Friday, June 29, 2012


We can all agree this is a "time that tries men's souls." I would only add that any time is a time to appreciate a woman's beauty.

Now before you start...! This has nothing to do with objectifying or stalking beautiful women. Simply speaking for thousands of robust men here in Chicago and millions throughout the world exercising their God or Darwin-given right to enjoy the inestimable gift of feminine beauty on a summer day.

To be sure, there's a delicate line between enjoying and gawking. Truck drivers and girder workers gawk. Men of my age (old!) and culture (finally passed chemistry!) have mastered the undetected glance:

* during an expressway gaper's block, you pull up to her car and point down to her tires; while she checks them out, you check her out

* on a commuter train or plane, you work discretely from behind a partly folded newspaper; again proving that modern technology like the Kindle has its limits

* in a restaurant, you simply but innocently ask the waiter for a different (and closer!) table

* at a party, the rules loosen because now you're free to speak as well as stare

Two exceptions to the rules: (1) at a ball game with thousands of screaming fans, you are permitted to stare as long and as hard as you wish (2) if you're married, you explain to your wife the latest scientific analysis for this male behavior: "Honey, it's not me, it's my genes that make me do it!!"

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Lets admit it. In America being cynical is cool. Cynical like Bogart in "Casablanca." Like Clint Eastwood, Simon Cowell, Donald Trump, and Cher. Cynicism plays well in bars, parties, even in some early relationships. The cynic holds enormous power, for he or she never has to reveal themself. They can scoff at their world without ever exposing their own doubts and weaknesses.

Among history's cynics were Plato and Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli and Alexander Hamilton, Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. Right now the taxpayers in St Mary Parish, Louisiana, have every right to be cynical as their new $3 million convention center just sank five feet into the ground because the contractors built it over a swamp.

Here's the point.

Most times cynicism is so damn easy and cheap, as in the way critics sneer at a Justin Bieber, complain about a do-nothing Congress or a do-it-wrong Presidency, and in general sit comfortably in the stands of life watching the players fumbling but trying.

 One of cynicism's favorite targets is "the way they used to do it." In effect, everything and everybody before them. However, all too often such cynicism scoops up all too many shining babies with the dirty bathwater. At my age this brings to mind "the way we used to do it" like: Honoring teachers, cops, firemen, clergy, flag, country, and those once-upon-a-time MGM favorites Andy Hardy, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, Sullivan's Travels, Leave It To Beaver, and Happy Days.

You wanna talk about corny...? Phony...? Sugar-coating reality....? Yep, those "babies" fit perfectly inside the cynic's "dirty water" scooper. What a shame.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Making predictions is always hard. Especially about the future. But here's one that's relatively safe. Venerable old museums will be around much longer than most of today's hot new nightlife...

Scan the city and its delights for proof. There's always buzz about the new clubs, restaurants, theatres and night spots; and yet, a year later most are gone from the "recommended" lists. Why? It's safe to argue: What's new travels on a fast and slippery slope, what's past holds steady in place.

While it's true human nature itches for what's novel and different, it usually scratches for what's sure and proven. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we never tire of gathering around the tribal fires to hear [or now watch on everything from podcasts to IMax] the endless narratives of ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome;  Alexander, Caesar, Elizabeth; Robert E Lee, Jesse James, George Custer; the Roaring Twenties, the Greatest Generation, the Sixties.

The past is's's retrievable...what's more we can re-live it however we wish. When you think about it, our great museums ought to raise their prices while our new hot spots ought to lower theirs. After all, that first group is sorta like an old friend you can always go to. The second is more like a new lover you can never quite count on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Ever since Mary Shelley created Frankenstein's monster, the narrative of science vs humanity has become legendary. Like her good doctor, we admire our new god Science, but at the same time harbor tiny terrors of what it might do with us mere mortals.

While Hollywood tracks the usual suspects -- monsters, vampires, and ETs -- each of us has gingerly invited the prime suspect into our own homes. The computer. Humanity's latest Good/Evil innovation. We have embraced it with innocent enthusiasm, for after all it is our ltatest greatest creation, isn't it?

