios before the host enters, in Oscar Night before the MC appears, in political conventions before the speaker arrives, and in any rally for any reason that takes place on the Washington Mall. It's all show business, pal, and we all love it. Expect it. Need it.

At one time or another, everyone holds high the memory of our Founding Fathers and their grand document of democracy [even if we haven't a clue as to who, when and why they were!]. But lets be honest. Most of those Fathers well understood the ways of the world and their fellow man. They were very much flesh-and-blood, hardly polished-marble. And yet, were they to come back to this, this spectacle of sound-and-light-and-tent-barkers, chances are they wouldn't buy a ticket to the show.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Some hypotheticals in life are silly -- who would win in 2012 Obama or Romney? who would win in a World Series the Cubs or the White Sox? what would life be like in Chicago if we didn't have winters?

Other hypotheticals are staggering -- what would it be like if John Lennon, Martin Lither King, Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy were still alive?

The staggering part is the way we would have to re-adjust and re-adapt to a world in which these icons of the 20th C would now be graying and aging in their 70s, 80s, and 90s respectively. I mean, think about it! What would it be like compelled to watch these young lions and lionesses of our youth systematically fading and failing just like us?

I'll tell you what.

It would be a dispossessing and disruptive sensation. Even worse than what is already happening as we gradually realize the authority-figures of our youth -- presidents, police, teachers, clergy -- are now younger than us.


I for one can assure you, this turn of events is no easy matter to manage. When it happens to you, it is no longer simply a random hypothetical. It's a kind of brutal reality, my friend. So if John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy had not been cut down at their beautiful prime, their vibrant iconography in our lives would now be dimming just as they themselves dimmed.

Look, there's already enough reality to our lives. So how, for heaven's sake, would an aging but still breathing American male come to terms with a tucked and botoxed Marilyn celebrating her 85th birthday this month in the palmy confines of a Santa Barbara residency...?

Please, I shall not even try!

Monday, June 13, 2011


Thomas Edison's inventive genius knew no bounds...except when he tried to develop a technology with which to re-capture the voices of such long ago people as Aristotle, Jesus, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Lafayette, Lincoln. Edison was working from the principle of conservation-of-energy which asserts that energy -- such as the sound of our voices -- is never extinguished.

I assert that each one of us can achieve what Edison couldn't. With only the technology of our mind. Or, better yet, our imagination which remarkably can reach even beyond the circuitry of our brain.

Putting aside the debate whether mind, brain and soul are existentially the same, here is a simplistic way of demonstrating this assertion. Enter any space where once before you stood. Your parents' old living room...your 5th grade class...the church pew in which you sat during that tragic funeral...the beach where you first knew you would no longer be alone...the theatre balcony where you sat the night you discovered the brilliance of the creative word.

Wherever you and I have stood and talked and listened, there has been an imprint made upon the template of the universe. While some among us hear only what is being said in their lives, others can't help also re-hearing what was once said in their lives. Not precisely reverie; more like revelation. The revelation of re-visiting those fleeting moments in sound which helped sculpt your life.

How often we take out old albums, play old videos. These are intensely tangible tools by which we can help excavate the pyramids of our life. How even more intensely tangible would it be to relive these moments and memories. And especially the people who inhabited them with us lo these many lost years or decades or perhaps even lifetimes.

So the next time you and I step into the same quadrant of space-time we once did, permit your imagination to remind you. Remind you when and who and how this small scene helps explain the large play of your life. In the theatre it is always said: "There are no small parts, only small actors." Can it not also be said that in life: "There are no small scenes, only small memories?"

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Seems like we've always had this way of turning some of our most brilliant breakthroughs into bumbling boomerangs. Agriculture good -- e-coli bad! Printing press good -- pornography bad! Radio good -- morning drive shows bad! Television good -- reality shows, well, so bad the language has yet to catch up!

Now however arrives perhaps the bitterest of boomerangs -- improved modern health-care. Is it helping us live longer or just die slower...?

Danial Callahan writes in The New Republic: "Among the elderly the struggle against disease has begun to look like the trench warfare in WWI: little real progress in taking enemy territory but enormous economic and human cost in trying to do so. Our main achievements consist of devising ways to marginally extend the lives of the very sick."

