Tuesday, July 31, 2012


This is not to betray my gender nor to agree with the radical feminists that all men are chauvinist pigs.


Look, fellas, one of us has to admit it publicly. We've screwed up. From the very first tribal chieftains to jungle shamans to Machiavellian princes to Hugh Hefner and Dubya Bush strutting their libidos, the male of the species has been causing more wars, more rape-and-pillaging, and more smack-in-the-mouth everyday violence than any three Vulcan Planets could have ever dreamed up.

We've been in charge ever since Adam, and just look at the bloody history our egotistical, fist-in-the--face bravado has created. Lately women -- in government, colleges, medical schools and at the Olympics -- have been inching up and passing us by. Maybe it's time they did. Maybe the world could benefit from Innate feminine qualities like caring and compassion. They sure as hell can't do any worse than we have!

So -- with all due deference to my college fraternity brothers, my son and grandsons, and even my no-nonsense brother...let it be said it's time to shelve the the strutting...butt patting...wife jokes...secret handshakes and decoder rings. Time to grow up to the fact that just maybe we weren't actually ordained by God or Nature or even Pope to be "master-of-all-we-survey."

By the way, who ever wrote that line????


Here's a guess. You too may have reached that point in life when you not only read the obits, you muse about what yours might look like. By the way, this is not just an old person's reflection, for I've known people who've already thought about it in their 20's and 30's. Lets call it: A sense of their own history!

Just this month, celebrities as young as Nora Efron and as old as Ernest Borgnine and Tony Martin have been memorialized in exquisitely literate obituaries. Now what makes reading them so valuable is they tell the story of how one of your fellow travelers managed to make it in this ornery old world.

What might YOU have to say about you? At least about the you you want the world to remember?

You've got only one picture and about 400 words to do it. Which picture? Which words? Ah, not so easy is it!  After all, you've done quite a bit in your life, and there are a great many photographic sides to you. Seizing just the right ones for family and posterity won't be easy.

Since I started this, I suppose I should at least leave you with MY parameters:

* hopefully the words will catch the cadence of my loves and labors: (1) the family and friends I have adored throughout my life (2) the work in which I may have achieved the most good with my fellow man

* hopefully the photo will be a candid not a posed shot taken sometime in mid-life; when I was still young enough to have dreams yet old enough to understand dreams have borders

OK, those are MY obituarial thoughts. Hopefully not too self-absorbed, but enough for the casual reader to realize I once was here. Now it's your turn. No life is a destination of only a few steps, but try to choose the few most worth recalling at your funeral. After all, you won't be there, so this could be your best chance...


Sunday, July 29, 2012


Bill Clinton put it well: "The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change..." With that in mind, consider some of the epic changes that could be underway:

* Now that the wars on drugs have cost so much with so little success, society may be recalling the costly disaster that was Prohibition trying to over-legislate humanity's natural appetites [eg. medical marijuana stores continue to grow]

* Now that society has at long last stopped chaining the mentally ill and burning those it calls witches, it may finally be willing to enjoy the fact gays like geniuses may be different, but no more or less human [eg. for the first time US service members were authorized to march in gay parades in their uniforms]

* Now that MotherJones.com revealed the world's tax havens currently keep $21-32 trillion out of reach of the world's governments, society may start to reassess the relative power of "big government" and "big wealth" [eg. those havens hold more than the combined gross national products of the US & Japan]

* Now that the number of citizen deaths in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan have surpassed a  million, society may re-learning the ancient truth: Wars like these are not fought for popular causes as much as for private interests [eg. the loss of innocent lives has been granted the antiseptically reassuring description "collateral damages"]

* Now that Congress is out of session, society has another reason to wonder about the value of "elected representatives" '[eg. so far it has sent to the president only 54 bills: 14 to rename post offices, nine to approve real estate transactions, and six simply to renew current legislation

With luck, some of these conditions may come to an end before we do. Maybe with more than luck. With effort!

Saturday, July 28, 2012


London security forces were on high alert at the Games. Only they missed the ticking time bomb left behind. In addition to the luminous pyrotechnics was the lurking challenge to the West: Will you continue to dominate the world or will China?

No one announced it exactly that way, but it seems clear by the staggering difference between the two opening ceremonies. The Brits had fun, the Chinese were deadly serious. The Brits celebrated individual accomplishments, the Chinese staged a lockstep image of military precision. The Brits featured children at play, the Chinese featured them at work.

The Brits seemed comfortable in their historical skin whereas the Chinese had something to prove. And they did! The Beijing Games were a spectacle of success achieved by striving shoulder to shoulder, while the Brits took time to show how success is often a personal not a patriotic affair. 

So is the rest of our century to be a historic competition between Western Capitalism and Chinese Collectivism? Is our 2012 election about the relative merits of rugged individual versus state planning?

