Sunday, July 31, 2011


"It doesn't make any difference, Jack...!"

I once despised those words, uttered with disdainful dismissal by the family patriarch to whatever bright new idea I came up with at the family table. Hey look, I'm going to college. I'm studying the Great Books. Just because I'm full of new ideas and passions while you're full of arthritis and cynicism, you can't brush me off like that.

But he did. Dinner after dinner. Not angrily -- you could almost welcome the attention anger would have required -- but indulgently. As if to say, "When you grow up a little, then we can talk."

Now I'm grown up [at least old] and now I wish Uncle Abe were here to hear me utter [at least think to myself] the very same words. Time can do that to you. Although with the sad wisdom these words carry comes an even sadder regret. If all the bright new ideas in life actually "don't make any difference," then what the hell are we all doing here? Running around studying, designing, writing, and speechifying?

Donald Trump has never been a hero, but he once uttered an heroic admission: "I'm busy thinking and doing all these things because, well, it's what you do till you die..." Uncle Abe would nod, reminding the table how whatever we are all busily doing-till-we-die is in the final measure a game whose rules are controlled by someone else!

Government...? Despite all the impassioned campaigning, voting, and Mr-Smith-Goes-To-Washington movies, no one in government is able to stretch any farther than the tethers of their own funds, friends and lobbyists. Food...? Regardless of all the sharp-eyed inspections, nutritional studies, and consumer alerts, we still end up consuming most of what makes the suppliers the most profit. Business....? Despite America's giddy dreams about anyone-can-make-it, a few hundred bankers in New York, Geneva and Beijing control enough global purse strings to decide whether your niche of the economy is going anywhere this year or not. Sports & entertainment...? Give me a break, because big games and big celebrities don't depend on our cheering as much as on the financing of the backers with the bankrolls.

OK, OK, sounds cynical. Just like Uncle Abe did. But when I re-check the Great Books, I can see where Uncle Abe learned his cynicism. Aha, but with one fierce exception. The song still has it right: "The best things in life are free."

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Among the people I admire most are fathers and stunt men. If they seem like an odd couple, here's my reasoning. Both have complicated jobs. And yet, both are usually taken for granted. Fathers because they simply can't match the incredible role and reign of mothers in the lives of their children; stunt men because they simply can't match the dazzle and distinction of the stars in their movies.

So it is that fathers and stunt men sorta fade into the background. They're there. They're needed. But they usually don't get the family headlines or the marquee billings. Which for most of them is OK, because they should have known this coming in.

But now here's what neither of them could have known coming in. They will be casting some pretty large shadows over the lives of their children and their audiences. I mean, think about it. Kids watching their Dads looming large in their little lives as they drive cars. Carry heavy things. Repair broken stuff. And sometimes even caught kissing away Mommy's tears.

Pretty impressive stuff for a little tyke to behold. And -- unaware of Daddy's silent flaws -- to ever imagine matching. Still, how can there be anything so wrong with placing him on your own private pedestal? From where you can admire what you see and aspire to do likewise?

When it comes to those amazing stunt men -- well, here we have an upside and a downside. Upside, audiences can thrill to the bold, brave and heroic. We need people in our lives to occasionally do impossible things. Like leaping up to catch that home run shot....reaching the victim just before the villain....driving through crowded streets of enemies at impossible speeds always to succeed without ever harming a single pedestrian.

Impressive stuff. Especially for the young male animals in the audience who can't help envisioning themselves using such irrational violence to win the war and the girl in that patented happy ending. Unlike Dad, though, some of these antics might be better deferred than duplicated.

I'll never duplicate the impossible feats of improbable stunt men. And neither will you. But with a little luck and a lot of work, we might be able to duplicate the impossible feats we watched Dad perform. Funny, how I never imagined ever being older than him. And yet, in a strange way, I am. Now at 80, 50 long lonely years after he died at just 63....

Friday, July 29, 2011


Science does it again...!

A great many scientists seem unsatisfied to take seriously any old adages or proverbs until they can be statistically tested and verified. OK, no harm done. Only their testing often comes down to validating in their labs what the rest of us already knew in our world. The latest "breakthrough" comes from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center used computational and analytical methods "to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion."

The magic number is 10%. Director Boleslaw Szymanski concluded: "Once the number of convinced opinion holders grows above 10%, the idea spreads like a flame." Anyone who has celebrated the candle-flames to a few score birthdays will quickly stir with a rush of personal memories that can easily prove the professor's point. Even without his laboratory >>

* Without at least 10% of the fans being giddy, beer-soaked fanatics in the Wrigley Field bleachers, how could the city of Chicago keep enduring the 101-years of no-win Cubs baseball....?

* Without at least 10% of the national population consisting of hormone & horror crazed teens, how could Hollywood keep grinding our formulaic monster/car chase/buddy flicks year after year...?

* Without at least 10% of the TV viewers willing to keep turning on raunchy but predictable sitcoms, how could sponsors keep paying networks to impose this brain-draining plague season after season...?

* Without at least 10% of the driving public willing to buy those headlight-blinding vans, how could Detroit keep refusing to adjust the light beams for the benefit of the other 90%....?

* Without at least 10% of Congress absolutely and irrevocably dug into their opposing positions in 1861, how could a perfectly sane nation go perfectly insane for the next four years otherwise known as our bloody Civil War...?

* Today, without at least 10% of Congress consisting of true-believers in their own unshakable catechism of convictions, how could a perfectly insane nation teetering on the edge of its own history be perfectly willing to be insanely "right" even as it hurls itself off economic cliffs...? Still beckoning like the mad Ahab lashed to his great white whale...?

I have no answers. I'm hoping the gang at the Institute does. Because science just may be our last chance...

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Linus walks his world clutching his little blue blanket. While Lucy is a hard fisted feminist-before-her-time, her little brother Linus is more like Charlie Brown. Just plain scared at what the next turned-corner might bring. Louie Armstrong, on the other and happier hand, sings the classic WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD with a throaty juiciness that makes you feel every corner out there is going to be worth turning!

Today's helter-skelter world has a lot of Linus' in it. I mean, what's not to be afraid of...! But then you listen to Louie sing lines like, "I see trees of green/red roses too/I see em bloom/for me and for you," and how can you not feel kinda good and smiley?

Here's the point to take home.

The world is more than comic characters and jazz singers. Still, the arts do reflect life. Linus' fears are our fears; Louie's hope are what we would like to be our hopes. Fears come easily. Hopes take a little more work. Without fear we might travel life unguarded; but without hope, we could barely make the trip at all. No surprise here -- once again the world instructs us to find the proper balance.