If you're under 50, you can stop reading. After all, dying has no place or meaning in your life. On the other hand, you won't be under 50 forever.

When people talk about the "population explosion" they should actually be talking about the "health explosion." Modern medicine has granted us much longer -- though frailer -- leases on life. So while the overall population is hardily growing in the advanced countries, the number of aged and ill is!

There are historic consequences to this first-time global phenomenon.

Germany's Bismarck sought to address this boomerang in Germany 150 years ago. Other European nations eventually did the same with various kinds of government coordinated health-care systems. Some work better than others. However here, the indefatigable spirit of Rugger Individualism, has vigorously outlasted the last frontier in which vigorously required it. And so today many here still utter such remarkable arguments: "Government keep your hands off my Medicare!"

Finding good jobs today may be a more deeply felt priority...but finding good health in the tomorrows to come will become a still greater priority. However, then I remember one of my media course professors who enjoyed reminding us: "No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for awhile you'll see why."

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Question: Why do we find scenes with Joe Six Pack uncomfortably squeezed into a tux or enduring an opera or attending an esoteric lecture so funny...? Answer: Because Joe is out-of-place...!

In many ways, this is a description of democracy in modern America. Even though intellectual candor tells us many of us not only feel but actually are out of place, we will fight to have the right to be in any place any time we damn well choose. After all, wasn't this great democratic right awarded us by such great aristocratic elites as Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Fathers, and every aristocratic president until Lincoln came loping out of the prairies almost 100 years later? And now another 150 years after Lincoln, haven't we proudly pressed this right to where every kid deserves a winner's trophy in the game, belongs in college, fits in the box seats at the Met, should sing on television, or eventually can run for congress and president.

OK, it's true that aristocracy -- the opposite mindset to democracy -- had its chance in history, but produced the good life for only the few. However, now the question becomes: will today's new wide-lens vision and version of democracy do any better?

Well, lets see.

We have everyday-Joe and anywhere-Jane in any place they want. By god, this is our god-given right, and anyone trying to take it away has a flag-and-constitution-waving fight on their hands. Of course there is this troubling distinction between the right to do something, and the right stuff with which to do it. Which is why it's of particular interest to listen to the monosyllabic Palins speaking of national leadership, off-key singers appearing on network television, twits tweeting for national readerships, a handful of Biblical aficionados shredding Korans for international attention, and any basement blogger in the land with the keypad power to reach out and into millions of minds.

The ancient Greeks gave us the noble concept of democracy. The 18th C political thinkers shaped that concept into what we proudly call Western Thought. Now here in the 21st C we've loudly concluded there are no "betters" in our lives as once our ancestors were taught. And, in the face of God and in the light of our constitution, we're right.

But now comes the hard part. Distinguishing between having and earning our rights. Something like choosing to whom to give the scalpel -- the compassionate relative or the skilled surgeon when Mom is being wheeled into the OR....

Friday, June 10, 2011


Did you ever wake up in the morning and feel there was everything in the world to do, and you had all the time in the world to do it....?

Chances are you have. But it was some time and place ago. It was were had neither boss nor mortgage crowding your style that day. And, if you were like me, you had several huckleberry friends who were there to share this delicious summer-fat day with you.

Think of America that way when it too was young and restless, and it too had all the time in the world to do things. Despite generations of growing pains which included the trauma of our Civil War, most days in America were very much like that until 1890.

That was the year America's endless breathless frontier slammed shut forever.

Not literally, but demographically, for that was the year the US Census Bureau reported there was "no longer a contiguous line of demarcation between settled lands to the East and unsettled lands to the West." Throughout our history -- from the day the first Europeans settled along the Eastern coastline -- there had always been "somewhere out West to go." Historians like to call this our Garden Myth.

It was this powerful reassuring belief that no matter how bad life turned against you where you were, there was always "somewhere out West to go." To start all over again. Journalists like Horace Greeley preached it; dreamers like Mark Twain practiced it. Even if you didn't actually grab a horse or wagon train heading for the vast open spaces of the frontier, at least you could hug this private faith. There's always another chance waiting for me. [The reason Draw Poker was the frontier's most popular game was the way it too meant there was always another chance!]

