Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I've known a few Hollywood cameramen in my time.  I can assure you both they and the other dozen or so crew members on the set will agree: During those sweaty bedroom scenes, we're almost as  embarrassed as the stars. And yet movies, like everything else, reflect their times. Like it or not.

The times usually go by the name "culture." By which is meant a particular form or stage of civilization. In America we give them names: The Colonial Age...The Gilded Age...The Jazz Age...The Age of Anxiety. We haven't agreed yet on a label for the early 21st C. How about The Animal Age? A time when all those old post-Victorian repressions have been swept away by the post-Freudian Sixties: If it feels right, how can it be wrong!

Now here's what's so ironic. Currently the Victorian novels of the Brontes, Jane Austen and Mary Shelley are once again selling briskly. PBS's Masterpiece Theatre features their works along with the Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock Holmes series to high praise and viewership.
What's going on  here?

Perchance our sweaty how-can-it-be-wrong culture can't entirely resist the charm of the form-and-formality of another and nattier time. No, the young generation is not about to adopt bustles and spats. Maybe just take a curious peek at a previous culture which has taken on the charm that many previous times do. Like watching the Oscars when a string of gutsy guttural winners are followed at the microphone by the sudden eloquence of a Helen Mirren or a Christopher Plummer.

Oh My God....! Do people still dress and speak and bear themselves with such articulate dignity? Yes, yes t
hey do.

So....!  Just maybe the old movie fade-outs in the bedroom were more MRI-exciting than keeping the cameras rolling while naked limbs and breasts flop and grunt in their own heavy-breathing sweat. Thin here the pulsed-up thrill of a bikini undulating down the beach versus seeing her buck naked in the nearby shower stall. It's the tease not the totality. The hint not the pubic hair. The technicolor  dream of a Renaissance nude versus the black-and-white reality of an actual nude.

But then I am so old-fashioned Victorian that I suspect Victoria's Secret's real secret is not laughing at the old's their size-6 models laughing at all those size-16 buyers who actually believe these exotic items are going to make them look exotic too.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Today's GPS systems are one more modern marvel. They seem capable of locating virtually anything anywhere anytime. Or can they...?

I tried a simple experiment knowing it would fail -- locating that special long-ago-and-faraway in my life. To be sure, neither computers nor satellites promise to do what memory alone can. Which means these marvels cannot conjure up on their screens those special where-and-when's in our lives. The June graduation night embracing dear friends we promised never to leave...the shoreline where first we  met....the celebration where all that was you sang and drank with all that had made them so important for so long....the altar where you locked hands, hearts and vows before death did you part.

So it is agreed then!  Machines, marvels that they are, have their limits. A formidable thought which came back to mind during a night-long conversation with a geneticist friend. Over Milanese pasta and Tuscany wines, my gifted friend hoped his career would someday prove part of a genetic revolution.

"Our genes are the code to our future," he asserted. "They come down to us from our past intact, but someday we will be able to alter them for our future. A future maybe without the predestination of cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's." He spoke with enthusiasm of steroids, growth hormones, genetic engineering, and other enhancements current research is beginning to grasp.

It was more than the wine that heated our usual dinner exchange. I asked: Isn't tinkering with humans tricky? He smiled: Skeptics have grumbled that ever since the ancient Greeks.  I insisted: I always sound out-of-step with the times, but who's to say our steps are heading in the right direction? He shook his head the way he usually does when he thinks me hopelessly unaware: If humanity refused to probe the unknown, you and I would still be talking 15th C Spanish about our a flat earth!

Which was of course the classic blade to the heart with which modernists slay medievalists.

Bleeding a bit as I usually am after these long lovely dinners playing rival gods, I couldn't resist my own blade. "I grant your mother and father might theoretically have been genetically enhanced as better workers, bakers, PTA members, and voters. But tell me how this would have made them better parents? Grant me this much. Tinkering with the parts -- like genes and hormones -- can have terribly unintended consequences with the whole. The whole which over these last 84 years has brought who-you-are to this dinner tonight."

He closed his eyes with his you-don't-get-it silence. I closed mine hoping when they re-opened, he would still be the same genetically-imperfect friend he has always been.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Another campaign. Another time to leak dirty little secrets. Past affairs, past lies, past deals, past birth certificates & resumes. But the relevant word, my friend, is "past." All usually in the person's past. Long ago, far away, and probably totally disconnected from the current campaign. Besides, if we were to score the two nominees, their secrets will tend to cancel each other out. So lets start from here and now, more than then and there.

Next, there's you and me. Running for no public office, but also hoping to keep private a few of our own dirty-little-secrets. Hey, secrets come with the territory. Three of the most universal:

* That PERSON in your life who seemed to come out of nowhere, drifted away to somewhere, but for those few intervening weeks or years made an immortal difference. To your feelings, your beliefs, your visions, or maybe most lasting of all your heart. Funny how we often forget. Even funnier, how often he or she probably still remembers!

