Friday, August 31, 2012


So what's all this about the National Institute of Health reporting, "More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety each year, many in the form of anxiety attacks." What's with this label 'attack?' I can understand a shark attack, a heart attack, an attack of indigestion, but how does anxiety attack...?

If you can't answer that, be glad. You don't want to know! It's defined as a a sudden onslaught of symptoms that can unexpectedly paralyze you with an inexplicable mix of fearfulness, self consciousness, depersonalization, dizziness, sweating, nausea, and a cold crawling panic about your immediate surroundings.

Case in point this last summer. A well-known Broadway actor suffering from chronic anxiety attacks was rushed from backstage to an ER with these symptoms. The staff told him it was a mild heart attack. He remembers sitting up and telling them, "Thank god, I thought it was going to be an anxiety attack!"

Two schools of thought about psychiatric illnesses. One is the traditional, up-by-your-own-bootstraps bravado which dismisses these as "it's all in your mind." Ironically, that's the point! The mind still remains largely a mystery to us, and so too its many diseases and cures. You can keep a smile-on-your-face and whistle-a-happy-tune from here to forever, but that won't change either here or forever. Panic attacks have been plaguing the human species since the beginning but cavalierly dismissed as: weakness, foolishness, or the work of the devil.

Modern societies have learned otherwise; however, this learning has not always seeped down to where the boys belly up to the bar and the ladies who lunch scoff at their suffering peers. There are many plagues across the land. The terrible ones you can see like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Then the even more terrible ones you can't see.

It took a war to finally recognize post-traumatic-disorder. Now what's it going to take...?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Night after night you're stretched out in front of the great luminous eye. Americans spend up to eight viewing hours a day, with some researchers claiming each hour shortens our life by 22 minutes...!

You can take those stats for what you think they're worth, but here are two facts that seem indisputable:

* Sitting in front of a glowing television, computer or cellphone screen puts you at risk for depression. 'Science News' reports, "Nighttime exposure to light from gadgets has already been shown to contribute to insomnia, cancers, obesity and diabetes. Now there is evidence screen glow can also cause mood related changes in the brain." Over the last 50 years depression rates have increased dramatically as artificial lighting at night has grown more common. If there is a causal connection, there's an off-switch to every gadget

* Watching television means allowing into your living room thousands of hours of warfare, gang violence, fireballs, homicides, rapes, child and drug abuse. And all that even before the news hour. Researcher Tom Russ of the University of Edinburgh tells, "Taking the bad news to heart is bad for your heart." One out of four people experience anxiety of that sort that distracts them, depletes their self confidence, and keeps them awake at night. "Not enough for actual medication and therapy, but enough to have less quality of life." Once again, the avalanche of these disturbing images still has an off-switch

Hiding from reality like this won't make it go away. But with pre-scheduled TV-cations, those off-switches may prove downright curative.

Afterthought...! Even without those heart-pounding screen images, there are still those things known as books. Read a few best-selling sci-fi works like 'Blade Runner,' 'Eye in the Sky,' 'How to Build an Android," or 'Solar Lottery' and chances are you'll be too scared about the future to ever turn out the lights for television again...!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Two ancient diseases grew up side by side -- Leprosy and Rabies -- consuming millions of lives all through history. Today both have been cured, yet one somehow still lives on. What's more, against all good sense, we keep inviting it back into our stories and into our lives. 

Rabies -- the plague that passes on from the bite of the infected -- has come down to us in the form of the terrifying 19th C vampire. The gone-mad sufferers appear as far back as ancient Greek tales, work their way through East European legends, reaching their apex with Bram Stoker's classic 'Dracula' in 1897. Like all great myths, the vampire is rooted in facts (Rabies) morphed into fiction (Dracula).

Hollywood -- always ready to turn any creature into a cash-cow -- has been sucking the blood out of the vampire as voraciously as he's been with his victims. However, never ready to say never, the studios picked up the vampire's undead cousin, the Haitian Zombie, and added him to the mesmerizing mix.

What is there about us civilized, rational creatures that happily pays money to be frightened out of our primitive wits? To answer, we could travel one of three paths: Biology...Psychology...Theology:

* the biologist will find genetic hard-wiring that helps explain how our evolved physicality has learned over time to anthropomorphize our primal fears in order to better identify and confront them

* the psychologist may find the same by way of our psychic hard-wiring

* the Biblical theologian will probably begin with a very different beginning -- the fallen nature of humanity forever condemned to do battle with evil in the world

It's not likely any of this is on the minds of most viewers. They're here for other reasons. One, as with all tales of evil and horror, is the chance to confront our fears knowing all along we will survive them from the safety of our seats.

"See," we reassure ourselves, "we always come out all right!" That said, we then have to step out into the blackness of the real night. Where safe endings are far more chancy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Fellas, there's this brand-new study about fatherhood with equal parts good news & bad...!

This one comes from my old Alma Mater, Northwestern University, something like those pill commercials where the good news is portrayed in beautiful people running beautifully across beautiful green meadows, while the bad news is shared by off-camera speed-readers rattling off the side effects. Ahh, you've seen them!