As with Dr Frankenstein's creation, the answer is yes, as long as it serves us, not us serve it. Ms Shelley might have added: as long as there are still some things only people can do. Like detecting the subtleties of another's voice, face, smile. Whoops...that last one is no longer true. MIT -- where they oughta know about such matters! -- has just released its findings.

That's right -- the big metallic guy wins. Their computer out-decoded humans in detecting the subtle distinctions in smiles from delight, love, and frustration. And while the program is intended to help autistic people better read emotions....well, we all remember how Shelley's doctor's good intentions quickly led elsewhere. Or as Aristotle grumbled 2500 years before Shelley: "There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man."

Monday, June 18, 2012


It's been said that as of today the two presidential campaigns have already hosted more benefits, netted more cash, spent more money, and generated more ads, gaffes, halve-truths, and disinformation than all the campaigns of the 20th C combined. And this is only June.

But while newspapers unleash their shrewdest editorialists and cable channels uncage their most shrewish pundits, the American voters may not actually need to understand all these facts. Because in every campaign since Jefferson vs Adams in 1800, feelings not facts have been the real keys to the White House front door. Besides, we've been advised recently we probably couldn't fully understand either the facts or the feelings even if we tried.

Several researchers have explained it this way. There is a stranger living inside us. The brain. An organ which, contrary to years of campaign expertise, tends to function without seriously checking in with us. Best selling books like 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman and 'How Your Unconscious Rules Your Behavior' by Leonard Miodinow appear to be saying our brains often act before we think. Call it impulse, intuition, instinct, but for heavens sake don't call it what it isn't:Thinking.

In tandem with the stranger that is our brain there is the stranger that is our genes. Jonathan Haidt, 'The Righteous Mind,' is among those who find our genes actively at work shaping our political behaviors often without our knowledge. He speaks for many today: "Genes contribute to just about every aspect of our personalities. We're not just talking about IQ and basic traits such as shyness....Whether you end up on the right or the left of the political spectrum turns out to be just as heritable as most other traits."

Are today's well-funded campaign machines being sufficiently oiled by today's brain-and-gene research? The candidates are still pumping hands, hugging babies, and catering to special interest audiences as they have for generations. And yet, it's not hard to imagine their profilers and vetters working hard to calibrate this brain-and-gene research into their plans between now and November.

If we actually are captives of some biological determinism in that neural world known as the brain, and if we are also at times the result of some genetic functioning of our neurotransmitters, how might Mr Obama's and Mr Romney's writers be drafting those upcoming acceptance speeches?

I remember writing for President Clinton and some of President Bush II's cabinet members. But back then a speechwriter had a given body of facts&stats to work with. Now however, layering in this latest brain-and-gene research must be keeping some of my colleagues up long into the night. I guess this when my calls are now answered by recordings like: "And you think you had it hard...!"

Whether or not we're living with virtual strangers within us, there surely are actual strangers outside us. Each making an enormous difference. In effect, this election may be the first in which our national fate is inextricably bound up in history's first  globalized economy. So many strangers at work impacting so many issues in so many uncontrolled ways. And so little time....

Saturday, June 16, 2012


If you consider yourself an artist, you will appreciate this from Bee Gee's Robin Gibb:"An artist is an artist because he is not happy with the world, so he creates his own...."

Lewis Carrol's 'Alice in Wonderland' was an inside-out world in which he traveled and laughed.  Edgar Allen Poe traveled into far darker worlds where rather than laugh he eventually became lost. Who of us can say in which of our own worlds it is best to be?

Still, we repeatedly choose are own. Which is probably why, when we look out from it, whatever we see is seen as if it were a parallel universe. Parallel but not quite correct. As we look out, we are constantly judging it by the norm. The norm, of course, being us.

Once you get the hang of this parallel thing, it's easy. Everything and everyone out there is Them; everything and everyone in here is Us. Them are always slightly out of sync. Us, we are the sync! Accordingly, there will always be parallel ball teams, political parties, nationalities, races and religions to see as if through a glass darkly.

Exactly how each of us landed in our particular universe rather than that out-of-sync one is hard to explain. Anthropologists might argue it was mostly a matter of when-and-where we were born. Demographers could make a case for the particular generation into which we were born. Racists... well we know what racists will say.