Billions of us travelers go to bed at night scared of something. An arrest....too little food....too much government...not finding a job....not keeping the job you have...disease...death. The fears are real enough. Which is why so many tug that little blue blanket high over the head and pray a deep sleep will soon overtake them.

But even the peace of a dreamless sleep must eventually greet the dawn. That's when hope begins again. Enough at least to crawl out from under that blanket. That sleep. That escape. Now it's Louie's turn. With his kinda hope: "I hear babies cry/I watch them grow/You know they're gonna learn/A whole lot more than I'll ever know/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world."

You are permitted to laugh a little at Linus.! However, please, you are required to listen a lot to Louie!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


"The more things change, the more they remain the same...." An old French proverb whose words have echoed down the generations. To some, a piece of enlightened wisdom. To others of a more scientific bent, proverbs like this are often no more than untested crutches to get you through the day. Personally -- I vote for wisdom.

You may have to work your way through many a day before the words here make complete sense. Wait... let me correct that! Really all you have to do is surf your handy hundred-channel television set. The more you see out there, the more you realize that old French writer was absolutely right.

If testing is your thing, OK test it for yourself. Among others, there are five primal human emotions: Passion, Fear. Terror, Compulsion, Curiosity. Surf with me >>

* Passion ~See if you can find any programming out there without sex. Marital sex, pre-marital sex, lyrical sex, kinky sex, but somewhere somehow even in the goriest, all-guy war story, there has to be time for as the French put it: la grande passione

* Fear ~ Every age has been afraid of many things. Predators, enemies, floods, earthquakes. Notice how little has changed. Some of the names have changed, but not the fear. Which is why it's hard to find a program that doesn't feature fear. Just listen to the music and you can tell when it's coming. Heck, even game shows cue the music when the audience is tensely waiting to see which box or number or letter will be selected

* Terror ~ Terror is doubling down on fear. It's the sum of all fears as in the ever-popular monster plots. I mean, America just never gets enough ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves, Kongs, and Chuckys. Terror began the day Eden's gates were slammed behind us, and it's still here. Making some of us scared, others rich

* Compulsion ~ Seems as if evolution has hard-wired us to compulsively behave violently. All in the name of survival, we are advised. Still, most violence throughout most centuries and now throughout most programming is intentional and, one could argue, indulgent. Somehow bashing in faces, pummeling bodies, gunning down rivals, and firebombing cars and cities is just so damn satisfying. The means change, the violence remains the same

* Curiosity ~ From the first time we find our baby toes to stick into our mouth, we remain a curious creature. We are curious now about more than our toes, and curious we will remain to the end. But now during your surfing how many times and plots have you noticed revolve around science. Scientists are after all the most curious of all creatures. Naturally, the madder the scientist, the better the story.

Test over! Grades in! The French are right once again! "The more things change, the more they remain the same.."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


After oil, coffee is the world's largest export product. Both energy sources...both born in the same regions of the world...but each with a very different history.

Modern day Ethiopia is generally considered the cradle of humanity, from where our species and eventually coffee first began to spread. Modern day Iraq is generally considered the cradle of civilization, from where oil was early discovered but did not spread. Obviously coffee can be exported; oil cannot. Oil like gold is where you find it.

There are those historians who enjoy considering the many What-Ifs in life. For instance: What if Moses, when leaving Egypt, had turned right instead of left...? Instead of the land of milk-and-honey, he would have ended up with the earth's greatest reserves of oil. A whole new twist to the ageless Jewish/Arab conflict.

Funny how both the first coffee beans and the first oil deposits were at first considered a nuisance. Some nuisance! Today, billions of lives depend on each. Coffee for pleasure; oil for power. Yet somehow their parallel histories have taken sharply different paths. Coffee -- from its exotic African origins, Middle Eastern evolution, and Latin American industries -- has been shared by the world in largely peaceful fashion. Oil -- on the other and bloodier hand -- has become a bitter source of East/West conflict [the East has it, the West wants it].

Now there are those who speculate our world would be a more harmonious place if only we could hurry up the inevitable discovery of alternative fuels. Then there's Starbucks -- who seems to have proved there's no alternatives to our morning cup of coffee.

Except maybe Starbuck's next re-packaged-and-promoted rollout that oughta be hitting your supermarkets any day now. Is there a lesson in all this? Not sure. Maybe this. Both are black, but one tastes better. So rather than follow-the-money, how about we follow-the-magic....?

Monday, July 25, 2011


Never met my fellow Italian-American, Al Pacino. And yet, we have much in common. So much, I feel obliged to share some of it with you. Whether you feel obliged to read it is only a delete button away.....

We're both of Sicilian extraction. Both his father and mine were born in Sicily in the 19th C. Both fathers migrated to America in the 20th C. Both their sons grew and prospered here. [Well, Al prospered a little more than Jack]. Oh, and his grandfather, born in Corleone, married one of my cousins, also from Corleone.

For many years, Pacino was self-conscious about his Sicilian roots. [I have some family members who still are]. You see, while Sicily is arguably one of the most beautiful islands in the world, its colorful 3000 year history has very likely produced more sinners than saints. But then most Sicilians don't keep score.

Like you, I've watched the GODFATHER trilogy more than once. One episode in particular. When the young Michael Corleone goes into hiding in our family's little hillside town, which indeed does exist just above the city of Palermo. Lovingly shot on-location by another Sicilian, Francis Coppola, we can see its sun-baked cluster of stone houses, twisting cobble stone streets, craggy-faced old men fanning under the afternoon suns, wizened old women still gathering to gossip in the ancient piazzas. And, most particularly, the centuries-old town cathedral where Michael is married in the film; and where my Father was baptized in real life.

When you visit here, when you walk here, when you breathe here, you understand how not even the brightest twenty-something from Silicon Valley can actually escape his own family history. Genetically, culturally, religiously. And the older you get, the less you want to....

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Losing your child to an early death has to be one of life's greater tragedies. But lately what's all this about children all dying at age 27? Like in the case of pop/rock singers Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and now Amy Winehouse?

Perhaps Nostradamus aficionados or professional music critics will have a special take on these cut-down-at-their- prime phenomena. More likely, yesterday's generation and today's will simply agree to disagree about these passings. Youth will see them as tortured artists finding it hard to survive in a bourgeois world. Whereas the bourgeois world will see them as social misfits who burned out because of too much too soon.

