Friday, September 30, 2011


Today's maze of di-mystification now spreads across the world from Walter Peyton to Courtney Love; with a generous dash of Jesus and Hitler somewhere in between....!

This calls for some explanation. It starts with the way we make grand and mysterious some special people in our lives. It's our peculiar need to find pedestals on which to place them. Popes, presidents, athletes, rock singers; sometimes composers, authors, warriors, even criminals. It's one of the most empowering ways we can reach outside our own little lives in order to participate in the larger lives of those we envision as special.

Our name...? Fans, followers, believers, whatever. However, there always comes a time when we tire of our pedestal-ed icons. Our reasons....? Boredom, envy, disillusion. Yes, it's that last one that comes oozing through our psyche. And so this week's announcements were simply a matter of time. First, a sizzling tell-all book about Chicago Bears hero Walter Peyton; followed by a promised explain-all memoir by troubled rock star Courtney Love.

But lets face it, they're small stuff compared to Jesus and Hitler.

After 2000 years of mystification, Jesus of Nazareth has been di-mystified in recent decades by both Biblical scholars and Broadway producers. The scholars pore through historical records which they say suggest everything from narrative inconsistencies to outright Vatican fraud. None of which can't be challenged by other scholars. However, when "Jesus Christ Super Star" hit Broadway in 1971, the gig was up. Not by defaming the historic God-Man; simply by humanizing him to the bawdy big beat of rock. How could the average believer ever look at the di-mystified Jesus quite the same again?

A few years later, Mel Brooks took on Adolf Hitler in his Broadway hit "The Producers." Hitler -- the manic scourge of the Western world -- was suddenly knocked off his pedestal and reduced to a heel-clicking absurdity. The man who led thousands, killed millions, and almost conquered the globe, was now di-mystified into what he himself would have hated most: laughable irrelevance.

What is there about this mortal coil...? This compulsion we have to create and then collapse our icons....? Maybe it's subconsciously mystifying ourselves by granting ourselves this god-like power. I'll leave that to our clergy and psychiatrists to fathom. In the meantime, I still wrestle with another epic human habit. Our need to have the mystification of gushy boy-girl stuff in every movie. I mean, love stories, OK; but even our good-old-boy action, sci-fi, and war flicks too??

As a kid, we'd always boo the "girl scenes" in the middle of our Saturday matinees. Say, what kid wanted to see John Wayne or Superman get kissy-kissy in the middle of a movie. Ahhh, but my world's changed. Today I'm not only allowed to re-examine Jesus and laugh at Hitler...I'm expected to watch Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, even Captain Kirk to have a girl-friend while they're saving the world.

The mystification of human love -- I guess no one's going to be kicking that off its pedestal anytime soon. And I guess I'm just as happy as you are.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


From saints to sinners, from expectant moms to doting grandmoms, darn few things we 7 billion earthlings can agree on. Finding happiness may be one of them. The search, however, is immediately complicated, because earthlings don't always agree on how the search should proceed.

The many passionate Indiana Jones of our world understand the search in terms of some specific object. Arks, public office, power, celebrity, yachts. The passive Buddhas describe happiness differently: It's not getting what you want, but wanting what you get. If you're an Indy, it's something out there; if a contemplative, it's something in here.

For all the astonishing perils in Indy's searches, they are in the final measure mostly physical dangers. What's a few snake dens, crashing mountains, and raging Nazis when the objects of your affection are so priceless, right? Well, maybe not! When Indy and the world's other power players seize the prize and finish the day, they still go home to what they left behind. If the statistics are correct: migraines... high blood pressure...stiffening bones... assorted diseases....and the greatest curse from Paradise Lost, nagging fears.

This is where a sit-down between Indy and Buddha would be a made-for-TV special. Indy smiles with
pride: "Notice the Ark and all those other victories sitting on my mantle; see, right there next to my Oscar..." Buddha: "Yes, my son, and how do they help you sleep through the night...?" Long pause. Indy jumps up. "Say, big guy, have I ever shown you my whip....!"

There's nothing new about this yin and yang. About humanity's materialistic pride and power, side by side with its spiritualistic peace and perpetuity. Ironically, the tension between the two is found most intensely in those cultures with the most comfort and wealth. Last month the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and other disorders of the mind seriously disable 11 million people each year, with our Southeastern states faring worst. This includes 8.4 million Americans reporting suicidal thoughts each year.

We Americans take seriously Jefferson's words about "the right to happiness." In fact, we virtually make it our purpose in life. What's so troubling is that happiness can never quite be found and placed on a mantle. Which makes you re-think this happiness thing. Just maybe dying-with-the-most-toys may not be the best way to live after all....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


"Big" is oh such a relative and imprecise little word. Sitting here retired and reflective in the very middle of the American Midwest, my keypad has a kind of eagle-eye view on how this word is currently in play in fall 2011. Much too over-used, the word needs to be understood in practice, not simply in principle. Now for those of you too busy with life to fret about lexicon, let us pause here to re-consider this ubiquitous adjective:

* Big obviously describes most everything coming out of Hollywood. Be it for the large screen or the small. In addition to our recent summer splurge of cinematic biggies, the fall television schedule is bulging with big offerings from Steven Spielberg's "Terra Nova" to Simon Cowell's "X Factor." They've spent millions on these series, and just to prove it they're charging $400,000 + for 30 second commercials. [One reels at the thought of the number of roads and bridges these dollars could be used for]. But what's really big about these productions is the question whether or not an over-sated public really wants more and more bigness. The producers are gambling on the fact that, as with all addicts, Americans need bigger and bigger doses of big to still get a jolt

* Big also describes how big numbers of these stories call for a big dose of gay & lesbian roles. Having come off two centuries of up-tight homophobia in our fair land, the entertainment world has opted for at least one gay or lesbian character in virtually every narrative. It's the latest screen requirement along with at least one urinal scene, several fireballs, and any number of car chases [the big cost in injured stunt people is, well, a necessary write-off]. Again the question is do more gay and lesbian roles help illuminate or irritate straight audiences. The producers are counting on at least a tie

* Even bigger may be the epic decision by the US Postal Service to break a 200 year tradition that only the deceased can appear on stamps. You know, the usual gang like Washington, Lincoln, Einstein, and Elvis. Just last month the Postmaster invited Americans to submit their choice from among the living. What makes this so big is that the winning faces will appear on a gazillon snail-mail items for years to come. One trembles to report that thus far Lady GaGa is in the lead

Walking on this autumnal Midwest morning, I was thinking these big thoughts. Then there it was...! Perhaps the biggest of bigs I shall see this entire day. Two young mothers strolling their infants. They meet...they smile...they exchange glares at their little bundles... they move on. Leaving this male member of the species knowing just how chillingly big a competitive maternal glare can feel.

Sorta puts the rest of the my day in perspective.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Walk outside into your waning September days and you find yourself wrapped inside a blaze of fiery colors and a bite of falling temperatures. Once again it's sweater weather in the Midwest. That glorious funeral of summer and prologue to winter. This year, however, there is more than the fragrance of wet leaves in the air. Sniff a little more. That's right, a whiff of brimstone....!