Not after 1890.

Oh sure there were and still are open spaces to be found in Nevada, New Mexico and the Great Northwest. But never again in the same way a Kit Carson, a George Custer, or a gold-crazed pack of Forty-Niners could find it. In the years following 1890, it was like that inevitable morning you and your huckleberry friends woke up to realize the sweet freedoms and spaces of your summer were over. They would now have to give way to growing up and making do pretty much with what you had where you were.

In his 1960 presidential campaign, John F Kennedy spoke of America's New Frontier. No longer a geographic one, but a creative one. One that we would carve out our tomorrows not only from the land, but from our imagination and innovation. The Moon Landing in 1969 may have been his signature achievement in reaching a new frontier.

The best of us are still reaching...

Thursday, June 9, 2011


In Chicago -- city of the big shoulders and the even bigger grafters -- we have somehow opted to canonize a pathological killer. We sell Mafia Tours to visitors celebrating Al Capone's criminal exploits during the 20s & 30s. Only passing notice of how his crime wave ended in a mad syphilitic death. And, interestingly, only passing notice of other Chicago celebrities like Carl Sandburg, Danial Burnham, Potter Palmer, Michael Jordan, and my Father who can be seen driving the lead car in the city's 1933 welcoming celebration for General Balboa's historic flight of the "white fleet" from Rome.

Dad got displaced from the celebrity list shortly after the General's boss -- Benito Mussolini -- partnered up with another celebrity by the name of Adolf Hitler.

The point here is America's historic love affair with free spirits who live and love to defy authority. There is Patrick Henry, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Geronimo, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, Abbey Hoffman, Woodstock, along with today's Skinheads and Survivalists. The politically correct term is Libertarian. Pretty much what the Tea Partiers say they are, even without necessarily knowing how to spell or define the word.

Other cultures have their own mitigated versions of Capone. The Brits have Robin Hood, the Scots Rob Roy, the French Joan of Arc, India Gandhi, South Africa Mandela. And yet, there stands a mountain range of differences between those who defy authority for a cause and just for the hell of it.

There are those who by instinct walk through life fighting any "no" they meet. [They usually begin their Libertarian career by being the classroom clown/jerk]. Then there are those like the Japanese cattle farmers still remaining in their radiation-condemned villages today. They are neither rebels nor criminals. Their deepest nature simply seems to tell them that I not THEY know what's best for me.

We'll surely know the answer within the next 10 years. Will their villages then become Japan's newest tourist attractions...?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Urinals too...?

Fans of the Emmy Award winning series MAD MEN will have to wait until January 2012 for it to resume. But fear not, there will be no intervening let-up in our culture's 24/7 advertising. Television, newspapers, magazines, Internet, billboards, inside your cabs and, yes, right there above your urinals.

With more to come as marketers start enlisting online avatars to talk you into panting for their products. Imagine commercials in which you watch Spartacus doing battle in Hane's underwear and the Holy Grail pouring Coke at the Last Supper.

Not to laugh, friends, for you and I are already ego-deep in this zeitgeist. Engulfed in a swamp of piqued desires to have and to hold what these products can provide us. Desire...? Greed...? Capitalism...? Pick whatever word works for you, but we exist in a constant state of wanting. This despite the ancient warning: Be careful of what you want, because you just might get it.

FREEDOM author Jonathan Franzen: "Our marketers have become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of erotic relationships in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything. Instantly so as to make us feel all powerful..." Think your latest iPhone!

Franzen adds: "The ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that's indifferent to our wishes -- a world of hurricanes and hardships -- with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be a mere extension of the self..." Think your next grade of iPhone!

The naturalists among us need not fear, however. The natural world has this way of brutishly reminding us and our technology that it not us is in final command. The wide wake of human sorrow left behind nature's tsnamies, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods makes this brutishly clear. But in our sorrow we might take comfort in Ralph Waldo Emerson 150 years before our iPhone: "Sorrow make us all children again. It destroys all differences of intellect. Now the wisest know nothing."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Think some of the unthinkables. When you're young there are so many.