Frankly it's likely most of today's voters have scant understanding of capitalism and collectivism. But maybe here's a hint. In the midst of the opening ceremony's celebration of capitalism throughout the centuries, 20% of the time celebrated the Brit's best example of collectivism: National Health Program.

Funny, that idea's been around the West ever since Bismarck at the turn of the 20th C. Yet half of Americans still see it as something too new and different to adopt. Thus the debate will keep ticking...

Friday, July 27, 2012


Everyone knows the epic war between man and woman. Started with that first bitten apple. But a close second is the equally epic war between youth and age. That one started the first time a son beat his father. Each has been raging ever since, a perennial subject for psychologists and poets alike.

Our latest example is 10 time All-Star slugger Ichiro Susuki. A career .322 hitter, Susuki is about to turn 39 with a slumping average of only .261. And yet the New York Yankees just paid big bucks for him. His success or failure with the Yankees isn't going to help settle the war. But it does help crystallize the argument. Between developed bodies and developed brains. Energy and experience. Blue-jeaned wunderkind from Silicon Valley and white-shirted elders from corporate America.

Now here's what makes the argument so important. For the first time in history, youth has never been more prized at the very same time age has never been so much older. In an fiercely rapid culture of iPads and smartPhones, only the young have the energy to keep pace. Consequently some economists argue whether youth can or should pay the heavy burdens of an aging population. Ethicists go further as they argue whether society can afford to keep the old and sick alive so long.

In the meantime, everyone else figures old-age is something "15-years older than me!"

There's a bottom line to this demographic war. Whether Susuki helps the Yankees win this year is not it. How old the world lets Susuki grow IS....

Thursday, July 26, 2012


The networks have secretly promised sponsors their biggest advertising payoff in years. How? Watch the August announcements; 80% of all programming will arrive in four sure-fire categories. (1) Reality (2) Cops (3) Docs (4) Weird. But as diverse as these sound, there is one mesmerizing reward hidden in each: America's long lost feeling of absolutes!

Our old black & white absolutes long ago disappeared into a miasma of moral relativity. Americans once knew which was which. The good guys always had white horses or blue uniforms; the bad guys always operated from the dark. Then came Vietnam, Watergate, Iraq and suddenly nothing was simply right or wrong anymore. Things became complex, morally debatable, so darn confusing why even GIs, CIA, and presidents were no longer guaranteed to get the girl and the nation's thanks at the end.

Ahh but not worry. This fall these four categories get us safely back to those cozy absolutes. Think about it. Everyone on a reality show is absolutely, no-question-about-it wacky....every cop and doc program is back to the ultimate absolutes of life or death...every weird creature on screen will be in the absolutely weirdest outfits from the prop department. I mean, no more wondering whose good and whose bad!

Look, Americans are weary of thinking their way through what's morally right and wrong anymore. We want the good old days when the actors made stuff like that absolutely clear.


Hundreds of millions will be watching the London Olympics. Yet even more hundreds of millions will not. I wondered why, so I asked some of them. They made a lot of sense...!

We are told the games are a noble statement about humanity's pure pursuit-of-excellence and lofty border-less camaraderie. As to the camaraderie, there is that. Although many of these athletes are also' thinking of the paying testimonials you get if you get the gold.

However, putting human greed aside, it's the first claim that bothered so many of my interviewees. The
adulation about the purity of athletic excellence. 'Time Magazine' had a front cover several years ago with a full-frame face of Michael Jordan and the headline: "The Most Dangerous Man In America." The point was this: There are only 4 or 5 Michael Jordans in basketball, kids, so why are tens of thousands of you devoting all your time to becoming someone you won't; and thereby wasting years of your lives in which you could be getting an education and pursuing far more realistic and rewarding dreams.

To a person, my interviewees agreed.

It's all well and good to have a vision, train your body, pursue your regimen, devote endless hours and years to those few sacred minutes on the track, in the field, or in the pool. But...!  Investing so much of your life to a monumental flight of muscle and ego? When you stand back, how much sense does this make? How much good does this accomplish? And really how much will this add to the rest of your life?

My friends -- athletes themselves -- said the Olympics were good for what they are. Especially for what they were meant to be thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. But to elevate one race or game or event to a shimmering example of what's best about humanity...well, most of them would bestow that honor on the closest first-responder in an ambulance, fire truck, squad car, or desperately crowded ER.

Nothing wrong with our Olympians. Just sorting through our priories...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


"They" in this case is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Their interest is not prurient, but pragmatic. According to their latest studies, one in three of us don't get enough sleep. That totals 40 million workers getting less than six hours a night. Especially true of night-shift workers who often hold critical jobs in health care and transportation.