* That IDEA in your life which broke into your consciousness one unpredicted day with a swift sure insistence. Birthed perhaps in a classroom, a book, a pulpit, a march. No, you didn't see it coming, for it was so totally foreign to your values. Yet, those values have never quite been the same since!

* That lucky BREAK in you life which remarkably and freely landed there in front of you on a route you thought you had mapped out for yourself.  Fate? Karma? Destiny? God? The name makes little difference; the impact does. In our most brutally honest moments, we can ask ourself: why in all the world did that extraordinary turn of events turn up in my life!

And so, my fellow secret-keepers, while the political secrets start to fly thick and furious....maybe a little down-time to remember some of our own. And how they got us here.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Socrates is always a good guy to quote: "Beauty is a short-lived tyranny." Ask any Hollywood glamor girl to explain that. Next, consider this twist to Socrates: "Being best is also a short-lived tyranny."

By all accounts, America is "the best." At least in terms of wealth, power, productivity, and global influence. But where does the tyranny thing come in? In the relentless pressure to remain the best. Like the fastest-gun in the Old West, there isn't a saloon or a hotel bed where you can rest easy. You know there's always someone out there who's hungry to out-draw you and thereby claim the crown.

But now here's where this tyranny is so diabolical. Most of this pressure to produce is self-inflicted. Pride always drives the best to remain the best. And at first that seems so perfectly natural and right. After all, who wants to be second best...?

Before that felicitous cliche is allowed to wobble on its own merits, re-consider those merits. Throughout the history of the modern Olympics, the difference between the winner and the runner up has always, always been in the half minutes, seconds or  even mili-seconds. When they return home, Silver eats, sleeps, loves and dies no differently than Gold. More to the point, when a Sicilian farmer tucks his children into bed, he is no less proud or fulfilled than the Wall Street CEO. Really! Unless you're counting their respective number of bathrooms, iPads, cars and migraines.

True, all this is fiercely counter-intuitive to everything in the American DNA! Our impetus is always to go, to excel, to win, to be-the-best. In the light of that arguable wisdom, today most Americans will embrace without question our need to: increase productivity [regardless of layoffs]...slash spending [regardless of who suffers]...compute faster [regardless of how the brain can no longer keep pace] bigger armies [regardless of the military-industrial-complex of which we are all now brutally aware]...oh, and lately this idea of by-passing the intellectual experience of college to go directly into the wealth of Silicon Valley [regardless of how few Steve Jobs there really are out there].

Tyranny, once unleashed, never rests. Like the gunslinger in the Old West, the American Goliath of the New West keeps running faster and harder. Because...well, that's what you do when you're in the lead and have never thought deep enough about what losing the lead might actually mean to you. No, not to your industries and stock markets and missile launchers. But to your less-threatened peace of mind at night tucking your children into a bed few others lust to steal, because your bed and your home is not all that much different than theirs.

You know -- that illusive, counter-intuitive thing prophets and poets have always tried to preach.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Next Tuesday, prominent historian Nial Ferguson hosts Part II of his PBS documentary "Civilization: The West and the Rest." Part I showed how the West has dominated these last 500 years because of such assets as capitalism and science. Now he'll have to explain why our scientifically sophisticated capitalist Goliath is showing signs of weakness in the face of new rivals like China, Brazil, India.

Just guessing here, but  likely the reason is that only one of our 5 national institutions -- the Military --  remains a strong unifying  force among our 330 million diverse citizens. The others -- Government, Law, Schools, Media and Religion -- no longer provide the same baling-wire effects they once did.

Our energetically diverse population -- like wild bales of cotton or wheat -- requires something that can hold and bind us together. These 5 institutions have been around these 500 years, performing their job as best they can. But lately not as bast as they could!

Here's guessing Ferguson next Tuesday will tells us what we should already know. Government is now held in suspicion more than admiration...the Law is seen working for the rich more than the rest ...Schools are using more money to produce poorer results...the Media is slanted by whomever owns them... Religion, well it's no longer something we can all reverently agree on as once we did.

This Memorial Day we will witness grand celebrations of Americans coming together in honor of their nation. What we will not see are those same Americans returning home as patriotically bound together as they just were at those events. Four of the five strands of baling wire are simply not holding as well as they once did.

Join me the next night to hear how Ferguson explains our national problem. Lets hope the gang in Washington and Wall Street and Silicon Valley are listening too. Not because Ferguson has all the answers, but because they really need to start thinking historically not just politically. Otherwise, their grandchildren and ours will be reading about the American Empire right along with all thos

Friday, May 25, 2012


A Secret Garden...? You had one. I did too. We all did. But somehow, with on-set adulthood, we lost it. This is how it is with very serious 21stC rational adults. And yet, somewhere the fragrance of our childhood's Secret Garden still giggles in our thoughts.

