Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Baseball has always been "America's game." Although football has begun challenging for the title. Because our democracy has its roots in ancient Greece, sports fans might wonder what the Greeks would have thought about this. OK, most sports fans could care a flying fig. But somehow I do.

Doggedly pursuing my wonderment, I found at least 12 football teams who use The Spartans in their name. Not a single one uses The Athenians. Stick with me here -- think of this as your theme for your next tailgate party. The ancient Greek city of Sparta was the warrior state; Athens the philosophy state. Get the point? I mean, what team wants to grunt their way up to the line of scrimmage as philosophers?

When I mentioned this in my old history classes, the students wondered too. About their teacher! That's when I would remind them, "Aha, but this is why we study history...." "What, to find out what dead Greeks think about this year's season...!" Then came my coupe de grace': "No, to find out how our yesterdays really do help shape our todays..."

The dots back in 4th century BC Sparta and Athens don't exactly connect directly to 21st century America, but the connection is there. And connections are what studying history is mostly all about. The way America has divided itself between Spartan and Athenian thought really started from the get-go. Part of us has always thrilled to the warrior code to-the-victor-go-the-spoils (see our Wild West, Capitalism, Wall Street hedge fund managers, and the-least-government-is-the-best-government for details). Our other self resonates with the philosophy code preserving-the-general-welfare (see our Rotarians, TR's anti-trust campaigns, FDR's social security programs, LBJ's medicare programs, MLK's social justice crusade for details).

Two harmony lines running through the symphony that is our great nation. Like Sparta and Athens, they may be sounding different keys; but in the hands of a master conductor, the blending of the two is part of what the Declaration of Independence saying. Which makes me wonder: do you think we'll ever see a team out there with Athenians on their uniforms...?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Most social historians agree the 1960s were a defining [more like a re-defining] time in American history. Our views and values changed sharply. But here's the problem. There are two competing claims for ownership to the fabled 60s. The cool, buttoned-down Playboy cult personified by the eternally cool bunny-hopper himself: Hugh Hefner. Then there's the hot, free-spirited Woodstock cult personified by the eternally angry protester: Abbie Hoffman.

Hef gave us Bunnies; Hoff gave us Yippies. Leaving the rest of us to decide who did his country the greatest service? Or perhaps better said, dis-service?

Maybe we can look at today's television for an answer. TV viewing has reached an all-time high, with the average person staring 158 hours and 47 minutes every month. Nielsen sums up our addiction at more than 5 hours a day from which we're getting a mixed message about those celebrated 60s.

On one hand, there's the hot series "Mad Men" featuring the cool, martini-guzzling advertising barracudas of Madison Avenue who happily frequent the world-according-to-Hefner. On the other, the recurring documentary odes to the-whole-world-is-watching marchers in 1968 Chicago. How is anyone who wasn't there to decide whose 60s it really was...?

I remember being there for both. For the Playboy cult, I was never cool enough to get a key; but I was gratified enough to get to roast the guy in 1978. As to the Yippies cult, I was never angry enough to get into the marches; but close enough to watch their furies that summer-hot night in 1968.

If it sounds like our nation had a split-personality back then, tell me what nation doesn't. What person doesn't. What community doesn't. Labeling any of these one way may be tidy, but truth is rarely tidy.

But then that brings up another question -- what's truth? A man named Pilate once asked that. As best as I remember, the answer he got wasn't exactly tidy either. Truth takes time sorting out.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov. Names which speak mystery to the reader. Masters at weaving whodonit tales you can't wait to find out the answers. Right...?

Wrong...! At least according to a new study at the University of California in San Diego. Jonathan Leavitt tells that, contrary to expectations, their tested readers actually enjoyed the novels more when told the answers ahead of time. Why...? "The pleasure readers get from a good story has far more to do with the quality of the writing and the development of the characters than with how it turns out."


Doesn't sound like the way you and I get our daily news. We're not interested in the nuances as much as the results. We want to know how things turn out. Now. Not later in the history books. But wait. Today's news may turn out to be tomorrow's embarrassed corrections. Today's information may turn out to be tomorrow's mis-information. Today's facts may tomorrow be seen for what they really were: opinions.

Ah but tomorrow is such a long way off. Look, if there's anything Americans don't like it's waiting. We're the people who popularized the rocking chair just so we could be on the move even when sitting still. So lets not waste time thinking so much as doing. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood didn't win the West by dawdling their fingers on their triggers.

Presidential politics is very much like that. The first time I voted was in 1952: Adlai Stevenson vs Dwight Eisenhower. The egghead vs the general. Come on folks, we all remember who won. Most voters want their presidents to be smarter than them...but not too smart. Which means most presidents have accommodated us. Either by their native-born, common-touch persona (see Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush II for details); or by their conscious efforts to look that way (see patricians like Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and JFK for details).

As it turns out, we like our leaders to be tie-less, kitchen-table-types like us. And yet, we like them to be so smart they can give us all the answers upfront. Not complicated, bad-news details; just good-news generalities along with a few flashy, quick-payoff policies.