Look at it this way. How would you feel if the pilot flying you 40,000 feet over the Atlantic had gotten only six hours sleep last night? The study shows 20% of all traffic accidents are related to sleepiness at the controls. Not to mention increased risks of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

Talking about obesity, the BBC reports that taken cumulatively the world population is 16.5 million tons overweight. Although chances are, bad eating habits are more to blame than bad sleeping habits. Especially in Sweden where the workweek now averages less than 26 hours, allowing more time eating!

So what have we learned...?

Not much we didn't already know. Americans have traditionally been a hyperactive people. I mean we popularized the rocking chair, because it means now you can be in motion even when you're at rest. But my concern is not so much medical as it is social. Sleeping less often means watching television more. If the Center were to visit our bedrooms tonight, what might they see?

Well, beside that.

I'm thinking they would see millions of fat sleepy Americans watching bizarre people in reality shows who they would never allow in their own home! I know we're sleepy, but crazy too...?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Lots of public blather -- in the disguise of public discourse -- about the latest mass shooting. However, let the record show lone killers are not a problem for Sociology as much as for Psychology. It's not the guns but the human heart that needs change. Or as the original Dark Knight, joker Lenny Bruce, explained it in his often banned nightclub act of the 60s: "Pain plus time is what equals humor."

His comedy was especially dark for those times. Deeply rooted in the pain and anger of the human heart. Now of course comedy has to not only deal with human pain and anger, it must be fiercely scatological. Just a couple steps up from the high school bathroom wall!  Catch any comedy club or cable standup today, and Lenny Bruce sounds like a PTA president. The last of the "clean comics" include Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Bob Newhart. After them, not many you want to bring your kids or grandma to see.

Many reasons are offered for this darkening of our national humor. Some say the times are so dark, our humor has to reflect this reality to be real. Just as our movies and music have. The box office rule is civility in love. Moon-in-June lyrics,  and happy endings simply don't sell! 

But here's a question for the studios, the recording companies, and the comedians: If you step into a dark room, isn't your first inclination to reach for the lights? I've worked with Bill and Woody, and grew up with Bob. They were never especially angry men. Somehow they seem to find their humor in the frailties of the human heart more than its fears, in our eccentricities more than our evil, in still hoping our dark side is something to outgrow rather than to enjoy.

What's really funny is that so many of us today feel clean-comedy isn't funny anymore.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


"The real problem of humanity is this: We have Paleolithic emotions...medieval institutions...and god-like technology." [Biologist-author Edward O. Wilson]. The longer you reflect on that, the sooner our problems become clear. If, however, you don't see this, here are 5 disgustingly current illustrations:

* Georgia police officer Williams Martinez had a fatal heart attack having sex with a woman in a motel. Th jury awarded the widow $3 million because doctors who knew he had a heart condition should have warned him to "avoid strenuous activity."

* A New Jersey woman hit by a baseball at a Little League game is suing the 11-year old player for $150,000 because of "recklessness."

* The former mistress of a Nassau County police chief is suing the county for negligence for not knowing he was visiting her while on duty. She suffered "severe and substantial emotional damage."

* A South Carolina funeral home is opening a Starbucks in their lobby. Director Chris Robinson hopes "it will help customers get their minds off what's going on."

* To date, 0.000063 % of the country's population [196 superwealthy people] have given more than 80% of the money SuperPacs have spent on this year's presidential election.

Like you perhaps, I sometimes wonder if there were a way to get-away-from-it-all...! About then, I read the average Canadian is now richer and lives longer than the average American. The net worth of the average Canadian household is $363,203 to our $319,970. What's more, Canadians with national health coverage live on average 3.2 years longer.

Good Lord...! And the border is only a few hundred unarmed miles away...!

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Someone once said, "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

I found the best horrible example I've seen in years: Clark and Sharon Winslow of Belvedere, California. Last spring they spent $4.2 million to buy the house next door. Why? To immediately demolish it, because it was obstructing their $19 million home's view of San Francisco Bay.

They're my new poster couple for the 1%!

To be fair, it's not all that simple. The rich -- in every country in every century -- have been criticized for  conspicuous consumption. Their answer -- when they bother to care -- is about the same. In Ancient Rome: "An empire requires a patrician class..." In Victorian England: "An empire requires the noblesse oblige of an aristocratic class..." In 21st C America: "A globalized economy requires a job-creator class..."

Needless to say, no one ever really substantiated these claims. I mean, after all, when you're the substantiator, who is there to question you? On the other hand, when the wealthy take the time to debate the charge, the standard brushaway is "class warfare." Which is rather silly on the face of it. For if this IS a war, obviously the rich have already won it!

That being said, ALL classes can surely agree on this much. Today's bloated budget must be slashed. The bone-in-the-throat no one wants to swallow is: Who & How? Who gives up how much?

Oh wait....

There may be a new common enemy the classes can all agree upon: The elderly. With tens of millions of seniors receiving Social Security, Medicare and pensions, anyone under 65 may believe there is no such thing as getting an entitlement.  Which makes a lot of sense to them, as they may also believe there is no such thing as getting old.