The important thing to remember here is the record shows very few if any of us have ever jumped universes. Have ever been able or willing to leave the comfort of their "own" for the strange encounters that loom in that "other." It's like asking a Sox fan to buy a Cubs skybox....a Republican to attend an Obama rally....a subsidized corn grower to buy a Prius...a Viet veteran to go to a Jane Fonda movie....a Redneck to go to Temple....Grover Norquist to approve a tax...a Muslim to make a pilgrimage to Rome.

What, are you crazy! Which instantly begs the question: In which universe do the crazies live?

Thursday, June 14, 2012


To be cool is to be many things. Hard to put into words, but if you've got it, easy to put into a suit or a dress. Cool is as cool looks.

To find the cool people you can check the Top Ten lists in TIME and PEOPLE magazine. But you won't find any hard and fast rules to the game. It's a vague notion first spawned by the post-World War II rich-and-famous. Eventually being rich-and-famous wasn't quite enough. Next they needed to let the world know they really didn't need to be rich-and-famous.

Now that's cool!

Cool as in Frank Sinatra's Vegas Rat Pack...the Kennedy clan...Jack Kerouac's Beatniks ...the Woodstock generation...Hugh Hefner's Playboy...the three-piece-suiters on Madison Avenue and Wall Street.

Consistent with human nature's eternal inconsistencies, today these are among the most un-cool. Today's cool can range anywhere from Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke, to Clint Eastwood's flinty anger, to John Lennon's martyred music, to white teenyboppers' favorite Rap and Hip Hop artists like DiddyCombs, Jay-Z Carter, and Birdman Williams.

Clearly cool is a moving target. So where do most of today's young wannabe look for role-models? One place is the many cop shows on television where cool is the name of the game...where cool is how the good guys nab the bad guys...where you can pick up just the right swagger and repartee for the part. As in the patented formulas of CSI, Law & Order, NCSI, and Hawaii 50.

Check 'em out. Each has just the right role model for your wannabe cool. The cool-talking boss...the cool-looking chick...the cool but offbeat buddy...and the lab technician whose quirky ways are so uncool they're actually cool. Yep, they're all there in whichever program you wanna make your homework assignment tonight.

Just remember, though, history's biggest wars and baddest recessions were probably started by cool wannabes....!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


By now even the alpha males realize the nerds have been crowding their act with the female of the species. In terms of both sex and success. For every LeBron James or Donald Trump there are dozens of nerdy successes like Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Spielberg. When did the tide turn?

Actually about 4 million years ago, fellas.

According to a team of biomathematicians from the University of Tennessee: "The most important sexual revolution happened when the alphas overplayed their testosterone with the females." While the toughs conquered and kept their women by power, the weaker males conquered them by cunning.

Sound familiar?

Similar to the monkey populations, some hominids learned to shower a particular female with food and attentions. In time these females rewarded  their providers with both their bodies and their fidelity. Head researcher Sergey Gavrilets writes in this month's Los Angeles Times: "Without the romantic strategy devised by the more sensitive pre-historlc males, we wouldn't have the modern family."

To be sure, today's females still find hunks attractive. But their habit of marrying the less-hunky-more- sensitive suitors has little to do with being recently "emancipated." In evolutionary terms, the female of the species was emancipated long long ago. Some of them just never told us.

But then what about all those glitz paparazzi stories about  Drop-Dead-Gorgeous-Female-Celebrity gliding down the wedding aisle [in white, no less!] with Breathlessly-Beautiful-Stud-Male-Celebrity? Lets put is this way. In evolutionary terms, don't hold your breath waiting for any silver anniversary stories.

Maybe it's true what they say: "Ugliness is in a way superior to beauty because it lasts." Who says that? Those hominids who have learned to understand the difference.


Monday, June 11, 2012


Willingly or not, you and I navigate through a world of gigabytes. But lets not forget those once-upon- a-time gigglebites. Here's the difference. Gigabytes are how we describe our 24/7 mass of information. Gigglebites are how we translate all this information for ourselves. The first is part of the new digital age; the second is part of our old human nature. You know...trying to figure out complicated stuff by the use of uncomplicated captions.