If only it were that simple. We won't really know how this story turns out. Our grandchildren will. In their history books. Until then, lets keep turning the pages and paying close attention to the plot. Because lets face it -- we're in there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


What are blue jeans doing in the old royal courts of Europe...? Glad you asked!

Films like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and the countless tales of the elegant-speaking Elizabethan and Victorian eras are attended today by droves of blue-jeaned popcorn-munchers who couldn't tell you the difference between a split infinitive and banana split. What's more they don't care. You see, for most of them (us?) watching the sophisticated form and formality on the screen is like visiting an art museum. Nice to look at....not to look like.

There once was form and formality in 20th C America too. Dad always dressed in three-piece suits; gave his seat to a lady; and in age of properly starched white shirts, his idea of casual was the white shirt without a tie. But not so much after the 1960s. In that raucous re-energizing decade, America started to become something different. Youth challenged Age. Change challenged continuity. The chant was: "You can't trust anyone over 30."

Nothing wrong with relaxing the rules. The question now 50 years later is, what are the rules? Or are there many rules left?

The answer that roars back from the rock-concert, buddy-film, pot-smoking, motor-cycle legions echoes the 60's: "If it feels right, how can it be wrong?" A question -- actually a challenge -- few today are willing to take on, lest they be dismissed as silly anachronisms.

Speaking as a walking anachronism, I can accept being dismissed. What I wonder, though, is why casual grungy America remains so fascinated with Elizabethan/ Victorian form and formality. When you look back you can't help noticing how those sterner & staid worlds, even with all their faults, helped make possible our own amazing & aspiring world. Could that mean....? No, no, that's a silly thought...! But still...?

Friday, August 26, 2011


First, a little name-dropping....!

I spent a weekend seminar in the late 60s with Dustin Hoffman and Marshall McLuhan just as their respective achievements were becoming widely-acclaimed (the movie "The Graduate" and the book "The Medium is the Massage"). Hoffman spoke of the power of the film, McLuhan of the television set. What they addressed in common was the enormous efficacy of the screen in our daily lives.

I was thinking about that as I wandered Chicagoland's newest gambling casino which somehow chose to open approximately 6 minutes from my quiet suburban front door. Nothing quiet about a casino. Everywhere screens popping and flashing and assaulting your sensorium. From the giant wall screens showing today's headlines; from the pyrotechnic screens atop your clanging slot machine; good lord, even from that miniature screen on your slot machine featuring whatever news-breaking event some distant cameras can bring to your jangled nerves while you play this nerve-jangling slot machine.

It's Hoffman and McLuhan's long ago predictions come exhaustingly true. In a casino -- lets admit it, in modern life -- there's no escape from the ubiquitous screens. The only thing missing on them is Big Brother. And he's sure to follow sometime soon.

Three universal habits drive home the point. First, most people simply cannot control this peculiar passion to wave at any television crew's camera. Second, watch people watching an event being watched by a television camera; 9 out of 10 will be watching the monitor more than the event. Three, McLuhan enjoyed telling the story of guests in his home remarking about how handsome were his children; to which McLuhan grinned proudly: "Yes, but you ought to see their pictures!"

We walk in a world of images. From our casinos to atop our latrines to inside our bedrooms. Each image spun by its image-makers in whatever ways they and their cameras choose. Now the question becomes: What and who and why is really real in this new media-ized world?

Frankly, I gave up long ago. So you'll excuse me. I've got a hot slot here...!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


So there I was, grinding my morning coffee beans. Their deep brown color, their aromatic fragrance, their tongue tingling taste. Why I wondered do I like coffee so much. Why indeed do billions of us. Every day, every hour, every country.

I suppose it's not an especially crucial question. And yet.... Could it be, as the story of Eden has it, God created us and then all the good things of the earth and sea specifically for us? If so, coffee appears to have a high place on the divine list. Along with oranges and bananas, tomatoes and cucumbers, wheat and corn, wine grapes and beer hops, tuna and talapia.

But wait.... Geologists and biologists will point to evolution. The evidence seems conclusive. Everything we are and everything the earth and sea are just sorta happened. Like the universe sorta happened about 14 billion years ago. There was no divinity whose hand triggered the Bang or whose voice boomed "be fruitful and multiply." Look, this is the age of science. Shamans and holy books really have only peripheral place in all this.

So I kept grinding, accepting the evolutionary wisdom we have been taught. But still... As I poured my morning cup and scanned my morning newspaper, I had to pause a puzzled moment. In one hand the horrific news from a mad world; in the other, a mug of one of that world's gentle treasures. How to reconcile the two? The madness with the treasures?

The way I once learned the answer was this. A loving God had created a spectacular world for us...we blew the offer...but we are still left with his spectacular world if only we re-learn how best to use it. And its gifts. Like my bananas...ahh, but maybe not so much my broccoli.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Someone once said: politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel. The status of our country's current tunnel depends largely on where you're standing. If you're in it, right now it looks dark and endless. If you own it, right now it looks like there's nothing to worry about. Either way, you have to wonder about the quality of the construction crews.