Generally there are two kinds of people out here. The Humanists, who love the earth and embrace the idea that in it all life is part of the same pantheistic whole. Namely, that the same stardust that evolved into our wondrous planet also evolved into you and me. In contrast, there are the Theists who believe this cosmic evolution had a beginning. As at the hands of a personal god.

Most Humanists speak of going-with-the-flow and embracing-the-now, for this is all there is. But for many Theists, this flow is really only part of a cosmic plan. A plan whose secrets can be found in some of the ancient scrolls, the Jews' Torah, and the Christian's Book of Revelations. All with a little of Nostradamus and Mayan calendars in the mix.

Which is why right now millions of mystics and fundamentalists smell more than autumn in our days. There is also the distinct smell of apocalyptic brimstone as our world hurtles toward its predicted end. Granted, the end has been erroneously predicted hundreds of times -- starting with the Persians, St Paul, the Popes, the shamans, and right up to last summer in California.

But if you're a true end-times believer, these were the errors of men, not of god.

Swing through the Coptic communities of Egypt, the mountain monasteries of Greece, or the network of Baptist churches in the American south. They will point to "the signs." Undoubtedly there are many signs to point to. The torrent of volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, famines. wars, and international anti-christs strutting the stage of history. Plus -- in the minds of most fundamentalist Christians -- the fact that "the Jews have at last found a home."

That last sign -- coupled with the predicted final battle between Good and Evil at Armageddon in the Middle East -- has cast a long dark shadow upon the pulpits of churches and synagogue alike. For some there is a dystopian sense of resignation in all this. For others, all the more reason to live today to the brim.

For someone like me -- somewhere in the middle -- one of my favorite predictions is that on some distant day, medical science will find a reason that allows us mere mortals the immortal glory of once more burning our autumn leaves. Don't smirk at the smallness of my prediction. Not until you too have inhaled that smoky magic filling the streets of your autumn afternoons....

Monday, September 26, 2011


Now let us politically-correct juries take up the inquisition of Tony Bennett. Beloved 85-year-old Anthony Di Benedetto who has sung his way into the hearts of every generation in and beyond San Francisco.

Tony inherited Frank's crown as America's trans-generational musical artist. And all was well until....yes, until the crown slipped a tad this month. In an interview with the crown-less bubble-head Howard Stern, Tony allowed himself a moment of personal honesty. Now right there was his big mistake! In show business, honesty must never come before flattery.

Tony was a decorated GI in WWII...fought in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge...has always worn his Italian-American heart on his sleeve with traditional love of flag and country. But then -- as in the doctrinely-correct Spanish Inquisition of the bloody 15th C -- he permitted a technical heresy to pass his lips.

Tony answered Stern's question about 9/11 with the thought -- simply the thought, mind you! -- that a nation like a person sometimes gets back what it puts out. THAT WAS IT! The phone calls lit up and the columnists flared to collectively mouth the Inquisitional pronouncement: Heresy!

Somehow in some convoluted way, post 9/11 Americans have decided the best way to keep-the-faith is to vocally hate anyone and anything with Islamic undertones. [Come to think of it, the Spanish Inquisition had some of the same madness in mind]. And so it is that an authentic American flag- waver quite suddenly became a political pariah to many of our professional haters. Haters whose rage against anything "un-American" has no room for anyone who ventures the thought that sometimes Americans are themselves un-American as they bestride the world in our role as super-power.

A few years back, the Dixie Chicks met the same fate. Sixty years back we had the un-American inquisitions about Hollywood and later under Joe McCarthy. Ninety years back we had the un-American inquisitions known as the Palmer Raids. One hundred-and-fifty years back we had the un-American inquisitions by the Know Nothing Party.

Well, you get the idea. When things go badly -- in a neighborhood, a city or a nation -- there will always be a few lynch mobs seeking out someone to blame. To blame -- like the heretics and witches of our dark past -- whose destruction will somehow stave off evil and save us all. Even the un-covered evil of 85-year-old singers.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Some people simply have to put a number on everything. Statisticians, forecasters, pundits, and assorted obsessive-compulsives. Somehow it gives them the feeling of being in control. They're like the difference between that wildly free spirit Zorba The Greek and his prim and proper English boss. [If that movie is too long ago, think Mike Tyson having dinner with Bill Gates].

Take these four sets of stats:

* the average SAT scores for the graduating class of 2011 is the lowest in almost 50 years
* the number of meth and cocaine users has dropped almost 50% in the last 5 years
* the number of cell phone users who prefer texting to talking is now up more than 50%
* the number of Americans who think Hillary Clinton is our best political leader is more than 60%

In the statistician's obsessive pursuit for meaning in a sometimes meaningless world, he or she could reach one of several conclusions. Dumber but more drug-free young people love texting and Hillary ...or they're dumber because of less drugs...or they text because they don't remember how to talk...or today's feminists have made Hillary as their movement's figurehead.

Or none of the above....!

In an existential culture, today's existentialist youth may simply dismiss stats as outdated crutches on which their parents' world sought to pick their way through an irrational universe. THEY tried to channel the flow; WE simply go with the flow. As one wag put it: "Using stats is something like Pat Robertson insisting satellites fall from the sky because God thinks they're gay!"

It's like the fish who swim the oceans. When you're in something that deep, there's no use trying to figure out what it is you're in. You're in what you're in because that's all there is to be in. Oh, there may be one thing Americans can start figuring out in today's ocean of existence: The new federally mandated compact fluorescent light bulb. Goodbye forever friendly, soft-glow incandescent lighting. We've loved you ever since Tom Edison, but now some highly educated statisticians have calculated you're bad for the economy and maybe even my health.

Yeah right -- just like my Twinkies, Snickers, Mom's all-butter pies, and burning leaves in fall. Maybe our slipping SAT score grads are realizing the downside of being what my generation is: Over-educated!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


All right, lets get serious for a moment.

In a crazy age of meaningless-soundbites, gotcha-politics, paparazzi-news, and "Jersey Shore"....well, you're reminded of the class bullies in grammar school and the class clowns in high school. Except back then they were sent to the principal's office. Today they're running the school!

To really get serious, there's that most serious of anthropologists Margaret Mead: "Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." When you read it twice you're seriously humbled into wondering just how different or better you are than the crazies out there.

Lets begin with politics. Yes, it's our quadrennial crazy season. With 55 million Americans depending on 40% of their income from their Social Security checks, we have candidates putting the program in a grab bag of iffy alternatives. With the Pentagon standing by its decision to end don't-ask-don't-tell, we have service-less boys bellying up to the bars in D.C. yapping about how it won't work just like integrating the services wasn't supposed to work. With icebergs melting and freaky weather becoming the new norm, we have vested interests still suggesting we wait a few generations just-to-be-sure.

In a free society, people have the right to be wrong. But not to insist every wrong is right. Fortunately the Illinois appeals court came to that conclusion this summer in dismissing a suit by two adult children against their mother for -- get this -- "bad mothering."