Far too many of us permit those gardens to languish in the mists of ignored memories. Others, like me, recall them with a furious affection. Not embarrassed by them so much as enthused. After all, that Garden was most likely the most rapturous hideaway we shall ever know. May I share excerpts from a colleague [Emily Fox Gordon] whose furious affections help reassure me I do not giggle alone:

"The happiness of childhood is existential. Not psychological. Adults forget that, probably because of envy....As a small child I was wildly, unconditionally happy. By that I don't mean I was 'well adjusted;' I mean that all my receptors were attuned to the world...I was happy because I felt myself to be safe and free, but also because I managed to maintain three happy, if unsubstantiated and mutually contradictory, beliefs...I believed in fairies, in God, and in history....What I feel when I summon up those images is my aboriginal happiness, magically retrieved....It's true my happiness was founded on a childish misunderstanding of reality. Nevertheless, I was happy, and my happiness was real. Only in stories can conflict and sadness be recorded, but when I was small, my life had not yet become a story. It was not made of incidents, susceptible of being linked into a continuing narrative. Instead, life was simply a succession of moments of radiant apprehension...Where I grew up is still in my mind, absolutely intact and eerily accessible. But only to me. The purer the happiness, the less communicable it is....Now as an adult, the story I tell over and over is the one everyone has learned for themselves -- the story about how happiness is lost."

I wish I had written that. But no matter. I once lived that. If you were lucky -- in some tight little neighborhood -- you and your peers lived it too. And if you are extraordinarily lucky, you can still share your garden with special others. After all, what else are special gardens for...?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Uncle Harry used to give me a little wink: "Essere intelligente...! Be smart, kid, and learn it now. You gotta live life forwards, but really you can only understand it backwards." And yet I ask you, who's smart enough at 13 to understand one of life's biggest jokes? The Uncle Harry's of the world can warn us, but to get it we gotta live it.  And somehow we all do, don't we.

Love...? Looking backwards, when she married him he was a time-bomb; now with him ticking even faster but with four kids still in school, she can't really undo what's been done!

Lifestyle...? Looking backwards, why didn't he eat more vegetables and smoke less cigarettes like mom always said; now, fat with emphysema, time's run out!

Career...? Looking backwards, she should have gone to med school even though women back then weren't welcome; now with a dead-end job, it's too late to start all over!

War...? Looking backwards, invading Iraq was like breaking something in the store you now have to own; what was I thinking!

Margaret Mead observed: "It's cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age." Like Uncle Harry told me, if only we could be smarter sooner. And yet here's the thing. They say we only use 5 to 10% of our brain's capacities. So why can't we do better.

A few recommendations. More and better education for children...more and better psycho-therapy for adults....more and better respect for the wisdom of elders. Unlike ages past where humanity dwelled in ill-informed ignorance, today there's no excuse. We have instant, fingertip access to a hundred million information sources from Astronomy to Zeitgeist.  No excuse for not better transforming humanity's past regrets into present progress.

Oh wait. A warning!

Too much information can be just as counterproductive as too little. How many different reports are we going to keep getting about coffee and chocolate, vitamin B and vitamin E, good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, PSA and no PSA, inoculations and no inoculations, having children and not having children. With our new Information Age has come a whole new species: The Expert. Generating expert information by the bazillion bytes every day.

Here's a counte-intutiive thought. Instead of giving up coffee and chocolate, maybe it's time to give up reading. At least until the experts can remember: "Essere Intelligente!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Chicago's recent NATO Summit is one more example of how our species -- from caves to skyscrapers -- still huddles together seeking security in a dangerous world. For all our bravado with fast cars, big homes, and large portfolios, scratch bravado's surface and you find a desperate need for security.

The evidential numbers are staggering: guns...locks... alarms...gated communities...police patrols... security systems and alliances of all kinds. Big Sur painter Henry Miller has a lusty opinion about our fixation: "The man who looks for security, even in the mind, is like a man who would chop off his limbs in order to have artificial ones that will give him no pain or trouble."

It is spoken in the true spirit of the American West with its colorful history of the lone rider conquering all with only his gun and his guts. And yet even the mythical Cowboy had to learn that once you leave the land, you'll need something more.

That "more" comes with a network of safeguards from stoplights and pedestrian crossings all the way to standing armies and international alliances. We are no longer riding tall in the saddle, master of all we  survey. As much as we long for -- and enjoy watching -- our favorite Clint Eastwood or George Lucas  hero-movies, we leave the theatre just one small member of a very large scared population.

Two questions. How much of our independence should we surrender for our security...? How much independence do we really have to surrender...? Once we've shored up our sense of Independence with enough cars,  homes, and portfolios, the second question stands larger than even the first. Its answer will be different for different people. And yet won't it always come down in the end to what we ourselves believe about ourselves? How, deep in the recesses and sanctums of our best being, we  perceive our personal strengths and weaknesses?

Some call these recesses and sanctums the Self. The Id. The Consciousness. The Essence. The Soul. The precise name for them isn't all that important. Precisely how we confront those questions IS.