For instance, giggly captions we stick on public figures in order to label-them-so-we-don't-have-to-take-the-time-to-understand-them. Romney: Job Cutting Capitalist!  Obama: Islamic Socialist!  LeBron James: Follow the Money Traitor!  John Edwards: Wife Cheater!  Mel Gibson: Jew Hater!  Paris Hilton: Young Fool! The Pope: Old Fool!

It's easy to see how handy Gigglebites can be. No need to bother with the person's past contributions, current visions, or their place in the overall society. We already know them for what they are. Period, end of discussion!

Are there any upbeat Gigglebites...? Well, yes there are. Steven Spielberg: Genius!  Donald Trump: Rich! Johnny Carson: Icon!  Caroline Kennedy: Camelot!

The computer age is stuffing our brain circuitry with so much stuff every hour of every day that the circuitry has to scale back enough not to crash. Captioning people has been one of humanity's handiest and more honored strategies. And that's not likely to ever change.

But if any truth-seekers out there want to try, Carl Jung's advice sounds like a good place to begin: "Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of others..." Nothing giga nor giggly about that injunction!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


There is a century-old ghost walking Larabee Avenue between Division Street on the north and Chicago Avenue to the south. Not many of us around anymore to spot him, oh but he's there. Every summer night. You see, more than gangs hit our summer streets.

This particular ghost was both saint and sinner during the 20th C. Sinner... for this neighborhood was known to the police as "crime central" because of the way the Sicilian Black Hand ruled the immigrants housed here. Saint...because here loomed the grand old St Philip Catholic Church which relived the neighbors' faith with frequent street festivals and saints' parades ["The Godfather" faithfully recaptures many of those very scenes].

By the 1960s, the ill-fated Sicilians were gone and the ill-fated Cabrini Green was built in their place. Now the area, like so many, is being re gentrified. Still, the saintly sinner ghost can still be heard and felt if you know just how to find him on a warm summer night there.

Why speak of gangs and ghosts...? Because each in their own way helps explain one of the great conundrums to 21st C urban life. Its discontented summertime rage.

The majority of Americans now live in cities. And cities are known for their anonymity. People living next door to people they don't know nor wish to. Yes, peace & privacy is one of the desirables. But no, isolation is not. And so while most of us most of the time busy ourselves with our television options, computers, smartphones,. and iPads INSIDE, the ancient tribal instinct to rub the flesh with others can still lure us OUTSIDE.

For those who are young and angry -- street gangs! For those older and isolated -- street festivals! Chicago alone has over 500 every year from block-parties to food-fests to music-bashes to religious commemorations. Loud and lusty, boisterous and buggy, we love them. And the city loves what they can do to reconnect angry and isolated lives.

As for the gangs -- they remain a crisis to be resolved. As for the ghost -- he remains a chance to re-discover what we still have in common.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Statistics mean you never have to say you're certain.

And yet how we moderns love them. Like great burning bushes, the reports from our statisticians are usually considered holy writ. If our doubts have grown about our old Faiths, we can find new ones in the numbers written by the fingers of our mathematical prophets. Here are five recent sets of stats:

* As the media has covered women's issues like birth control and abortion, reports 81% of the commentators were men while only 12% were women

* An AP analysis of the Top 40 over the last 50 years shows songs in minor {gloomier} keys have doubled since 1960

* Gallup reports 46% of Americans believe in creationism rather than evolution

* An Austrian crematorium exploded while burning the corpse of a 440 pound woman when the operators failed to calculate for the obesity factor

* A Zogby Poll states 66% of American parents say the risk of concussion would not deter them from allowing their children to play football

If statistics like these reflect reality, it may be fair to say reality these days has really become, well, a little unreal!

Saving the best set of stats for last, political analysts have crunched some remarkable numbers about our two presidential contenders. If Romney wins, he wins; if Obama loses, he wins. How is this? If Romney wins and enacts his tax proposal, he'll pay only half of what he would under Obama's plan. If Obama loses, he gets a $90,000 windfall saving under the Romney tax plan.

What are we saying here...? Romney wins by winning, but to win Obama has to lose...? While you crunch the answer to that, you may wish to do what I plan to do: Call the guy who does my taxes to explain to me just how I can win by losing. Please...!