But not to worry -- such occasional sanity will not totally overcome the crazy. Consider self-described Feminist Jessica Bennett in repressively arguing that "women in the work place possess erotic capital that they should consider a necessary evil if they want to win that promotion." What a great boost to the good-old-boys who will be treated to a season of "The Playboy Club," "Whitney," "2 Broke Girls," and "Pan Am." While "Mad Men" shines a light on the repressive ways women in the workplace were seen 50 years ago, these newcomers are more willing to laugh it off. You know the standard boys-will-be-boys.

Now look. We're all a little crazy. Especially behind closed doors. But once you've achieved some public status -- in government, in law, in television -- can't you keep the crazy in your soul to your private moments. Say like that occasional primal scream we all bellow into our pillow....?

Friday, September 23, 2011


From Frank Sinatra to Queen Latifah they sing the great American theme song: "I'm Gonna Live Till I Die." Only today's Americans [circa 25 to 75] have changed it to: "I'm Gonna Live So I Never Die."

An exaggeration...? I don't think so with 42.7 million fitness clubs, 2.3 billion annual drug orders, and a half a gazillion health gurus in books and on TV pitching their regimens for perfect abs and serenity in 15 easy-lessons-mailed-direct-to-your-house. Wellness is one thing; denial is something else!

OK, so maybe it's flabby me envying fitness you. Still, no machine runs forever, and the body is no more than a remarkable machine. A machine in the case of recent generations which admittedly is living better and longer than ever before. [States like Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia boast more than 15% of their populations are living well past 65]. But this side of Star Trek, you and I are going to die like everyone else.

Which is why older less splendiferous societies often go at this living thing from a different angle. Instead of placing so many of their bets on the body, they concentrate their chips more on the spirit. That intangible part of us which they believe eventually leaves our bodies -- fit or flabby -- far behind.

These include the usual suspects: Himalayan monasteries...Tibetan seminaries...Hindu temples... Jewish Kabbalah centers....Christian retreat houses....Islamic mosques.

Here's the thing. Ever since that serpent tempted that fig-less couple in the Garden, we've each learned in our own way that they're some something about us that's part and yet apart from the machinery. You can study it. sense it. pray it. even sing it.

But you're not likely to discover it sweating on some clunky treadmill. I know, because the only thing I ever discover there is another pulled muscle. Which is precisely why Mark Twain said: "I've never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting." Damn, what a great American....!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Whether you notice it or not out there watching a Bears game, you're still living in the shadow of Adolph Hitler. And you don't have to be Jewish to feel its chill.

Hitler was raised an Austrian Catholic, lived a German atheist, and died a drugged delusional for whom deity may or may not have had a place. But one post-mortem can be dared: The closest to a god in his world was Charles Darwin. Once we start with that assumption, we end up with a frightening theology.

Darwin's theory of evolution has swept the Western world of thought for a century. With each new neuo-biological discovery, science is finding new ways of re-explaining old teachings. To put it simply -- you and I are the product of our evolved genes, not of any divine gods. If we put that principle into practice, science should in time be able to manipulate specific genes to achieve specific results.

So far so good, as in the case of heroic medical research into genetic engineering.

However, step back just a few years to the 1920s. Prominent leaders from Henry Ford and Oliver Wendell Holmes in the United States to Heinrich Himmler and Adolph Hitler in Germany were speaking of the state, "genetically purifying and perfecting the human species." They included lofty ambitions such as ridding society of misfits and breeding superior strains like Aryans.

Lets put it this way. They were proposing speeding up evolution.

As the eventual head of the Gestapo and the SS, Himmler summed it up this way: "Nazism is all about applied biology....!" And apply it they did during the Nazi reign 1933 to its blazing gotterdammerung in the Berlin ashes of 1945. Seen this way, Darwin had unknowingly found his most ambitious apostle in Hitler. To the great glory of the Aryan Third Reich and to the great destruction of 6 million genetic and ethnic "misfits."

Not to press this model too far, most of us have already witnessed hints of it in our everyday life. Only here it's been nice-ified as in the case of football coaches taunting their squads with "whatever it takes" and euthanasia believers assisting "dying with dignity." But when you slice it all down to the bone, what you find is the very same survival-of-the-fittest that has ruled the jungles and the playing fields and the Panzer Divisions and now the evolutionary biology labs.

Hitler's ugly gospel of survivalism was of course an aberration. Or was it........?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Many people are. The reasons are as numerous as the people. However, one thing's true for us all. Now our days are disappearing into the west more quickly and our nights are invading our lives more insistently. Ready or not, we're left more with our own thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. I mean, without the long suns to bathe and distract us, there comes more darkness to envelop and hold us.

OK, the nights have their own distraction too. Theatres, sports bars, Rush Street, State Street, the usual necklace of hot spots we wear around our fears like amulets. Still, it's harder to escape yourself than when plump juicy summer brimmed over with all that 24/7 festivity. Chicago nights walk down from the sky with the moon in their hand, when even atheists half-believe in God. So nights are not to be taken lightly.

It's said that character is how we behave when no one's looking. Nights can be that time. Nights have this way of shutting out many of the sights and sounds of day. In these sunless silences prophets have experienced great truths.... scientists have thought great thoughts...lovers have realized their great loves. True, crime rate spike; but how many of these come largely from angry minds unable to succeed in the light of day? The weak find cover in the night, while the strong use the night to better understand the days.

Here's a test.

Next night you step out into the great city, take a second look into the faces around you. In the restaurant, the bar, the club, the theatre, the party. What do you find...? Smiles, laughter, slapped backs, elbowed jokes, dirty dancing, furious fun. Now here's the test. Is the fury of all this fun a matter of embracing the night or hiding from the next day?

It's not exactly the sort of question you pose to your friends. However, no reason why you can't pose it to yourself. Well, it's worth a try. Like the man said: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


If by age 80 you can't play the Age Card, well how much time do I have left? So let me simply say it. I met Dean, and I enjoy Charlie; but Charlie is no Dean.

I say that based on the recent Comedy Central Roast where performers like William Shatner seemed self-conscious between jokes, while punchers like Mike Tyson seemed barely conscious between drinks. Personally I relate to Captain Kirk, because roasts used to be clever, not callous. The biggest laughs on Dean's had to do with chump-change human frailties. Charlie's roast was mostly toasting what puts most people into jails or asylums.

What's happened to us in just 50 years..?

Antiquarians my age notice the differences that perhaps younger audiences don't. There really was a time and a culture when you laughed at humanity's vices, but not at its virtues! On this night, boozing, brawling, drugging and cheating were made to look oh-such-fun, while sobriety, dignity, moderation and panache were...well, something Iron Mike could hysterically dismiss and in so doing get a big bawdy audience laugh.

I'm going to miss Charlie's bawdy ways on Two And A Half Men. On a studio set, they were fun. I just hope someday we don't miss Charlie himself. But if he continues to spiral out of control in the audience-cackling belief that being Charlie Harper is the better of his two personas....well, I'm guessing most of that cackling audience won't take the time to visit him wherever his family puts him.