Friday, July 20, 2012


'Rolling Stones Magazine just reached a remarkable conclusion. Of their 500 greatest-albums-of-all-time, only 8% were recorded after 2000. The rest go back 40 and 50 years. Suggesting even a cool publication has a warm spot for the past.

That brings to mind how the omelet that is each of us consists of so many past ingredients, it would be impossible to unscramble. And probably destructive. Consider all those people that went into making you the you that you are today. Teacher...sergeant...neighbor...buddy...rival...hero...whoever! If you could somehow delete them from the recipe you have become, imagine who you would be.

Here's a guess. You CAN'T!

None of us can quite imagine what our life might have been without those chance intersections. We didn't plan them, we couldn't plot them, but somehow someway they happened. Altering the trajectory of our lifespan in ways at first trivial but later towering.

To illustrate. After our Father returned from WWII, he wanted to buy a home in a nearby suburb but couldn't afford it. So we remained in the city. Small detail to a 14-year-old who could never imagine this meant remaining in a parish who later hired a youth director who Pied Piper-ed a theatre club who invited an actress who met a young man who fell in love who married who had three children with her ---

Here's another guess. This very same serendipity can be found in your own omelet. Only don't try plucking out any parts, for then all the rest disappears. Whoosh, you may not even be here to read this!


Thursday, July 19, 2012


Life bristles with ironies. Sometimes life is the irony. Consider how video-cams, iPhones, and Clouds pledge to permanently store and treasure everything we ever say or do. And yet we're losing treasures every day. Our last WWI veteran died this year...WWII veterans are dying by the hundreds every day...and what about all those lives now and forever missing in our lives?

They were the cast members in the great drama of our life who have now left the stage. Never again to be seen, only remembered. More of a loss than we may have at first realized. Think of it!  For instance, Mom will never again be able to answer those little questions you forgot to ask. About the night of your conception...her pregnancy...the important moments teaching you how to speak...the aunts and teachers about whom only she could have explained their remarkable roles in your childhood.

All those moments, those insights, those secrets now remain forever sealed with her. Just now when you could learn so much from their details. We probably know more about such matters in the heavily   biographied lives of Roosevelt, Church, Hitler and Lennon than we do about ourselves. There's something enormously dissatisfying about that.

We've been advised [warned?] that soon we can be implanted with a chip that will record everything we do, say, and hear throughout a lifetime. A kind of bequest to our children who may, after the wake, wish to sort out who we really were. My question: Why should they know when I still don't...?

Or to put the question in historic context -- is it time the wunderkind from Silicon Valley reconsider the lofty mantra: "If the mountain is there it must be climbed!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Richard Nixon was infamous for his enemies list. Frankly we all have one. Sometimes closeted in our hearts; other times, splashed across our headlines. I can't tell you the ones in your heart, but I probably share many of the ones in our headlines.

Boston Fans Boycott Yankee Games...Cub-Sox Rivalry Spills Into Street...Border Patrols Gun Down Mexican Drug Lord...Cops Tangle With Protestors...Pentagon Warns China About Naval Exercises. Lets admit it, the Bible itself is crowded with enemies the chosen people are always being asked to smite. We are advised that love is the most powerful human emotion, and yet what crowd can't be ignited by pointing to an enemy. What enemy...? Whataya got...!

An enemy is anyone perceived as a threat. Which can range anywhere from a loud neighbor or loony mother-in-law all the way to Hitler or Islam. But here's the quirky thing about enemies. If they don't actually exist, we'll find reasons to create one.

Ask any football coach. Nothing churns the blood like a good dose of high-fiving hatred. Psychiatry has even shown how the hate card gets played in some unusual ways. The resentment among the guys on campus trying to win a date with the reluctant beauty queen....the sense of combat with the audience as the backstage cast starts with the traditional "lets get out there and kill 'em tonight'....not to mention the ancient Oedipal complex in which son hates father in repressed love for mother.

Hallmark and homilies rarely dedicate anything to the emotion of hate in us. Oh, but its there. And it's exploited whenever some segment of the population needs the support of our hatred. Say like the military munitions complex which keeps its profits high by keeping the rest of us hating someone enough to want more munitions. Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, Korea, Vietnam, and Hussein are over with; but don't relax, we've found another one for you.

If you really need any enemy, my vote is for the farmers who have fooled around with our tomatoes. Current breeding has made them an appetizing bright red at the expense of their original sweet taste. I hate that. These are the guys really worth hating...!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Sports fans can debate the new deal between the Bears and runner Matt Forte. But to political science fans there's no debate. His $31 million proves our Founding Fathers were right. They anticipated  confrontations like management & labor...Democrat & Republican...church & state...rich & poor. The Founding Fathers called them "factions," and created checks & balances to keep confrontations from turning into rebellions.

