Monday, October 31, 2011


We've all looked into the transfixing eyes of a Bengal Tiger, awed by its exotic tawny beauty. Everything about them is mesmerizing. Which may explain why of the 8000 remaining on our planet, 5000 are privately owned. Without debating our right to cage these great beasts, there's no debating the "chemistry" between them and their mates.

Somehow we've now taken to referring to the "chemistry" that exists -- or doesn't -- between actors on the screen, on the stage, in political debates, right here among the local members of city councils or country clubs. But sometimes we press a good thing too far. As in a Columbia University report: "Single women consider overweight men more attractive if they are for each 10% increase in body mass, a man must get a 2% raise in salary to stay in the same dating pool."

Does this sound like a victory of chemistry over charisma?

I kinda think so, and I don't like it. Being one of those who still wants to believe we're more than the sum of our evolutionary parts, I prefer to see the chemical beast that is us possessing other and higher characteristics. Now I understand perfectly well I may be swimming against the tide. A tide in which cars and foods, perfumes and body lotions are being designed to cue the right genetic reactions. But give me a break, fellas. Try getting in touch with my heart as well as my hormones.

Somebody smarter than me said it well. Satirist Ambrose Bierce: "We're all lunatics, but those of us who can analyze their delusions is called a philosopher." I'm trying, Ambrose, I'm trying...

Sunday, October 30, 2011


This will anger all my lawyer friends, but I just have to say it. Facts may be important, counselors, but only important like the bricks to a building. The bricks themselves aren't the story. It's how different people understand and assemble them into different kinds of buildings.

Take an easy if not sexist example: 38-28-38 may be a beautiful woman to some oglers, to others she's overweight. Take a more serious example: the facts behind today's 1% battle-cry. By protest- sign facts these are today's bailed-out bankers, hedge-fund managers, and other plutocrats from the world of finance. But lets not forget one-third of this 1% are also executives in non-financial firms, one out of six are in medicine, one out of 12 are lawyers, many are information-technology specialists, more are scientists and professors than celebrities from the arts and sports, plus the interesting fact that more than half US Senators and members of the House are also in the mix.

So now you have the facts [based on the Internal Revenue Department]. But once you have all the facts, you have only part of the truth! How does each of us assemble these facts into our own conceptual architecture? If perception is reality like my psychology professors liked to say, then the real meaning to these facts exists behind our eyes. The facts in and of themselves mean nothing until we give them meaning. Our meaning!

Which means to some of us, this 1% are rape-and-pillage capitalists, while to others they're essential job-creators.

Take your choice. I've made mine for some time now. But for those of you worried that American Capitalism may be under siege, not to worry. Robert and Diane Maresca of Long Island NY have already filed to trademark the phrase "Occupy Wall Street." See...? Capitalism is alive and well.

Oh, and as for my lawyer friends, take comfort in Charles Dickens: "If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers..."

Saturday, October 29, 2011


At one time love was the many-splendored-thing in life. Now apps are. Like the new apps called "I'm Getting Arrested" which lets you press a single icon to notify friends and lawyers that you're being nabbed by the cops. What's going on here...!

My guess -- it's the many-splendored instant gratifications of our smartphones. Any day now I'm expecting an icon that lets you flash your Viagra Moment to your partner. Or heck maybe just to that hot number across the many splendored party. We've progressed from caves to skylines, from grunting for our food and sex to simply pressing our apps. Convenience is one thing; this growing network of instant gratifications is a whole something else.

If evolution is right, in another couple centuries homo sapiens will have grown smaller legs but larger thumbs as we really let-our-fingers-do-the-walking. To which I have no serious objection, because just like you I won't be here to endure it. However, the question is, do we really want to pursue this evolutionary path? More to the point, is there any way we can really stop it?

The blue-jeaned, twenty-something gang from Silcon Valley has no intention of stopping something so profitable. But then you think of the Biblical passage, "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul?" You wonder how many of your fellow travelers have in their own way sealed some Faustian pact in order to gain that world. Alexander? Caesar? Elizabeth? Napoleon? Hitler? J. Robert Oppenheimer? Steve Jobs?

There are no written covenants to this effect by any of these world-changing men. Well, except Oppenheimer. He fathered the Manhattan Project that found an apps for the atom, thereby creating the Atomic Bomb. After watching the monstrous blast in its first test at Los Alamos, he put his troubled thoughts into these words: "We knew the world would not be the same again. As the Hindu Scripture Bhagavad-Gita writes: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds..."

Oppenheimer was haunted the rest of his difficult life for what he had gained in this world. Will any of today's great minds...? Will any of us...? Or will there soon be an apps marked: "Cue applause for instant and deafening approval!"

Friday, October 28, 2011


Two ways of looking at your world. Great Depression humorist Will Rogers liked to say, "Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else!" Behavioral psychologist Sarah Hill of Texas Christian University reports to the New York Times: "Envy of others heightens our power of observation and memory. Sucj single-minded focus can help us learn how to imitate -- or sabotage -- the people we envy." So what's this telling us -- life's funny, but gets better with envy?

I don't think so. But what I do think is the current worldwide wave of street protests has a lot to do with envy and resentment of the 1%. Forget party politics, this has more to do with people politics. Lets call it Trickle-Down-Resentment. The 99% out there may come from very different strains of their society -- kids, seniors, ethnics, crazies -- but all connected in a common sense of disenfranchisement. Everyone out there feels as if someone else is running their lives.

That feeling was hardly new to the crowds in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; they've known it all their lives. But here in the United States it's very new feeling.And we don't much like it. Here we've always been led -- by leaders and literature -- to believe in the American Dream and American Exceptionalism. I mean, anyone here could always go out and become a free-floating Tom Sawyer or free-riding Calamity Jane, because here: if you can dream it you can do it. Right...? Wrong!

Not when the 1% control over 70% of the nation's wealth. Not when the 10 largest banks hold 54% of corporate financial assets. Not when the income gap between rich and poor is the widest and deepest in the entire industrialized world. And so it's no surprise that a majority of Americans say they have a positive view of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A century ago Russian literary guru Leo Tolstoy said it well: "There are no conditions of life in which a person cannot get accustomed, so long as they see them accepted by everyone around them." But now people are seeing the other 99% around them no longer quite so willing to accept the traditional standard by which the 1% expects to -- and somehow becomes entitled to -- control the lives of the rest.

This 99:1 resentment is nothing new in the story of our species. But in America it is more historically new and more camera visible than ever before. Think of it this way. In the casino of life the players pretty much understand the house never loses. However, once the players stop getting at least some occasional jackpots...

...well, take a look out there. The casino isn't going to go bust, but perhaps the owners will have to re-think the odds they're giving us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Long sandy beaches at sunset -- poets love them. People with sore feet don't. Another of life's epic dilemmas: To listen to the sand out here or not...?

Early October evenings along a city beach can do this to you. To the left, black-blue waves; to the right, Chicago skyline; in front, zig-zaggy lacework of footprints in the sand. Time to play poet.