Differing post-mortems aside, every before-their-time death is one death too many. Still, these clashing reactions are one sure way to distinguish today's America with an earlier one. Today sees fast fortune and fame as there for the taking; not for the waiting [as in "when your turn comes"]. Also, today sees exuberance and excess as the highest form of art; no longer the patient demands of time and training ["If you've got it...flaunt it!"]

The flaunters may answer back that Mozart and Gershwin both died at 36. "It's not just our drug generation that burns out fast in the music world. Look to your own!" And to be sure, that's true. However, what's also true is the irony that in this era when life spans have been so extended, so many of the fast-set seem to devour their span much too fast.

In the 1947 Bogart movie KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, the pretty-boy defendant in the trial smirks: "I want to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse..." In a fast-forward living age, a lot do. Then at their wake there is always the same whispered sadness: "But they had so much to live for..."

Indeed they did. Which is why we the mourners may want to spend more time finding out just what that is.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


So OK, no arguing with the box office. Comic book heroes are boffo with the cinema public. Of course that public is largely confined to the 13 to 35 year olds for whom brawn, beauty and boffo are what count most. Still, the comic book phenomenon is far too sweeping to smugly sweep under the rug of the audience's silly puerility.

There's something more going on here.

Taking a second look, you notice an equal number of screen villains too. A kind of perfect counter-point of villains to heroes to go with our popcorn. First, the horrific villains -- from the ever popular Vampire and Zombie to the grotesque baddies made up with some rather badly made rubber faces. Then, the hallelujah comic book heroes -- Batman, Spider Man, Captain America, Iron Man.

Life doesn't get much neater than that!

And that may be precisely what's going on here. In a world running wildly off all the tracks we were taught to travel on, life often seems out of control. I mean, who can calculate the swamp of statistics being thrown around D.C. like hand-grenades...? Who can fathom a recession that simply won't stop receding...? Who can measure the actual geopolitical dangers to our civilization when we know only what we are supposed to know...?

Drum roll! Fanfare! Enter one of Hollywood's heroes to smite the might of the evil ones! We cheer in our seats because, well, because sitting safely in our seats in the cocooned theatre is the best place from which to spot and slaughter the bad stuff in our lives!

Call it fun. Call it catharsis. Call it whatever fits your need. But later over pizza and beer at your favorite watering hole, come on now, don't you feel just a little safer about your unsafe world? Sure, you know it's all make-believe. Still. we all want to believe, need to believe, in the little pit of our tummy that there really are people in our world taking care of us.

Aren't there...........?

Friday, July 22, 2011


How many times a day do we say, "Now where did I put that...?" Referring to anything from our car keys to those keys to happiness with which we once began our adulthood. Memory is a funny, fragile and fantastical thing; yet there is still so much about it we don't understand. Either as a person or as a nation.

As a person, our memories are part of our consciousness. If they suddenly vanished, we could no longer summon up the touch of our mother's embrace, the confidences of our closest friends, that first fragrance of their hair on your midnight shoulder. Without memory, who would we be...? What would become of what we know as self...?

As a nation, our collective memory is what allows us to feel part of something bigger, more significant than simply making it to work this Monday morning. George Santayana wrote: "A country without a memory is a country of mad men." A feeling I get almost every time I meet a dis-informed student, a reckless politician, or an angry march.

There are document-able ways whereby we can lose our personal memories. Strokes and Alzheimer among the most common. Less document-able are the many un-ascertained ways a nation itself can lose its memory. Consider the enormous plunge in student & citizen knowledge about our country's history [a plunge permitting zealots to re-write textbooks in order to "ed-educate" the next generation about slavery, evolution, free enterprise). Even less document-able are the insidiously innocent ways in which a citizenry gathers around the chattering cable class of pundits, or the whispered did-you-know conspiracy theorists in sports bars, or lets not forget the robed preachers of ideological & theological supremacy.

When every Monday morning we hear ourselves saying, "It's a jungle out there!", we probably understand the document-able vipers waiting. But far more dangerous is that undocumentable haze of furious ignorance out there. Ignorances people pride themselves in the name of convictions.

"Deadlock grips Washington, markets shake Wall Street, Syria & Israel face off! News at ten...!!"

Thursday, July 21, 2011


"Students, take out your history book to page 112...." Remember the teacher who said that?

Everyone in every generation lives their lives with both myths and memories. The first are the past-as-we-have-learned-it. The second are the past-as-we-wish-to-remember-it. Both are highly selective activities, for both require we sort through what the human race pretentiously likes to call "the facts."

To be factual about it, facts [outside the rigorous testing of say a chemistry lab] are often one's perception of the events. Consider examples like the deaths of Lincoln, Hitler, FDR and Kennedy. Each an historical event...each witnessed by dozens even hundreds...yet each with countless details still argued by those professional keepers-of-facts we call historians.

Given this all too human habit, colorful historical mythologies have grown over the centuries. Consider the mythology of how Alexander's conquest of Persia stirred an East-West bitterness that bubbles up in the Islamic terrorism of today....the mythology that the Germans defeat of Rome in the 1st C planted the fields of Teutonic supremacy harvested as recently as the Nazis...the over-patriotic mythology of Washington's despair at Valley Forge...the more-accepted mythology that the Allies won at Normandy rather than the Germans losing.

These "mythologies" are not lies, simply history's version of what was true. Once such narratives reach our state-approved textbooks -- well, succeeding generations of students have little else but to embrace them. Which is not necessarily a terrible thing; it simply is what it is in every culture in every age.

But then there are our memories.

These don't make it into textbooks, mostly just into the conversations around the family table. And the older we grow, the more our memories grow. In number and especially in comfort. I mean, what better invitation can a grandfather receive than an eager-eyed question like: "So tell us, what was it like back then...?"

Now there are those in our midst who will dismiss an old man's remembrances of things past. You know, like atomic scientists, statisticians, lawyers and reporters. You see, they claim to be among the professional keepers-of-the-facts. And that's OK. But it's probably a lot more OK when it comes to challenging national mythologies ...rather than disputing personal memories. Only a Grinch would do that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Rabbi Kushner asked a question that's become part of the lexicon: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" He tried to answer that over several hundred pages, but for me he never quite did. Nor do I think he thought he did. But it's to his credit to admit there is this thing called "evil" in the world. Shiva, Lucifer, Libido, Terrorism -- whatever you call it, it's palpable and it's out there.

But here's the really evil thing about evil. So nuanced, we often don't know how to identify it. Unlike Hollywood's offertory of garish creatures and malevolent forces, the words of Shakespeare and Solzhenitsyn capture it best:

* "The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."