Monday, May 21, 2012


We exist in a world bristling with pleasures and pains. Of the pains, cancer is arguably the worst. However, there is no argument about which pleasure is the best. The female orgasm. Science has gone to astonishing MRI lengths to quantify this fact..

Perhaps that explains why the intoxicating pleasure of sex is woven into 95% of every major film produced. The look...the embrace...the clinch...the final fulfillment. Somehow -- even in the middle of the most horrific war in the most remote jungle or planet -- somewhere there will be a man and a woman. Brought together to satisfy the audience's need to believe that everyone-anywhere-can- know-love!

If climactic love scenes are iconic in our culture, there are others. Almost as required to winning an audience. Among these -- the quintessential car chase. I mean, if passion is the name of the game, car chases are one of the trumps you play along the way.

As rigorously choreographed as Kabuki Theater, Hollywood car chases feature four essentials:

* There must be a hero we can care about, and a villain we can snarl about. The hero usually is driving along minding his or her own business. Suddenly the villain roars out in a black sedan or, whenever bigger dangers are called for, an ugly 18 wheeler!

* If this is happening in the countryside, the highway needs a minimum of a dozen sharp curves stretching over the most cinematically dangerous cliffs the advance team could locate. If this is happening in the city, there must be a credible maze of side-streets stuffed with food carts, fleeing pedestrian stunt men, and at least one smashed display window. An occasional erupting fire hydrant is always a nice touch!

* The crash -- to satisfy the audience's now ginned up energy level -- there has to be some kind of climax. Fiery crashes are  the standard. If in the city, well they just crash. Ah, but if in the countryside, they will always screech off the edge of those cliffs and tumble ton after ton into the ravine below. Where California wreckage services are hired to clean up the results at a very nifty fee!

* The payoff -- and this also is playing to the audience's appetites -- is either the hero survives [one or two broken limbs are acceptable, but if possible not the face for the later clinch]; or the villain dies while the hero looks down triumphantly [but not too triumphant so as not to appear cynically happy]!

And you thought car chases just sorta happened. Next time a close look at another American cinematic icon -- the Western gun fight.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


All through human history there have always been old folks. However, never so damn many of us! What's going on here? Lot of explanations, but in a way they all come down to this basic irony: Young people have been making more old people, and now aren't quite sure what to do with us.

 Our bright young medical scientists are prolonging lives. Great. I'm 81. A hundred years ago, I would probably have been dead at last 30 years. What's happened is not only a Population Explosion but simultaneously a Health Explosion. At least in most of the nations north of the equator.

As a result, government officials are in a budget quandary...Hallmark Cards is in a selling bonanza ... and grandchildren have more grandparents in their lives than ever before in history.

While everyone sorts out these consequences -- both good and bad -- one pattern has emerged loud and clear. With elders like us hanging around longer, our children have found a way to avoid the old tribal custom of "housing the folks in the back room" once we're too feeble to go it alone. Behold the multi-billion dollar senior home industry.

While the experts slice-and-dice this new development, the really big issue remains unanswered. What is the best role for those of us living longer, but still in decent health? In ancient cultures -- and many non-western ones still today -- the elders have traditionally been seen as the "wise ones," "the voices of experience," "the prophets."

Do today's older-aged elders retain that status? deserve that status?earned that status? Something for a young culture like ours to think about the next time they drive over to Sunset Manor to visit us....

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Back in the Middle Ages the big story was Jesus vs Satan, with our souls the prize. Then along came the 18th C Enlightenment to advise us Reason not Religion was the way to live this story. And so it's no surprise that by today thousands of churches are empty in Europe and emptying in the United States. After all, reason dispels most of  those old medieval superstitions.

And yet -- almost as if the human heart needs what superstition can provide -- we have found new Satans to fear and fight. The popular Gothic fiction of zombies, vampires, werewolves, and mad exorcists. Apparently the strict, cold logic of Reason proved to be a sparse diet for our repressed fears and revulsions. Humanity still seems to need the dark corners of our mind served with more than the thin white light of Reason.

The popularity of "Twilight, " "Dark Shadows," "The DaVinci Code," and "Harry Potter" speaks to this need. The need to be afraid of the dark, the mysterious, and the unearthly. But then in the end to somehow defeat the evil ones and save our soul.

The 19th C had the eerie Gothic novels of the Brontes, the horrifying stories of Poe, along with the birth of Frankenstein, and the wild imagery of Romantic poets like Shelley and composers like Wagner. Then in our own centuries the screen has been able to capture the entire range of the  occult lurking in our lives.

Authors like Elizabeth Lowry writes in her "Gothicka" that traditional, mainstream Religion is not simply disappearing. It's being replaced by a New Age kind of religiosity in which we ourselves can become part of the occult. Kissing, marrying, birthing with the demonic. "Thereby finding the transcendent within ourselves," as Lowry puts it.