Anthropologist Dan Eisenberg tells "The children from older fathers inherit a genetic boost that will help them live a long life. This happens across at least two generations..."

That's the good news. But come on now, you don't expect the professor to stop there. In science there's this thing about hedging your bets. Comes from its built-in skepticism of all those centuries of pre-scientific absolutism. He adds: "But while older fathers do offer a longevity advantage, previous research has shown they're also more likely to father children with a genetic predisposition to autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder..."

Say what...??

Eisenberg not only sounds like my own on-the-other-handing doc, there's a distinct touch of politician and general to him. Like when those fellas tell us what to expect when they recommend that new energy policy or their latest deployment of the Fleet to the South China Sea. Sliced-and-diced, their pronouncements leave enough room for error you can shove an 18-wheeler through it.

Lets face it -- we can't skip through a dangerous world believing whatever we most want to believe. Still, don't you miss those summer nights when you fell asleep in the backseat of Dad's car, waking up to find yourself all tucked into your bed...?

Monday, August 27, 2012


Lets face it. Eve got a bad rap in the Bible. But then the Bible was written almost exclusively by men. After centuries of bondage -- at first kept barefoot-and-pregnant, then later kept on powerless-pedestals -- the women in the 19th C West  started to say enough. By the 21st C, kitchens have emptied and pedestals replaced by conference rooms.

Numerically speaking, this could be history's largest revolution.

The female of the species in the West now outsizes the male in the number of voters, college students, med and law graduates. And just this week the 'Atlantic' reported: "Of the 1.2 million books published since 1900, the proportion of male pronouns to female pronouns has now fallen from 5-to-1 down to less than 2-to-1."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is very big news indeed. Olympic gold is being gathered and glass ceilings being shattered faster than ever before. Eve -- along with Helen, Cleopatra, Beatrice and Susan B Anthony -- would trumpet in their graves.

The ascending female of the species still may have a few kinks in their armor. I mean, they still have to account for Phyllis Schlafly, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. Their variegated remarks on life, love, and laundry have raised eyebrows and Prozac sales even in some of the Red States.

But then there's that other female voice. Marilyn Monroe liked to put it this way: "Women who are trying to be equal to men lack ambition!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012


If life is like a movie whose surprise plot-twists you don't want to know upfront, that's fine. For you young parents, this then is a spoiler-alert. Don't read any further, because there's one plot-twist up ahead that will blow you away...!

If you're still with me, lets put that into context. Remember the joke about the 16-year-old who, when she turned 26, exclaimed: "Amazing how much smarter my parents got in just 10 years." Well, my fellow travelers on the parent itinerary, that lesson will apply to you too. For the rest of the trip.

Here's why. We're all traveling across the same bridge at the same time. Kids, parents, grandparents. It's the bridge from-here-to-there. Only each generation is crossing it at a different point in space & time.

The 16-year-old is just on the first part of the bridge so they can't really see -- much less understand -- what's up ahead and eventually what's at the far end. The young parents is further along, so you can look back and see what's still ahead for the kids [AKA, "been-there-done-that"]. Finally the grandparents who are nearing the end of the bridge, so we can look back and see almost the whole journey.

We're all on the same bridge at the same time. But we're all experiencing and dissecting it differently. Each of us from our own particular age-angle. Seeing its structure, strengths, and sanctities as differently as the man who built it in contrast to the man who's falling off it.  Which is why when the elder says to the younger, "when I was your age," the advice falls on ears that cannot hear. After all, they have about as much idea of what you're talking about as they do of the day and the world into which you first brought them.

Now here's why this was a spoiler alert from a grandparent to a parent. Surprise...! The very same thing is still true about you...

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Fonzie, Ferris Bueller, Grease, American Pie! Hollywood images that ignite giddy recollections of what we are told in convenient retrospect were America's 'happy days.' Trouble is I was there and, given our daily duck-and-cover threat our Cold War could turn atomic hot any minute, they weren't all that happy.

However, through the gauze of time, they do look simpler. And much of their simplicity can be found in the simple fare on our drive-in movie screens. More than 5000 of them in the country back then. A little sub-culture all its own featuring over-sexed teens looking for their own dark place, and over-populated families who found it easier to gather the kids in cars rather than balconies.

Here's the point.

Right now there's a resurgence of these drive-ins, replete with the individual car speakers and walk-to popcorn stands. You say you hadn't noticed...? Well, pretty soon you will because the media loves to talk about the media. In this case, a 50-years-later revival.

That's the point. Revival. Life is lived in cycles. Be it the economy's booms-and-busts or the surprise discovery stay-at-home-moms can be a good thing or the hemlines, hats, hairdos, shoes, and elections. Everything, I mean everything, eventually comes back.

Like cliches? Researchers usually dismiss them, but here's one you can take to the bank: "The more things change the more they're the same!" This slightly battered species of ours really has only so many roads through time it can take. And while we often take them boldly, almost as often they end up ending pretty close to where we started.