* "The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

There are directors like Oliver Stone who seek to put a face on evil. PLATOON, WALL STREET, JFK, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, NIXON, WALL STREET NEVER SLEEPS. And novelists like Stephen King with: THE SHINING, FIRESTARTER, DREAMCATCHER, ROSE MADDER.

Then there is a man whose understanding of evil put him in a telephone's touch with where it is and with the world's greatest arsenal to confront it: Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. With his recent retirement, he was the graduation speaker at the University of Notre Dame. What better place to address the subject of good and evil:

"...if history and religion teach us anything, it is that there will always be evil in the world, people bent on aggression, oppression, satisfying their greed for wealth and power and territory; or determined to impose an ideology based on the subjugation of others....I have always been an advocate of soft power....but in the 21st C hard power -- the size, strength and global reach of the US military -- will be the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists."

A grateful salute...!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


"There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics!" Attributed to Twain, it seems actually to have been England's PM Disraeli who uttered this annoying truth. And there is annoying evidence every day in every way. From conflicting statistics on prescriptions, erectile dysfunction and life spans to the economy, the weather and the meaning of life in the cosmos.

Whenever I've ventured into a corner saloon (there still are some left) or a sports bar (there are probably too many left), I get the impression the boys bellying up to the bar don't give a flying fig about statistics. Unless maybe they apply to their favorite hitter or waitress. Yet statistics are probably influencing their everyday lives.

Some random examples from last week's USA TODAY. They appear here as a test. A test to help the reader decide just how much of what they do is in some way a consequence of these numbers >>

* 58% of Americans say one or two children is the ideal family size

* 67% of Americans say they are buying more generic brands to save money

* 11% of the $17 billion in unemployment checks this year have been obtained through fraud

* In the last 30 years Americans have gone from eating 3.8 meals & snacks a day to 4.9

* The final bill for our Middle East wars is estimated to eventually reach $4.4 trillion

* Despite the size families, brand of foods, unemployment and warfare, the average paycheck for top executives at our 200 biggest companies in 2010 was $10.8 million annually -- a 23% gain over 2009

How to make some bottom-line sense out of these variegated statistics...? I dunno know. Maybe this. Creeping socialism is not really over-taking swelling capitalism anytime soon. Which should make the well-padded gang at the elite 19th holes feel good -- though concerned -- inside their gated communities.

Monday, July 18, 2011


The final Harry Potter movie just blew away all records for an opening week. And while the reviews were largely good, the headlines were largely about the $168 million bucks it brought in. There's a message here, fans.The very same message hidden in virtually every other headline this morning. If together we can find it, just maybe it will help give some meaning to the mess in which we always seem to find ourselves.

The mess...? This daily machine-gun-fire of bad, downright scary, news. The meaning....? Virtually every news headline has to do more with the issue of Quantity than Quality. Check it out: The national debt crisis, entitlement programs, teacher pensions, presidential campaign funds, television shows, book sales, the height of buildings, even the size of church memberships for God's sake -- each and every one understood mostly in terms of the numbers involved. The astonish number of dollars! receipts! bodies!

What's going on here?

I have a thought. Numbers -- statistics as they are now more properly known -- have sometimes taken on a life of their on in the minds of mankind. The bigger the numbers, well gosh, doesn't that mean the better the object? Well, not really folks, if you have the least little ability to remember when Quality usually reigned supreme in the lives of most folk.

The Quality of the way the dollars were being spent on the movie, on the teachers being pensioned, on the candidates being funded, on the television shows being produced; the quality of the book being promoted, of the skyscraper being constructed, and pf the faith not the figures of the Church membership.

Want a simpler, closer example? Can you remember how fussy dad was when he was polishing that old family car to a gleaming perfection rather than obsessing about how many fancy new cars were in the family's future? Can you remember how serious mom was when she was baking her pastries for the Sunday meal rather than fixating on all the new prepared pies now available in the supermarket? Can you remember how carefully the family used to read and re-read some of the classics it had proudly accumulated on its living room book shelf rather than racing to buy the latest best-selling tell-all-memoir? The numbers of things around the house just didn't seem all that important.

Can you remember any of that? Well, I can. And if you can't....maybe you're just not remembering hard enough.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


When my Father sat in that dining room chair Sunday dinner after Sunday dinner, well it was just a chair. A large, thickly-carved walnut chair with curved armrests that gave it a kingly look. And yet, just a chair. You know how it is with the furniture in your parents home -- it's simply there. We accept it as a given, a part of the landscape, something you can do with or without.

Not anymore. Not now, 51 ripened years since he gasped his last breath on that ugly white hospital bed. This dining room chair, now well over 100 years old, is the last fragile fragment to the scattered mosaic that was my parents' home. Many of those fragments now stand and serve proudly in homes as far away as Dublin. This particular chair had gone to a dear cousin in Chicago who is now "breaking-up-their-home" as Mom stoically described it after Dad's death.

Now I will bring that old chair home, and set it proudly among our furniture. And whether it fits in our not, it warrants a kingly place here. Until that time when we too break-up-our-home. At which undated time our children will perhaps take up the fragments of our mosaic. The habit goes by many names: inheritance...sentimentality.... continuity.

That last one is possibly the best one. Continuity....! When you think about it, isn't this what we mortals have been doing these hundreds of millions of years? Continually passing on from one generation to another our furniture. our values. our fears. our dreams. Something like the alpine backpack the climber takes with him working up that mountain. It's what you carry from what you learned from the last climbers.

Right now there are 7 billion of us climbers on this crowded mountainside. Some of us will make it to the top. Most of us will settle for something below. Either way, the climb will be easier if we bring along our loved ones' lives somewhere inside that pack....

Saturday, July 16, 2011


There she looms.... taller than virtually any other statute in Chicago.... with the exception of the iconic Picasso in the Civic Center.... our very own shimmering white Marilyn Monroe....her skirt famously fluttering over curious Michigan Avenue gazers.... women with a touch of curiosity, men with a dash of concupiscence.

Personally and hormonally, I always liked Marilyn. One of the last Hollywood icons who was not proud to be anorexic. But her dazzling presence here re-ignite the question: What do we Americans deem iconic?

First of all, you have to be dead. As in the case of Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Lincoln, Capone, Ruth, FDR, Marilyn, JFK, Elvis, Lennon, Liz, and the next Rocker to die in a backroom fury of drugs. That's a peculiar list, you say...? Well, we're a peculiar people. Thugs and thieves get idolized right along with leaders and luminaries. We especially like them when they exit in a surprise blaze of mystery or violence. [There was a guilty smile when we heard one of Marilyn's press agents mutter: "Great career move, babe..."].