Santa a fraud...Mom & Dad having sex...prominent clergy sinning....prominent politicians sexting...Officer Friendly pushing dope...sports heroes cheating...Uncle Joe a fall-down drunk. As we grow older the unthinkables grow larger. Think your Army spending $32 billion since 1995 on advanced weapons that were canceled before they were even built...think Bernie Madoff...for goodness sakes, think Sarah Palin!

If growing older means still more unbelievable unthinkables ahead, at least think of the solace of Lincoln: "The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time."


Isn't every day of every life clouded by one enduring impenetrable -- our inherent incapacity to think and feel and comprehend like the other person. We try. We say we do. We think we have. And yet, we can never get inside their skin. Not really. From concentration camps to therapy sessions, X can never become Y. Every human life is an unrepeatable act, a mystery only one can live out.

To those who prize privacy and celebrate freedom, take comfort here. Sometimes, though, the comfort is a cold one. For in the final measure this means it's impossible for anyone outside you to feel your pain, to fathom your soul, to fundamentally grasp why you are who you are. And why they are who they are.

Humanity is what it has always been. A collective journey across time by entirely unconnected travelers. There are times when some special someone appears and for a time makes us one. Prophets. Kings. Generals. Presidents. But throughout our history, these times are very brief.

Maybe this why the cliche: "All the world loves a lover." As we continually discover how impossible it is to truly know another, this is why we continually yearn for the next best thing. Love. That glorious sense that we have at last found our other half.

Which is surely why there are so very few novels or poems or movies or [God forgive me!] reality shows which do not end with that closeup kiss. That swallowing of lips by which we come as close as we can to at last become the other...

Monday, June 6, 2011


To write this you have to admit to the pride and prejudice of your own generation. In this case the Silent Generation [by some ratcheted up to the Greatest Generation] who grew up in the 30s & 40s. In sharp contrast to the Boomer Generation [1946-1964]. The first tended to believe in guys-in-white-hats; the second and those that followed tend to skeptically say, lets face it, every hat is really gray.

Something to be said for that, although it's hard to think of any great historical events led by fluttering flags of smudgy gray. Not only was WWII thought of in stark black&white, so also was the Boomer's own Sixties. Movements need heroes, and heroes only wear white. At least when they're busy being heroes.

Today's culture has come to suspect that no one or nothing comes in white. Or that there even is white. Who can argue? On the other hand, who can argue that in a culture when skepticism rules, the fire of heroes is damped down to a flicker. And flickers light few paths to glory...!

The same media and authors who once found heroes to place on pedestals, now relish [and profit] from smashing the pedestals [calling their hammers scoops in the name of truth]. Had these hammers been more acceptable in other times, how many guys-in-white-hats would we have had? Aristotle...Alexander ... Caesar...Charlemagne...Joan of Arc...Luther...Newton...Jefferson...Emerson...Lincoln...Whitman...Carnegie ...Ford...Einstein...Lindbergh...Hemingway...FDR...DiMaggio...MacArthur...Patton...JFK...Mandela?

Not a one deserves their white hat. The truth mongers have seen to that.

So as my generation surveys the journalistic terrain, I see furled flags and soiled hats. We are left with the mowed fields in the slashing wake of the brigades of truth. The truth is supposed to make us free. Sounds good to the ear, but what of the heart? What of the hungering hearts who have always needed flying flags and white hats to spark them out of their lethargy? To ignite their passions and devotions? To beg of them their slumbering greatness?

Today's truth-whoring skeptics will righteously point to a Napoleon, a Hitler, or a Manson to make their point. Who is to deny them their facts? Or their truth? But when left with only the surgically dissected remains of our dreams and dreamers, how many of us will still dare to dream? I need our truth mongers to help me here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


You and I live in the belly of many beasts. Those all-consuming social force-fields in which we find ourselves. Morning to night, day to day, life to life. They come in all different shapes, sizes, and names.

Each has one that seems to most fiercely consume us: evil! sin! fear! nature! Mine is violence.

Violence -- an impending state of threat and destruction -- is something with which my ancestors and yours lived from the moment the gates of Eden shut behind them. For eons our frail species was daily buffeted by both willful and incidental violence. The physical threats of our sudden destruction were everywhere.