One trail of prints so tiny and flibberty-jibberty you can just see her blond-haired gaze up to her daddy's large arm guiding her little steps. Over there another trail, not of steps but bounds as this bicep-ed Adonis ran the sand. Further on a foursome of feet marking where a pair of lovers watched the waters.

Well, at least that's what I see. Remember, I'm new at this!

I'm guessing what poets find out here at the end of another day of the world trying so hard, is an impressionist mural which marks where part of that world walked this day. Walked and talked, dreamed and feared. True, we don't live on beaches; but we do occasionally come out here to catch our breath. And our thoughts.

Thoughts maybe like: Where did this day go..? Where did this week go...? Where has my life gone...?

I don't know how accurately I'm hearing the sand out here. But I do know this. The sands of time flow faster and faster the older and older we grow. When you stand back and size up that great ocean of national and global events lapping the shores of your life -- well, I can't help recall that country-western-church lyric by Vince Gill:

"Let this be my solemn vow/ to take each moment/ and live each moment/ in peace eternally/ let there be peace on earth/ and let it begin with me."


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Bracketing time into tidy titled segments is probably impossible. But let me try anyway. I say the first 2/3 of the 20th C was a very different America than the last 1/3....!

Here's what I mean. From 1900 to the end of the 1960s we generally talked and walked one set of values; then from the 1970s to 2000 a very different set. To test my proposition, I invite you to surf through some of the music & movies, radio & television during the first 2/3. If you do, I'm betting you'll start out by laughing but gradually you'll begin listening. To what? To what we mostly believed in as a nation during those years. I'm not saying we practiced everything we believed, but just believing is in itself a powerful thing for a people.

Consider some common beliefs back then long before you were around:

* Government Is good >> As in Sousa marches, "Mr Smith Goes To Washington," "Cavalcade of America," "The FBI In Peace & War"

* Family is important >> As in "Home On The Range," "The Hardy Family series," "Pepper Young's Family, "Father Knows Best"

* The American Dream >> As in "This Land Is My Land," "Young Abe Lincoln," "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy," "The Mickey Mouse Club"

OK, have you been stifling some laughter...? Sure, because such pop entertainment from that America plays a little corny in this America. A post-1960s America that has become smarter. more informed. more skeptical. more willing to admire public rascals say like a Charlie Sheen or a "Family Guy" than the old public heroes say like a Babe Ruth or a "Dr Marcus Welby"

I tell my grandchildren there's nothing wrong with growing up smarter than we did. And learning all that glitters out there is not actually gold. However....! Guys my age can't help feeling kids their age are missing something. You see, what this America may laugh at, that America listened to. And at important times in our history, it sounded awfully good to the ears.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


September 5 was the 70th anniversary of the release of Orson Welles masterpiece Citizen Kane. The film opens and closes with the simple word: "Rosebud." Like any impressionist artwork, it is left for you to connect with it however seems right.

To Kane -- a man of enormous wealth, power and celebrity -- it is where his mind focuses in his last dying moments. Rosebud, we eventually discover, is a small sled from his childhood. But more than a plaything, it is his metaphor for his own long lost innocence. Having become an adult with stunning status and style, his final minutes on this earth are not of such transient trivia. Instead they are of an enduring memory of a brief time in his life when all seemed simple. safe. sure. innocent.

To Kane, Rosebud represents and re-presents the lost bliss of a once-upon-a-time security. Like falling asleep in the back seat of your father's car, and then waking up all tucked inside your own bed...! We each have our very own Rosebud cushioned inside the museum of our minds. A place where we can go when the world outside is much too large and complicated. A place, as with Kane, that few if any know about or could even understand.

Today we walk in a world of equally and exorbitantly powerful men and women. Who command global authority...lead great nations...control wide-spread financial assets...stand before us on film and television screens with vaunted image and imagination. And yet, and yet, like Kane, like us, they each have their own Rosebud. Somewhere safely secured from prying eyes. Their Rosebud, like Kane's, like ours, probably has to do with some tender past.

A first prom night...a first promotion...a first child...or, more likely, the last time they can remember watching with mom and dad the twinkle of a first Christmas Tree. Somewhere, in the little private galaxy of childhood memories, probably shines their best selves.

Us too!

Monday, October 24, 2011


First, a little name-dropping. I've been backstage after shows with the likes of Judy Garland, Paul Newman and Alan Alda to Billy Crystal, Bob Newhart and Matthew Broderick. And while the dressing rooms are always small, crowded and glamor-less, here's where to find the best shows in town ever since the Wizard told Dorothy "ignore that man behind the curtain."

You see, what goes on behind many of the world's most famous curtains is what often counts most. Take the room just behind the Papal Balcony pronouncements...the Oval Office just behind the Rose Garden press conferences...the teachers lounge just before classes begin for the day...those smoke-filled-rooms where candidates are picked who look most like they were really picked by the voters.

Backstage is not a lie or a fraud. But is is where the show begins. Where the cast study their scripts and rehearse their lines. Better some rehearsal than some would-be populists climbing platforms or pulpits to just wing it. The trick is -- they've got to work hard looking like this stuff comes straight from their best heart. We like it that way, we respond to it that way, we are led or mis-led that way.

I've never had anything to do with Papal pronouncements or smoke-filled decisions; but I have penned some words-from-the-heart for presidents and faculties. Nothing wrong with these folks working off a prepared script by a contract writer. After all, you'd much prefer a leader who was prepared rather than not. But now here's where democracies run into some trouble -- voters often confuse the on-stage and the back-stage worlds.

The confusion grows out of our mixed emotions. Democratic societies have some contradictory expectations. We want our leaders and celebrities to be smart, but not so smart as to make us feel dumb....attractive, but not so sleek as to make us feel on their feet, but not so agile as to make us feel deceived...most of all, we want them to speak their minds, but mainly when their minds sound a lot like ours.

When you think about it this way, being a popularly chosen leader or celebrity in a democracy isn't as easy as it looks. This leaves us with two alternatives: (1) A demagogue who doesn't have to please us because he rules us, or (2) Plato's famous "philosopher king" who is so wise we don't mind being ruled by him.

As I see it -- the second alternative is nowhere in sight, whereas the first is always in sight just waiting backstage ready to take over. We paid for these tickets so we better be sure we know what we're getting....

Sunday, October 23, 2011


OK, lets be honest....there really IS no last word on coffee or anything else science puts its fine minds to. Scientists say this is because they are always testing and re-testing. Doubters say this is because they are dealing with some things beyond even science [AKA, what science calls problems-still-to-be-solved doubters simply conclude are mysteries-to-be-lived].

Personally, I'm not uncomfortable with the doubters. Which is why I doubt the recent 14-year Harvard study among 51,000 women which concluded "the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to become depressed." I might have been less skeptical had some scientists not recently concluded Einstein himself may have been wrong by 60 nanoseconds in his classic Theory of Relativity.

Leaping from science to society, maybe a lot of ideas we once defined as mere Myths need to be re-examined too. When a society calls something a Myth, it often means it's content to dismiss the whole idea as a mere fiction. Say the idea of a Garden of Eden....ancient aliens...Atlantis... UFOs... American Exceptionalism.