Desire has to be a large part of why we deem some people iconic. The inscrutable desire to have been someone so free, so wild, so strong, so beautiful, so different than the ordinary whose crown most of us wear submissively day in and day out. One easy way to test this premise is to sit in the stands of a sports stadium, and study how everyday submission suddenly erupts into sociopathic hysteria. From painting one's bellied-body in order to tribally identify with the hero on the field, to screaming obscenities whenever the hero falls short, stadium hysteria reigns supreme. If only Freud had spent more time in bleachers, he would never have needed a couch.

Lately, though, the computer has started to take the place of flesh-and-blood icons. Consider the computerized creatures Hollywood, Television, Stephen King, and JK Rowling have given us. And now, icon-fans, now we can create and carry the little buggers wherever we go with such computer video games like the bloody new "Shadow Cities." I watched it demonstrated and was mightily impressed. But if I have to choose an icon, it will still be something like a Marilyn and not like a City.

Sorry, Mom, I know how you mistrusted blonds....!

Friday, July 15, 2011


"In Xanadu did Kublai Khan..."

Most readers are familiar with the opening words to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's celebrated poem. A poem he claims he remembered upon waking from an opium-induced sleep. But then that report shouldn't be so surprising when we consider how artists from Seneca to Edgar Allen Poe to my Uncle Harry have claimed similar experiences. Well, OK, you may not know about Uncle Harry, and that's probably just as well.

Here's the point.

Dreams have been of compelling interest to the human race ever since the race started to consider itself human. Be they induced by drugs, brought on by exhaustion, sent to us by Heaven, or simply little visual bursts in the middle of a mid-day nap by an aging mind. Poets, philosophers, psychiatrists and The National Enquirer alike have submitted theories.

Here's an unabashedly unscientific octogenarian one.....

Dreams are small escapes from out of one world and into another. The mind's motives may range from release to revelation. Release from the tensions in this world; revelation from the lessons in that other world. Either way, either route, the journey is usually encrypted.

Some studies have shown some dreamers can consciously control some of their dreaming. They can pre-plan the experience in order to actually stand outside their dreams and observe their meaning. That sounds pretty nifty, especially if you enjoy electrodes on your head just before you tuck yourself into bed. Most of us octogenarians, however, will opt for simple comfort to exotic circuitry under our covers.

Uncle Harry was always the family pragmatist: "Be careful what you wear to bed at night, you never know who you'll meet in your dreams." The way I look at it: "Joan laughs at my dreams, but I dream about her laughter." Then there's the way Judy sang it: "Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, where the dreams you dream really do come true."

Thursday, July 14, 2011


What we have here is life's ancient scales, teetering with Quality on one end and Quantity on the other. Often each in proportional opposition to the other

Throughout the eons, the scales have usually tipped in favor of quality. At least to the extent there was always so few quantities of everything needed. Arable lands...eatable foods...functional shelters... marriageable mates. Then starting about 1800 the scales shifted as the numbers of our options swelled exponentially. Not only with essentials, but with relentless swarms of non-essentials as well. From pleasures to outright indulgences. We saw them, we wanted them, now we need them.

The name for this is Consumerism. OK, there are nicer-sounding labels like Capitalism; oh and especially like Progress. Whatever we call it, it's often quantity at the expense of quality. Consider the sheer quantity of options in our produce aisles, clothing racks, video stores, car dealerships, TV programming, sports stadiums, concert schedules, even religions. They simply all can't be of quality. No matter. Name your game and -- if you live in the industrialized world -- and it's right there at your fingertips!

Speaking of fingertips, the digital industry now reports in ad after ad that their latest phones offer our fingers "over 425,000 apps." That's more apps than there days in an average lifetime...! Come on folks, isn't it time we start asking the carnival barkers to explain just why we need everything they're pitching...? Better yet, isn't it time WE start asking ourselves...?

Or could we be afraid of the answer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Well now look, people have been saying it for years: "Get out into the country and breathe some good fresh air!" The implication is country-living is better for your well-being than city-living. A feeling hard-wired into humanity ever since we climbed out of trees.

Greek philosophers like Plato preached it; Roman emperors like Augustus practiced it. It's one of the reasons why the Greek Islands, the hills of Tuscany, and the fields of the Provence have lured millions for centuries Then came our own American Garden Myth in which the bucolic charms of the countryside were churned up as early as the frontier novels of James Fenimore Cooper; the meditations at Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau; along with generations of small-town imagery from Norman Rockwell to Thomas Kincaid, from Frank Capra to Andy Griffith.

But in recent years sociologists have kinda spoiled these charms. Like most serious-minded statisticians, they've gone and recorded how people in small towns are not necessarily happier, only gossipier. And maybe that's true. Only at the rate modern science is moving -- what with all its discouraging reports on the terrible costs of tasty foods and fat desserts -- it will leave us mere mortals with little more than frightening facts!

Ahhh, but here come some scientists with a heart. There's a high-IQ gang of behavioral scientists at the University of Heidelberg who report great news from the great countryside. Study author Andreas Meye-Lindenberg describes how the stress of city living has "permanent negative impact on the brain's amygdala" and "higher agitation levels in its cingulate cortex." He goes on to say: "We speculate that stress from urban life might cause these abnormalities."

Driving city expressways every day, that sure makes sense to me. So three cheers for the docs! Maybe our sentimental affections for the countryside aren't so crazy after all. After all, the study sums it up this way: "If everyone were born in the country, there would be 30% fewer people with schizophrenia."

Now that's something both of me can agree with....!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


When he wrote, "Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans," he might have added, "Morning mirrors can lie to us about this, but most cameras won't." That the first is true is fiercely proved the more our best plans fall apart. That the second is true happens the unexpected day we find an old photo of the young us.

Thrust into a chaotic universe, we need desperately to believe there are rational ways at our disposal by which to travel it safely. And yet as we do, we hardly notice how youth and life itself has slipped away from us.

At first we smile at the long-ago picture, maybe even laugh as we pass it around the family table. But later when we're alone, we feel the self-conscious urge to take a second look. Good lord! The eyes so bright, the skin so taut, the hair so blond, the smile so sure. Living here day by day, I forgot that day. Could that me really have been me?

The answer is: Yes and No.

Yes, what we were then is inescapably at the core of who we are now. No, however, because the apple's core is only found after peeling the skin. It's the peeling -- the introspection -- that most of us defer. Perhaps even deny. After all, that's what therapists do. For others. Me, I haven't got time, because I've only got now!

Wrong answer.