There are all shapes and sizes of bridges in the world. They take us from all kinds of places to all kinds of purposes. But there is one bridge which stands alone. Stands for all others. It calls for the trip from birth to death we all must travel. It's the bridge called life.

Here’s the thing about this bridge. While we’re all traveling on it at the very same time – the young and the old, the just born and the soon to die – our footsteps are walking different parts of it. The journey for those of us at the front end is new and long. The journey for those at the back end is older and shorter.

Which helps explain why we can see and talk with one another on this bridge, yet cannot quite share the passage in exactly the same way. Sometimes we call this the generation gap between us. Or perhaps simply the years between us. Those on the front end have the energy and the zest those on the back end have yielded up. Of course, in the yielding it’s hoped there’s been some gaining as well.

There's something each traveler has to offer the others may lack. As the Bible puts it: Young men see visions; old men dream dreams. And lets remember visions and dreams are equally vital. Equally efficacious. A fact youngsters may have trouble with when it has to do with their parents and teachers. At the same time it's a fact elders may have trouble with when it comes to the youth culture in which they find themselves.

Maybe it all simmers down to this pregnant notion of “now.” We’re a very now-society. Living in the "now" has a great appeal to Americans. However, no "now" stands by itself. No "now" is all there is. The exalted carpe-diem "now" is only one in a series of "now's" that make up this bridge.

Think of it this way. Whether our "nows" are many at the front end of the bridge or few at the other end, there’s a fact and a force that binds and bonds us all here. A shared understanding that the bridge-builder didn’t promise us an easy trip; but he did promise us – young and old alike – a safe arrival.

An unspoken covenant that exists with the first hesitant steps we take on the bridge; later with our last faltering steps as well. Perhaps the only ones who can really see this would be the astronauts. But lets not wait to get up there and see for ourselves. For now, how wise of us down here to start traveling this bridge right!


Monday, September 19, 2011


Look, admittedly it's presumptuous for a male of the species to speak on the ways and woes of the female of the species. I mean, what in God's name does any man really understand about any woman? It's always been part of the great Divine [or Darwinian] plan that we two remain an enduring mystery to the other; especially when the other are men.

But wait...this is not another Henny Youngman joke about "Take my wife, please!" Spectacularly married for almost 60 years, I come to this topic with enormous respect. Frankly, my life-story has led me to the counter-intuitive conclusion that the female is not simply equal but superior to the male.

I don't care what fraternity or golf team charges me with betrayal, because what guys like me have learned about gals like you is that you've got this undeniable edge. To those of us guys who secretly admit this in the dark corners of our favorite Italian restaurants, this edge is deeply rooted in your innate capacity to care and to love. Enduring against odds most guys eventually walk away from.

What's this have to do with Hannibal...? Just this. Back about 300 years before Jesus defied customs by eating with and protecting women, the great Carthaginian general was leading his war-elephants across the Alps on his way to Rome. One of military history's most amazing and memorable feats.

But here's a military secret that perhaps not even female stalwarts like Susan B Anthony, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Angela Merkel never knew. To get his army of war elephants to cross the Alps was a virtually impossible task. Until....!

Yep, until he figured out the female elephants were far more willing to try. With all the wisdom of the male-mind-admitting-the-female-edge, he edged his female elephant's to venture first. And you know what....? That's right, guys, those beautiful lumbering gals took the alpine plunge with aplomb.

Naturally, when the guy elephants saw this, well they dutifully followed. Call it challenged male ego or simply evolutionary pride, but they did. And getting African elephants into Rome's backyard was exactly the edge Hannibal and his guys needed to smash the until-now fearless Roman Legions.

No, Hannibal didn't quite conquer Rome. But damn if he didn't conquer his own male libido enough to let the females lead his way. Something for any guy reading this to think about the next time he calls his wife or partner "The little woman."

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Last month the London Science Museum polled its adult visitors about what they couldn't live without. Are you ready for this...? Facebook came in fifth. Ahead of toilets, showers and fresh vegetables...!

Most people have seen the movie "Social Network" or at least have formed an opinion about social media. To the outsiders it's everything from a frivolity to a failure. To the insiders it's everything from a friend to a force. Like the computer which spawned it, it has become a virtual extension of ourselves into wherever and whoever we choose to reach.

Humanity has had other such extensions. The sword...the plow...the pen...the car. Each has given us a tool with which we have either created or destroyed. Funny thing about humans -- we like to do both. To explain this maddening dualism, some religions point to Genesis; evolutionists point to genes. Either way, you have to hope that if there are ETs, some of them will be a lot nicer than us.

It's good to remember that Facebook and other social media are ethically neutral. Neither good nor bad in themselves, it is how the user uses them that matters. For instance the social-networking site took an international poll recently to garner world opinions. It showed "Americans are the world's coolest nationality." Which may surprise most of our hand-wringing cable pundits and their 24/7 agonizing over the demise of America. On the other hand, being "cool" may not necessarily mean being "great;" history's poll will be the one to watch.

If you happen to have an affection for polls, here are two encouraging ones Gallup took using social media: (1) 86% of Americans now approve of marriage between whites and blacks; in 1958 only 4% did; (2) 46% of Americans have no preference about the gender of theirs boss; a sharp shift from the 1960s male-dominated culture of "Mad Men" and "Playboy"

However, not everyone has been charmed by our ways. Long before we had social media, Oscar Wilde looked across the Atlantic from London and sniffed: "America is the only country that has gone from primitivism to barbarism without ever passing through civilization."

Oh wait...! Playboy and Hefner are back on NBC this fall. Makes you wonder if Oscar had a point. To paraphrase: You can take the American out of the Wild West, but you can't take the wild out of the American.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


OK, Charlie himself wasn't on the Mayflower, but surely his spirit was. I'm not talking about his spirit of rage and raunch; rather, his spirit of there's-always-a-second-chance. The very belief that brought thousands, later millions, of losers to the New World seeking another opportunity in life to win. A belief which will be on entertaining display this month on Comedy Central's Charlie Sheen Roast.

We all know this trajectory in America well.

First we build up our heroes and celebrities; then, after a predictable number of hurrays and headlines, we tire of the very qualities that not so long ago charmed us. The tale is an old one. The pilgrims from the Mayflower turned in time against their own heroes like Davey Crockett quickly found detractors...once cheered presidents like John Quincy Adams, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George Bush I got un-ceremoniously dumped after only one term.

But Charlie is betting on the Great American Comeback. Just like the Great American West lured men and women to come out into the wilds to find their redemption. Notice how the West's favorite game was draw poker in which the player gets not one but two entirely fresh chances to take the pot.

Sometimes the public re-embraces their fallen heroes. For example Crockett was resurrected by Walt Disney...John Quincy turned around and got himself elected to Congress...Bush I eventually got a son into the White House. In Charlie's case there are plenty of show business examples. Frank Sinatra's career crashed by the end of the 40s only to be redeemed bigger than ever beginning in the 50s. Robert Downing Jr flamed out in drugs in the 90s only to become more popular than ever today.