She would get a rousing argument from today's inflamed Fundamentalists who see the danger of the satanic and demonic everywhere in our culture. Starting in Hollywood and LasVegas all the way to the college campus and the White House..

So here's the question, Gothic fans. Has Satan lost his footing in the battle for our souls...? Or has he cleverly disguised himself in the shape of zombies and vampires, luring us to the same hell only by different routes...?

Friday, May 18, 2012


One of life's cruelest sins is Exodus speaking of the-sins-of-the-father-visiting-their-sons. As if the Chicago Cubs didn't have enough trouble, their owner-son Tom Ricketts now has to live with the recently revealed political sin of his father Joe. Seems Joe hates our President so much he was willing to dump $10 million into a smarmy race-hate campaign.

Hating this much is in itself a sin. But then the human race -- both on and off the playing fields -- can be a pretty sinful lot. Especially pride, considered the mother of all sins. Pride, of course, has  price. Last year alone Americans spent $30 billion on weight-loss programs and $10 billion on cosmetic procedures. The numbers are even more staggering when compared to the average price tag of $700 million for a new hospital.

Currently pride is working at warp speed as Silicon Valley's blue-jeaned whiz-kids are preparing us for a new version of Homo Sapiens. Traditionally there has been Male and Female. At the current rate, there will eventually be Computer-Androgynous. Each of us walking and thinking with our very own enhanced brain circuitry with which we can accomplish anything anywhere. Thought-triggered files of data, movies, music, GPS reports, and screen communication with anyone programmed into us.

Pride is a funny thing. It can build cities or the missiles to destroy them. It can cure disease or ignite plagues. Right now pride is hard at work in the Australian shipyards of billionaire Clive Palmer. He just announced plans to build Titanic II. Arrival date 2016. Cost whatever it takes. Fate to be determined.

Meanwhile back at the Cubs Wrigley Field, son Tom may have to confront father Joe's waiting critics. Somewhere between his sky box and his waiting limo.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Ever watch a cartoon when the little character dashes off a cliff but remains in the air...? A classic bit which always has the same punchline. He suddenly looks down, realizes he's in mid-air, and plummets.

There's a lesson in the joke. We take certain things in life for granted. When suddenly they're not there anymore, trauma. Say like today's report by the US Census Bureau. For the first time in our history there were less White births recorded than non-White. America has reached the expected tipping point when it begins to become an increasingly multi-ethnic culture.

The consequences of this will be mixed. Minorities, college professors, bleeding-heart-liberals, and gays will approve. White evangelicals, gun-toting Rednecks, Skinheads, and Sarah Palin will gag. The halls of Congress, radio call-in programs, and Twitter will light up.

But leaving that blaze behind, I'm thinking here of some other and simpler examples of life without what we take for granted. Smaller moments which nevertheless will have real consequences. Imagine with me an America in which:

* There are no TV commercials >> When do we get a bathroom break?

* There are no campaign ads >> Who do we have to hate?

* There are no show business award ceremonies >> How can we live without celebrities?

* There are no more research teams studying coffee >> What can we panic about?

* There are no more UFO sightings >> What secret government conspiracies are left?

* The Chicago Cubs win the World Series >> What noble existential suffering can I still count on?

Just like that crazy cartoon character without anything beneath him to count on, earthlings like me dread the day. But then "dreading" is what earthlings are good at. I plan to plummet with dignity...!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This month there may be as many armed police on Chicago streets as there are in Damascus. With the approach of the NATO conference, the city's blue army is swarming in to protect the good guys from the bad guys. Of course, not everyone agrees on who the good guys are.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is the ones with the most guns are deemed the good guys. Still, the lone rifle can flip the universe on its axis. Every angry warrior out there dreams of another Dallas. In addition to serving their messianic cause, there's also the thrill of the hunt. One gunman able to infiltrate a wall of swat teams and helicopters. History, here I come!

Another lesson may be realizing our repressed dependence on our police [AKA, the government]. Right now there is across the land the latest generation of no-taxation-without-representation-so- down-with-King George III. The classic Yankee cockiness:  I'm-my-own-master. And yet, if one of Hollywood's spy thrillers were to actually become one of Chicago's headlines this week, listen to the cry from the stunned citizenry: My-God-where-were-the-police??

Writing this within a few miles of Chicago's International Airport, I can hear the whirl of security helicopters and catch sight of the blocked entrances to our expressways. The same police now hampering our freedom of movement in this locked down city -- you know, the same police you complain about taking quick bribes and living off fat pensions! -- these are the men and women who we take for granted when it comes to our safety and security.

But ask anyone who knows. Our everyday safety and security is their everyday job. Yeah, they do stop a lot for coffee and donuts. But between stops they're the only ones between you and the jungle out there. Not only for this one conference, but for every day between now and the next.

I'm toasting you  fellas with my donut........!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Lets get one thing straight. The box office bonanza of THE AVENGERS should be no surprise. We're a nation of avengers. Revenge is hardwired into the human psyche. Especially in the case of Americans who have traditionally seen themselves as conquerors of all that is wrong in their way. The wild frontier, the wild red man, the wild Nazis, and now the wild terrorists.