There's a forgotten photo in every White House. However, leaders roiled in the dynamics of now, can so easily lose touch with the who that brought them here. From presidents to popes, from ministers to mayors, from father to son, we are each traveling the same chaotic universe. But whatever our respective destinations, there was always a stepping-off point. Can you remember...?

So many forget. So great our loss.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Reading or hearing a word for the first time, now suddenly we seem to keep bumping into it. Cliches, however, seem to keep bumping into us. They've always been around. Always asserting their special kinds of truth and wisdom. However, not so among the literati. For them, cliches are dismissed as uninformed tribal sayings, old-wives-tales, downright nonsense in a very sensible age.

I wonder.

Cliches -- like dismissed religiosity -- have somehow been around so long, the cynic has to grant there must be a hearty grain of truth here. Or, to mix metaphors, cliches are like the pimento in the olives; they may actually be what makes the olive so edible.

The Iroquois had this cliche: "Rain before seven ends by eleven." Personally, I have always found that cliche more accurate than my morning newspaper. Franklin's: "Stitch in time saves nine" has never to my knowledge proved wrong. Then there's the one that describes the greatness of great artists thusly: "A gift of God."

That last one has always seemed true enough when it comes to the genius of a Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart, or Micheal Jordan. However, here the literati of modern biology have eagerly pursued the evolutionary genetics that may someday more precisely explain such genius. Now to my knowledge, they have yet to identify the genes that have and can trigger such genius. However, not so primitive as to accept the cliche, some biologists continue their search for the Genius Gene.

Were one to be found -- say like Richard Dawkins' much publicized God Gene -- some of us would be confronted with the great Orwellian Dilemma. Namely, the stunning price of knowledge. With each new door new knowledge opens to us, another old door is closed on us. Doors like myths, legends, dreams, mystery, magic, and an insuperable kind of youthful joy that only aged facts have a way of slaying.

Till then, some of us will cling to the young joys of summertime romances, autumnal Halloween nights, winter Christmas Eves, and year round heaven-inspired-symphonies. Cliches, every happy one of them....!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


"Been there, done that....!" We've heard it, even said it, many times. Especially the longer we live with all the many more events about which to say it.

But now here's the point. As with most off-hand comments, we can either shrug it off, or we can sink into it a little deeper. If the latter, we will be seduced into analyzing the words in one of two ways. They are either the weary wisdom from an exhausted traveler; or they are an invitation to share from an enlightened explorer.

Share what...? That's like a newlywed asking a mother of five what's it like giving birth? Clearly, there is something to be learned (or unlearned) from her predecessor. And so I was always the sort of kid who was utterly interested in what my aunts, uncles, and especially grandparents had to say. Or, for that matter, whatever they just had to remember. What better way for the child to get a peek into the play of life upon whose stage he was about to enter.

I can't recall everything they said and remembered, but two lessons stand out. Courage and Patience.

Grandpa Bart was an Italian immigrant who came to work the great Copper mines of Arizona at the turn of the 20th C. The local company-town (better known as Hell Town) was a little hillside community of saloons and 6-guns called Morenci. Whenever Gramps talked about it, he shared nothing more than lyrical tales of frontier life. Filling me with colorful images of the Old West. Until, at his wake, I heard the true tales of how hard and brutal his life had been as a migrant miner. In that split second next to his casket I felt his unspoken courage, for he had never wanted to discourage me by painting any of his pain.

Grandma Mary had been born in Illinois, but fell passionately in love with Bart. Then, following her heart, she traveled with him out into these unforgiving hills. What I most remember of her last years are the lazy afternoons holding the strands of yarn from which she would make the balls from which she would sew wondrous linen delights. Always with -- as I learned she did standing by her man -- with astounding patience, quietude, and gentle commitment to the task at hand.

"Been there, done that...?" Next time you hear that, it might best be heard not as a sigh, but as an opportunity. The opportunity for you to ask: So tell me, what was it like.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


For many, humanity is the story of great men and women in epic action. The question that eventually sneaks in is: But did they make history or did history make them? The best answer surely is: A combination of each. It is, however, instructive just how many greats began so small.

The classic narrative of the outsider of modest origins emerging from nowhere to help change everywhere. Moses ...Jesus...Michelangelo...Joan of Arc...Napoleon...Lincoln...Twain...Lenin...Hitler...John Paul...Reagan. In our case it's simply the American Dream -- born on the frontier, nourished in Hollywood -- that by gosh anyone can make it.

Try this when you get the chance.

Find a spot of lawn under a thick tree on a soft rainy summer afternoon. Let the moment seep into your consciousness and become your tutor. Now what do you see and feel out here? Wet...? Wrong answer! You feel in touch and in tune with nature. A green panorama of July heat squeezing its teardrops upon humanity, whispering the eternal truth: I am here at the command of my creator just as each of you is here at the command of my skies and winds and rains. Beneath me, you are each the very same. Neither rich nor poor; neither white nor black; neither Christian nor Muslim; neither believer nor non-believer.

If you listen very very carefully, the whisper will go on to advise you all the king's horses and all the king's men make not an iota of difference when it comes to your place in this daily panorama. Your place is like everyone else's place. It is your part in the panorama that is different. The part you dream to have.

History's outsiders must have dreamed bigger and bolder dreams than most. Visions? callings? destiny? Who can say with certainty. There are those today who would challenge such untestable possibilities, for they study instead our genes, our chemicals, our evolutionary compulsions in order to crack the codes and conquer the questions. Their search is important, their dreams exciting.

Wait a minute...their dreams? Yes. They too dream under trees about better knowing and changing their world. Which makes you wonder if they believe their own large dreams are simply the product of small genes and chemicals. Or are they. like those before them, the product of something outside their laboratories.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Alice, in Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, accidentally fell down the rabbit hole. In our case, most of us choose to jump down...!

After all, our multi-media hole down here is really quite a wonderful, full of even more than Alice's astounding diversions. It's wild and strange, funny and confusing; but mostly it's a very safe little hole in which to escape the terrible realities awaiting us up above. After awhile, why you might even prefer it to the alternative.

The alternative, you see, is all those frightening armies and assassins, battling politicians and prelates, clashing cultures and civilizations up there. Not to mention the horrors of joblessness, immigration, earthquakes and tornadoes, coupled with cosmic budget battles in the world's capitols where the economic fate of billions are being decided by the few.'s tough up there.

Ah, but down here, we have this daily galaxy of distractions to numb the ravaged brain and calm the tortured soul. In the day time hours we have chatty talk shows, exotic cooking classes, silly court cases, sexy soap operas, reruns of "Leave it to Beaver" & "Happy Days, and until recently we even had "Oprah" to cry our fears away.