Wait just a minute.

If a society decides to collectively embrace such ideas as real and true -- well, the linguistic debate is over. Because societies will now collectively act upon what they embrace. Myths, in other words, can quickly shift from idea to belief. From thought to action. From imagination to actualization. Need proof...? Take the hundreds of societies who embrace the story of Eden sublimating it into 5000 years of efficacious Judaic-Christian religions. Or take the many wars into which America has entered with flags flying in the belief of our Exceptionalism among the nations of the world.

After awhile other Myths come to mind. Collective ideas in a society which -- whether documentably true or not -- become truths larger than any mere documentation! Consider. Our "destiny to settle the New World." Our "pacification of the Native Americans." Our "rugged tall-in-the-saddle glories of the Old West." Our "shining city on a hill." Our "right to be be Number One in all we do."

Lets conclude this way. Going from science to society to football. When coaches like Notre Dame's fabled Knute Rockne inspire their team at half-time to believe "we can't lose," how do you react after the players go out and live-the-myth by 30 points?? Personally, I think we re-think everything we think. From Einstein to religion to half-time mythologies to our morning cup of coffee.

Friday, October 21, 2011


When they sing "You're The Wind Beneath My Wings," the wind is the love you and I feel beneath our most personal needs, hopes and fears. To feel it is to fly....! But next the question becomes what exactly is this cosmic yet concrete force in the flights of our life?

Well sure, we can all think of a sacred few someones we've known and loved; but what about those less tangible somethings? Those things besides the people we've loved and who love us back?
Several things may come quickly to mind. My country. my religion. my fraternity. my sorority. my party. my team. my iPhone.


Oh, yes, yes, my friends, they've now demonstrated that people literally love their iPhones. To seal the deal, the "they" in this case are some of today's behavioral scientists. And we all know when science says something is so, it must be so [like the climate, weather, and medicines they are sure are right until they're wrong].

Still, there are lessons to be learned. Like the recent MRI study that was reported in the New York Times which demonstrates what happens when people hear and see their iPhones ringing. Their brain scans display not only the expected signs of addiction, but a firing of neurons "in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feeling of love and compassion; as if they were in the presence of a girlfriend, boyfriend, or family member."

Wow! Makes you think. Or at least feel. About how you respond to your own small, smooth digital lover tucked warmly inside your pocket or purse. Those MRI scans suggest that the smartphones now reshaping human consciousness not only provide a constant stream of rewarding texts, e-mails, and tweets, but they have also become akin to "a best friend, partner, lifelong companion."

Speaking for myself, I'm a dumb user of my smartphone. However, those of you who are more expert will find another scientific study of immediate interest. Has to do with those 24/7 Tweets. Harvard sociologist Nicholas Christakis has tracked 2.4 million of us iPhone aficionados to conclude that our tweets express our moods at the moment, and that our moods follow a clear pattern. Are you ready for this...? "National happiness peaks around breakfast between 6AM and 9AM; falls to a low between 3 PM and 4PM; then rises to another high after dinner. Including weekends."

I'm not sure we needed this study to prove the obvious, but then like I say I'm a rather dumb user. Still just smart enough not to take my iPhone to church, to a dinner party, or to bed. Whattabout you....?

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Lot of ways to describe us humans. A few literary superlatives come to mind: goodly, noble, virtuous. Other descriptions have been: brutish, petty, sinful. However we may see ourselves, one fact is indisputable. We're relational creatures. Almost everything we feel or think or do is felt or thought or done in relation to the people and the world around us. Look, we've all been born into this orchestra, and even when we're doing a solo, we're really only playing off the other instruments around us.

As it should be.

On the other hand, we've had some go-it-alone soloists in our history. You know, a Benedict Arnold, Jesse James, Al Capone, Lee Harvey Oswald, Bernie Madoff. On the other hand, a Robert E. Lee, Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Elvis Presley. You see, there are always some players who don't like the notes as written. Who hear their own beat, their own music. And while some of these soloists turn out to be distracting, others turn out to be dazzling. Quietly giving the piece a little more than even its composer first heard.

Like who...?

Like all those nameless, faceless players throughout our history who've ignored the spotlight, preferring instead to simply do their part when the composition and the conductor called for it. No monuments for them. But neither any mortifications. You see, these are the silent majority of players on this bill whose only lasting memory is the memory of a nation's music being played on key.

In 1942, in the midst of the Greatest Generation's greatest war, Aaron Copland composed "Fanfare for the Common Man." Whenever you're feeling -- well, small and just common -- listen to how Copland heard you and your role in this orchestra we call America.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Young parents and aging grandparents periodically have the same wonderful opportunities on their watch. I speak here of when the little ones ask of your vast reservoir of adult knowledge an explanation for something that just occurred to them. Say like: Babies...God...Death...Mothers-in-Law.

You take this seriously, right? Like the time I tried to explain to 5-year-old Ricky where his sister Debby "came from." After stumbling through birds, bees, and mommy-and-daddy, I realized all he wanted to know was which hospital. Besides, why in heaven's name would any 5-year-old bypass a wise Mommy for a mumbling Daddy.

After poorly playing both parts -- young parent and aging grandparent -- here's some news from the front. For what it's worth, some thoughts on how to answer some common questions:

* "Why are there so many medicine bottles in the cabinet..?" Because there are so many commercials on television with beautiful smiling people running in slow-motion through pretty countrysides...!

* "Why do daddies play golf so much...?" Because you see, darling, daddies are silly and like to do silly things with other silly daddies...!

* "Why do mommies plant so many flowers...?" Because they like to believe they really tried, just before they go out and buy all these expensive silk flowers we have in the house...!

* "Who are these bad-people we keep seeing on the news...?" The truth is, our cities don't really have bad-people; only some people who do bad things...!

* "Why do we eat so much pizza...?" Well now, that's because Mommy and Daddy lost some of our favorite recipes in the flood! "Which flood was that, Daddy...?" Never mind, next question!

* "Why are those people marching in the streets lately with all those signs...?" Remember what the doctor told us about you last time; he said you want to cut down on our fat but at the same time keep building up more of our muscle. I think these protesters are trying to say the same thing...!

Oh...those other questions? Birth. God. Death. Mothers-in-Law. Well you see, sweetheart, Daddy wants to give Mommy a chance to answer some of your questions too. So like I always say: God ask your mother.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The precise line from the classic film Casablanca by the classic American Humphrey Bogart about the classic Swedish Ingrid Bergman is: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to show up in mine...!"