Maybe our national sense of rage has been heightened by the hottest first quarter in our history. Every state was 8.6 degrees above normal. Could abnormal weather affect abnormal behaviors? Say like the newest New York game "subway chicken" [track jumping teens waiting as long as possible to get off]. Or the spike in porn site hits on the Web [4.4 billion per month, triple CNN or ESPN]. Or the rage of Super PAC political ads [70% negative so far in contrast to 9% at this point in 2008].

While the experts test the data, the data itself keeps piling up. Like the Wisconsin man last month who jumped in front of his wife's Dodge Durango to block her from the polls where she was going to vote for the Recall of Republican Governor Walker [the man's brother defended the action: "Crazy liberal nuts like his wife are always pulling this crap!]

Anthropologists identify us as "the higher animals," and yet there are few "lower animals" who will kill
another for what we call avenging-a-wrong. They kill for food and survival; we often kill for power and glory. The difference is the beasts of the field stop when it's over. We sit down and write histories.

Because histories are written by the winners [AKA, the avengers], we dutifully learn the bad guys from the good guys. A powerful patriotic lesson about who to jeer and who to cheer. Bad guys like Hitler and Qaddafi are easy. Others are not that simple. Consider some examples: Henry VIII, Napoleon, FDR, Bush. Too iffy? OK, what about closer to home: Daley, Obama, Ossie Guillen, your mother-in-law?

Here's an idea. Instead of putting on your mask and avenging all the bad guys out there, first try checking who wrote those histories. Then try following-the-facts. Which usually means following-the-money....

Sunday, May 13, 2012


What's a sophisticated generation like ours still doing with old-fashioned horoscopes, superstitions, apparitions, and Tarot cards? I'll tell you what. Like our ancient tribal ancestors, we cling to whatever glints of meaning we can still find in an otherwise dark, random world. Call these glints fate, destiny, karma, science, or God, everyone needs some sense of meaning to their life. Otherwise everything and everyone is a pointless roll of the dice we can't even hold.

If knocking-on-wood or grabbing our lucky charm embarrasses our rational selves, could it be doing anything for our non-rational selves? Of all people, scientists are lately saying: A lot!  In his book "The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking" Matthew Hutson writes: "The good news is that superstitious thought, or magical thinking, even as it misrepresents reality, has its advantages. It offers psychological benefits that logic and science can't always provide: namely a sense of control and meaning."

Turn off your computer for a moment and give vent to your Santa-Claus-Days. Let your non-rational self [distinct from your irrational self ] scan current research studies into the realm of the superstitious:

*Psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne reports: "Golfers using what they were told is a lucky ball sank 35% more putts."

* Anthropologist Richard Sosis of the University of Connecticut found during Israel's second intifada, "the women in the attacked town of Tzfat who recited psalms benefited with reduced anxiety from their increased sense of control...this so-called teleological reasoning finds intentions and goals behind even evidently purposeless events...and when lacking a visible author, we end up creating an invisible one: God, karma, destiny, whatever."

* Psychologist Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green University reports: "Students who viewed a negative event as part-of-God's-plan showed more growth in its aftermath as they became more open to new perspectives, more intimate in relationships, more persistent in overcoming challenges."

Matthew Hutson concludes: "This isn't to say magical thinking has no downsides. At its worst, it can lead to obsession, fatalism, or psychosis. But without it, the existential angst of realizing we're just impermanent clusters of molecules with no ultimate purpose would overwhelm us. So to believe in magic -- as on some deep level we all do -- does not make you stupid or crazy. It makes you human."

Does anyone doubt their own humanity so much as to doubt this writer's conclusion...?

Friday, May 11, 2012


In these days of locked doors, we don't let just anyone in the house. Wasn't always this way, but that's another story. Yet for all our care and cunning about safety, we let in a legion of strangers every night.

We welcome them in all their Hi-Def glory. We, comfortably situated with drink in hand and slippers on feet; they, energetically roaring through car chases and bedroom sheets. Who are these strangers? Our televised traveling companions along that brief way from our world-of-work soon now into our world-of-dreams.

In selecting these companions, are we not giving expression to a subconscious galaxy of dreams and fears, heroes and villains? This WHO question is easy to answer. Not so the followup WHY question. Why these particular characters? It's a little like taking your own Rorschach Test. Try it.

Fifty years ago, in a somewhat safer if not more repressed time, the cast of characters in our living rooms was generally made of softer stuff: Happy Days...Marcus Welby MD...Leave It To Beaver. Today's counterparts: Jersey Shore...House...The Housewives of New Jersey. A few years back, we howled at Allan Funt's Candid Camera catching people off guard in silly moments. Today's cameras catch people off guard in their bedrooms, bathrooms, back seats of Taxi cabs.