Visit your local VFW, Shriners, Rotary or Senior Center and this is what you're likely to hear about today's crews. "Too spoiled..." "Too greedy..." "Don't have the right stuff..." Followed by the "in-my-day" refrains salted with references to the Great Depression, being in service during the War, struggling to make ends meet, holding family and flag high in their pantheon of values.

Next visit your local sports bar, comedy club, rock concert or Starbucks. The demographics here are different. Even more, the values are fiercely different. Most of this generation has grown up with an easier America. Until now, less experience with economic depression, with service in the military, life without a safety net, or family and flag the center of their universe.

Now here's the question: how will this generation face up to the current crush of problems? The elders have their doubts. The young as yet aren't sure themselves, because first they have to get over the shock. The shock that their America -- a race of noble people master of all they survey in a world of admirers -- is suddenly in trouble. Whattya mean no jobs...? No perks...? No car...? No insurance...? No love from the little peoples of the world...?

Actually, the same question was heard among the elders after their America crashed at the start of the 30s. Hard for them to imagine how that generation of spoiled silly kids were up to the daunting frontier-day challenges of their parents. And yet -- the annals of history are filled with this catch-you-off-guard phrase -- and yet those spoiled silly kids were soon to survive the rigors of the Great Depression at home and the tragic World War abroad.

Since then, they've been awarded the name The Greatest Generation. Some question whether they really earned it, considering their many flaws and prejudices. Time will tell. Time will also tell whether this generation of spoiled silly kids will rise above their indulgent food, fun, cars, sex and drugs. The challenge is certainly there. As a generation. As a nation. But, like a herd full of angry mustangs being driven across the range, the ramrod riding point can't do it alone.

If the kids in the 30s learned anything, they learned this sort of job is not spelled "you." It's spelled "us!" Something both generations should be able to agree on....

Thursday, August 18, 2011


This week Kraft Foods made a big announcement. The iconic Oreo Cookie will now offer a triple-decker. At first look, just another food promo. But taking a second look, isn't there a lesson here about the mystery of mystery...?

Unlike Coca Cola who a few years ago tried to IMPROVE the mystery of Coke's universal appeal, the gang at Kraft simply decided to INCREASE their mystery another layer. Oh sure they could have finessed the ingredients or the portions, but why mess with a mystery? Why turn it into a problem-to-be-solved; instead just embrace it as a mystery-to-be enjoyed.

Modern scientists have wrought countless miracles (they prefer to call them solutions-to-problems) which is how the boys at Coke first saw their task. Only in the end, they gave up on their new product roll-out by simply sticking with the real, and original, thing. Kraft's specialists smartly saved themselves the intermediate step.

In our everyday lives there are also problems to-be-solved (deficits, unemployment, terrorism. climate change). But perhaps even more so, mysteries to-be-understood. Mysteries like Not the kind of things that easily submit to testing under microscopes. Rather, things to behold, to embrace, to value exactly where and how you find them.

Behold the staggering passages of a Beethoven or Mozart symphony. The arresting power of a Van Gogh or the intoxicating colors of a Matisse. The soaring genius of a Shakespeare or the pained genius of a Tennessee Williams. The whiplash humor of a Jerry Seinfeld or a Chris Rock. Even the off-the-charts instinct of a manager sending in the unexpected pinch hitter or the untaught cornet riffs of a Bobby Hackett.

Then -- mystery of all mysteries -- behold the inexpressible mystery of the love you first felt and still feel for the ones you love.

You see, when Coke or Kraft or even Science proudly speak to us of the imperative human need-to-know, perhaps the greatest of these needs is our need to know that some things in our lives are not problems-to-be-solved, as much as mysteries to be lived....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


It's been wisely said the three most compelling sounds in nature are the surf of the sea on a shore, the rustle of leaves in a forest, and the wind of heaven through a mountainside. Also, as every music fan of Simon & Garfunkel understand, there are the deafening sounds of silence.

These last sounds -- not everyone hears them. Or tries to. They are the sounds that echo in your mind if you are a thinker yet at the same time in your heart if you are a poet. And really now, aren't we all poets whenever we are happy to be alone with our finest memories?

Memories may be fleeting, but hardly fragile. They possess a fierce efficacy from which storehouses of psychic energy can be drawn. It was the angry memory of Pearl Harbor which fueled the nation with righteous wrath to defeat Japan in the was the bitter memory of 9/11 which roused the sleeping giant in us...and it is also the gentle memory of long ago parents, siblings and soul-mates which stir our soul and give aim to our arrows.

Thinker-poets like Marcel Proust mastered the art of remembering in his "Remembrances of Things Past." Not the kind of journey for the young, for the young are here, now, forever in the present. And yet, without them even realizing it, the tabula rasa of their young lives is already being indelibly marked with moments that will eventually epiphanize into memories. Another thinker-poet, John Updike, was a master of memories, saying: "The most indelible of these are those events in your first 20 years of life, whose impact on us is like asteroids digging into the planet's surface. There is immediate recall; and how fortunate for us."