Friday, June 8, 2012


Everyone has on occasion wished they could be invisible. Just for a little while. Say when your friends are talking about you, or when your boss is evaluating you, or most especially when the one you love is sharing their feelings about you to a confidant.

But then there's the ancient warning: "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."  If the truth-makes-us-free, it can often hurt like hell. Perhaps living in a world of little white lies -- theirs and ours -- is a much easier world to travel.

Still, this notion of invisibility remains intriguing. And when you give it some thought, you're aware of just how many forces in our daily lives are virtually that -- invisible. Light and television waves...lasers...radiation...bacterium...and the latest entry into the field: cybernetics.

Cybernetics has already gotten a bad name. As in cyber-wars. Both America and Israel have reportedly infected the Iranian atomic programs with long-distance viruses to slow or destroy their targets. Like the US drones often invisible to those on the ground, cyber-warfare is the latest form of science-fiction come true.

Think of it this way. The natives in the farthest reaches of the fabled Tibetan highlands or on the most isolated Pacific islands move through their daily lives in the same primitive ways of their ancestors. Hunting, fishing, celebrating. And yet they are unknowingly moving through a 360-degree field of these same invisible forces that power our computer-banks, smartphones, iPads, and cyber wars. You are struck by the thought: Think of all they're missing...!

A followup thought might be: Think of all we're missing...!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Of all our holidays, Halloween is the least romantic or sentimental. Indeed, it is the night when we allow our worst demons out to roam the streets in full costume. Ghosts, vampires, witches, goblins, and Sarah Palin. But why is this...?

Psychiatrists tell us it's a necessary purging of the libido, that dark and menacing current which runs like a secret torrent through the chambers of our hidden hearts. Well, I'm okay with that. Putting faces and figures onto our worst fears does seem to allow us to laugh them away. But what of the days and nights after Halloween?

During those 364 sunrises and sunsets that same libido harbors fears we can't put into handy costumes to laugh at. What then?

Fear not, for there are always fears at hand throughout the year. Fears we can anthropomorphize as needed. Every age has their favorites. The Persians had Shedu, the Jews Mazzik, the Hindus Butahs, the ancient Greeks & Romans their gods of the underworld. Later the emperor of evil: The Devil.

However, these are only the furies-of-fear that come to us from our respective cultures. The greater of these are the ones we create ourselves. But so as not to frighten ourselves too much, we create them in the form of fiction. In the East one of the favorites has been Godzilla and his many derivatives. In the West there have been classics like Dracula...Frankenstein...King Kong...the Wolf Man...Mr Hyde.

Leaving fiction for reality, in our own times the West has had a great run of actual monsters to fear. To hate. And in time to destroy. There were such as Attila...Napoleon...Hitler...Stalin. For others there was Jefferson Davis....FDR...Clinton...Bush...the Pope...and now Obama. It is always fiercely fulfilling to find a monster in whom our worst fears can thrive, rage, and eventually conquer.

Often we get our fears and terrors exactly right. There are few who will step forward to defend a Hitler or a Stalin. Indeed their own people have experienced the consummate purgation by hating their own monsters more than anyone else. But then there are those who are simply monsters-for-a-day. The political and religious monsters of the moment who -- once defeated and/or dead -- can hypocritically conjure up lyrical epitaphs from even their greatest haters.

Just one more feature of that remarkable existential phenomenon known as the Human Condition. It is just so enormously human of us humans to fear something and someone all the days of our life. As little children fear the sounds that go bump in the night, all the way to the gnashed-teeth protestors spilling their hate into the streets, the pulpits, and later this summer in our two political conventions.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


The Black Box has become legendary. We are always hearing about recovering it from the downed plane. The idea -- applicable to modern society in general -- is that somewhere, somehow we are able to recover all the facts & stats needed to learn what went wrong.

Applause. Applause. Surely it's better to have Black Boxes in our lives rather than simply uninformed blackness. There's the cliche: "Research is finding out what went wrong only after it goes wrong."