Might we call this a metaphor for America? Because sudden futurities like Ingrid entering Bogie's cafe are always intruding into the gin-joints of our collective lives. Bogie at first doesn't handle it well. Life's intrusions often arrive as a negative. And yet they don't always remain quite the same as they first appear. I count at least four who often take a prominent yet perplexing place at our table:

* Greed -- That raw evolutionary instinct which at first makes us fierce hunters until later it makes us productive capitalists until eventually many permit productivity to recede back into greed (try corporate CEOs, Wall Street Bankers, Hedge Fund Managers)

* Lust -- Another genetic instinct which at first makes us sexual predators until it later may bloom into love until eventually the lustful instinct returns in the form of roaming eyes and nights (try most anyone in Hollywood or in your own neighborhood)

* Malady -- Another evolutionary intrusion which strikes us low until a few among us actually sublimate it into genius (try Stephen Hawking, Toulouse Lautrec, Steve Jobs)

* Pride -- Rightly called the mother-of-all-sins, this will to power often produces leaders of historic proportions until most become seduced by the power of their own awesome power (try any prime-time examples from Alexander to Caesar to Napoleon to Hitler to Churchill to the president of your local PTA)

Well, you can complete the list with your own examples. However, there's one example that doesn't always make the list. Being different...! You remember....? When as a child the gang would find something to laugh at. Maybe your weight. your height. your stutter. As an adult, maybe your views. your values. your status.

Evolution has a way of making some of us different. The very word can be a curse! The herd doesn't like different. Over the centuries, difference often intrudes upon our table in ways which we don't always know how to handle. Physical differences. Psychological differences. Sexual differences.

But here's the funny thing about this curse of being different appearing at your table. There's not one in a hundred "great people" in our political and aesthetic histories who wasn't. Ah huh, that's right, different than the rest of us. So the next time you feel different -- or see someone different coming toward your table -- be honored, my friend, be honored. Like Bogie...

Monday, October 17, 2011


Well, to be more correct, the trouble is not only the NFL, but the MLB and NBA as well. It's the way they and the networks present themselves to us. The way they -- their cameras, their instant playbacks, their announcers, their color men -- have now become a dazzling virtual reality in contrast to the actual reality out on the field. You doubt it...? Watch the fans in the stands watching the game on their portable TV sets...!

When 50 years ago Marshall McLuhan told us the medium-is-the-message, lot of us didn't get it. Today, we're getting it 24/7. Not only do we watch games via the multi-million-dollar virtual reality of network sportscasting...we've taken to watching our entire world this way. And if you doubt it, well that shows just how much you now assume the virtual is the actual.

Don't get me wrong. I like zoom cameras, closeup shots, instant replays and expert coverage from the booth just like the next fan. Only now -- may I impute just like you -- now I'm totally addicted to this version of reality. Going to a game these days, I miss the replays and especially the explanations.

Notice, though, how this has become the way we experience almost everything.

A president gives an address, and off camera "experts" are there to tell us what he's about to say, what he just said, and what he really meant to say but couldn't so that's why we have a super-special Washington insider in the booth to tell us!

Then there's Congress. CNN and C-SPAN will let you see the actual action, but hey, that takes time and effort. Better to see the 5:30 news clips where the news anchors can tell me what I might have seen and how I should think about what I might seen but didn't because I was waiting till 5:30 for some "expert" to take me by the brain and walk me along the path to truth.

Lets face it, my fellow-sheep, today's virtual reality makes actual reality far more interesting! more convenient! more bite-sized! more pre-digested!

You know what's big these days on television and in the movies...? That's right: Zombies. And do you know why...? Here's my theory: We like looking at ourselves.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Uncle Harry always advised: "Once the last kid is married, the first thing you do is kill the dog and change all the locks...!"

I used to laugh. I don't laugh anymore. And neither will you once that time comes. You'll be tempted to wave goodbye at the church smiling to yourself "mission accomplished." Sorry, folks, but whether you knew it or not, you signed up for a life-time contract. Come their first crisis -- broken heart, broken marriage, broken career -- chances are you'll hear from them. Usually in that dreaded late-night call. Their tears, their anger, their pain. See, you can kill the dog, but you can't kill your ties-that-bind.

Nor can you kill the headlines. Those relentless rampaging headlines about death in the streets, chaos in the banks, and terrorists plotting in the shadows.

However, if you can take the historical vs the headline view of authors like Harvard's Steven Pinker, it gets a little more encouraging. Professor Pinker's new "The Better Angels of our Nature" statistically demonstrates how you and your kids are actually more safe and secure today than at any other time in humanity's plague-ridden, blood-soaked history.

Good to know. But then why all the seething disillusionment spilling out into our nation's streets from Wall Street to LaSalle Street to Rodeo Drive? Why the rise of this new Silent Majority?

Three years into the Great Recession, the answer is glaring us in the face. People without jobs, homes and hope haven't time to read Pinker's upbeat history. They're too busy trying to make a better history for themselves right here and now. To date no one -- president, congress, general, and now alas even Sarah Palin -- has been able to really bring back America's post WWII security and grandness. When everything's this wrong, mass fear inevitably generates mass rage. Rage at anything and especially anyone they can find. There's the smell of vigilantism in the air.

Journalist Corredo Alvaro, himself a parent, perfectly captured our mood: "The blackest despair that can take hold of any society is the fear that living honestly no longer has a future." To drive home the point, the World Economic Forum currently ranks the US only 5th in global competitiveness, behind Sweden, Singapore, Finland and Switzerland; and a stunning 44th in science & math education.

By now even the outrageous 1% are feeling some of the despair stabbing into our national vitals. When people are in pain, they look for the thorn to pull out. Only it's not just one thorn. Say like taxes, government, president. That would be like saying Beethoven's Fifth is the one note of F-sharp. Obviously it's a thousand different notes all inter-connected on scales and in cadenzas of enormous beauty but complexity.

So while the kids are still at hme -- and even after they've gone -- you and I are in life-long contract with both them and America. I can't offer any advice about the kids, but to get the music that is America right, we need to find the best musicians and conductor available. Maybe that's what the rage in the streets is really all about. Not a manifesto of policy objectives. Not a call for a new composition. Mainly the concert audience on its feet shouting for the sort of musicians and conductor who can play this magnificently complex music on key for a change....!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


We're often advised to follow-the-facts. But then there's that old skeptic Dale Carnegie whose books keep selling ever since the Great Depression: "When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of facts, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bustling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity."

Sound like your Congress...? Your boss...? Your partner...?

Facts, though, still have their place. Like the facts from the Washington Post: "The average household wealth of the top 1% in the U.S. -- including home equity, stocks, investments -- was almost $14 million in 2009; while the average wealth for the bottom 80% was $62, 900." And from Time Magazine: "In 1950 the average U.S. household spent 22% of its income on food and 3% on health care; whereas today food costs have dropped to 7% while health care costs have risen to 16%."

When following the facts to find the answers, you usually realize most of the answers are a moving target. I'm reminded of adventurer Thor Heyerdahl: "Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity." We're progressing so rapidly on the exciting frontiers of complex scientific and economic facts, could we be losing touch with some of the simpler frontiers of time-tested, common-sense? Otherwise known under rubrics like: Tradition...custom...intuition...what-mom-always-said. Or as the ol' boys at the corner saloons and VFW Halls grouse: "Just about the time you learn all the answers, they change all the questions!"