To be sure, some stars never rise again. There's Mel Gibson...Whitney Huston...Tom Eagleton... Charles Lindbergh...John Wilkes Booth. Still, you can never be sure about a once passionate love affair. When the Wizard wisely said, "Hearts won't be perfect until they can be made un-breakable," he could have added that on this side of the Emerald City, Americans' broken hearts can often be wooed and wowed back into place.

So watch the gang roast Charlie Sheen this month [not co-incidentally the same night the new Two And A Half Men debuts]. Then track the subsequent trajectory of the public mood. A lot of other crashed stars will be. From the Oval Office right down to my Uncle Harry who just blew a bundle at the casino.

All of which raises this re-phrased question: Is it really better to have been great and crashed than never to have been great at all........??

Friday, September 16, 2011


There are sleazy back-street chop shops around the world -- making big bucks chopping up stolen cars for their salable parts. But if I were to pick the worst, I'd pick the one we all participate in every day of our lives. The shop of public opinion in which we are unwittingly chopping up the body politic

Here's what I mean.

Our body politic -- like all living breathing organisms -- consists of countless working parts that make up the whole. A mix of social institutions and business operations that together creates this thing we call America. Now as long as we see America as this symbiotic whole, we're doing our job as citizens. But as soon as we start seeing America as just so many salable parts, we're fast helping to destroy it.

Consider lately the way we intuitively sub-divide America into its parts: The government...the banks ....the military ...the schools...the hospitals...the South...the Hispanics...the poor....religion...Hollywood. All parts of America, true, but conveniently chopping them up this way into separate parts, we are mis- understanding this vast organic thing known as the United States of America.

Still, we do it anyway. I mean, it's easier. Handier. As in: "The government is the problem." "The banks are stealing from us." "The military wastes billions." "The schools are a failure."

Time for a citizen reality-check.

None of these institutions is simply one, big IT. Each instead is a sprawling, multi-million-peopled daily operation to which no single face, no single label, and no single flaw can be attached. For instance. The government is not some evil empire on the Potomac; it's the mail-carriers on your block, the cops on your streets, the controllers in your airports, and the food & drug inspectors throughout the nation's industries. The same with General Motors, AT&T, Microsoft, and Kraft Foods.

Every large group -- institutions, corporations, associations, lobbies alike -- are millions of people whose totality at the end of the day is that proverbial whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts. Seen this way, suddenly these groups becomes a much more complicated object to either praise or condemn.

This is not to say there are not miscreants out there for angry citizens to shoot at and condemn. Only it's better we do it as an informed posse, not another raging lynch mob heading for the closest chop shop.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


NBC is bringing back Hef and his Bunnies. None of them would quite put it this way, but what they're really saying is: Life's a big bowl of ice cream, and we're lapping it up before it melts. Melting as in death.

OK, I admit death isn't what the young-and-vital who blog here wish to talk about. After all, there are rhapsodic autumn days coming up. Crackling with the colors of life at its best. And yet...!

Isn't autumn nature's magnificent funeral? Isn't what's happening now the great splash of color just before the bleak death of winter? And along with winter so many other little deaths in life. The gut-wracking loss of those who you loved...the webby loss of consciousness as you slip into an anesthetic sleep...the gauzy loss of this world as you dream into your sleep-world at the end of the day.

Now don't lose me here, folks.

Each of these is worth a website all its own. But for now, the main sleep is The Big Sleep. How does it come? What does it feel like? Especially, where does it take you? Now don't lose me here....

From the burial mounds in Asia to the pyramids of Egypt to the catacombs of Rome, we know our ancestors felt strongly the way most of us do today. There's something more out there. Something more than the proverbial three-score-and-ten years. Hindus see an eternal oneness...Jews an eternity in the memory of those we leave behind...Christians an eternal heaven...Muslims an eternal paradise.

The operative word is eternal. While we're on this side of the Big Sleep, our minds can shape that eternity and our hearts can desire it anyway we wish. On the other side....? Well, like they say: No one of us has ever come back to report. However, most of us assume the trip has a one-way ticket. No matter how young and beautiful and rich, at the end of the line there's no fare back. Not even for the playboys. Those last five seconds are not a comma; they're the exclamation mark.

Centuries back our shamans and clergy and philosophers advised us there was the "right" way and the "wrong" way to write that exclamation. We were given great commandments, great laws, great books. By this century there's a competing way to write it. If you listen close, you'll hear it in the new Playboy series:"If it feels good it has to be right; if it feels bad, it has to be wrong."

Exclamation mark.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In today's power-driven culture, the Alphas out there are easy to spot. The Dominatrix-es less so. However, they're both with us, and their passion for power is on daily display. From the studios of Hollywood to the Banks of New York to the chambers of government in Washington.

It was this flair for power that brought most people to this continent, that helped them subdue its wilds, and that finally lifted it to global superpower. We respect the role of power in our lives. Turning-the- other-cheek has never been an American specialty.

Sometimes, though, there's a problem with power.

That great Manhattan philosopher Woody Allen puts it this way: "Confidence is what you have just before you understand the problem." Aha, you remember the feeling too...! But not enough people in power do. CEOs, generals, presidents, senators, mayors and celebrities are so infected with its virus, they are usually stunned when they discover their power's limits. Say, in the face of a hurricane or an earthquake...a sudden market collapse or a relentless unemployment....a terrorist or a bacteria.

The true test of power is not only in using it, but in knowing what to do while you're losing it.

There are times in the lives of people and nations when the Genie in the Lamp is tired of saving you. That's when you have to save yourself. Some rush to heaven for steadying comfort [ the Facebook page "Jesus Daily" is right now the nation's most popular social-networking website]. Others flee to what are popularly called experts [ those well-published authors who confidently advise the world with how-to's ranging from diets, to movies, and lately to just how our leaders should be managing the economy]. Still others tend to hunker down into their own cocoons of diversion saying to themselves: if-the-sky-really-is-falling-I-just-want-some-political-alpha/dominatrix-to-save-me.]

Have you noticed lately...? No lack of folks willing to tell you they're just what you're looking for. Which surely makes one remember the instructive lines from Kipling: "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it one you/ If you can meet with triumphs and disasters and treat those twin impostors just the same/ If you can talk with crowds yet keep your virtue/ Yours is the earth and everything that's in it."

This very night there are a few among us who can fall asleep in that conviction. To discover who they are will be to discover the truth to power.....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Chances are your IQ score is 20 points higher than your grandparents.

That's according to the Flynn Effect, the political scientist who discovered average IQ scores in the West have steadily risen over the last 100 years. A conclusion which brings us to what we call today our best-and-brightest.

From Washington, Harvard and the Yankees in the East to Silicon Valley, Stanford and the Giants in the West, that's who we want. Who we pay the big bucks. Who we say we'll follow. But wait a minute -- how do we actually define best-and-brightest? What do these people look like? And how can we spot them?

Couple reasons why so many more are out there. Better nutrition, better healthcare, better problem-solving experiences ranging everywhere from playing video games to manipulating computers to having to make sense of complexities like the Harry Potter series.

However, once we identify the best-and-brightest IQs, what next....?