Right about now it's safe to assume Matt doesn't give a damn. I mean, he got his; let the other classes work it out for themselves. But when you hear about class warfare, hasn't the rich class already won the war? They say: not necessarily. While the poor class can talk about the 99:1 %, the rich class has their own target: Entitlements.

A pretty explosive term, focusing on those factions of the population who are getting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, disability checks, and public pension checks. [The dreaded Welfare State]. No lack of infuriating headlines to make the case. Every day poor people falsely getting Social Security, cheating Medicare & Medicaid, not to mention those outrageous teacher/cop/firefighter pensioners raping the system with their ill-gotten, double-dipping payments!

The headlines should make anyone angry. Only the headlines are referring mostly to the 10% who cheat the system, not the 90% who earned their modest monthly checks via years of modest public service.

We're witnessing another prickly chapter in our democracy's history of class confrontations. Matt Forte is just fine, folks. Really. It's the rest of us who need to sort this out to find whatever disinformation is coming from both sides. Until then, here's a question for you: Is Matt Forte as "entitled" to his $31 million/year as the 85 year old widow in Florida is to her $3100/month....?

Sunday, July 15, 2012


All stories are true; some even happened. The American story  has happened schizophrenically, with its very first settlers a mixed bag of brains and brawn. A division among us which has helped shape our national psyche throughout the centuries.

In the 20th, conventional wisdom reported a particularly schizoid split in the Woodstock Sixties. For the better or the worse, depends on which side of the split you stood. But once again conventional wisdom was wrong, for perhaps an even more epic split had already erupted in the Pleasantville Fifties. A pair of dueling icons: Sputnik [brains] and Elvis [brawn]. What's more, the icons still duel in our heads today.

In 1957 the Soviet Union shocked us out of our post-war supremacy by getting their sputnik into orbit before we did. About that same time, a singer named Elvis shocked us out of our white-bread-ballads with let-it-all-hang-out rock n roll. At first, most Americans disliked both arrivals.

Actually, the two would unleash old genies that had been dueling in our heads from the get-go. Sputnik stirred the nation's brain [new appeal to the rigors of math & science] while Elvis stirred its brawn [revived appeal of the rawness of feelings & freedom]. In effect, re-booting the old cultural counterpoint between -- what shall we call it? -- genius-America and gusto-America.

Looking back, consider the way Eastern bankers and Western gunslingers, campus academics and campus jocks, Silicon Valley performers and Hollywood performers have each written the American story in such opposite ways. In effect, the Fifties were mostly a new edition to America's long-standing schizophrenia:  Always admiring but resenting our best minds all at the very same time.

 In politics that's been a recurring problem for high-IQ pols like John Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Adlai Stevenson, and George McGovern. Meanwhile, press-the-flesh pols like Andrew Jackson, Warren Harding, and Ronald Reagan have done much better. Today's campaign re-echoes this story as both candidates try to satisfy both the brainy and the brawny side to a fickle electorate.

In the coming months, track the campaign-ads. study the fact-checkers. trawl the gaffe-counters. analyze the TV-debates. There will be an avalanche of information and dis-information from both sides. Behind it will be two teams of experts each trying to find that magic chord voters love to hear. The sound of a really smart guy with some really smart answers to our messy problems.


He can't sound too smart, look too smart, act too smart. Instead, he has to be able to present us with an easy-to-understand package of smart answers while at the same time sharing a back-slapping cup of coffee with us at Emily's diner in the morning, and a bottle of beer at Gus's saloon in the evening. You know, sputnik-genius side by side with Elvis-gusto.

Almost sounds like casting for a billion-dollar movie. Come to think of it, it IS!


Saturday, July 14, 2012


Winston Churchill had a way with words. Take his: "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." If you think he was referring to a woman, well, so do most men. In fact he was referring to the old Soviet Union. Actually, it can fit a rash of riddles. While I don't know the ones that plague you, these are some of the ones that do me: Kids & pets...cops & crooks... liberals & conservatives...coming & going:

* Lately sociologists have confounded us with a pair of conclusions. People love their pets [I knew that] but have their doubts about whether children add to their lives. The riddle here is what can pets do for me besides cost me less...?

* Lately the media send us mixed messages. They feature the rate and roar of gangland crime every day, imploring the police to get aggressive. And yet when they feature the police getting aggressive they call it brutality. The riddle here is how are the police to get aggressive politely...?

* Lately the Wall Street Journal reported conservatives are happier than liberals. Coming from a conservative paper, that's no surprise. What is a surprise is their reasoning. Their research shows liberals are too open-minded to alternatives to feel as secure as single-minded conservatives. The riddle here is does this mean a closed mind is a terrible thing to waste...?