Last night's concert...last month's trip...last year's love....the last time you saw Paris. If anything this side of heaven is immortal, it is the memory-refined glow of these ticks in time. We slip them into photo albums and onto video files, but their immortality is really found on the pedestals of our past which we keep accumulating in the galleries of our minds.

A gift of God? A consequence of evolution? An as yet unfathomed corner of our cortex? Does it really matter? Not even the world's harshest concentration camps nor its loudest social media can erase them. Only we can do that. But if we so decide, lets be sure which and how we will silence these sounds...

Monday, August 15, 2011


Tarnation...! I guess now it's finally official. The glory days of the Old West with the great horse Silver are over. When a great American movie studio like Disney cancels plans for a great American cult hero like the Lone Ranger and a great American cash cow like Johnny Depp as the faithful Indian companion Tonto -- well, something must be seriously wrong here in America.

Standard & Poor's already explained that to us. But they're just financiers. Whatta they know about the real, blood- and guts, tall-in-the-saddle America we've all lived and breathed and played ever since we were kids? On the other hand, Disney Studios should know better. They know all about that America, because they've been bringing it to us ever since they brought us Davy Crockett, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza.

So how-in-the-name-of-everything-west-of-the-wide-wide-Missouri can these Hollywood dudes do this to us? And to Johnny? I mean, lets be honest. We big-A-Americans like to see and understand our country in big Western ways where the good guys wear white hats, the bad guys black, and the hero kisses the girl but rides off with his horse.

Now that, pardner, is big-A-American, black-and-white thinking at its best. No crazy confusing grays like some of these complicated Sundance Festival films where you can't tell the good guys from the bad until the last reel. And even then, dagnabit, you're still aren't really sure.

Maybe I've read my country wrong lately, because I was sure-as-shooting sure that the Tea Party gunslingers were keeping that great old black-and-white American thinking alive. I mean look how they drew from the hip and shot down even their own sheriff, John Boehner, before they'd let him cut a deal with that crazy serial-killer living in the big white house down main street. Look -- when it's good versus evil, when its simple raging versus hard thinking, then every red- blooded posse know what to do!

Funny thing, though. You'd have thought the Tea Party posse out to save the "real America" would pause when one of America's most tall-in-the-saddle heroes, Warren Buffett, speaks. He just wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he says to the no-new-taxes gang at the bar: "Billionaires like me should be taxed more!"


Sunday, August 14, 2011


I have a friend who always likes to say, "You can find the real America in its corner saloons." Never mind he hasn't been in one for years. Or that there aren't many left. (Editor's Note: Sports Bars are not corner saloons; even if they happen to be on a corner!). So I gave one a try. And you know what? My friend may have a point.

I didn't find any MBAs, PhDs or Wall Street Journal & New York Times readers. But I did find some simple, solid common sense between rounds that warrants repeating:

* Climate Change? The boys at the bar snorted at all the exotic scientific debate. Eddie, the retired furrier, kinda sealed the deal: "Look, my backyard tomatoes were so drenched this summer they Tiger Lilies bloomed a month earlier from the heat...right now there's a battle between who wins my face: the age spots or sun spots!"

* Health Care? Steve, the retired truck driver, was on his third beer when he made his pronouncement: "The fat cats don't need no health care plans, they own the damn things. But as for me, now my wife finally gets a chance for coverage without some company dude telling her No, because she was unlucky enough to have cancer. No matter what else those SOB's in DC say, this alone may keep my Emily alive!"

* Wall Street? Frank, he's still on the police force, echoed the room: "Slick Gekko's who live and die by the market. But ask these hotshots if they've ever planted a potato, built a garage, served in the military, or ever thought anything west of Manhattan counted in this country. I say the country not them is too-big-to-fail!"

* Government? Big Frank, the bar tender, had the last word. "Congress...? 535 millionaire egos! Supreme Court...? Smart but when's the last time they met their country in a saloon! The President...? The guy's trying, but he reminds me of Ernie Banks. Even ol' Ernie looked better on the days they won instead of the days they tanked. What president can look good when the country you're trying to run is on a 5 year Cub losing streak?"

At the end of the night I had to say to myself: Self -- maybe I'll vote for these guys next time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Right on schedule, many frightened nations and religions are now circling the wagons. Again...! We usually do this in the vain hope it will stave off the enemy and save the day. Trouble is, it usually doesn't.

Currently, well-intentioned political zealots calling themselves the Tea Party are circling furiously. Insisting what's needed is getting back to the good-old-days of saving our money and sticking with our own. Many religions are doing the same. Insisting what's needed is getting back to their original and very exclusive roots.

Both habits are intuitive. However, intuition can betray us as often as it serves us. Think of this the next time you visit your local produce department. Really! A green and red splendor of the good earth's bounty. Fresh corn and cucumbers, lettuce and peppers, strawberries and bananas, along with bins of potatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and watermelons. A spectacle of nature's gifts from all over the world.

And that's the point. You don't circle any wagons here. Insisting "we only grow and buy our own." Are you crazy...? No, you want the largess from every distant region on the planet. Which is precisely what makes up our magnificently-under-appreciated produce departments every day of the week. No circled wagons or exclusivity here. Bring it on, world. The more the tastier.