What's fun about this is how each time our descendants think its the first time. Drive-in movie anyone.

Friday, August 24, 2012


No actual bloodshed to these homicides. It's money they're shedding. The live stage shows of Jack Benny, George Burns and Al Jolson died in the 40s when Clark Gable, Lana Turner and Marlon Brando started to hit the silver screens. Hits like 'Gone With The Wind,' 'The Godfather, and 'The Exorcist ' were social events. Lines packing downtown movie houses with crowds dressed to the nines.

Now? What are you crazy...? Any night of any week dressed in any hard-scrabble outfit I want, my phone can instantly access movie scenes, cast interviews, with entire rundowns of box office results and reviews. The days when some days were special days, when people met people, when you might even take a cab or a limo somewhere are sorta gone. I mean, you've got it all in the palm of your hand, baby!

Sociologists and psychologists study this, but you can pretty much figure it out for yourself. When Mohamed-can't-go-to-the-mountain your key pad can now bring any mountain to any Mohamed it's told to. On the asset side: Immediate access to anything anywhere anytime. On the debit side: No longer as many reasons to reach out and interact with many other Others.

Call it cocooning or whatever you choose, our technology is changing who we are. It always has [the first wheel, printing press, radio]. It always will [the first 2-hour jet from NY to LA, the first commercial space shuttle, the first beam-me-up-Scottie].

Ready..? Set...? Oh wait a minute, the human race has never been really ready! We just hang on tight.


Maybe you already knew this, but late summer and early winter are the sexiest seasons of the year.  Who says so? Those sexy scientists at Villanova who have actually taken time away from sex to graph it. As in the number of Google searches with the word 'sex' in them.

Study author Patrick Markey reports birth records, condom sales and abortion rates all suggest, "a heightened pursuit of intercourse during these months." He theorizes one reason may be, "we are around more people more often during these vacation and holiday months." He goes on to say, "perhaps humans are hardwired to copulate at those times, because then giving birth in early spring or autumn presented an evolutionary advantage for our  earliest ancestors."

Whether sex is in the air right now or not, I kinda hate being advised human love is largely animal genetics at seasonal work. Professor Markey may be correct in his data, but there are those of us who'd still like to believe love is more than lust. That people are attractive for their values as well as their bodies.

OK, OK, that dates me! But with more than 3 billion people on the planet under the age of 25, the mind boggles at the thought of what these next few months might be like. Starting this very week in Tampa, Florida where the strip clubs are expecting big business during the GOP Convention. Club owner Don Kleinhans says he's been told to expect, "two to three times the trade a Super Bowl would mean."

Or as the popular night cub Scarlett has on its marquee: Come on down and party like a liberal!

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Beginning with that first day of school when you skittishly left the safety of home, there's been a little hole in your soul. Maybe not consciously, but still a tiny tugging to recapture some of that lost sense of safety. After all, you're only one small player in a huge planetary drama where very little safety comes free.

If you take the time to figure out why that younger world seemed so safe, chances are the answer is: It was so much smaller, cozier, and personal. Sure, you wanted to spread your wings and you have. Still, even the boldest eagle returns to the nest at night.

Lately, virtually nothing in your life is small anymore. The more successful you've become, the less there can be of small and sheltered. Our modern world has made a covenant with bigness and boldness. Lets call it the Walmart Effect. In the name of convenience, efficiency, and cost benefits, the America you grew up in has morphed into something in which there can be little room for being little anymore!

We don't want to get maudlin about this. Only reflective. How many neighbors do you know by name... how many members of your church or club or community...what's the name of the local produce man... how about the cop patrolling your streets or the mail carrier or the newspaper fella? Well of course, our answer is: We're busy so we do the best we can.

In fact we do no such thing. In our daily hurry to make a buck, care for the kids, keep up with the world around us, there's simply no time to be slow anymore. Or small or cozy or personal. This is the big time. Little things like those are nice but hardly necessary. Onward...!

The funny thing, though, is that the bigger, faster, bolder we've become, the more migraines, strokes, heart attacks and depression we've recorded. What's wrong with this picture....?


Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Life...! What is it, how do we define it, and how are we supposed to live it? Prophets and poets have been raising and answering those questions from the very first tribal bonfires to the latest Huffington post. But more to the point, how do you and I handle these hot-coal questions for ourselves?

For those of us who find them in the theater, the consensus of our favorite playwrights is pretty grim. Shakespeare: "Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing!" Chekhov: "Life is a tragedy filled with joys." Williams: "Life has meaning if you're bucking for heaven; but if heaven is a fantasy, we're living in a jungle."

Here's a handy checkpoint in your script of life -- summertime and how you handle its ending.

The hints arrive every late August. There's this repressed sensation that the best hours of the year are coming to an end. Oh, there's nothing at all wrong with autumn, for its palette of burnished colors is extraordinary. But the brooding white and wickedness of another winter looms, reminding us that all good things must come to an end.