Here's where we run into a glitch. While Flynn's research shows "high IQ scores correlate with high grades and good job performance," Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware argues "....pure intelligence is a useful tool, but not a virtue." In an especially challenging statement she adds: "In other words, people today might be better problem-solvers on paper than previous generations, but that doesn't mean they will be willing to do what's necessary to, say, solve the problems the US economy faces today."

That concern comes from results like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Here there is evidence while IQs remain on the rise, for the last 20 years children's ability to come up with original ideas and put them into practice has been "spiraling downward." Especially among children grades 1 through 6 ever since 1990.

College professors are about as plentiful as bloggers -- which makes you wonder about their value! In any case, here's what Professor Kyung Hee Kim of the William & Mary School of Education has to say. Examining the Torrance Tests, she told USA Today: "There's something wrong with today's standards-obsessed schools and legislators. Creative students cannot breathe. They are suffocated in schools. Leading in the long run to under-achievement."

When I was teaching at the dramatic dawn of the media & computer age, I often felt our kids were coming to school to have their educations interrupted. John Ruskin found the right words for me fear: "What we think, what we know, even what we believe is in the long run of little consequence to our world. The only thing of consequence is what we do...!"

Monday, September 12, 2011


I actually didn't say that...! The acerbic musical genius Oscar Levant did. Back in 1949 at Warner Brothers where Doris was just emerging as America's girl-next-door-sweetheart. Lucky for her, the comment didn't get a lot of play once the studio PR department contained the damage.

The point isn't how Ms Day -- now contentedly retired in Carmel California -- survived Mr Levant's tongue-in-cheek shot. The point is how so much of American culture has always bristled with such shots. Fired as everything from wry humor to downright defamation. Americans love to think of ourselves as a free-spirited people who know how to play hard in both our walk and our words.

But if you step outside the frame for a moment, you begin to see what a perplexing picture that stands out daily in (1) our politics (2) our sports (3) our entertainment. Look, compliments are usually reserved for the wakes; until then, confrontations are often the name of the game:

* American politics has been a brutal blood sport right from the start. If anyone finds today's rough-and- tumble Washington shocking, they only have to scan the withering insults that plagued even our history books' top-five heroes Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR. As in what...? As in make-believe- king! slave-humping-lier! whoring-frontier-animal! gorilla-brained-bumpkin! Jew-loving-cripple!

* American may love their sports heroes, but can't resist their flaws. Read the sports pages where what sells is who-yelled-at-who in the locker room! which star dissed which upcoming team! which player was caught in which domestic fight! You see, pedestals in sports are built to be broken; this way the mob's frenzy gets fed twice.

* American show business -- well, the story here is all squeezed into one sleazy word: Paparazzi! There is this strange symbiotic relationship between the stars and their hoary detractors. The stars feed on the paparazzi's attentions (insult me, but for God's sake don't ignore me!). Meanwhile, the paparazzi feed on the carcasses their shots leave behind (scream at me, just don't break my camera!).

Americans talk a lot about down-time, weekends, vacations, getting-away-from-it-all. But look closer. If there's anything we love to talk about is: what's there about the rich-and-powerful I can talk about? Hey, the more I can cut them down, the taller I look. I mean, that's what democracy is, right....?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


[[ This Appears in Today's Chicago Tribune ]]

To some of us, 9/11 was the second shoe. The first had dropped almost exactly 70 years earlier. As a boy I had experienced the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; now this on New York City in 2001. In the first, our proud fleet had been destroyed; in the second, our proud Towers. The enemies were getting closer. Is there some kind of connection?

Indeed there is. In 1941 the boy had suddenly learned his nation had enemies. What, America...? Oh yes. Seventy years later in 2001 the man clearly realized America had many enemies. All those things about his country that made him proud, made others angry. Angry that what we had and what we took in the world left less for them. And among them there would always be some fierce avengers.

During those 70 years the boy became an educator. US History was my field, and I remember trying to convey what was so unique about the United States. The first country that had been created rather than simply happened. Instead of one strain of humanity gradually evolving into a nation, we were many strains that hurried up the process by simply declaring ourselves free of any outside rule. Fortunately we had two great ocean walls behind which to remain safe from most outside interference.

However, by the 20th C those walls were no longer invulnerable. Ships, planes and missiles ended all that. By the 21st C television, the Internet, and social media made us even more vulnerable. Now those angry faces pressed against the candy store window that was America were capable of giving life to their anger. Turning their rage into retaliation.

On September 10, the world seemed to be made up of just two populations: Americans and those who wanted to be Americans. By September 12 there was serious reason to doubt that old patriotic scenario. My extended family lost members in the war that followed December 7; and some already in the war that has followed September 11. If I were still in the classroom today, I think I would ask my students about their admirable passion for peace and doing-their-thing. But I would also ask them is there room that also allows for struggle and following-the-flag.

Performing somewhere between these extremes -- the passion for peace and the need for struggle -- may be how best we can respond as a nation on this anniversary.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


You've heard it too. All the pro and con about Climate Change. But in this dustup we're putting the focus on the wrong word. The issue, my fellow earthlings, is not just the "climate." It's the "change." Let me explain before the next weather disaster crowds my act...

I'm no expert but I can report Al Gore's warnings have already taken place in our backyard garden. Five summers in a row our Day Lilies and other assorted beauties have been blooming weeks earlier than ever before. Not to mention five straight summers in which the nation has been battered by record-smashing rainfalls, hurricanes, and earthquakes. And while climatologists can debate the weather, the rest of us better confront the change of which the weather is only one feature.

This hunk of rock on which we all cling, it's spinning at the same rate but changing faster than it has in centuries. However, like the lobster in the boiling pot doesn't realize what's happening to him, we lobsters may be enduring the very same deceit.

Whether you study the clouds, the Bible, or that grim Mayan calendar, we are at another of those critical cusps of history where what was is not likely to ever be again. Change is not new, but recently change has changed! It's coming faster and more furiously than ever. As Margaret Mead put it: "Our world changed more in this last generation than it did in the last 50 generations." and water consumption...ideological confrontations. When these things start shifting -- crammed inside as they are a smaller more interconnected place -- something's gotta give.

Presidents, popes, CEOs and generals speak in public with calm and wisdom. But in bed at night, they cower under their covers perhaps even more than you and me. Because they know more. And today knowledge is not always power. Often it's terror.

Still....! There is this comfort. Epochal change like this has battered us before and yet we're still here. Somehow we've made it this far. Which would appear to be a testament to humanity's endurance. Still, if the Mayan Calender is right about December 21, 2012, my kid brother is going to miss that surprise birthday party we were planning.

Friday, September 9, 2011


The French police have traditionally approached crimes of passion with: "Cherchez la femme!" (look for the woman). As a man, well that's always sounded about right to me. But then it's my gender who came up with this indictment in the first place. Been doing it ever since we indicted Eve...Helen of Troy... Bathsheba.... Cleopatra...Anne Boleyn ...Mata Harri...Monica Lewinsky....Heidie Floss...well, you get the libidinous idea.

Anthropologists -- and now Gloria Steinem -- suggest it's the male of the species copping out by shifting the blame. She made me do it...!