Wouldn't it be grand if humanity had something more than a Black Box to fathom more than simply the facts & stats? These are important of course, but like the fallen bricks to some ancient desert site, researchers can't always be sure how the bricks once stood. Was this a temple or a bank? a jail or a brothel? Some cynics suggest 500 years from now our high school sites might be thought of us prisons, what with all their straight-line corridors, closed-in rooms, and metal-detectors.

To get a fuller picture, researchers at the sites need also to know something of the people. Their thoughts, their feelings, their fears, their gods. Hard not to recall another cliche: "Once we have all the facts, we have only part of the truth." An arguable proposition which says the aficionados of  Black Box thinking can only tell us so much about us. The rest [and perhaps best] about us and our doings depends on those sifting not only through the bricks, but imagining the buildings themselves.

Enter today's other kind of researchers: philosophers, poets, novelists and composers. Is it not possible there is more to learn about our species --  whether at the plane's controls or lunching back in the cabin -- from a Shakespeare or a Dostoevsky than from a dozen site-sifters?

While that question echoes, here's a second. In this time of growing anti-government sentiment and voting, what has happened to that White Box which has sat under the American Christmas Tree sent by Washington? Ever since the 1930s New Deal, whenever opened it's been the reason for both hope [social security, medicare, highways, drug control, food inspections, scholarships] and for derision [the new anti-hero Wisconsin Governor Walker].

Two boxes, two ways of opening them, maybe too little time to be sure how best to use their contents.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


This summer all over America local communities will watch the familiar ferris-wheel going up, and smell the cotton candy being spun. It's the traveling carnivals which breeze into town for a magical few days, then just as quickly dismantle on their last night to haul their magic to the next stop.

In a time of enormous space shuttles, Caldron Colliders, and instant  Apps, these old fashioned tent tours must seem a tad insignificant. And yet it's in their very insignificance we find their magic. For you see fellow patrons, they are altogether more real and more substantive than those others. What's more, they are just small enough to get inside our eyes, nostrils, and hearts.

But first be sure to free the child in you to find out what can happen. The rides become stairways to to the stars. The games turn into playing dice with destiny. As for the laughter and the giggles, oh they sound an awful like a chorus of angels beckoning the sleeping innocence in us to dare once more to be fully innocent.

And there's more.

Next be sure to free the adult in you to discover what can happen. Suddenly the whole silly, frilly experience takes on the feel of a journey. Whooshing you from the dreariness of your everyday days,  up up and away into an encounter with what lies in wait beyond the everyday. Perhaps your dreams-come-true. Maybe your finale-finally-here. Whatever it is, it's there waiting just for you.

So... at the first sound of the traveling tent show in town, grab both the child and the adult in you. Take them by the hand, and learn what magic waits for both. No fair just guessing. You have to really  plunge into the sawdust magic with both feet!

If this sounds like an advertisement, you're wrong. Better than that, it's a wish....

Sunday, June 3, 2012


In another election year another First Lady said something that fits any election year. "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people." [Eleanor Roosevelt]

But it's a good bet the next 180 days will be all about the people and the events. As for the ideas, they will remain fuzzy in our minds. Spun and re-spun as they travel from their points-of-origin [ the candidates' major speeches ] to those would-be thousand-points-of-light [ the networks' major pundits ]. If ever we actually understood the big ideas in those speeches, chances are by now no one can actually explain them, including the speech writers.

Yet make no mistake. There are about 141 million very different voters scattered among 3,141 very different counties. Few presidents have succeeded without hoisting the banners of at least one big, unifying idea. For Washington it was preserving our new-won freedom. For Lincoln, preserving our now-challenged union. For FDR, preserving our now-broken economy. Surely today's candidates have no shortage of issues to grapple with. Jobs, productivity, taxes, health, education, human rights, security, world peace. Not a single one much different than 100 years ago. A 1000 years ago. And yet each now more complex, because it is inextricably wedged inside a global economy which runs by a clock no longer set only in Washington. The campaigns' task the next 180 days will be to seize and shape these conflicting issues into another of those single, unifying big ideas.

Think of each of the worried voters in each of these counties as intuitively searching for a banner to rally round. With their hearts as well as their heads, with their dreams as well as their fears. Both campaign camps are searching for that very banner! For that one big idea that encapsulates our worst fears then catapults them into our best dreams. Is there some word, some phrase, some vision that might electrify us again? After all, it takes only a majority in enough of these counties to do the job.