Today -- given our knowledge and technology -- we live in the relative protection of shelter and clothing, police and fire, electronic sensors and safeties. And yet with one mistaken side street at night in a strange part of town, you will know the clammy fear of unseen violence.

But wait...

My beast is not only unseen. It is seen and shared every unsuspecting day of our modern lives. Consider the hundreds of acts of physical, emotional and sexual violence in our nightly news reports...our movies...our television programming...our literature...our rock & rap music...our digital games...our Internet encounters. And the cheered violence of our contact sports...the roar of our high-performance cars...the lusty high-fives in our sports bars...the belly-to-the-bar behemoths in our biker bars...the smash-mouth thugs of organized crime in our headlines...the street punks and drug gangs just a speed-chase away from our front door.

The cliche it's-a-jungle-out-there is no cliche.

The FBI reported in 2010 the violent-crime rate dropped to its lowest level in 40 years. Defying the theory that it rises in times of recession and unemployment. The stats are comforting. So long as we understand violence in terms of the unseen-other. However, there is less comfort when we understand that we ourselves are part of the violence. Our tastes, needs, cheers, and unthinking shrug: "It-is-what-it-is."

It's that very world-weary shrug which gives a pass to those who live by violence. Whether we respect our police and federal agencies or not, thankfully we have their thin blue line to guard the gates. The greater danger is when we welcome in the backdoor the legal purveyors of violence. Studio & network producers, recording moguls, pornography peddlers, fight clubs, and organized sports brutality.

When we feed them, we feed the beast that feeds on us...

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Evolution has taken a remarkable journey ever since Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1859.

At first it remained a secret of sorts, because Darwin sensed the enormous implications it could have in his stout Victorian England. Later, a sensation of sorts as it began to spread from scholarly enclaves out into the general public. Still later, it faded under the onslaughts of Christian critics. Then by the 1920s, the force of its implications hit the mass media during the Scopes Trial. By today, even the Vatican concedes it's more than just a theory. Indeed, evolution is a cornerstone for everything from Anatomy to Atheism

Its implications are many, reaching out like seeking fingers coiling around our assumptions about not only the beasts of the field, but the beasts of our own nature as well. Evolutionary neuro-biologists are relentlessly reporting newly discovered genes and synapses which they advise us help explain us. Case in point: This week's TIME front cover "The Science of Optimism."

There was a time when prophets and philosophers would address such mysteries as human hope. These days, their offerings are first filtered through what science has carefully learned about our anatomy. Not unlike psychiatry now often filters our human emotions through what it has learned about our chemical balances. As a result, the therapist will frequently prescribe pills to complement talks. Someday the neuro-biologist may have prescriptions to manage our sense of despair by hiking our levels of hope. Soma anyone...?

We like to say: nothing succeeds like success. At the same time, we may have to concede: nothing recedes like success. In this instance, the outstanding success of the study of evolution. And so the informed TIME readers might want to ask themselves if this intense focus on our genes, lobes, and chemicals may sometime distract and detract from those elements to our humanity that are nowhere to be found on the Periodic Table of Elements.

Simply said, matter is not all that matters.

While evolutionary sciences have brilliantly taken us down paths of glory in better fathoming the mysteries of our existence....there are still other paths to be traveled. The ones best trekked by prophets, philosophers, and yes poets. Not those of Soma, but Spirituality. Well, it's just an optimistic guess from my rostral anterior cingulate cortex....

Friday, June 3, 2011


Terrence Malick's award-winning film "The Tree of Life" will divide American audiences like it did Cannes Festival audiences. For various reasons. The vastness of its Biblical spirituality, the enormity of its cinematography, also the innocence of its look at growing up in middle America, in the Middle West, in the middle of our 20th C.

Innocence has been used by authors from Milton ("Paradise Lost"), to Voltaire ("Candide"), to Twain ("Tom Sawyer"), to Wolfe ("Look Homeward Angel"), to the ubiquitous illustrations of an innocent America by Currie & Ives and Norman Rockwell.