Listen in to some of the back-slapping jokes among the boys in the local sports bar. Catch some of the raunchier plots from Hollywood and television. Sit long enough to force your way through a rap song's lyrics. Steinem's case made and case closed.

This Punch-and-Judy dynamic has been around ever since we started putting on those fig leaves in the Garden. We noticed the differences. But now this is where the French have another traditional saying: "Viva le difference'." Whether you credit God or Darwin, the panoply of differences between the sexes is like traveling down the galleries of a magnificent museum that has no ending.

Ever since the earth goddesses of harvest and birth were replaced eons ago with the sky gods of thunder and power, the female of the species has been relegated to a subsidiary role in the great narratives. Now that the Steinems of the world have helped break the ancient seals, the scrolls are beginning to reveal the extraordinarily subtle counterpoints to this symphony of life.

For man's burst of strength there is woman's courageous endurance. For man's need to power there is woman's need to love. For man's passion to forage there's woman's need to harvest. One without the other is forever a half. Viva la difference' and viva the mutual respect for those differences. To be really whole, each half must join the other without becoming the other...

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Politics is in full bloody bloom. Candidates are slashing their way through the American living room with furious flags to fly and vile enemies to devour. Our quadrennial no-prisoners-taken pig-out. Following Wednesday's Republican Debate, at least two themes became clear: (1) an angry rejection of "Obama's America" (2) a lusty recollection of the "Real America." Soon now we'll hear the fiery counter-themes.

But what exactly is this Real America? Actually it's not every exact. But then visions never are. Perhaps it's those small Huckleberry communities where everyone knows your name...local mom & pop retailers servicing their able to chase fireflies late and safe into the night...especially, bold shirtsleeve innovators free to build their dreams without any government interference.

Who wouldn't want a touch of Mayberry USA? In contrast to our sprawling impersonal cities... gangs ...crime...unemployment; plus those encroaching ghettos, immigrants, and death-panels. People in hard times want to hear about better times. About a paradise lost that can be found again. If only the vipers in the Garden can be destroyed! After all weren't they our Garden's ruin in the first place?

Campaigns have wordy policy papers that most voters won't read. Campaigners, on the other hand, have feel-good images that any voter can picture. Reassuring images of what the Real America once looked like and can look like again. But first, as with all great crusades, the crusaders must be able to lead us to the vipers' nest. On Wednesday the nest was found and tagged: "Government interference." That crawly thing that somehow took root in our once upon a time free-and-natural Garden of growth.

Standing in the very holy-of-holies of the prophet who first said "government is not the solution but the problem," this crusade to reclaim the Real America thundered well. Soon we will hear from the other end of the Garden. More specifically, the candidate who would remain president in the belief that government is not the vipers in our garden, but more like the fences. There to protect the harvests from the foxes.

Ready or not, fellow toilers, we face 13 months of no-prisoners-taken struggle to win over our Garden.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Bogie tells Bergman,"We'll always have Paris." One of the great lines from the classic wartime romance CASABLANCA. But now 70 modern years later, cool contemporaries might ask: How could there be such great romance without great sex...?

Check it out for yourself. Their lyrical days in 1940 Paris just before the Nazi's are all recalled in an 11 minute flashback. There was wine and roses, fast cars and slow nights; but never sex. Sex -- today's closeup sine-qua-non to Hollywood and television for any love story.

How then do we reconcile one of America's great love stories side by side with nary a single great bedroom scene...? Here's a thought. A thought that made more sense in 1940 than 2011, but still a thought. There will be those unannounced times when souls meet before bodies. When lives connect from the waist up. When it's friends-first-lovers-later.

A moment now for the skeptical eyebrows to drop.

If it was true then, it's still true today. Oh, not in the mainstream culture; but mainstream is not the only stream. And while this isn't meant to be a commentary on morality, it is meant to pose a deliciously prickly question. Why does one of the 20th C's emblematic love stories still get ranked among our top ten? still get on the nighttime cable channels? still get featured in college film festivals? still get written about like this?

One answer might be found in that final scene at the misty Casablanca airport. To this day directors still emulate it. Woody Allen put himself into it. Viewers like you respond to it. It's love lifted higher than passion. Love raised as high as honor. Something sex partners don't reach quite this nobly.

Nobility....! Yes, that's the word. The word their kind of love became. And still can.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


It's an insidious little process. It begins small. Unannounced. Definitely without your permission. And yet it continues to gather speed, no matter what you do about it. In time -- usually over a period of blinking, unbelieving years -- the process peaks. The deed is done.

You are no longer the person you see looking back from those graduation and wedding pictures around the house. That was then; this is most definitely now. You should have know that morning when you reached down for your morning paper. Can you remember? The sudden realization (1) you just pulled a muscle you never knew you had before (2) you could swear you've seen that same headline before.

The ugly truth is (1) that muscle's been there ready to atrophy for years (2) yes, you've seen that headline many times before, only with different names and dates.

Rather quickly now this surge sweeps over you. You're forgetting names, telephone numbers, car keys ...skirts and pants insist upon shrinking on you...your class in the alumni news is reporting as many deceased as arrived...the cops, quarterbacks, and stars in your world have treasonously become younger than you.... movies and television are all beginning to look alike....and those new medical breakthroughs, haven't you heard these same promises and their counter-promises before?

You start remembering.

Dad used to doze off at holiday dinners. Mom had a hitch more than a skip to her step. For so many years now they had remained the same. Or had they? Had I? Had anything? The rivers flow into the deltas and the deltas mingle into the oceans. It's the image of time moving on, and everything and everyone along with it. But as the ancient Greeks wrote: No one can jump into the same river. And so it is, none of us can be the same us.

How does that grab you...? For those who don't much like who they were, it's that second chance all those how-to books are always writing about. For those who kinda like who they were, the current will carry them too. The thing to remember is this. We're all traveling the same river. We're all trying each in our own way. And the trying is what is called life...

Monday, September 5, 2011


There will be an iffy new season of television in America's homes this month. While at the very same time an impeccable old season of Shalimar in mine. For me this is the ancient counter-point between change and continuity. We are attracted to the first; we depend upon the second. Let me explain....

September is the approved launch-date for the networks' new programming. We are advised 23 new series are about to be unleashed upon our living rooms. History shows not more than 10 will survive. The specific survivors are not important; what is, is the basic content. We can be sure this will include slightly reformulated combinations of slick cops & docs shows...ever more raunchy reality programs ...low-budget, high-sensation news documentaries...some different ways of bringing us the paparazzi's more outrageous favorites...all slathered with equal portions of violence, sex and commercials.

While politicians in Washington and clergy in pulpits think they are shaping America, 24/7 television in our homes is more likely to accomplish that. Not to put too fine point on it, but what we have here is a persistent rise in feckless entertainment matched by a discouraging fall in civic responsibility. The I'm-tired-at-the-end-of-the-day-so-let-someone-else-do-it syndrome. Not exactly new in human history, but no generation of humans has ever experienced this syndrome quite so intensely.