At this point the frightened may say: "I'm not talking supermarket vegetables, I'm talking national survival." But others of us say: "The only way this old world has ever survived is by being open to what's growing -- and happening -- across the rivers and oceans of our world. One of our proudest human achievements is the Age of Discovery when Columbus and the other boys broke out of the tight wagon train to search and scour that world.
Bringing us and the other encircled wagon trains a dazzling exchange of goods and good ideas that prevail to this very day.

OK, so the conquistadors turned out to be less than noble. But in time their efforts actually became so. Which is why you and I can behold so many amazing places and products and people throughout our amazing planet. Oh, and also behold one of the happy consequences: our phantasmagorical produce departments...!!

Friday, August 12, 2011


We've always had them. All through history. Pharaoh & slave, patrician & plebeian, lord & serf, aristocracy & bourgeoisie. Whether you're studying the Bible, Shakespeare, or Darwin, you eventually come to understand the enduring (often bloody) distinctions between the powerful and the powerless.

Which brings us to today's headlines. Be it Wall Street or Main Street, Congress or the community, the Fortune 500 boardrooms or the local bowling lanes, the big studios & networks or those of us who sit in front of their screens -- America is like every other culture in history. A few lead, the rest follow.

Which is why we love the classic stories of the followers finally getting the best of the leaders. Snow White in which the dwarfs prevail over the evil queen....Les Miserables in which the hunted survives the hunter....Mr Smith Goes To Washington and It's A Wonderful Life in which Jimmy Stewart stares down the power of senators and bankers. These are the sort of endings we little guys thrill to.

Funny thing, it's the big guys who usually bring these stories to us. Keeps us happy while they keep getting bigger. Eventually, though, there are those occasional epic moments when the the little guys have had enough. Spartacus! The French revolutionaries! The American revolutionaries! The Marxist revolutionaries! The Cairo streets!

After the dust settles, some changes are made. Still -- much remains the same. There are always chieftains and spear carriers...generals and privates...monarchs and jesters...those of us who walk the malls and those who own the malls. Darwin explains this as the eternal survival-of-the-fittest. Shakespeare, as the eternal struggle between good and evil. The Bible, as the eternity of a final reward.

I suppose the best way to test these is not so much in a laboratory, as in your own heart. Humanity doesn't live in a closed lab, but in the farthest reaches of its own heartfelt beliefs. Which just may mean that the littlest of us get the biggest laugh of all at the end. At the end when the players-with-the-most-toys don't get to keep them...!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


OK, OK, so the economy in particular and the world in general are going to hell. So what else is new? That's been the same headline for a couple thousand years now. Whether spelled in Persian, Egyptian, Latin or King James English. And yet, somehow our flawed species seems to survive. Not gloriously, but by the skin of our teeth.


Right now, right this very ugly minute, two of America's most favorite pleasures are in big trouble. First, the great American breakfast. Second, the great American small town. Now I know perfectly well most of us may not think about them and their present dangers, but that may be all the more reason to worry.

America's most popular breakfast fruit is the noble banana. A glorious product of the Indo-Malaysian regions, it currently tops American breakfasts by the tens of millions every morning. Trouble is, the wondrous banana is in big trouble. According to Australian National University researchers, virtually all this fruit's species have failed to cross breed in the wilds over the last 7000 years.

The result has been one of those good-but-bad results for which science is so infamous. To increase production, we have cloned banana trees, making each plant and its fruit genetically identical. That means greater vulnerability to disease, which in turn could someday mean yes-we-have-no-bananas!

The other worry hiding behind our more notorious headlines is what's happening to those idyllic small towns Americans and Norman Rockwell so love. The facts now show that while urban and suburban communities are each thriving in many ways, these little picture-postcard countryside towns are not. Instead, they are dying from lack of jobs, services, and quality-of-life.

The result predicted by some demographers and sociologists is the gradual disappearance of our charming Mayberrys from coast to coast!

What to do...? Correction. In these angry times, the question will probably be: Who to blame...?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Despite all our economic traumas, the US is still history's most plentiful society. Plenty of land, resources, and especially food. Last month the London Daily Mail snorted: "The average British tourist to America gains 8 pounds during a 2-week vacation, because of bigger portions and all-you-can-eat buffets!"

Lets face it, fellow food fans, we're a bit piggish here and proud of it.

One example is the food giant for whom I penned some rousing Vegas sales conventions where McDonalds execs cheered the troops on to bigger sales and salaries. Having confessed my complicity in America's fast-food-crime-spree, I take comfort in Yale University's Prevention Research Center: "Despite the fact 34% of Americans are obese, only 8% actually believe they are. People are aware of the dangers and yet the percentage of people who don't exercise has risen from 37% to 43% in this last year alone." Founding Director David Katz concludes: "I think there's an element of burnout here, because people try to lose weight but eventually give up."

Another research university, Texas, adds this thought: "When people are asked to give up too much at one time, it's natural for them to rebel. Dieters are among society's most aggressive members."