Summer is what life ought to be. Ripe, green, bursting with warmth, light and love. Most of us do our very best living and dreaming in our splendid Junes and Julys. There's this sense of release from routine and freedom from fear, all packaged inside those lazier rhythms. Now, however, the days of vacation are dwindling down to a precious few, and the chalky smell of stern class and conference rooms fills the air.

When you think about it, no one asked us to audition for this role in the world. We just happen to find ourselves in the cast of a great planetary drama with perhaps a few passing lines of dialog. If its summer is what life ought to be, then its summer ending may be a prologue to its epilogue. And if calling your attention to such side effects stir you up a little....well, very likely the playwright had that in mind

Monday, August 20, 2012


There are several million of us seniors in the US watching the great Entitlements Debate. But that's the last number I'll need to use. Instead, I'd simply like to honor the old rule: "Define your terms."

* By 'entitlements' we generally mean Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Disability, and government pension plans. Oh, but we're off to a bad start right away. Because the more honest descriptor would be defined-benefits-plans. Plans in which real people invested real hours, real sweat, and real talent into the community they served, and which in turn pledged them a return-on-investment. The beneficiaries are reaping only what they sowed!

* By 'numbers' we generally mean statistics that have been tallied, tested and deployed in various algorithmic projections. Both presidential candidates have submitted their projections to the public -- well sorta. Both have started off with most of the same facts & stats -- well, sorta. But then both have come up with dramatically different factual & statistical conclusions -- there's no sorta about that!

* By 'experts' we generally mean mathematic and demographic specialists from a cross-section of college campuses, government agencies, and private enterprises whose credentials are commonly accepted. Oscar Wilde caught their essence nicely when he added: "An expert is an ordinary man away from home giving advice!"

* By 'solutions' we generally mean a polysyllabic ensemble of promises designed to dazzle the ignorant and temporarily comfort the informed. For example, note how both candidates assert their solution will "save the same Medicare the other solution destroys." A syllogistic sleight-of-hand reminiscent of the Blackjack dealer cheerily inviting the players to "stay with it!"

* By 'beneficiaries' we generally mean all those lives who have by now accrued a burden of needs. Mostly medical for which they would gladly give up their checks if only they didn't bear the burden of these needs in the first place. Aging, crippled, in a miasmas of various physical and emotional failures, these beneficiaries are now confronting a life-struggle. They vote each election with the same hope the experts' latest solutions will at least put their needs on a par with the latest missile system, farm subsidy, and corporate tax-write off!

The irony here can be a bitter one. For the experts chosen by the candidates to address these needs are themselves usually young, healthy, well-fed, and cock-sure.


The Olympic torch is out now. Most torches of most kinds across the world eventually go out. But not that special one you and I are carrying in our hearts. You know the one, or maybe more, I'm talking about!

It's an eternal flame you've kept lit all these many long years. Most likely its fire burns for that special someone from your past. You remember. So young, so vital, so indispensable to your life that you still can't quite understand how you've survived this long without them. Or maybe the fire simmers for a remarkable place in your travels. Or a remarkable time in your country. Or some gossamer dream you've hid in the secret chambers of your ambitions, safely away from the laughter it would probably bring.

Somehow, somewhere, there's this special someone or something looming in this mists of your memories. It's been so long you can't exactly make it out anymore. Probably, in the insistent adult demand "to grow up," you've even stopped trying. And yet you and I know it's there. With a thin but inextinguishable life of its own.

This torch is what our balladeers sing for us late at night ['My Funny Valentine,' 'Everytime We Say Goodbye,' 'The Man That Got Away,' 'Is That All There is']. Why do we listen? How can we not! It's the purging a denied heart craves. The tears we feel better having shed.

By now, however, the head has learned to instruct the heart what-was-can-never-be-again. The ancient Greeks had this way of proving it: "You can never jump into the same flowing river twice." Of course, the ancient Greeks had to admit we can stand longingly on the same riverbank forever.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


You say, "I don't know what the hell an algorithm is!" but I say it doesn't matter. There's one straining at the digital bit right now ready to scoop you and your best labors up into a brave new world. If you think calculators and computers have replaced you, you ain't seen nothing yet...!

Algorithms are digital formulas designed to methodically solve any problem you give them. Oh, not just the obvious ones like THINKING faster then you. That ship has sailed.These days they have matured into formulas that can CREATE faster than you. You want to write a novel? create a musical for Broadway? design a step-by-step answer to the intrusion of Chinese warships in the southeast Pacific?

Algorithms aren't supposed to brag, but brag they do! From Hollywood recording studios to CIA counter-intelligence, these little nameless faceless critters have actually replaced dozens of....well, lets just say it out loud!  College and life-educated specialists who were only a few years ago labeled "indispensable." Algorithms have written musical hits, designed political campaigns, helped football defensive coaches, and planned Manhattan wedding events! How do you top that?

Look, I don't begrudge our algorithms their genius. I simply begin to wonder if average IQs like me will be increasingly trampled in the nation's unemployment lines. And if average IQs like me will have the nerve to step out of the house in the morning. Wait...there's an algorithm for that.


the hearts of his American audience. Unlike his old partner Dean Martin and fellow legend Tony Bennett, Jerry's spectacular reign in movies and television ended some 40 years ago. Before many of you were born.