In the night time hours, our snug multi-media hole is even more distracting, more comforting, more sedating. We have our favorite cop & doc programs where everything that goes wrong is made right again, game shows that burst with chirpy hosts and busty contestants, flashy pagan rituals like "Access Hollywood" which fill our screen with the lives of the rich-and-insipid, all neatly tied into a programmatic ribbon at the end of our day down here with funny Dave & Jay.

Now there are those ideological doom-sayers who say this is simply the age-old game where the emperors keep the masses happy with bread & circuses (AKA, today's government subsidies & shopping malls). And yet upon closer examination, this is one hole that has not so much been built for us, as we have eagerly found it for ourselves.

Get back up there into the real world...? Get in the game like our teachers and preachers exhort...? Oh, God, I know you're probably right. But like the man once said: When your hole feels so good, how can it be so wrong...?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


No surprise that life is a life-long pulling and tugging affair. There's always something just up ahead pulling and drawing us on to it; then something just behind tugging and calling us back to it. Case in point -- my home town Chicago in this summer of 2011.

Along the lakefront, Bono and his U2 band are rocking Soldiers Field with a multi-million dollar concert extravaganza. Talk about new? Change? Future? Here's where you can see, hear and feel it from a stage roaring with sound-and-fury signifying everything the 60,000 fans want to experience. From the opening "Even Better Than the Real Thing" to the finale "The Joshua Tree," U2 is the tomorrow its fans love to love.

Meanwhile along State Street, the historical landmark entrance-way to the old Carson Pirie Scott store stands as a stunning steel-lacework throwback to the architecture of the 19th C. Now a successful newcomer -- big-box retailer Target -- proposes to re-interpret this landmark status by allowing their big red logo to gleam from behind the lacework. As their advertising argument goes: present meets past, no one loses, everyone wins!

Most fans at Soldiers Field probably don't much care who wins or loses this architectural debate. They never shopped in Carson's grand old State Street store anyway (now known as the Sullivan Center). Anymore than they did in Marshall Field's celebrated store further up State Street (now known as Macy's). I mean, come on guys, this is 2011. Lets rock. Working up a sweat over grandma's shopping days isn't very relevant, man.

Still, there may be a bridge somewhere between State Street's cherished yesterday and Soldier Field's exciting tomorrow. Upon closer inspection, that bridge is already here. The bridge called life. On which we all walk everyday. The young trod the starting steps on one end and the elders the finishing steps on the the other end. Easy to see why each may see the journey from a different perspective. However, here's the secret to the plot....

...we're all traveling the same bridge. We all share the same journey. And we're all doing it at the very same time. We may not always be able to hear exactly what the other is saying from their end, but whatever it is, it's all coming from the same bridge. And we all need to be be sure this bridge holds. I mean, lets get this generational thing straight once and for all. Be it the rocking young at Soldiers Field or the reminiscing elders on State Street, we're in this thing together,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Curiosity may have killed a great many cats and people, but both of us still remain desperately curious. About our world and especially about ourselves. After all, am I not that object in life about which to be most curious...?

This fixation with self begins at the very beginning. At first there was that serpent, later the tribal witch doctor, still later our philosophers, painters and playwrights. We have gone to each for answers. From Aristotle to Oprah, from hieroglyphics to body art, from Aeschylus to Arthur Miller, they've done their best. But now in our present age, enter the scientist-technologist. Humanity's newest Delphic Oracles.

Be it minds like Einstein and Hawking coupled with technocrats like Jobs and Gates, we are today the beneficiaries of ideas and instruments not even emperors could have dreamed. However, when living with such a flood, the trick is to know how not to drown. How to swim with the successes, not the sharks.

Here I'm thinking of random examples. Like my friends who are so technologically dependent, they can be found for days inside their homes checking television & computer weather data without ever stepping outside to actually feel the weather. [Something like those forecasters who report from inside their hermetically sealed, windowless TV studios]. Or the researchers from the University of Vanderbilt who recently studied the brain circuitry of memory-building, apparently without any reference to those masters of memory like Marcel Proust and Thomas Wolfe. Or the BMW drivers who smartly use their GPS system to find where they are going, then their steerage system to automatically park, often without a sentient clue as to the amazing spaces and places outside the BMW.

I know, I know, this sounds like another Luddite rant against machines, Or a later edition of the Twilight Zone fear of computers. Actually, it is none of these. Nothing so academic or pretentious. If anyone in my family really cares to know, it's mostly about what happened once I bought that scientifically-designed pillow meant to perfectly conform to my head, guaranteeing me the ultimate in psychosomatic comfort. Well -- it didn't!!

I did my own scientific-technological research. After wrestling with that bewitched rubber pillow for three weeks, I discovered science and technology simply can't improve the cozy cushiness and comfort of my own little long-lived-with down pillow. And that, fellow cats & seekers, is a fact....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


OK, so we're all a little schizophrenic at times. And so are nations. But just maybe Americans and America is more so than most. And why not, since we've been a patchwork of so many different races, cultures and religions from the get-go. Among this personality-splitting is our mixed emotions about the wealthy and about the military.

When it comes to the wealthy, we resent them (proudly calling this our spirit of Populism) at the very same time we aspire to become them (conveniently calling this the American Dream). This psychological tug-of-war has peppered our politics ever since Andrew Jackson's populist election to a White House that had until him housed only our political aristocrats.

When it comes to the military, our schizo personality has come most to the surface since Vietnam. Our Civil War and World Wars seemed moral crusades that allowed us to readily rally-round-the-flag. But Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan seem less like crusades, more like geopolitical power plays. If the Vietcong had not been communists and had the Middle East not been the world's reservoir of oil -- well, would we have sent in our youth to die? Something like asking is there a difference between John Lennon and Henry Kissinger....?

Put it this way. When you watch our young men and women in the military -- both their bloody efforts overseas and the crisp snap of their salutes here at home -- don't you feel the schizophrenia right down to your libido? Part of you desperately admires them; another part desperately cries for them. One part stands in awe of their discipline and courage; the other part weeps for the ugly fact we need to put them in uniform in the first place.

In the final measure, what counts most is which part of you prevails most.

Monday, July 4, 2011


We say it in a hundred different ways. Looks can be deceiving...can't tell a book by its cover...all that glitters is not gold. Consider even Einstein: "The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks." Or what about Tolkien's entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In a land and in an age where image is everything, there are legions of image-makers who would deceive us into believing their glitter really is gold. Sometimes called publicists, PR reps, managers, or strategists, they exist for the singular striving purpose of spinning the story. The old Hollywood Studios were masters of the trade, and now Hollywood image-making has gone viral. From making movies to making presidents. From selling products to selling wars.