So what do we have here...? A fat country with fat people who get angry when you remind them they're fat. Aha, but take a big fat look at the latest iPhone apps. This one guides users "to the location of the closest and cheapest beer purveyor." Belly up to the bar, boys, forget the calories, this round is on me.........

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Long before the modern city of Washington there was the ancient city of Casablanca. Then, long after both, there was the 1942 film classic: Casablanca. Now while Washington is usually portrayed in films as a power & secret drenched city, in the film Casablanca is portrayed as a metaphor for American courage. Which is why the Bogart/ Bergman hit is on every Top Ten film list. Especially among each succeeding generation of college students.

Perhaps Casablanca becomes a metaphor for all the things most Americans most like to think of themselves....

We tend to see ourselves as did our forefathers -- a people facing enormous odds and sweeping struggles. Once it was the dangers of the frontier. In the film it's the dangers of the world's bloodiest war. The one we like call the "good war" because, unlike most wars, there appeared to be real evil and real choices to be made.

We also like to see ourselves in these struggles as facing personal challenges. Challenges that demand of us heroic responses. In the film, Bogart is personally caught up in this struggle by being forced to choose sides.

We especially like to see ourselves as reluctant warriors. Decent people of peace who will strap on those 6-guns only when the bad guys force our hand. But once the sleeping giant has been aroused, there can be no ending but a victorious ending. As Bogie proves with quiet skill and courage versus the Nazi guile and deceit.

Naturally, as American we expect a good love story in here somewhere. What is life and struggle for but to come out with that special someone deeply folded into our arms and lips. Bogie and Bergman deliver big time.

Finally, Americans intuitively require of their movies a generous dash of concluding honor. What more memorably honorable ending is there in Hollywood's treasure trove than the foggy-night ending where Bogie gives up the girl for the cause? Sad but ennobling enough to turn the audience's tears into pride.

Oh, one more thing. Casablanca ends with something all Americans devoutly wish for. A buddy ending in which, if we can't walk into tho sunset with the girl, we do it with the friend.

Among today's Washington clamor and crises, I think we might do well by requiring every official In that city to watch -- sitting down together! -- just how Bogie & Bergman do what we all need to do...

Monday, August 8, 2011


Lately, though, the poor can more easily see the world's tantalizing Lollapaloozas. In movies, on television, right there on their smartphones. They see the wealth, the power, the jobs, the yachts. Why should only 10% of the world enjoy 90% of the Lollapaloozas?

When critics protest what they call redistributing-the-wealth plans, what they're really saying is what that 10% have always said through the centuries: "What's mine is mine. I earned it. You didn't." And so they build all kinds of gates. Trouble is, gates aren't forever. The poor are. So, now what?

Here's a start...

The world's richest nations are in trouble. Ironically, because their richest members helped create this by trying to get even richer (see the current Wall Street Recession for details). So what do they do, through their lobbyists and PR spokespeople? Well, they point fingers at handy targets to blame. No surprise, the targets are the poor the rich insist are "draining the budget." You know, those selfish cops, teachers, firefighters, pensioners, and old folks!

But here's a dirty little secret. Virtually all of us are "draining the budget." Do you claim a home-mortage-interest-deduction...? Enrolled in an employer-based-health-insurance program...? Own a tax-free retirement account...? Cash in on corporate tax breaks...? These four subsides alone make up half America's social welfare spending.

Listen up, fellow drainers. The problem isn't always the government. It's everyone suckling at the great government breast insisting their share is the one to save. The rest of you...? Hey, stop trying to crowd in...!

Sunday, August 7, 2011


The HARRY POTTER movies have earned more than $6 billion. That exceeds the entire annual GDPs of more than 50 countries. Something to give us pause. A triumph of imaginative art or mostly an example of desperate escape?

The World Health Organization's research may help address the question. Their counter-intuitive conclusion is that residents of rich countries are more likely to be depressed than those in poorer. For example France and the US were the most depressed (21% and 19% respectively). Mexico and China the least (8% and 6%). The study concludes, "Depression is strongly linked to social conditions, aside from any cultural differences."

With women twice as likely to be depressed as men, could this help explain the popularity of HARRY POTTER among women in rich countries...? Children love escape too, but for different reasons than adults. Perhaps our richer, rowdier cultures exact an emotional price that makes escapism necessary as well as simply ancillary.

When we look closer, these profiles-in-escape among today's richest democracies include politics as well as movies and television. To really fulfill the role of citizenship calls for a lot of work -- reading, researching, weighing all sides of the scale. How much simpler to just escape into one of a dozen different fantasies -- handy headlines, simple soundbites, one-note blogger rage, and the ever-popular 24/7 babble from the cable punditry.

Pick any channel, choose any newspaper, check any blog and there it is...! Escape into easy-to-love-and-hate casts of characters. Volderot, Dumbledore, Longbottor, Sarkozy, Cameron, Putin, Obama. Oh, those last four? Right, they're not fictional characters, they're actual flesh-and-blood leaders of rich-and-complicated nations. Well, no matter, we master escapists find it jolly-well easy to see them in the same simple black and white, good and bad, brilliant and stupid that we do in our escapist lands like HARRY POTTER.