* Lately I find myself studying the second wedding ring on my finger, because it's a family heirloom going back to an 1803 wedding of a "J to J with love." Whenever I look at this band of gold from so very long and far away in our family, I ponder all the joys and fears that passed between J and J; and all the others down the generations. The riddle here is almost an aching one, for I struggle to believe all those feelings among all those Spataforas are simply a blip on the cosmic screen. Here today and gone forever tomorrow. Our species has forever struggled with this Is-there-an-afterlife-after-all...

Oh, you thought I had the answers to these riddles...? Please...!!

Friday, July 13, 2012


Joe Paterno is in a grave and Jesse Jackson Jr in a treatment center, yet the vultures continue to circle. It's the way modern society functions. First build a pedestal, then crush it. You get a high twice!

While alumni and voters join the media in swooping in to pick the carcasses dry, there's this hypocritical squawk about justice.  Nothing wrong with justice so long as we wear its weight on our own shoulders as well. Anyone remember that great punchline: "He who is without sin let him cast the first stone..."

No sense here in defending the victims or in victimizing their defenders. We're all part of this vulture culture. At one time such things as family honor motivated us to take up the sword in noble revenge. Now we do it with pen. It's really true: The pen can be mightier than the sword.

Whether the media, the paparazzi, or we are right or wrong, the vulture in us needs satisfaction. Gnawing on some occasional sun-drenched body parts fills that need very nicely. Only even vultures only devour what they find, they don't manufacture their own prey like we do.

How to survive these winged monsters? There's the Donald Trump Way: You thrive on it. There's another but long neglected way:You act with such strict honor that there's little for the vultures to find. Lets see, looking around the field of battle, it's easy to spot the Trumps thriving in the glare of attention. They proudly live by the rule: "Survival of the fittest because let face it we're best fit to survive!" As for that other way, that honor thing: "If that's your best hold card in this game, you lose!"

Footnote > At the end of the game, the vultures get all the players. The only difference then is some of the carcasses are wearing finer clothes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


If you're an American male, you've been lapping up shoot-em-up Westerns all your life. Oh, sometimes we update them by substituting 6-guns with missiles, but it's always the same good-guy-beats-bad-guy-and -gets-girl-in-the-end. The formula was patented long before even John Wayne or Tom Cruise.

But if you remember, just about the time the hard-charging posse was ready to throw the rope around the dirty varmint's neck to gratify our lust for vengeance, that damn preacher [or maybe school ma-rm] would show up to heal their rage with the balm of justice [see The Oxbow Incident for details].

It's not all that different today in another hot-summer Chicago. The passionate posse of our rage spills over in the sports bar and at the 19th hole with: "How long are we going to lets these punks get away with it! In my day, the cops came in shooting first, reading their Miranda Rights a helleva later!"

And you know what...? Often that was true. Only the facts show that killing the bad guys often only spiked the gang rates. Posse-police didn't succeed any more then than they do now. Because the same facts show there will always be more breeders than bullets.

The "breeders?" Everyone knows who they are: the broken families and busted neighborhoods where the good kids die young. Only not everyone knows what to do about it. Sure, better rearing, schooling, and caring. But each of these institutions -- the family, the school, the church -- is almost in as much disarray as the breeders.

Now what? To be perfectly and dismally honest, humanity has been asking that very same question ever since Cain killed Abel. Psychiatry calls it the libido...sociology calls it the environment...theologians call it the human condition...big city mayors call it another hot summer!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Not a very noble invitation. But come on, you know who they are! Frankly, so do I. Oh, not their name, but their type. We've all had our share of scoundrels. Life's just that way. And probably for good reason, for without opponents, we wouldn't bring our best game.

So let me guess. The kid who used to taunt you everyday on the way to school...the teacher who always made you do it over again...the boss who never has a kind word...the credit card company who never gives you a break...and what about that co-worker who stabbed you in the back. 

Vetting your opponents comes easy. After all, the wounds they leave never quite heal. Yet the only decent way to make your list is, first, to include your own indecencies and, second, to include those unintended consequences that in the long run served you so well. However, in one of life's ironies we usually make these discoveries much later, say at reunions and wakes.

Take my top five:

* ANDY ~ The little rat in second grade who squealed on Santa. As it turned out, though, by killing Santa he unleashed a galaxy of imaginary characters to take his place, nicely serving my career as a writer

* ROSEMARY ~ The little red haired vixen in eighth grade who never returned my undying devotion. But as it turned out, she set the bar so high that no one reached the heights until at last my very own Joan

* CLARENCE ~ The fussy academic who turned me down for a professorship. But as it turned out, I turned to a much larger world of endeavor in which we became colleagues rather than rivals

* FRANK SINATRA ~ I sent him a script he never returned. But with each passing year I remember that rejection as an instruction not to waste time shooting for the top when second place is more reachable

My 5th...? I expect one to come along one of these days. Only at this age, "enemy" is no longer how you see most people. Maybe just "fellow traveler."  Now...what about your list?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Statistics are king in today's era of scientific exactitude. They have the instruments with which to quantify virtually everything down to its smallest particle. Hence the professional statistician's crown. They are quoted most every day when it comes to our weather and climate, health and wealth, viewing and buying.