Time happens. Repeatedly discovering perplexing realities that insist on flying in the face of prodigious facts, well, it's a humbling experience. A purging one as well. I always remember Grandpa's shock when he recalled migrating from Italy to the great Copper mines in 1903 Arizona. "The one thing I learned as a boy was that everything-changes-but-the-mountains. When I returned as an old man, years of slate-mining changed all that. The mountains were gone!"

Just last week they reported another iconic absolute in trouble. London's Big Ben is leaning by 0.26 degrees every few years. Next they're going to tell me Mom was wrong when she said: Eat your vegetables. Oh wait -- I think there's another set of facts coming out soon on that very subject. Only this time I'll copy the report in pencil...!

Friday, October 14, 2011


With his opening words J'Accuse, the celebrated French novelist Emile Zola publicly charged his government with anti-semetism in the infamous military scandal of 1897 known as the Dreyfus Affair. I'm not a novelist and I'm not French, but I too accuse the establishment. In this case, it's the way we prize the physical over the aesthetic. Something like Jay Cutler vs Carlo Muti.

Nothing personal here, but Americans have always been a physical-minded stock. Then after the Russians shocked us by putting the first Sputnik in the sky (1957) we've gone nuts doubling down on our love for the physical. More than ever, math, science and physical ed have become the darlings of our schools, while lit, art, music take a back seat (see the 1995 movie "Mr Holland's Opus" for details).

We've sensed it from the start -- the first settlers in the 17th C on through the first astronauts in the 20th C -- that stuff like poetry and theatre are nice, but not actually necessary. To be a great nation, a great city, a great family, a great football team, you need hard-driving raw power. That other stuff? Well, sure; but mostly for the girls and mostly if there's time.

Here's my accusation.

There will always be room for the doers. Who as kids can climb trees and as adults can smash anything from quarterbacks to atoms. At the same time there must always be room for the dreamers. The 98-pound-weakling who can't make the team, but can sit in his room and pen magnificent adventures and explore the outer reaches of cyberspace. Whereas Mr Holland (played by Richard Dreyfus) saw his music classes the first to go by the budget cuts, the film ends with an Oscar winning tribute to that deeper part of our psyches which responds to the aesthetic as well as the physical.

Nothing wrong with this will to power in a people. It's a hard world demanding hard responses. But haven't we learned by now that the nerds and the dreamers we laughed at in school possess a power all their own. It's fine to cheer your head off for a tough linebacker or a courageous firefighter. But also to value the gentle in our midst who better see their America in its symphonies, sonnets, and soaring imagination.

Walt Disney comes to mind here. Hard-driving doer inside a soft-lens dreamer. His Disney Worlds -- starting right there on his charmingly imaginary Main Street -- are a tribute to that gentler side of America. That side of us that scientists say emanates from our right-brain circuitry, but which I say emanates from the soft, fuzzy, child in us who still loves Santa, thrills to the Yellow Brick Road, and has probably kept some of those cut-out Valentines from their first loves back in 5th grade.

You know what...? I'm willing to bet Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher kept a few too...!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Couple names come to mind here. Hank Williams Jr...Charlie Sheen...Lindsey Lohan....Bill Clinton.

One of the mantras to emerge from the 1960s was: "If it feels right, it must be right." About that same time the Ten Commandments sorta changed into the Ten Suggestions. Situational ethics sorta replaced absolute ethics. We've become a freer, more open-minded culture. Outside the Bible Belt, we draw outside-the-lines with, if not moral impunity, certainly attitudinal impunity.

And why not...? These are not the dark days of Medieval witch-hunts and inquisitions. The damning Scarlet Letter has been replaced with the understanding clinic. The vicious criminality of the mafia has been transformed into the familial honor of "The Godfather." And graft in government, well we bitch a little, but then belly up to the bar with a what-are-you-going-to-do shrug.

Outside the Bible Belt, not many of us are rushing to resurrect another Savonarola. In a multi-culture democracy like ours, live-and-let-live has proved to be the safest trail to follow. The late great Senator Daniel Moynihan conducted what he termed a deviance-study which graphed the steady lowering of the bar. Less and less deviant behavior is considered by society as deviant. [ Well Hank Williams learned that of all the sizzling third-rails you absolutely don't touch in public, it's Adolf Hitler ].

Americans rightfully look shocked at the religious rigors imposed, especially on women, in the Middle East. We're good at fingering bad; but bad at fingering good. Because, you see, if there's less to label bad anymore, there's less left to honor as really good anymore. When we stand for everything, we may end up believing in nothing.

By and large this is called: Tolerance.

Now really, how could anyone be intolerant of tolerance...? The only way to live together in this multiplicity of races, nationalities, and religions is to hang loose and give the next guy his space. I'm all for that. But at the same time I'm reminded of this fact-check about our changeable human nature:

* An absolute conservative is a liberal who just got mugged
* An absolute liberal is a conservative who just got jailed

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Behold the simpler yet more ubiquitous TV Remote....!

Now I realize it's not cutting edge anymore, but more people probably have one and use one than any other piece of flashy technology. And in so using, we have at our command a power so sweeping that by now we simply take it for granted.

Most blessed of its power is the power of silence. Ahh, just to be able to flick off those hi-decibel, $500,000 commercials while their grinning actors perform yet another psychotic ad-man's idea of how to seduce me into driving their car into some mountain trail or gulping their pills into some medicated bliss. I calculate this controlled silence is sure to extend my lifespan by at least a year.

Complementing our new-won power to silence our world is our power to experience our world. I mean, look at it this way. Sitting here in my bathrobe and slippers, my thumb permits me to surf through 100 or more channels in order to command up whatever mood fits my mood. Silly...? There are sitcoms. Sad...? There are live concerts. Curious...? A zillion travelogues. Sentimental...? Old movie channels. Angry...? The pugnacious 24/7 pundits on Fox or CNN.

Of all my childhood auguries about the future, I suspect a TV Remote was somewhere among them. If you want to feel like God -- be in and in control of everywhere -- the little Remote is a darn good start!

OK, OK, I grant God is never pictured in his bathrobe and slippers. But then, how do we really know...?

Monday, October 10, 2011


I don't know about you, but my kinder gentler ghost usually visits me just as I'm drifting off to sleep. For all I know, he's part of my sleep. I'm talking about the endearing ghost who comes from the kinder gentler times of my childhood neighborhood in America. You remember....! Those green days waiting for you just outside the front door each new morning when it was always sunny, skies always blue, family always stoutly in place, and life was forever.

I am told by my more rational-minded ghost-buster friends that I am remembering my childhood like.... well, like a child. My answer is...well, exactly! I've had to live like an adult for many long complicated years now. Why wouldn't my kinder gentler ghost wish to whoosh me off to a safer more wondrous time in my America? If only for a little while each twilight-zone bedtime.

As he does, I can't help but to begin smelling the fragrance of fresh-cut lawns and blooming Lilacs .... seeing the neighborhood moms taking in the delivered milk bottles...dogs yapping playfully down the street of red bungalows and white frame houses...the local gentlemen in three-piece suits heading off to this mystery which Dad always referred to as "the office"....oh, and lovely, long-haired Rebecca whose critical attentions I occasionally earned.