However, it's easier now to dismiss innocence. Especially as we work our way through a world fraught with sophisticated desires and dangers on every side. Kids growing up today -- living or at least watching these desires and dangers in violent action -- will find times-of-innocence in their extravagant country hard to imagine. Harder to believe.

It just could be that their grandparents will be their last repository of such beliefs. Yes, their memories may play willful tricks with the actualities of their long ago youth, but things actually lived cannot actually be destroyed. Perhaps summertime -- with its enormously fat juicy lazy days -- is the very best of times to ask them to tell you their stories.

Stories of long-gone days of open windows and unlocked doors....of mothers wearing aprons in bustling kitchens and throughout spic-and-span rooms...of fathers going to work in starched white shirts with the American Dream tucked in their pockets...of neighbors who called you by name when they hailed you to try their morning coffee cake...of mom & pop stores down the street who nobody owned except the folks behind the counter...hours of unsupervised kites and chases and pickup ball games on side streets uncluttered by parked cars or in empty lots of your choice just a walk-away.

In their stories you will meet horse-drawn milkmen and fruit peddlers instead of sleek retail chains, open fire hydrants instead of community pools, wide green lawns for dreaming on instead of digital board games for killing on, oh and grams and gramps may even indulge themselves in little whispered tales about puppy love on the village green which actually remained virgin-white until the wedding day.

I know, I know, Hallmark Cards sell this kind of sentimentality for a quick profit...! You're right. But grandma and grandpa aren't selling you anything. Just summertime remembering. Letting you hop on for the ride...

Thursday, June 2, 2011


In our splendid age of information, we are still plagued by the unintended consequences of so much misinformation. This human flaw -- misunderstanding the Other -- has been central to our stories from "Oedipus the King" to "She Stoops to Conquer" to the famous ending in "Gone With the Wind" when Rhett misunderstands Scarlett's late-discovered love for him. As he snarls the classic line, 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!' every woman in every audience has for 72 years wanted to yell out: No, no, you don't understand...!

In plays and movies, the angst of watching such moments is brief. However, in life there is more than temporary angst. There is unforgiving tragedy. As in the case of how our flawed humanity has misunderstood so many for so long. The psychotic...the mentally-challenged...the deformed...the mystic ...and of course those of a different sexual orientation.

This human penchant for disdaining the Other has plagued our progress for tens of thousands of years. Just this week Illinois finally became one of the states at long bitter last to make civil unions legal. And one expects eventually marriages. And those who continually claim the moral high ground on matters from marriage to vaccination continue to find themselves tripping off their own pedestals.

Of all places to get a lesson in the madness of stubborn misunderstanding, the US Navy would seem an unlikely source. But let us together review this actual radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations from an exchange >>

# 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid collision
# 2: Recommend your divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South
# 1: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course
# 2: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course
# 1: This is the aircraft carrier Enterprise, we are a large warship of the US Navy. Divert now!
# 2: This is a lighthouse. Your call...!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


It is often said big things come in small packages. Perhaps the same is true with words. This small word "too" so often carries so big a thought. Namely: excess. Too much of anything, even a good thing, can become a bad thing. Horace preached the wisdom of moderation: "Auream medicratatem diligo." In effect: To cherish the golden mean. One of the few passages I retain from my immoderate years in Latin classes.

Note how in politics, sports, arts, and relationships someone is always quick to brandish the "too" sword. Too government-controlling liberal or too no-controls conservative....too young to know or too old to play....too way-out or too far-back. Salaries are of course always easy prey for the too-mongers, as the media relish listing everyone's salaries from teachers to CEOs in order to stir debate and boost ratings.

As to that last issue, Newport Beach California recently went ballistic when the media reported lifeguards making $200,000. "Too much" wailed the press. "Too misunderstood" replied the lifeguard union.

Steering through life is like steering through oceans. Always the need to compensate for the winds, currents, and swells in order to find that middle course. That golden mean. When the critics and crews yell "too" from their respective sides of the ship, it usually tells the person at the helm they're right on course.

But here's the problem. Whether it's your president or your quarterback or your spouse, it's not always easy to believe they're on the right course until the ship finally docks. Too many too's on route; too little faith till anchored; too hard to always know the difference.