To again be counter-intuitive, would it be too much for us to distinguish our mind-numbing fantasies from the hard-headed facts? To stop pretending that even our dis-informed bitching is democracy in action? I mean, just long enough to do our homework, thereby realizing that sometimes the problems our leaders seem unable to master have something to do with the size of the problems at least as much as the limitations of the leaders?

Put it a different way. What might the Monday Morning Quarterbacks have to say after actually playing quarterback for a few downs? If nothing else, at least there might be more a restrained respect for the guys out there taking the hits for us. Whattaya say team...???

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Every one of us has approximately 3000 a day....!

That's how many thoughts neuroscience tells us we have every 24 hours. If true, it's safe to assume many have to do with love and fear. Two human fundamentals unchanging and eternal throughout our species' history. Well, only the first can really make that claim.

While we humans continue to love much as our ancestors did, we fear in some very different ways. Ancient fears were mostly immediate and tangible. The beasts from outside the cave. The storms from the skies above. The spears from the tribes across the river. Our fight-or-flight response kicked in, and we either survived or we didn't.

Today's fears are far more complex. And ironic. For while we have conquered so many of our ancient fears, we have somehow created even greater ones. Created...? Yes, behold what the genius of humanity has wrought in our 21st C. Wondrous electric power grids which serve our needs until they suddenly fail and all life screeches to a frightening dark halt...dramatic air travel which can sweep us across continents in hours yet destroy us in a fiery instant....enormous medical networks that have prolonged our lives but often only to let us linger longer...massive global financial networks which make modern life possible while at the same time making that life so complex that its bubbles explode in ways that we don't even understand as we are crushed under their Olympian weights.

The ancient fears provoked us into high-adrenalin action. However, the new fears often simply paralyze us into staring eyes in front of nightly-news screens. Unseen people and unfathomable systems beyond our sight or senses seem to now hold our fate in their hands. Yes, we still shop and sleep, picnic and pray in the same ways. Yet somehow we each know in the inner sanctum of our fears that our fears have metastasized into a paralysis of terror we dare not even admit.

Wait...! There is still one admission we can all make. Even now. While fear has changed, love has not. Catch it if you can. On the next summer night under God's twinkling skies, hold their hand. Look into their eyes. Say along with the sweet night winds, "I love you and I'm so glad you're in my life...." Go ahead, say it. Private heart-to-heart love is still one thing the unseen people and unfathomable systems can't yet change. But be quick about it!

Friday, August 5, 2011


The daily newspaper endures even in this digital age! Why? Because it offers a wide-lens view of the news rather than the single-lens view bellowed from today's blogosphere. Most bloggers can't, don't, and won't.

But there's still a problem. The way newspaper editors allot their space. Everyone knows if-it-bleeds-it-leads. OK, no use arguing with human nature. Still, there was still a lot to smile about in this week's back pages.

While the market was taking another nosedive, a bright local talent (Jessie Mueller) is about to hit the heights co-starring on Broadway this fall with Harry Connick Jr...while the critics were mauling the President for having an expensive birthday bash in town, the voters still remember his election night here when he made another American Dream actually come true....while the reports from the neighborhoods continue to feature teen murders, even more teens were proudly getting ready for the college education that was once only a wish...even the deaths in your obituaries include little known facts about these lives that can still make you believe life is worth living.

So, Mr Editor, bring it on. The bad, the bold, and especially the beautiful....!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Attention students-of-life. Have you noticed in your research that Effect does not always follow Cause...?

This may shock the left-brained empirical thinkers who usually have this journey known as living all neatly mapped out. Guys like Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and our genetics teachers are famous for this. However, on the actual trip itself, things are never that neat. Some examples....

You'd assume (well, I assumed) watching MTV's smarmy "The Jersey Shore" would have a negative effect on Americans' view of New Jersey; but according to TV Guide, it hasn't...! You'd assume (well, most kids assume) parenting would have an important effect on children; but according to economist Bryan Caplan in the National Review, it has "little or no effect on overall personality and happiness in adult life"....! You'd assume (well, Tea Party ideologues assume) cutting $12 billion and 200,000 jobs in the US Postal Service would yield the improvements promised from "smaller government;" but the stats show the Service continues to lose money....! You'd assume (well, anyone in the Midwest would assume) this year's 66 new all-time heat records would convince decision-makers that climate change is real; but the doubters in DC still outnumber the believers...!

Oh, here's another failed cause-and-effect dynamic, You'd think in a nation where the vast majority say they believe in God, they would give Him better ratings. But according to the latest Pew Survey, only 52% of Americans "approved God's performance," 40% hedged their bets, and a vociferous 9% gave the big guy failing grades.

At this confusing point, you sometimes turn to a smart philosopher to make sense of it all. All right, what about the ever-popular Kierkegaard? "Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards....!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

IQ + EQ = YOU!

Our intelligence quotient (IQ) has traditionally been considered the mark and measure of a person. Especially in our Western cultures where rationality reigns supreme. And yet is there not an entirely unique and other half to our whole? Are there not crackling bundles of feelings and instincts and intuitions at work as well? Motivating, shaping and driving our behaviors in ways somewhere outside and considerably beyond intelligence? Neuro-scientists are starting to call these bundles our emotion quotient (EQ).