Whatever big ideas are being birthed now, each candidate understands it must somehow bind and bond as many of us as possible. A task made historically complicated in 2012 by the fact six of our seven national institutions can no longer be counted on to translate our differences into our destiny. Say like other big ideas once did: The New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, Sunrise in America.

Of our seven national institutions, the government is now held in suspicion more than admiration...the law is seen as working for the rich more than the rest....marriage is lately a debate more than a decision...schools are using more money to produce poorer results...the media are slanted by whomever owns them...religion is no longer something we can all agree upon...only the military stands as an institution still commanding general and binding respect.

About 180 days are eft to give birth to the next big idea. What shall it be, gentlemen? Making your search all the harder, the national budget you will inherit will no longer permit you to woo us with the usual promises of More. For one of the few times in our history, you will have to motivate us with warnings of Less. 

More-With-Less...!  Well, yes, now there's an idea. But is it big and bold and binding enough? I just mailed it in with my donation to the candidate of my choice.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


This is as good a time as any to test my philosophy professor's favorite theme: "The more you learn, the less you fear."

After a week of scanning the news, this is some of what I learned:

* Two chaperones at a Colorado HS prom sprayed disinfectant on students who in their words were "dancing like they were having sex with their clothes on"

* A single parking space is on sale in the heart of Manhattan for $1 million

* After Facebook's initial public offering, hundreds of 20-somehings became instant millionaires

* Having children can add or detract from a couple's happiness -- pretty much all depending on which survey by which committee of experts you read

* In the battle of the 99:1 %, facts suggest the 1% benefit generously from the federal outlay of $2.1 trillion in social programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and Pell Grants

* About 93% of immigrants applying for US citizenship can correctly answer six out of 10 questions about our history and government; only 65% of native-born Americans can

* Dr Daniel Wilson, best selling author & robotics engineer, is featured in this week's Wall Street Journal predicting, "High-tech implants will soon be commonplace under our skin and inside our skulls, making us stronger and smarter." In effect, prospects for a new superman

The first five items are a mixed commentary on our shifting social values. But those last two...When you place them side by side, you're reminded that tens of millions of uninformed native-born-citizens are about to vote our nation's future. And yet equally distressing is the memory of the last regime which spoke of creating a new superman.

One is left to wonder which is more dangerous: Our ignorance or those who would replace our ignorance with their neural enhancements? Sixty years later, I still wonder about Professor Link's pledge: the more you learn, the less you fear.

Friday, June 1, 2012


There are more people over 65 than ever before. And yet Americans  seem to resent old age. The beautiful people downright hate it. Among those who never reached it: Alexander the Great (33), Mozart (35), Byron (36), Raphael and Van Gogh (37), Virgil (50), Shakespeare (52).  Cicero said, "Old age begins at 46." He died at 53.

Our strength and coordination peaks at 19...skeletal maturity in our early 20s....IQ is highest between 18 & 25...stamina dips by the early 30s ...creativity slows by the late 30s. By 50, according to George Orwell, "Everyone has the face he deserves." He died at 47.

What are young people to make of these data? Old people have already begun reconciling to them. Weight, wrinkles, memory loss are aging's unforgiving companions. Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood's perennial juveniles, nailed it: "Gravity sucks" Bette Davis, one of Hollywood's perennial heroines, added the exclamation mark: "Aging ain't for sissies!"

There is some measure of consolation. When you're 45, your vocabulary is three times as large as at 20. When you are 60, your brain possesses four times the information it did at 20. Time has happened, life has happened. As a consequence, you may not be wiser but at least you are less surprised.

Is there some common denominator both youth and age can share in this free enterprise culture?

In " My Dinner With Andre," Wallace says: "I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 I was rich. An aristocrat riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I'm 36 and all I think about is money."

In America, age, family name, caste, and inherited land have never quite become the crown to treasure and to wear. Wealth has. And so -- be we young or old, strong or weak -- wealth has remained the one enduring national gospel. The next question is: Does it make it easier to sleep at night? Or does it simply mean that Wallace has more time in which to fear its loss?