Still, Jerry Lewis is a name and a career to be reckoned with. Why? Because he is a study in (1) the delights and dangers of Ego (2) the classic American catechism which says everyone gets a second chance.

He made the original film 'The Nutty Professor' in 1963. Now hobbled by age and disease, he has put his last stack of chips on a bet that he can direct and revive the story for the Broadway stage. Jerry played Broadway only once in his fabled career, saying: "Dad always told me you're nothing till you play the Palace!" Right now his stage production is in tryouts before testing its chances for the big time.

For those who think of Lewis, if they think of him at all, as another has-been reaching for the brass ring, this report is of small consequence. For those who laughed at Martin & Lewis when they were America's greatest show business team, they may see this as a test of sorts. Can a once-upon-a-time America still catch fire in today's cruder culture? can humor without nudity and vulgarity get anyone's attention?

No one knows, not even the investors gambling on Jerry having one last hurray in him. But I'll tell you this. Every grandparent, every senior community, every gray haired columnist in the country [especially in France where he is still deemed a comic genius] will be wishing him well. And probably saying: "The kids may be running the country, but it's the country WE built they're running..."

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Memory can be an elder's most exquisite gift. It allows you to have roses in winter, lost youth in your heart, instant antidotes to your current fears. The first and cruelest infliction of Alzheimer is when our memories get sucked out of our lives.

When we're young [there are 3 billion people on the planet now under 25] memories are accessed easily, for we have less to remember. When we're old [the number of octogenarians has never been greater] recent memories may be slower, yet distant ones can be stunningly clear.

So how best do we -- young and old alike -- lock our best memories into a safe accessible place?

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh tested the question with a group of healthy volunteers between the ages of 60 and 90. They found the best way to best store our best memories is: " simply shutting our eyes and relaxing after seeing or learning something new."

Oh really! Did we need a campus research program to conclude the obvious? A far more compelling study would have been: Where do our memories go when we die? Yes, of course, I understand dead is dead. I further understand the materialist philosophy that once the brain terminates, so do all its memories. However, isn't there a bolder way to address this issue: Is matter all that matters in our lives? I think not!

Memories live on beyond the grave. In a hundred ways. In the albums and photos and memorabilia carefully left behind in that home where other brains pick up their cadence and carry them further. There is the spouse...the children...the family, friends and community...even the haulers hired to empty the place. You see those memories live past the wake, beyond the grave, into that enormous cosmic soup of energy that began bubbling the day after Eden.

If there is a God, he remembers. If there is no God, the cosmos remembers. Nothing dies forever.

Friday, August 17, 2012


The cadaver I'm talking about is you. Is me. Is all 330 million of us in this 21st C America which moves while at the same time remains dead.

Think about it. Our psyches are dead in the sense they've been battered into submission by so much 24/7 stimuli. The noise...the traffic...the crowds...the jack-hammer assault of images from our screens, phones and billboards. The only authentic silences left are in summer-night forests and isolated hill country.

It wasn't always this way. Most of us aren't really sure how we stumbled into this sight-and-sound-around zone. But because we have, a strange thing has happened. Like any addict, the more stimuli we experience, the more we need to feel alive.

The people of power who would use us understand this. And so they continue to pump up the injections:

* films and television throb with more vile & violence, sex & sensation, manic & maniacal behaviors
* music and lyrics pulse with more screeching dissonance and taunting obscenities
* rock concerts compete for the wildest, weirdest and most wanton they can fit on stage
* political campaigns dig ever deeper to trigger the worst psychoses hiding in our voter hearts

The plot here is really as simple as it is threatening. The over-stimulated cadaver that is modern America can be reached only with still greater and more sweeping stimuli. To get our attention, the drugs we live on must be relentlessly increased.

Limit the drugs...? How dare you limit my liberty to impose them! Reach the patient instead with quiet logic...? Please, don't be naive!

Now, hand me that needle.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


At one time in the long twisting history of love, men of substance had their pick. In ancient Persia, Egypt, Rome and as late as the glitterati of Chicago's Playboy Mansion. Young beautiful women paraded [and were paraded] in the name of love.

Recently neurobiologists have redefined what we call love, by isolating the genes and memes which trigger the evolutionary prompts we experience.

But then my own favorite Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran. Listen to how they differ:

* Hugh Hefner     >      " Nice girls like sex too...."
* Neurobiologist >      " Evolution impels us to mate & procreate..."
* Kahlil Gibran     >      " When love beckons to you, follow her though her ways are hard and steep..."

The next party you troll, you may want to contrast these three voices. Although in America circa 2012 the rules of love and marriage have changed, not their reigns. Even in an age where both are free and where the notion of commitment feels dated, poets of the heart like Gibran still have something to say:

Of love ~ "If you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night, to know the pain of too much tenderness, to be wound by your own understanding of love, and to bleed for them willingly and joyfully..."

Of marriage ~ "You were born together and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be space in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you..."