My childhood neighborhood was the far westside of Chicago in the 30s and 40s. But the geography and and even the calendar is not the essential part of this report. Everyone has a childhood neighborhood. One in which they lived, played, grew, stretched, and dreamed. It's the dreaming that seemed most important back then, for you felt too small in this world to dare anything larger.

Ironically -- after achieving the long awaited dream of being a "grown up" -- you're often left wanting. And wondering. Is this all there is...? Is this what I was so desperate to become...? But like the wistful theme song from Victor Herbert's classic operetta TOYLAND: "...once you cross its borders, you can n're go back again."

My kinder, gentler ghost thinks otherwise. He thinks, I think, that reverie is not always a waste of time. Rather, an investment of time. Now-time investing in then-time in order to better understand what and where you came from. And your country came from. In today's crush of social and economic traumas, there's something efficacious about going back to Go. Returning to what and where we all came from, in order to get a better fix on what we are and where we might better be going to.

Clergy and campaigners especially want to own the past. Want to recall it in ways that help them play the Moses Card: leading their people home. Perhaps it's their own kinder, gentler ghosts who motivate their quest. As far as I know, my ghost is always willing to listen to their ghosts. Just so long as their vision of our past is similar to mine... America still young and small enough to dream kinder, gentler dreams.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Both 49-year-old Governor Chris Christie and 4-year-old black Labrador Eira just brought to our attention two ancient mis-beliefs: (1) fat people are are not quite normal people (2) dogs have been domesticated by humans. One is still an acceptable prejudice among the population, the other still an acceptable pride among dog owners.

Both in fact remarkably un-acceptable.

Fat people, like the governor, are still the easy butt of jokes, put-downs, and ever so unsubtle rejections. And yet, what we call fat today was in times past more often taken as a sign of prosperity and beauty. Prosperity as demonstrated by how much more food they could afford, beauty as demonstrated by how many heavy men and women were the focus of the great paintings.

Today's fatness curse rests mostly on women, and mostly over the last 50 years. Thin has been dictated by the social culture as in. The voluptuous Gibson Girl look at the start of the 20th C along with the post WWII queen of sensuality Marilyn Monroe would be both deemed too fat today. Reflecting our imperious dismissal: "Fat people choose to be fat! It's their own slovenly fault!" A dismissal totally flying in the face of the scientific evidence which indictes some people are genetically predisposed to be fat no matter what.

Then there's our other prejudice that we have over time domesticated the wolf into the dog. When in scientific fact it's almost the reverse. The wolf family -- like the tiger family -- has over the eons chosen to be domesticated, finding the existence of a pet far easier than that of a wild beast of prey.

A recent film, "A Dog's Tale," lovingly tells the story of Hachi and his owners Richard Gere and Joan Allen. Based on an actual narrative, Hachi is seen longingly waiting for his dead owner at the same train station for nine years. A remarkable tale about animal love reiterated this month by a black Labrador in Stockholm. Eira had been left in a kennel for a day but escaped, boarded a train, and road six stops before exiting at her owner's home station and showing up at her front door.

Fat people and pets...! Time to take a second look at our first impressions. Neither should or can be dismissed in any way, shape, or form. Instead, both should be valued for exactly who they are, and how fortunate the rest of us are to have them in our lives.

I mean -- what's wrong with us!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


October is perhaps the most wondrous month of the year in Illinois. The funeral splendors of raw nature....the bracing bite of morning air...the chatter of children, birds and squirrels readying for winter...and of course the anticipation of what has lately become our second most loved holiday, Halloween.

In our busy-ness this month, we take these as givens. But take the time to give the givens a second look. When you do, you may see something more going on. Especially the different kinds of masks being worn over some often hidden truths out there:

* there's the mask of autumn itself, whose astonishing glories often hide from view the creeping cold and white impotence of another brutal Midwestern winter; the foot-bally charm of our sweater-weather is secretly prophesying the dark days of our December and January

* there's also the annual masks of Columbus Day whose festive features honor the exploits of one of history's greatest change-makers; but one who modern research argues he did not so much discover as he invaded the Americas; so that what was celebration to White Europeans was curse to Red native tribes of this continent to the chained Black gangs of the African continent

* then come the masks of Halloween whose fun and furies lately appear to betray our culture's increasing fascination with ghouls, vampires, demonics, and death; what has traditionally been a day for children has become a subconscious opportunity for restive adults to allay their fears by playing off those very fears in this annual glut of guises

* finally come the masks which each us wears daily -- this month and every other month of the year -- whose disguises not only protect our vulnerabilities from others, but which at times may even confuse us into becoming our masks more than ourselves; the sort of transference addressed especially by clergy, psychiatry, and occasionally curious trick-or-treaters

So. Another October is upon us. Merriment, memories and masks alike. Now it's for us to make the most of it. Before it's whisked away in our first snowfall...


OK, science has never officially declared it's out to kill God. Rather, we are told scientists "simply follow the facts." Somehow, though, these facts always seem to lead to what we are told is a far more rational definition about ourselves than any irrational delusions about a creator.

So let me get this straight. Seeing ourselves as a divine creation by a loving god is better replaced by seeing ourselves as a genetic accident by an indifferent evolution...? Being a highly evolved form of planetary slime is somehow more rational than being the noble creature as portrayed in the Greek Pantheon, Michelangelo's David, and Shakespeare's Hamlet...?

My ego has a problem with that. More to the point, so does my mind.

To blithely presume this vast complex universe is all the handiwork of some benevolent parent-figure in the heavens is a bit irrational, I grant. But what appears even more irrational is that all this accidentally happened with some purposeless bang some inexplicable14 billion years ago. Not only "faith" but "probability" suggests the first guess may be just a tad more reasonable than the second.

Checking the facts, we find this is exactly the way 99% of the peoples of the earth have guessed too. Ever since humanity crawled out of the seas and climbed down from the trees, it has worshiped gods. The guess -- the intense probability -- has always been that we are each so small that there must be something much bigger than us to all this.

Every morning you struggle out of bed and stare into your morning mirror -- well, it's pretty likely you feel the same way.

At various times we've called it Ra, Apollo, Jehovah, Jesus. Allah. The name and the details are not important. The concept is. The entirely rational concept that we are not the alpha and omega of all we survey. The entirely reasonable assumption that everything has a beginning and everything has a purpose. The entirely defensible postulate that this beginning flows from some enormous creative force by which you and I have some reason for being here.

Regardless of how much or how little of this one accepts, there often remains a knotty issue that complicates every discussion of God and Science: Which is right? But of course, that's the wrong question. If there is a God, then surely Science is one of his plans; if there is no God, then Science has a very long way to go in explaining all of this and all of us. Either way, the question becomes irrelevant

The best answer is that both God and Science co-exist. Within all of us. Humanity's history demonstrates that a belief in divinity is not at all incompatible with the practice of science. Scientists who believe in a God are doing science everyday. And making progress every day.