IQ's have the advantage of being quantifiable. EQ's much less so. And yet have there been any seriously important decisions in your life -- in the lives of nations -- that have been entirely rational? We feel as well as think our way through life. Sometimes to our disadvantage, but often to our extraordinary benefit. Perhaps this is why psychiatrists and clergy and directors are continually asking "what do you feel?" as much as "what do you think?"

Psychiatry aside, our Western cultures tend more to preserve and praise the products of the mind than of the heart. Our secular histories meticulously record what our collective intelligences have wrought (great governments, laws, inventions, machines, art, architecture, things we can see and touch). These same histories rarely devote as much attention to what our collective emotions have wrought (great dreams, visions, prophecies, premonitions, matters of the mystical, imaginary eve hallucinatory).

Oh, humanity's EQ is recorded, but not in secular histories or museums as much as in off-beat writings and late-night cable documentaries about the peculiar realms of ancient seers, mystics, Coptic writers, and Inca calendars. Interesting stuff. Strange and peculiar stuff. But more to be considered as the raw materials from which Hollywood blockbusters and Dan Brown novels are crafted.

Still....we read horoscopes, study peculiar cloud formations, discover Marian signs, buy Ouija boards, thrill to the mesmerizing lyrics of concert balladeers, seek out unauthorized medical cures, invest enormous amounts of attention to vampires, zombies and ET's. What's going on here...?

Is it not humanity's ancient yearning to make some sense out of this enormously problematic and dangerous universe which our textbooks and teachers alone seem unable to do? Religions? Yes, of course, but even they have grown increasingly more rational over the centuries. Behold the rise of the fundamentalist religions, the prophets, the doomsayers, the apocalyptic voices who speck in tongues.

Academia sniffs in contempt -- our species has struggled to leave behind the primitive and pagan. And yet.....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


History is something like a puzzle. Unless we can figure out how to fit the pieces together, it make no sense. With Washington's latest game of brinkmanship, seems we still haven't learned the real secret to working this puzzle. And yet the secret is all right there on the cover to the box. It's the pretty picture, stupid....!

That picture is what this democracy thing is supposed to look like once we've all finally put all the crazy pieces together. Don't know about you. Or about Congress. But here's how I see this picture. I see a scene made up of all kinds of different minorities (our many feuding political, racial, financial interests) somehow fitting together to make a pretty good looking majority (you know, the way we all look together cheering a Fourth of July celebration). Don't laugh, because the picture has happened before. And it can happen again.

But here's the lesson we keep forgetting. In the game of puzzles, the manufacturer has designed the jagged pieces to eventually fit. In the game of democracy, WE'RE the manufacturer. Which means, sometimes we have to shave or bend our particular little piece in order to make everything fit. Fit into that pretty picture we all want.

Now, players, was that so hard to figure out...??

Monday, August 1, 2011


Two celebrated generals saw their wars differently. Napoleon once said: "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." Patton often said: "Americans love to fight; all real Americans love the sting of battle." Bonaparte was a man of shadings; George was a man of blacks & whites.

Patton would have understood today's world much better. Despite the nuanced maneuvering of our diplomats, our countries think mostly in blacks & whites. I'm right; you're wrong. I'm peaceful; you're dangerous. And who is there to deny how seductive and deeply satisfying it is to function in a world devoid of doubt and ambiguity.

Now with the world wide web, this seduction of absolutes has grown exponentially. Notice how easily and comfortably these epithets slide off the tongue: All Muslims are terrorists...all Catholics are Papists...all bankers are rapacious...all Jews are bankers...all Republicans are heartless...all Democrats are spenders...all poor people are shiftless...all old people are draining the economy...oh, and Barack Obama is a Marxist on a mission to destroy the US economy after which he will establish concentration camps for all Christians.

Too silly? Not so. Check it out in the Norwegian bomber's 1,516 page manifesto, largely drawn from his world wide web research. Which, by the way, is available for your kids to read in their bedrooms tonight. Hey, but this is an age of free speech Wikileaki style. The best way to learn how to swim is, well, simply dive in.

Lifeguards....? Well, there are always the usual suspects: parents and teachers and clergy and cops. At one time they not only patrolled but controlled the beach of ideas. Today, not so much. Bigger beach, bigger ocean...! Which is why today's governments -- from West to East -- quietly spend billions to monitor citizen communication and maintain covert operations to trace trouble wherever they detect it.

So while governments throughout the world are seen by their public behaviors [GNP, laws, taxes, debit fights], they each have countless private agendas. None that make many headlines, nor would any make many fans. These private agendas are something like the unwritten code by which every police force in the world operates. It is not spelled out as much as lived out. And here's our dirty little secret. Virtually every one of us sanctions that code when in our hearts we whisper to our protectors: "Don't tell me how you do it, just do it...!"

Here's the question: After we deplore our sheepishness, is that enough? Here's a guess. Until the day the code applies to us, it probably will...