If you bring Gibran with you to the party, I'm guessing the guests will start to look wonderfully different!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Yes, yes, I know the pundits are busy prattling on about the epic battle of political ideas shaping up for November [AKA, Ayn Rand vs Karl Marx]. Although the addition of political wonk Ryan to political vacuum Romney seems to make this true, I've researched an entirely different angle. OK, so my facts are a little fuzzy, but here it's the food not the facts, mam...!

Anecdotal evidence tells us R&R drink de-caf while B&B take their coffee straight. Pay attention, my fellow right-to-vote fan, for this detail is not insignificant.

After oil, coffee is the world's biggest trading product with billions of pounds grown and shipped every year. It is the lingua franca of universal communication. After age 14, 80% of the world's population drinks some form of coffee. Said to be true of alpha males like Napoleon, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Donald Trump and oh yes Charlie Sheen.

These and other public figures drink their coffee straight. If R&R don't, what does this tell the anxious voter? Theories conflict. It could mean that R&R are too uptight to handle the real stuff. Or it might tell us they are the thinking-man's addict vs the intuitional-man's addict. Or it could simply mean when they get that 3 AM phone call from the Pentagon, they'll be sleeping too soundly to get up and pull the trigger!

A modest suggestion  here.

Yes, ignore the negative ads...listen to the the attention to the body language...and study the debates. Then when you have to pull the lever, ask yourself what kind of coffee you had that morning. Like a shining shaft of light, this will help guide your heart and hand.

Sound too frivolous? Sorry to say that an entire history of elections tells us -- this is about as good a way to pick a winner as any...!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We may be among the fattest people on the planet and the Chinese among the leanest,  yet we can still boast the athletic body's greatest prize: Olympic Medals. The US won the most this year in London, and the most of the most were won by our women. Women's time in running and swimming alone has now reached a full 90% of their male counterparts.

But talking about athleticism among women, there's a back story. The US has more health clubs and health regimens per capita than any other nation.  Of these, more than 78% are weight-loss programs for women. Unlike the hefty models of Greek statuary and Renaissance paintings, American women have had an obsession with leanness ever since the Flapper rage of the Twenties.

So where does zaftig 135-pound curvaceous Marilyn Monroe fit into this pattern...?

The 'Daily Mail' of London recently revealed her secret diet plan. The 20th C sex goddess, who lured politicians, athletes and playwrights, wrote in her diary: "I begin my day with a slimming breakfast of two raw eggs in warm milk; hard boiled steak, liver or lamb chops for dinner with a handful of carrots; in between, a 10-miiute workout; plus a hot fudge sundae every evening."

While this diet would not have won her any Gold Medals, it apparently helped win her a permanent pedestal in the pantheon of American feminine beauty. No, she never made the classic cover of the Wheaties box...but then, how many women reading this on their treadmill would trade her beauty for a box of cereal?

Sorry, Jenny!

Monday, August 13, 2012


Ever count the number of computers in your life...? Giant ones scanning you from afar; big ones at the job; small ones in your car; tiny ones in your phone, TV, microwave and security systems...?

I didn't think so. And yet they number in the hundreds every hour of every day. Which is perfectly all right when you consider what they do for you. But -- my fellow digitalized citizens -- have you ever considered what they do for themselves...?

Not a frivolous question, I assure you!

Look [more correctly, listen] to their conversations. Usually at night while you're sleeping. OK, I grant you have to be a little paranoid to hear them, but hear them I have. Night after night once I learned about their cryptic interpersonal communications.

Why just the other night my smartphone was telling my car GPS to take an alternate route in the morning so we'd pass the Best Buy that was having a sale on advanced phone models. She [I'm fairly sure my phone is a she] wants me to update her. Next there was the exchange I caught between my desktop and my credit card company's data bank. The little twerp was tipping them off to a few of the shortcuts I've been taking. I mean, now that was just out-and-out mean.

To be sure, these are trivial breaches in my security. But I fear there will be more come. Once these little creature really get organized, I can see it all now. Their own Third Party this November. And who's their nominee? That's right: HAL!

And while he's a little creepy, he just might be our best choice....

Sunday, August 12, 2012


By the year 2050 your sweet Jimmy or Emily will be in their 40s. The prime of their life. But what about the prime of their country? Well, lets take a long-range look.

It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future, but here's a pair that look pretty sound. (1) Your 40-year-old will be living in an America in which 51% of the population will be Brown, Black or Yellow. In 2050 being White will no longer mean being first (2)  Your 40-year-old will be lugging far more pounds than you did at that age. In 2050 being American may no longer mean winning as much Olympic Gold.

The first prediction appears demographically irreversible. The second is more iffy. If your children change current habits, the prediction could still prove wrong. However, right now our national habit of inactivity seems fixed. A UN study found the US ranked among the "most physically lazy countries in the world," with 40% of us engaging in little or no physical activity. Greece was the most active in the West, with only 2%of its citizens inactive.

Mom! Dad! Here's the point.

No matter how decisive and devoted you are as a parent, you can't control the world in which Jimmy and Emily will be faring. Population, poundage, and prosperity are all far outside your reach. And that's probably true regardless of who you vote for this November.