Among the many troubles that image-making can breed is the handy habit of simplifying and stereotyping everyone and everything. It's a cruel shorthand for thinking. By now we are -- or should be -- aware of the most blatant examples. Our culture has consistently stereotyped Native Americans, Blacks, Asians, Arabs, Blonds, Gays, and the overweight.

That said, there are two new subjects: Our government and our CEOs. In an ironic twist of historical fate, these once highly regarded elites have been steadily re-imaged as both dastardly and dangerous:

* When is the last time you saw a movie, read a book, or watched a TV series in which federal agents were seen as they once were -- daring and dedicated defenders of our safety and security? Not lately! Most times they are portrayed as part of vast networks of secret power engaging in global plots, coverups, and cold-blooded assassinations. Tracing all the way up to the FBI, CIA, and even the Oval Office. Clancy, Turow and Stone have made entire careers writing these nightmares for us

* Then there is the class-warfare imagery of our corporate executives. From Wall Street banks to Fortune 500 board rooms, we imagine effete elites manipulating our stock markets and foreign policies in order to suck the sweat of a nation into self-serving personal agendas. Money making more money. Power amassing more power. Like the scurrilously anti-semetic19th C Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the fanciful 21st C Dan Brown novels, there is this imagineering that sees heads of business and religion meeting in secret havens to plot their rule of the world

Two cautions....! One, we can too easily get caught up in the fear-mongering about "the dangerous other." Two, we can too easily dismiss these fears as just that, fears.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Minnesota -- currently wrangling bitterly over budgets -- is also waxing eloquently over bras. Along with panties, corsets, boxers and briefs. Yes, it's the new HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR in the St Paul History Center.

Serious students of social history are making serious mention of America's unmentionables. As they say: "We've got you covered whether you're interested in the metamorphosis from corsets to bras, or simply what was really under-there decades ago." Among the highlights are Munsingerwear's "wildly patterned bra & panty sets from the 60s" back to the "wonder bras from the 30's sporting cups dense enough to stop a bullet."

As you muse over the exhibit literature, it's hard not to wonder about what other unmentionables are out there.

One that rushes to mind during their days of bank failures is how so many bank CEOs keep failing upward. Colin Barr of Fortune Magazine writes: "You've got to hand it our inept but too-big-to-fail bank execs who raked in $1.15 billion in cash and stock this year -- an average annual paycheck of $19 million -- in a decade when the biggest banks ripped off everyone in sight. Including their own stockholders."

Another unmentionable is the 90,000 checks in government subsidies that went out last year to farm landowners who live in cities but own farms raising corn. The New York Time reports: "Nationwide, 10% of the subsidized farms get 76% of all the handouts or $447,873 per recipient over the last 16 years."

It would be far too easy -- and disingenuous -- to scorch these particular incomes. However, it may be far too easy to guess why today's media spotlight has suddenly picked up three of the bit players on the stage of American life: cops, firelighters and teachers. This glaring, blaring light certainly helps keep the public's attention off other and pricier unmentionables. And while municipal pension plans do reveal some shockingly inappropriate money-grabs, the current headline exposes are dealing with only 3% of these pensioners.

I know. Because I'm one of the unmentionable 97%...

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Why do we hang on to the hand behind us in the dark when we're really trying to move ahead...?

For the same reason we use "horsepower" when we no longer use horses for most of our power, and "opening curtain" when most theatres no longer use curtains. Intuitively we need some touch with our past, some reference to where we've come from. Hence the study of history, and the dinner table tales from grandma and grandpa.

But we've got a problem here, Huston!

When astronauts find themselves in uncharted space, and you and I in an uncharted age, maybe the Futurists are right. Maybe humanity has finally reached our final frontiers where nothing from the past works anymore. H. G. Wells was already writing in 1895: "The past is but the beginning of the beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. A day will come when beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins shall laugh and reach out their hands amid the stars."

Today, this day an astonishing century later, even our strongest leaders and wisest scholars are fumbling with old maps. Armies of tanks still confronting terrorist in the bankers still reading Adam Smith and J.M. Keynes....children still using multiplication tables and library card catalogs. Frankly, generals, bankers and teachers know as little about the future as anyone else. No one has been there yet!

Surely our Futurists do not recommend we forget our past (even while today's young often do)...surely our society can move ahead only as far as the hands behind it will allow...but just as surely those hands (our hands) must allow for the fact little kids playing with their computers hold in their hands powers and purposes not one of their elders can completely imagine.

Imagine that....!

Friday, July 1, 2011


Celebrated historian Stephen Ambrose wrote something most historians wouldn't: "God created man with a penis and a brain, but only gave him enough blood to run one at a time." Lets consider that statement. Especially in the light of several recent studies:

* As reported on BBC, a new Oxford University study shows that in pre-historic times, females moved away from the tribe and region of their birth after puberty while males stayed closer to home. Study author Matt Sponheimer said there is no definitive way of explaining why, but suggests: "Females sought foreign mates to prevent in-inbreeding, which was a smart thing to do."

* As reported in, a new study by Barclays Capital found: "Women were more likely to make money in the market mostly because they didn't take many risks; they bought and held." Financial investor David Wiedner added: "This is deflating news for us men, but there is hope. We still lead the field in self-destructing, because of our pride, overconfidence, and hubris."

Readers can make of these news reports what they will. One point of agreement, though -- today's 24 hour tide of news is so enormous, we need help in deciphering it all. Enter the mesmerizing modernity of today's flashy Headlines & Soundbites. Neither of which, by the way, is a simple study in summarizing. Hardly! God has created special kinds of people with special kinds of talents for saying a lot with a little.

In the old days such specialists were not to be found. Consider how Moses dragged out the Lord's voice into ten wordy Jefferson refused to stop with just "all men are created equal" the Supreme Court decisions can run into hundreds of pages.

Not today. Not for today's busy people. We want it quick, we want it short, and we want it fully digested. After all there are ball games, sit-coms and reality shows waiting for us. Besides, we all know the code by now anyway. I mean we can fill in the blanks right on the spot:

* "New FDA Policy Announced" ~~ of course means there's new drug explanation of why the last explanation is no longer the explanation!

* "Republicans Tell It Like It Is" ~~ of course means they have found a new way of telling us why the White House hasn't got a clue!

* Democrats Vote As A Bloc" ~~ of course means their bloc is blocking the other bloc so that another paid-day in Congress earned nothing for the people!

See...? Simple...! Just like us...!