Now what about the Shalimar? In one of those little co-incidentals in life, both Mom and Joan chose Shalimar as their perfume. Which means that as a child, my life was tinted with the lingering scent of this wondrous fragrance; and now as an adult, the experience continues. Continuity...! the passing on from one time and place to another. It's how families and civilizations survive. Not that Shalimar has any particular impact on our civilization; but I think it has on my small piece of it.


Side by side with the thrill and terror of change, we mortals harbor an affection and need for sameness. Linus chooses his little blue blanket. Diane Keaton her white gloves. Batters their wiggle at the plate. Wall Street bankers their bonuses at the end of the year. In other words fellow Romans -- excelsior, but just not too fast!

Sunday, September 4, 2011


People born in northern climates have bigger eyes and brains than those around the equator. Doesn't mean they're more beautiful or smart; it's simply evolution compensating for the lower light levels when living closer to the poles. Still, it does raise that aching ancient question: Am I beautiful...?

According to the dermatologists surveyed, no one seems to really like their face. All those nagging if-only's. If only a little less bone here...if only a little more lift there...well, you know the drill.

The next time you gaze into your mirror, consider this. What defines a beautiful woman and a handsome man is a moving target. Throughout history the rules of the hunt have changed. Fat in prehistoric women was prized, because it meant she had greater child-bearing capacities. During the high Renaissance, a soft layer of thigh and belly fat was the ideal painters sought in their subjects. Today, by our changed standards, even my Marilyn Monroe would be considered chunky. As for men, brawny and hairy traditionally meant meat on the table that night. Today, neither brawn nor hair is featured in the New York Times Sunday fashion pages.

Whenever I wondered about my rather commanding Roman nose, Mom would always say: "It fits your face." As I think back, I think Mom was exactly right. I mean she got it right all those years pitching fruits and vegetables. Why not noses? Why not eyes and cheek bones and chins as well?

Yes, yes, it's all too cliche to repeat the old standbys beauty-is-only-skin-deep and beauty-is-in-the-eye- of-the-beholder. But here's something beautiful about most cliches. They wouldn't still be around hundreds of years later if there weren't something enduringly credible about them.

Think of it this way. Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney may be beautiful to look at. But when they turn 70, they won't look so good. Now you and me -- well, we don't have that fear, cuz we're already there!

Saturday, September 3, 2011


New York's Central Park Zoo reported one of their prized peacocks recently escaped. But that's not the story. After he spent the night on the ledge of a nearby building, watching the chaotic city below, he flew straight back to his cage at sunrise. Zoo director Jeff Sailer said: "I think he likes it better here."

I say: Who wouldn't?

Think about it. The sales of Mozart continue to top Rap decade after decade. People continue to buy cats and dogs with increasing rates year after year. And damn near anyone who has even flirted a moment with fame continues to write their-side-of-the-story memoirs. What's going on here...?

Isn't it modern humanity's need to find some kind of order in chaos? to hunt for meaning in disarray? to hope for sense among the senseless? I think so. I think maybe that peacock did too.

It would be foolish to argue our times are the worst of times. At the same time, it would be presumptuous to suggest they are the best of times. True, humanity has left the cave, tamed the beasts, conquered time and space. Why it's even aspiring to total genetic engineering, to the stars, to immortality itself. And yet such enthralling pursuits have taken us off the solidarity of the land, jammed us into teeming cities, brought us into violent competition with other pursuers. There's always a price for progress.

Visionaries are willing to pay that price. God bless them their courage, for the rest of us depend on their blazing new frontiers into which we can later travel safely. But safety -- order, meaning, sense -- are elusive in these exciting days. Perhaps mainly because everyone and every nation is pushing and shoving for the very same brass rings.

With only so many rings to go around....well, at least I have my Mozart, my faithful companion, and that happy-ending memoir.

Friday, September 2, 2011


This year I got my flu shot from the government. Free of charge and without any hassle. Remarkably, not a single screaming headline about power-grab, wasted-funds, or infringement-of- personal-rights.

You see, this is "big government" at work working. Had there been a broken needle or a bad reaction, that might have triggered the media to rush out to my local pharmacy with their hungry investigative-reporting skills. Sorry, but I and scores of other seniors that day were served with admirable care, thank you very much.

Here's the point. Americans have been angry with "big government" ever since King George III. We pride ourselves in being free; rugged individuals; molded in the tall-in-the-saddle image of the Kit Carsons, Buffalo Bills, and Clint Eastwoods of our frontier imagination. As some candidates put it to the delight of the crowds: "Government get off our back."

Sounds perfectly American. Until we look for big government to come to our aid in natural disasters, food inspections, clean air controls, highway construction, school subsidies, college loans, and multi-million-dollar grants to zealous inventors and innovators. That's when we see our tax money for what it is: The rent we pay for living in a country.

Why then this persistent yet inconsistent grudge...? The answer back is: We're not against government, just bad government and bad leadership. Which has the sound of teens trash talking their parents. Parents and governments aren't perfect; but the reality is they're indispensable. So while kids and citizens have the right to complain, concurrently they have the obligation to support.

If we do, there comes this epiphany of sorts. Like the home-team fans in the stands, there's this realization that booing every player and jeering every miscue may satisfy our anger, but contribute nothing to our victory. These players -- like the parents and the government -- aren't trying to lose. Too often, though, too many of us almost want them to....

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Culture War has not only become part of our political lexicon. It's begun to define who we are. It's the Pluribus drowning out the Unum. It's everyone insisting their set of values are the only correct set of values. Including values as to abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, church & state, recreational drug and sexuality.

Consider one example. The same month TV Guide reported 89-year-old Betty White as the "country's most popular and trusted celebrity" [topping Kate Middleton, Sandra Bullock and Oprah Winfrey], Vogue Magazine featured a 10-year-old girl in full makeup and leopard-print stiletto heels stretched out on a tiger skin looking back with a smoldering gaze.

More than merely objectifying the female gender, a new low in telling fourth-graders and their mothers that "hot" is what it's all about. At least until you're a grandmother. Oh but wait, grandmothers are busy with botox and halter necklines from hot stores like Forever 21!

But let us press on.

As a kind of corollary to today's Culture War we have the ascending cultural values of Silicon Valley. Here the proud vigorous source of America's greatest new ideas, products, and programming. Some economists advise that while America may be losing ground in the traditional hard-industries like steel, coal, oil, cars and washing machines, we are leading the world in the new computer-industries.

Lets hope so. And yet, we may want to weigh the culture here too. What do our bold new computer industries seem to value most.? If their balance sheets tell us anything, they tell us we most value fun, games, and diversions. The biggest companies on the big board on Wall Street include Netflix...Apple iTunes....Google...Groupon...Skype...Linkedin...and the video game manufacturers

It's far too easy to draw quickie comparisons between the United State and earlier failed empires like Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome and Britain. And yet...! In each instance, their power not only corrupted them. What may be more even more instructive, their power diverted them. Diverted them from growth to games; from pursuit to pleasure; from vigorous to vacuous.

Congress now returns from the summer. In this session, will they simply follow in the wake of such commonly accepted values? Or will they help lead their constituents in remembering there is much more to value as a nation than diversion?