Times change and all television can do is mirror its times. Happily. sometimes those mirrors have turned into headlights. Helping lead the way to new and more refreshing social values. Pacesetters come to mind like the Bill Cosby Show ...Will and Grace...Modern Family.

Like any Rorschach Test, there are no correct answers. You and I invite in whoever pleases our eyes and sates our interest. Still, that nightly guest list of subconscious preferences may warrant some conscious scanning. Look at it this way. If our newest definition of "reality" has shrunk into the size of The Biggest Loser, Shark Tank, Undercover Boss, America's Next Top Model, and the eternal re-runs of the Jerry Springer Show....

...well, I rest my case. And next proceed to double-lock that front door.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Something terrible is happening to our America. The land of the free, home of the brave, headquarters of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, and pride of the NRA. We're suddenly being sissified! You heard me. The mothers and schoolmarms of America have risen up to tear down our national right to bone-crushing sports, men-only clubs, guns galore, and poking fun at ballet, gays and fat people. This isn't a good sign. Why at this rate, great all-American traditions like take-no-enemies in business, free-for-all-bleacher-brawls, and a new-war-every-10-years could eventually disappear!

Now that's not right. That's not American. That's not a good thing for the biggest military power on earth which has already been infested with too damn many gays. At this rate, the world will start thinking of us -- well, as over-civilized like those French dandies. That's no way to run an empire.

Oh, this sort of national demise begins in small subtle ways. Just like the once-mighty Roman Empire. I mean just look at the evidence all around us. Mammas trying to protect their babies from all-American sports like football, soccer, and boxing. Do-gooders babbling about more safety helmets and gun controls. Trouble-makers looking to have homos getting the same rights as the rest of us Americans.

Where does it all end...? I'll tell you where. With the little-ladies-that-lunch and the queer-fringe calling the shots. Hell, the only shots I want to hear are those tearing through the woods so I can get me a few more antlers for my den. Haven't these sissies ever read their Second Amendment? Or checked out some of our great legends like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, George Custer, and Charlton Heston?

That's all I have to say. My work here is done. Now it's up to you to fight the sissification of America wherever you can. Maybe starting in that next bar where you and the boys toast our great country......

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


If you care for polls -- you know, untrained callers asking uninformed people what they think about unrelated topics -- only 3% of us have a favorable view of John Edwards. The ancient Greeks would call this a classic tragedy. The high and mighty falling low because of their own character flaws. But then there's Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" which is also considered a classic tragedy.

How so? Not only because Willy Loman falls, but because his fall represents the fall of an entire class of humanity. You're going to be hearing a lot about this class. The Middle Class, who both presidential candidates claim to be its only savior in sight.

At one time -- Willy and my time -- America was not split 99:1. More like 20% at the top, 20% at the bottom, and the rest in that fabled Middle where Willy, my Father, and your Grandfather worked hard and respectably at jobs they tended to believe might someday turn into the American Dream. Unlike most other nations where the poor periodically revolted, here few people actually thought of themselves as "poor," and therefore they could always feel they too had a chance at the Dream.

How Willy and America's prospering post-WWII Middle Class faded from history has a lot to do with history; but also with the "flaws"  inherent in their "dreams." For generations the dream of making-it was kept alive by the many second-chances built into our national narrative. After all, we've been a second-chance country personified in each new wave of dreaming immigrants. Also a hundred years of wide open Western frontier continued to lure us with second-chances [the West's favorite game of draw poker made the point every time a player could draw another three cards]. And then there's been Hollywood's grand second-chance movie classics from Louis B. Mayer and Frank Capra ["It's A Wonderful Life" and "Gone With The Wind" leading the parade].

But once the waves of immigrants thinned, and the Western frontier came to an end at the Pacific, and the rich got richer while the poor got children....well, the dream shrunk and the number of dreamers like Willy did too. All of which has slowly but inexorably brought us to the social tensions of today's 99:1. And to the tragic fall of dreamers from Bernie Madoff to John Edwards.

If there is to be a new and better American Dream for the Middle Class to dream, dreamers can now sort out the dreams of two candidates whose own dreams have been realized in very different ways. Which reminds me how Uncle Harry always cautioned me: "Kid, the biggest problems of life can't be solved; they can only be outgrown!"

Tick, tick, tick....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


We live in an age of facts. Coming at us faster and more furious than ever. It's been estimated the total of human information first doubled by about 1800. But then that doubled by 1900. Again by 1950. And now, with a deluge of daily digital data, it's doubling exponentially. Leaving the human brain's storage capacity far behind.

Still, one of the facts that never seems to change is each country's myths.

Myths are not always lies. They are a country's collective beliefs about itself which have the power to move and motivate entire populations. Like most myths, America's trace back to our early days. Like the enduring myths we're an exceptional people [see colonies like the Puritans for details], we're destined to lead the world [see Native Americans and Mexicans for details], and we're rugged individualists [see strong silent icons from Davey Crockett to Clint Eastwood for more details].