But there is a wild card out there.

The population of the clean lean living Amish in North America is doubling every 22 years. While there were only 179 settlements 20 years ago, there are nearly 500 today. By 2050 this remarkably unique brand of Americans is expected to be in the millions. Fortry-ish Jimmy and Emily may not become one, but by then their America may be happily feeling their presence far beyond their quiet farm communities.

Mom!. Dad! You might want to start reading up on the amazing history of the American Amish...

Saturday, August 11, 2012


There are many dream-teams out there. Especially at the Olympics. But you, my fellow dreamers, will be like me a part of the world's biggest dream-team this very night!

You see,  your dreams will be featuring a remarkable array of characters from your life. In all kinds of crazy roles. Like the manager in the produce department you argued with today ...the cop who pulled you over last week....the chemistry professor who used to drive you mad...the prom date you've never forgotten... maybe even Adolf Hitler or Woodrow Wilson or Meryl Streep.

How in the world will these characters come streaming through your nocturnal blogosphere? Well, you have Freud and Jung to help you figure that out. But here's something they -- and probably you -- rarely talk about. The remarkable ways in which YOU will be a cast member in THEIR dreams tonight.

"Their" might include any of a thousand people all over the world. Whose lives you've somehow crossed at some brief or extended or pleasant or bitter point in their existence. You see, while you occasionally dream of THEM, just as likely they dream of YOU.

So sleep tight this night, because you're scheduled to make an appearance in one or more of THEIR dreams before the next sunrise. And think of this -- you'll be appearing without a contract or script!


During 98% of human history, this question made no sense. Man met woman...woman accepted man ... baby happened...end of report!

What's more the more babies the better, because they then grew up to be your free labor force. Lately, however, we've inherited all these labor-saving devices. So who needs kids? No surprise that in the most technically advanced societies, the number of births continues to plunge. That has the demographers in Europe and the United State in a frenzy, because of "the invasion of fertile foreign immigrants."

Putting aside the statistical hand-wringers, what does all this mean for today's mommy and daddy?

Researchers have been grinding out a mountain of contradictory data on this [which is sorta what researchers do, because they always on-the-other-hand their every statistical conclusion]. Although they all use the same set-point -- how happy kids make you feel -- they define happiness very differently. For some of us, happiness is when you're free and independent to chase your own dreams, not those of a brood of yapping kids. If that's you, you're probably living in a snazzy high rise in the city!

Others define happiness as the fulfillment they feel in creating and helping realize the dreams of their all genetic offspring. For you, diapers and PTA meetings are simply part of a trip to the stars. You're probably living with a sprawling back yard in the suburbs!

Wherever you live and whatever the demographers are warning you, kids will remain a part of your life [or at least those of your family and neighbors]. So here's a pragmatic way to deal with this reality. Unless you're in China, neither you nor I nor the demographers are going to change our baby-making habits. Frankly the world's habits have been around much longer than any of us.Perhaps it would be best to just embrace Stanley Kubrick's conclusion: "The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent."


Friday, August 10, 2012


We've all learned about first impressions. And how they last. Sometimes they really really last, and damn if they aren't hard to undo!

Take for instance Eve's serpent. She bought into his venomous pitch right on the spot. When Caesar and later Anthony met Cleopatra, they did the same thing. No amount of after-the-fact warnings changed any of these hearts. Then there's the report Kruschev's first impression of JFK was that of inexperience, supposedly whetting his appetite for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962

World history aside, personal history is more to the point. How many times have you muttered to yourself "Now what I shoulda said...!" right after that sales meeting or first date? Or what about the time you left your child's teacher wishing you had expressed your complaints a little more diplomatically?

Impressions are complex things. They're symphony of sensations including the look in your eyes, the tone in your voice, and the culture of your body.  Yeah, we all wear masks of various kinds, and yet they don't always hide as much we hope.

So the next poker game or bidding war, remember this. It may not be fair -- what's fair in this life! -- but the other party is judging you just as unconsciously as you're judging them,. They can't help can't help's just one of those funny little flaws to our human nature. We're always in a rush to get to the bottom line of the last chapter.

Slow down and think about it. It's that serpentine rush in Eden that got us all here in the first place!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


There's an old, scarred movie house in my once-elegant neighborhood of Austin. It's still waiting for a closeup that will never come. It hides not on Sunset Boulevard but along the boarded-up 5800 west block of Division Street.. Its graffiti face weeps for what once was. The Rockne, originally called Ambassador, was built there with art deco panache in the Roaring Twenties, its glory days spanning over 50 years of Chicago history.

While there are many such rotting movie palaces, this one's history has a special roar. Four of Chicago's famous natives almost met here. Capone and Hefner, Bob Newhart and Kim Novak. No four I ever met ever lived in the same neighborhood to become such different neighbors.

Sleaze. Sex. Satire. Sizzle. Each of them shared some of the same theater rows I did at almost the same times.