But take a statistic to lunch some day and watch. While it can perfectly dissect the food on your plate, it will have trouble predicting dessert. You see, even the best statistician will admit predicting is a very iffy game. And yet, today's climatologists and sociologists are being asked to spin their numbers like swords slicing open the curtains to our future.

Lets see how they're doing...

With climate, the National Weather Service has a bazillion stats on the new heat, drought and tornado records. But here's the funny thing, fans, they can't agree any more than the pols in D.C. on whether our climate is on the brink of an epoch pneumonia or just another bad sneeze.

With sociology, the halls of academia are a scholarly fury of disagreements right now. A passel of professors have recently dissected us into warring classes, castes and cultures. The more grim predict "America is shredding at the seams." Listening to the current election season it's easy to see why some sociologists say our times are the most divided since the Civil War.

But back to our lunch date...

I have no expertize in either climate or sociology. However, I'd share my dessert with my statistic with this advice: Straight-line projections into the future can be terrible wrong. Two classic examples: (1) in 1899 the US Patent Office predicted they would go out of business because every invention had by now been developed (2) in that same year, New York City predicted the streets by 1950 would be 3 inches deep in horse manure.

Tales to humble the haughtiest of predictions!

Monday, July 9, 2012


Actually there probably are no 20th C Mayberry's left in our 21st C. But at one time, inhabited by good and gentle folks like Andy Griffith, there were thousands. I know because I lived in one. Lately I've discovered on Facebook literally thousands of wistful adults who grew up in similar Mayberry's.

But something ugly has happened right before our mistful eyes. Wannabe Andy's -- like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Tea Partiers -- have kidnapped our lovely green town, and are holding its gentle folks hostage. Yep, hostage to their mis-informed take on the town.

Seems like they're using the soft rhythms of that older America to tout something they're calling the "real America." As I hear them using that name, I hear them mocking communities like today's Oak Park and Evanston who've been busy saving not just touting Mayberry. Not by deep-freezing it in their angry speeches, but by keeping its soul alive by adding to its population....!

Stroll their streets and stores today and I promise you this. You'll find some of the very same verdant lawns and gardens and Victorians of old. And populated with some of the very same kids selling lemonade, dads trimming bushes, moms making dinner, neighbors sharing over backyard fences, and walk-to stores and churches. Just like I remember.


Only Oak Park and Evanston have thoughtfully added to their Wonder Bread populations. Populations of all kinds, colors, and faiths. Honestly, when I look back to my Mayberry, its glory still shines. Only looking around Oak Park and Evanston's population, now I know what was missing.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


As for summertime clothes-shedding, people do so in inverse proportion to their proportions. Anytime, though, is a good time for shedding a few clingy cliches. Like the ones that presume we are the superior of all the animal kingdom. Ask any bomb or disease sniffing dog about that one...!

Maybe humanity shouldn't be so quick to consider our animal instincts so inferior to our rational thinking. If you tally the number of times your instincts saved your life versus your thinking, well you might be surprised. So lets hear it for those sensory skills of ours:

* Smell is so often overlooked. And yet how often does a passing aroma instantly trigger powerfully subtle emotions in us? Fresh cut grass -- the distant days of summer childhood. Chalk -- those almost forgotten years in the classroom. Gardenias -- perhaps an eternity-ago prom night. A pancake house -- oh my god, I'm back in Mom's kitchen.

Not too different from our pets, we can pick up body scents. Close your eyes in a car and can't you quickly tell who you're sitting next to? In restaurants and at parties too. Usually thinking comes only after smelling. Which might tell you to sharpen that gift, because properly used it can open remarkable sensory worlds in your brain too long neglected.

* Sound too is taken for granted. Watch your pets' ears as we now understand they can distinguish sounds and their meanings with astonishing accuracy. Hearing is one thing; listening is something quite more. When you listen to the roar of a jet -- why not allow yourself a quick reprise of that last trip you took to Italy? The strains of Bach or Mozart -- let their experience remind your very being of the majesty or order in your world. The giggle of a baby -- no harm in recalling the joy you both felt in that delivery room.

Here's the point. Like every other animal, we house a galaxy of emotions that have been stored awaiting just the right smell or sound to be released. Give them permission to take over your mind every lovely once and awhile.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Our world of dreams is a fiercely strange landscape of facts, fictions, and faces. But as we all know, they splash across our nighttime shores mixed and muddled. The ancients translated them as messages from the future. Moderns understand them as impressions from the past. Either way -- someone somewhere will dream about you tonight.