Myths -- something like mysteries and magic -- can energize an entire people, helping channel their national energies. So many myths, large and little, dot the lands of the world. The pyramids of Egypt ..the Olympian gods of ancient Greece...Stonehenge in England...Mecca in Saudi Arabia...Lourdes in France ....Fujiyama in Japan....even the Teutonic racial mythologies exploited by Hitler in Germany.

What to do with the great myths?

Some of us saddle and ride them for all they're worth [watch a Fourth of July celebration, a national burial at Arlington Cemetery, a Notre Dame football game]. Some of us see some myths as dangerous broncos to be broken [consider the myths Blacks, women, gay, and handicapped are inferior].

In the great national corral, America has this herd of myths snorting and pawing. Either they need to be ridden for all they're worth, or broken for all their evil. What are you planning to do, pardner...?

Saturday, May 5, 2012


What the hell happened in just one generation...?

Reverend King brings down the house of Segregation only to have his successors help dismantle Integration into whole new generation of Segregation. The reasons are complex. But the reality is not. Whereas Blacks & Whites work together and often even live together, try finding large numbers of them being entertained together.

Not likely, as the crowds in ball parks, concert halls, movie houses, comedy clubs and theatres are as racially segregated as ever. No, there is no restricted seating. There's simply only a few of the other color there to be seated!

Blacks have their venues; Whites have theirs; and lately the twain hardly ever meets. You can quibble with some of the stats, but your eyes will tell you the story. Does this mean King was wrong when he envisioned the races living side by side...? Or dos it mean Lincoln was right when he believed that in freeing the slaves, their best freedom might be found in their own lands...?

I was there for the marches. I was there with King's followers. I don't know where you were...but I do know this. If you're White you're still being entertained mostly among White audiences; if you're Black, you're mostly being entertained among Black audiences.

As I said: What the hell happened in just one generation???

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Comedian Milton Berle cracked: "If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands." And if the law has really evolved, why could this have occurred? A traffic cop pulled over a completely naked woman riding a motorcycle at high noon. But because the law didn't  think to address the situation, the only thing he could do is issue a ticket for failing to wear a helmet.

We don't want to blame evolution's shortcomings for all our problems, but something seems wrong with a culture in which the herds often determine the headlines. Instead of objective truths setting the standards, we all subjectively decide what's right or wrong, wise or foolish, taste or dreck. In the name of democracy, the inmates take over the asylum!

TV hits like "American Idol," "The Voice," and "Dancing With the Stars" have panels of objective judges, yet allow subjective voters from the far corners of TV's cultural wasteland to decide what is talent. Not to be outdone, TV news often does the same thing by what they call "pull" journalism instead of "push" journalism. In effect, ratings-minded networks opt to "pull" from the masses what they WANT to hear rather than what the journalists may believe they SHOULD hear.

Movies, music, celebrities, theatre, literature, fashion, along with pop psychology increasingly become more a mirror-to-the-masses instead of a beacon-from-the-trained. In an age which boasts the role of experts, most of the one being quoted and paraded are chosen more for their image than their intellect. Consider the many TV "doctors" and "judges" being paid big bucks to play expert.

Writers like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned us of the danger from the state [a popular obsession with millions of Americans]. Ahh, but perhaps the real danger comes from we the masses more even than the state. Ever watch a vigilante in action.......?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Everyone's looking for just the right catchphrase. Words that leap off the page and grab both your head and your heart in a spectacular stranglehold of conviction. Pols are big players. Remember: "Walk Softy And Carry A Big Stick," "The New Deal," "The New Frontier," "It's Sunrise in America."

But anyone can play this game. So here's a new one: "Think Small!"

Sounds counter-intuitive, but actually it's been an idea in play for generations. Played inside three different ballparks or realms of thought. Theology. Psychology. Now Biology. For centuries theology was the playing field on which we tried to win an understanding of ourselves  [there exists some first-cause-higher-power ]. Beginning with Freud, psychology emerged as a more tangible playing field  [our mind is the higher-power we must examine ].

Recently, however, Western Civilization has found evolutionary biology the best playing field on which to figure ourselves out [ basically we're evolved matter whose various genes, chemicals, and circuits are what we need to understand to understand ourselves].

Advancing from theology to psychology to biology, sounds like progress. Only there are those theologians and psychologists who wonder if in our progress we've left something important behind. What's happened is that we are thinking smaller and smaller. Rather than how we may fit into some cosmic grand design, psychologists focus narrowly on ids and libidos, while biologists even more narrowly on synapses and lobes.

None of us yet know for sure all the answers. And yet, doesn't it make sense this game of knowledge  be conducted on all three fields of play? Our lobes operate within our id which operates within whatever first-cause started all this. So while today's excited evolutionary biologists see only biology at work, psychologist and theologians still belong in the game. I mean how else do you complete one of the game's biggest payoffs -- the triple play?