So even if the Richard Dawkins, Sam Harrises and Bill Mahers of our times persist in doubting this co-existence, that's OK. Because their lives like ours continue to flourish as a consequence of such everyday co-existence. In people say like the remarkable Steve Jobs.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Thoreau said it while puttering along the shores of Walden Pond: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation with their song still left in them." Now almost two centuries later we have the wonders of Facebook. Along with an entire galaxy of Steve Jobs & Steve Zuckerberg inspired social media. Would Thoreau consider this a satisfactory answer to our despair?

I'm not sure. Although he did comment on the excitement being promised by the new telegraph line between his Boston and Texas. He sniffed: "But does Boston have anything to say to Texas??"

With or without technology, it's been said about our species that men need to be important, and women need to be loved...! If that conclusions is arguable, this one is not: Both men and women need to be noticed...! To live and die with our song still unsung is intolerable. And so it is we all itch for that 15-minutes-of-fame that seems to be all around us in these media-ized days, but just out of reach.

Notice how by-standers can't resist gawking and waving whenever they see a television crew's camera. Notice, as did the media guru Marshall McLuhan, how these same bystanders will usually watch the crew's monitors rather than the event the crew is shooting. Notice how we can't resist exploding our best smile whenever someone's taking our picture. Notice how fans scream not only for autographs, but oh please just to touch for themselves the Great One they have come to see.

From kids climbing trees and yelling "Look at me!" to wannabes auditioning for American Idol, the Jerry Spring Show, Housewives Of; or simply queuing up to experience the privilege of being in the same television studio with...well, with whomever is going to be guesting this day.

[ Personal Note: I was the masked mystery guest for a Bob Newhart Roast in town. The nearby dinner guests became insanely curious about who I was. As one woman squealed, "You're famous aren't you! Will you sign my napkin?" For her, I simply had to be someone important whose signature she could take home as a prize. When the mask later came off, so did her squeal! ]

The international paparazzi -- weaponed to the teeth with the latest communication technologies -- have become an entirely new sub-set of the human species. A rapacious legion of blood-suckers who live on exploiting the fame of the famous. While at the very same time the famous exploit the power of the paparazzi. Meanwhile we -- the non-famous -- condemn this strange symbiosis while at the same time savoring every smarmy detail.

The writers of Genesis tried to explain this quixotic human appetite. Long before Freud or Shakespeare or even Paris Hilton, Genesis remarked on our desperately inquisitive need to know. Back then it was an apple. Right now it's virtually anything or anyone the media has instructed us is important.

Enter stage right -- Sarah Palin! History's latest spear-carrier to become the play's 15-minute star. Attention fellow spear-carriers: are you ready for YOUR cue??

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Once upon a time not so long ago there was a virginal mood upon the land. Reflected in the Mickey Rooney-and-Judy Garland flicks of the 30s, the Doris Day-and-Rock Hudson films of the 50s, along with the smoky love songs of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Sure, people drew outside the lines back then; but few flaunted it.

In today's more fluid ethical culture, there aren't many lines aside from homicide or treason that we can't cross legally. Or at least comfortably. Surely not today's custom of falling in and out of beds and loves. This is more properly understood as the freedom to be who we are, however we are, with whomever we are. A new 20th C pill and philosophy freed us from the archaic chains of an outworn Judaic-Christian ethos. Thank you very much.

But here's the funny thing. That ancient ethos wore so long and so well that we can still spot anthropological evidence of it among surviving elders of that traditional friends-first-lovers-later prescription for love. Tracking this trail will often bring you to couples holding veined hands on park benches... strolling the Loop side by side....attending churches, concerts, and yep old Mickey-and-Judy film festivals.

Today's cooler culture will occasionally pause in amused wonder. How can they stand it. If any of the local elders are celebrating a 50th or a 75th wedding anniversary -- well, that's motive enough for some eager twentysomething reporter to get out there with a camera and an interview. I mean, being young and cool doesn't prevent you from being polite and oh so indulgent.

Thus the inevitably perky interview question: "What must it be like...?" But even if that old married couple could find the exact words, could that young unattached single really understand? Would they really want to understand? Would anyone today?

Perhaps the answer's blowin' in the wind. Perhaps another of those collective feelings in which a society has traveled so far in one direction, the other seems to have a whole new appeal to it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Now here's a peculiar trio: The dead lawyer Clarence Darrow, the ditsy blond Paris Hilton, and the declamatory ex-governor/lover Arnold Schwarzenegger. Each in their own way helps reflect our times.

Darrow always advised: "History keeps repeating itself, which is one of the things wrong with history." Then as if to prove it, Schwarzenegger just donated an 8-foot, 600-pound statue of himself to his hometown in Austria, while Hilton has been busy being photographed handing out $100 bills on the impoverished streets of India. Both reminding us once again how history really is the same old story: The rich & powerful busy being rich & powerful; while the rest look on with a combustible mixture of admiration and resentment.

Usually this mixture doesn't combust. Usually we're kept pacified by our century's version of ancient Rome's bread-and-circuses. We call them movies-and-malls. Or kept pacified by Yankee humor as in Hallmark's latest card for your jobless friends: "Don't think of it as losing your job; think of it as a time out between stupid bosses!"

But then pacification lasts only so long. After awhile -- watching Congress be Congress, and budgets being busted by foreign wars -- the jobless grow restless. Crime rates spike. Dropouts grow. Sit-ins and street-protests flash. In cities like Cairo, London, now New York. The rich & powerful are distressed, even disturbed. How is is that the poor & powerless expect us to save them from their own stupidities! How is it that our recently criticized municipal workers (eg. cops, firefighters, teachers, street crews) can't do a better job with the ignorance and criminality of this rabble!

In Europe as well as the United States there have been some long-standing theories on these matters. They have to do with whispered theories about values...IQs...musical tastes jeans and even climate. That last one is one of those enduring theories which in Europe pits the Teutonic work ethic of the North against the Mediterranean happiness ethic of the South. Ditto the states north and south of our own Mason-Dixon line.

What's going on here?

The Middle East may not be the only streets where this mixture of admiration and resentment catches fire. Once fires start burning, it's hard to predict them. Harder to control them. As with every large-scale forest fires, there's an upside and a downside. The down is the vast destruction of the grand forest that was once there. The up is the prospect for a whole new and grander forest.

Of course if you're not interested in forests, there's always the movies and malls....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


We have this habit of slicing and dicing our complex and confusing world into bite-size pieces. Easier to sort through. We intuitively break down big thoughts and complex ideologies into handy labels, headlines, soundbites. It's like living on cliff-notes...! Learning by little-izing...!

While short-cutting and cutting short is hardly the wisest way to understand a complex world, we do it anyway. And quite often into just two easy-to-manage halves. You know -- it's either good or bad, right or wrong, my way or the highway. OK, If we insist on this arrangement, then lets consider for a moment the most basic, simplistic, un-nuanced of all half-and-half slices: On one hand the powerful, on the other the powerless.

Simple. Basic. Neat. Historically and painfully accurate, because there hasn't been a time or a people that can't be so divided. Oh sure, the names change, but the slice-down-the-middle doesn't. Kings and peasants...Lords and serfs...Upstairs and Downstairs...Owners and workers...Wall Street and Main Street.