This is because somehow your life crossed theirs. As a fellow student, a fellow worker, a fellow member of an important event. Or just as likely you were simply a blip on their screen. Perhaps a face in the crowd, a nurse passing your room, a child looking up at you.

Here's the Freudian-Jungian-Hitchcockian point.

Donne was right. No one is an island. Our little ripples wash into their little ripples on this ocean of life with both small and large consequences. We're just too self-absorbed to always absorb these daily facts. Yet deep in the sanctums of our consciousness we record them like the exquisite computer network of memories that we are.

There's not enough time in our waking hours to quarry and quantify these memories. After all we're busy living and paying forward. And yet, nothing we [or those countless they's] have ever done is ever lost. Very often they simply ripple in when we're not busy living but busy dreaming.

In case I pop up this evening, do say hello. I promise to do the same.....

Friday, July 6, 2012


                                             WHY OH WHY SO MANY COLORS...?        
In a simpler time, women were simply known as mysteries. Men and song writers rather liked it that way. But somewhere along the trail, women decided they'd make other things mysteries as well. Like their colors. Men and even song writers managed nicely with basics like red, yellow, blue and green. Now...! well, now take green. We are now told there is: Apple, lime, asparagus. Moss, myrtle, jungle. Lawn, fern, forest. Not to mention Paris, Persian, Phthalo!

Those of us from Mars suspect those of you from Venus have an unspoken raison d'etre for this and other such delicious feminine obscurities. In simpler times, men held unfair advantage with the use of muscle. In response, women today take advantage with the use of mystery.

Watch any dazed man accompanying any woman through any Michigan Avenue dress salon. The mystery of everything from her colors to her cadences can neutralize him at any moment. And why not. Ever since Eden, we seem to to enjoy being neutralized...!

                                    WHY OH WHY SO MANY COMMERCIALS?
Do you know what happens in America at precisely 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 minutes after each hour of prime-time programming? These are the trigger-points for network engineers across the nation to interrupt whatever you may [or may not be] enjoying with capitalism's gift to the people: a commercial.

At one time we could switch channels, but now the national conspiracy of commercialdom has ordained  all channels go to commercials all at the same time. Thereby igniting a new national mystery. What does America do when commercials come on? One piece of documentable evidence. Water levels from toilet use plummets. Meanwhile others are exploring other rooms for answers. Stand by...

Thursday, July 5, 2012


In an exclusive Skype interview, the now-famous Higgs Boson took time away from the glass-clinking physicists in Geneva to share his secret:

ADMIRER ~ Why are you smiling?

BOSON     ~  Because everyone is so amazed when actually I've been around all along.

ADMIRER ~  Reminds me of my parents when I finally found the hidden eggs on Easter.

BOSON      ~ They hid them WANTING you to find them. When you did, they were pleased.

ADMIRER ~  For a long time I thought it was the Easter Bunny.

BOSON ~     They let you think so til it was time to realize the eggs were MEANT to be found.

ADMIRER ~  Funny how some kids react after they find there's no Easter Bunny.

BOSON     ~  Deciding if there's no Bunny hiding them, maybe there's no Parent either.

ADMIRER ~  Sorta sad.

BOSON     ~  No, sorta silly. Silly enough for them to calculate I hid myself.

ADMIRER  ~ But these guys are our best-and-brightest.

BOSON      ~ [SMALL COSMIC SIGH]] Oh dear. This hunt is going to take longer than I thought!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Mustn't take silly political flaps too seriously. But seriously, is richy-bitchy Ann actually a re-constituted role-model? She may be from Fundamentalists to Latin-Catholics to Orthodox-Jews to guys whose beefy dads always advised: "Keep her home, barefoot and pregnant!"

Those mid-20th C days when stay-at-home moms all looked like Donna Reed in the Donna Reed Show have been systematically gagged by a flurry of articulate Feminism. So as a happy kid with just such a stay-at-home mom, I'm not the one to pass judgment. However, let me take you into that cobwebby tomb known as "the way we were." Before that remarkable species of American womanhood is discarded and discredited forever by freedom-toasting Boomers and Millennials. 

Picture moms in the Mad Men era of the 50s & 60. But on their own terms. Not ours.

Average education...average looks...average husbands...in average apartments...with above-average hopes in the American Dream...by partnering with their ambitious husbands out there in the world of work. Raised by the Greatest Generation who had just survived the Depression and the War, these brides were not unaware of other careers. Yet most felt something long un-felt today. That orchestrating home, husband, and kids could be a symphony very well worth conducting. 

No, they didn't wear heels & earrings for dinner. But neither did they wear their roles like yokes of yearning to escape at the first chance. Most believed with sturdy mothers and grandmothers as their role-model that their role may not yield wonderful paychecks; far more. it yielded wonderful people.

Imagine that...! No, I don't think you can.