Take that last one: Wall Street/Main Street. Nothing is that simple, but right now a dazed and angry people are struggling to keep it just that simple so they can focus their many diverse feelings into one non-complicated-passion. As the demonstrators along Wall Street are chanting: You're the 1%, we're the 99%. And when some of the high-rollers were spotted the other day looking down at the street protests while sipping champagne -- well, that one picture said it all. You were almost waiting for one of the imperious hedge fund managers to shout out Marie Antoinette's infamous 18th C taunt to the powerless rebels of her times: "Let them eat cake...!"

In 21st C America everyone is quick to say it. Our nation is divided in half. Right down the middle. Which is why nothing is getting down. Compromise and consensus have disappeared as the ship of state seems to be twisting and struggling against the headwinds of history. Winds that have, since our post-WWII domination, shifted sharply against us at exactly the wrong time.

Now the powerless could study the history of the Great Depression. Or examine the pounds of pages gorging out of the Federal Reserve, Congress an the White House. But that's too complicated and time consuming. Especially for powerless little people -- from the angry streets of New York to the parched farms of Texas to the evangelical congregations of the Bible Belt. The anger is now....the frustration is real....the passions are looking for a person or persons to hoist on a cross.

When the time comes for the powerless to start saying to the powerful "Time is up!" then the time for reasoned debate and rational dialog is slipping fast away. Talking about breaking things down to their basic halves, what we have here then may be another fork in the road of our history: A bold new leadership or one more mesmerizing demagogue. Are you listening, Wall Street....?

Monday, October 3, 2011


You get one guess. Who's the most important person in the world...? At least our 21st C world...?

If you guessed the Pope, Dali Lama, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Stephen Spielberg or Oprah Winfrey, those would be acceptable entries. However, nowhere near close. You see, by all pragmatic measures, the most important person is actually many persons. None of them well known.

I refer to the world's casting directors.

Stop shaking your head long enough to let me make the case. For a moment just think about all those people in the public eye who you DO think of as the most important person(s) in our world. Think again. Not one stands there in the power of the global spotlight without having been carefully cast for the role. In show business we call them casting directors. In the Vatican we call them the College of Cardinals. In the Washington we call them the party's power-brokers. Even quarterbacks are in many ways "cast" by owners in order to look the part [ try to find many NFL quarterbacks who don't fit on the cover of Sports Illustrated ].

Look, in every age, in every field, looks count. A fist-full of studies prove the point starting with the "cuteness quotient" of kindergarten kids. Today we're living in an age in which looks not only count for something...they virtually count for everything. The quotients vary -- cuteness, brainyness, holiness -- yet there will always be some standard by which the casting directors choose their man or their woman. We the audience -- voters, fans, true believers -- we intuitively require thid of those we shall follow.

Consciously or not [usually very consciously] the deciders take into consideration what every casting director in Hollywood has known forever: Casting the right player is 90% of the job. Think of all the stories of all the wrong might-have-beens in the movies: Lana Turner instead of Vivian Leigh in "Gone With the Wind," George Raft instead of Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca," Robert Redford instead of Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

Does this make the world's casting directors no more than skillful manipulators...? audiences little more than sheep being led by wolves...? everything in today's culture just another example of Show Business...?

I leave you to cast the answer.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Listen to some of our jabberwocky motivation gurus and you'll be believing what they preach: "If you can dream it you can do it. You're your own reality."

No, no, fellas. You're thinking of psychotics...!

But would it be too psychotic to propose an unscientific answer to Stephen Hawking's search for the Theory-Of-Everything? It might begin with an expanded concept of the role of Serendipity in our everyday lives. Literally, Serendipity means bumping into good things by accident. But now lets expand that to bumping into all sorts of things by accident. When you do, you kinda get a theory-of-everything for what's ever happened to you and to the people and nations around you.

Watch me.

If my Father had not bought a home in the community of Austin in Chicago in 1940...we would not have been in the local parish of St Angela...I would not have met a bumptious director of parish variety shows named Jean Lynch...if I hadn't met Jean, I would never have known about her new Oak Park Playhouse theatre company...if I hadn't joined this company I wouldn't have met friends like Bob Newhart and Kim Novak...if I hadn't met them, I wouldn't have met Joan Cantello, the brown-eyed beauty I would someday marry...if I hadn't married Joan. we would not have been gifted with three amazing children...and if they weren't here, then all the lives they've touch would not have been so touched.

Well, you get the idea. An idea that applies to you as well.

Now If we expand this application to history, think all the remarkably serendipitous events that coincidentally triggered the rise and fall of so many civilizations and history-makers. Including the rise of ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece and Israel...the conquests and impact of Rome...the Protestant Reformation...WWI....the Normandy Invasion...the atomic bomb....not to mention the election of virtually every president in American history. With more space we could recount the precise co-incidentals around which these epic events played out. Including the sudden storms, migraine headaches, missed messages, accidental revelations, and last-minute-skeletons that no one could have possibly predicted let alone planned.

OK, I'm not a Stephen Hawking. I'm certainly not a motivational guru. But I am experientially aware of just how little of our chaotic world -- nature, economies, personalities -- can be squeezed into any man-made plan. [As the ancient story has it, tell the gods your plans then listen to them laugh]. And so while I'm not suggesting we sit like a rock to be kicked down the road by Fate...I am suggesting we should be better prepared to expect a great many serendipitous kicks along the way. Which might help us roll with those kicks better than we have.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Darwin's boys have done it again. Our evolutionary biologists continue to study what makes us us. Now a British research team from Oxford has carried the study of our endorphins a major step further. Granting that our species benefits from the release of these chemicals during sex and exercise, Professor Robin Dunbar tells that belly-laughs do much the same.

However, there was nothing laughable about the way his team applied painful levels of cold and pressure to the arms of their volunteers. They were trying to quantify the different level of benefit to belly-laughers in contrast to just gigglers. Don't laugh; well, at least until you know their results.

They had the volunteers watching funny videos. It turned out, the belly-laughers were able to sustain the cold/pressure 10% more than the gigglers. They didn't report what videos were played, but I understand Dunbar is known among his colleagues as an avid Fox News viewer. Which could certainly account for many of his more hysterical endorphins.

The team went on to report the physical effort of uncontrollable laughter makes our brains release these chemicals, thereby relaxing and relieving our pain. A protocol that has been effectively used with cancer patients in hospices.

Taking the long view, the research team further suggested: "Being able to really laugh out loud has given humans a unique evolutionary bonding advantage over the animal kingdom where only chimps can laugh, but then only by panting."

This layman is left to imagine a kind of human trifecta: Having sex on a treadmill while watching Bill O'Reilly on television!

But I digress. Back to Professor Dunbar. He is also renowned for another discovery. According to his anthrolpological study, there is a cognitive/affective limit to the number of friends -- actual or virtual -- that the average human can reasonably manage. Which sounds about right to me.

I mean, if there were more than 150 of us on that treadmill...well just imagine!