You won't find those row there anymore. And although the four natives never sat in them on the exact same nights, they did share the exact same American ethos up on that screen. From Valentino and Gable forward to Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds. During those 50 years, the MGM/Warner Brothers/20th Century Fox studios dutifully celebrated home, family, flag, and happy endings. I bought into every one of them. The four celebrities probably saw those flicks each with different eyes.

Al -- I saw him when I was just a kid and he was on his way to federal prison -- lived in nearby Cicero, but frequented the Rockne. [Much to Mom's fear and embarrassment]. Hef  -- lived just a mile away -- served as one of its spiffy uniformed ushers. [He'd patrol our rows during noisy Saturday matinees]. Bob -- he and I grew up together -- was especially fond of the comedy bills. [No surprise there]. Kim -- I met her there on a double date -- was caught up with the romances. [As I remember, I was caught up with her]. 

Four ferociously different west side lives whose trajectories inconspicuously crossed in this little theater on their way to decidedly conspicuous careers. Now whenever I drive past this movie mausoleum,  I remember their lives there. And especially their careers beyond there. What burns in my mind are the inexplicably different ways they were exposed to the same cinematic America I was. You'd think they might have grown up with a little more in common than their careers suggest.

Each emerged from my gentle childhood neighborhood to grab the klieg lights of history. One for his mastery of organized crime; one for his hold on the national culture; one for his wry way with the foibles of our species; and she for perpetuating Hollywood's grandest myth: the blond bombshell.

Had their visits to my old Rockne ever co-incided, they would have stolen the show. Instead, they went on to steal our imagination....

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Everyone enjoys a good story. Or a funny story. Or a scary story. Just about any kind of story. If you're an evolutionist, it's because we're genetically encoded. If you're a theist, it's because the creator knows we need stories to understand him/her/it. However you define them, you tend to remember them. Better than almost any other kind of communication.

Teachers in the classroom know this. Lawyers in the court room know this. So do popes, preachers, prime ministers and presidents. If you want to connect with your audience,  better have a story to which they can relate. Think of it this way: All stories are true and some actually happened. Get it...?

Nations as well as people need them. We call these myths and the characters in them legends. Here, test yourself. Maybe you can't give a lecture on the Roman Empire or the American Revolution. But you can recount the stories about Anthony & Cleopatra, Caesar's assassination, George Washington at Valley Forge, and those guys in three-corner-hats who wrote that Constitution we're always quoting when we're demanding our rights.

Can stories make a difference....?  Damn right they can. Think of the stories mom told you about the rewards for good children like Cinderella and Hansel & Gretel; or the Wagnerian stories a child named Hitler listened to in deciding there was a Super Race; or the glory of total victory a General named Patton grew up with at West Point.

Some people say we actually spend the better part of our life wrapped up inside stories. Stories we read in books, see on screens, envision in our sleep. It may be true that fiction is not only stranger than fact, it's the stuff of which most of our dreams and doing are made of.......

Monday, August 6, 2012


No surprise that we live with a fist-full of mysteries in our daily lives. How exactly does this photosynthesis thing work...? When if ever will this traffic clear....? Why won't he/she call like they promised...? You learn to deal with them. However, the mysteries I'm talking about are all those people we THINK we know and never really do.

Look at it this way. We're always encountering the mysteries that come with being human -- people next to you on the plane, at that deal-making lunch, not to mention during those obligatory holiday dinners with cousins you haven't seen in years. It's pretty safe to assume we KNOW we don't really know them. Where the problem comes is when we deal with people we're sure we know, yet never do!

Lets count the ways.

Watching a Leno or Letterman interview we tell ourselves "the camera doesn't lie." And so we quickly decide who the "real" George Clooney or Oprah Winfrey is. Please!  People who work with cameras know precisely how to play to those cameras, and so the Clooney and Winfrey you're seeing are very much who they intend you to see. No more, no less.

But not to worry, friends, because not decoding the mystery that is a celebrity is hardly crucial. What is crucial is not decoding the mystery that is a presidential candidate. Now here you and I are at least four thick layers removed from the authentic "him." First, his cloak of professional writers, publicists and logistical teams, his own well-practiced public, the actual thoughts and feelings behind that persona...finally, the gaggle of private pacts and promises he's had to make with key backers to have become a candidate in the first place. A mystery indeed.

So here's the deal. Remember the man you're giving your vote and your future to is NOT the well crafted image, ads, and speeches. At the same time, neither is he all those dissected gaffes, re-played off-mike whispers, and manufactured faces of evil. He was, is, and always will be just beyond totally decoding. But then so are you and me. In many ways each a mystery to ourselves.

As voters we do the best we can. Especially if we admit our choice is really being made with hope and hunch as much as confidence and conviction.


Saturday, August 4, 2012


Don't have to have a major in Psych to understand your many love/hate hangups. Among the Freudian  favportes are: don't forget that gorgeous-but-ridiculously-high- maintainence car.

Now in the last 20 years we've added Silicon Valley to the list.

If you doubt this, consider the last dozen times you grumbled about all those absurd pedestrians walking around with their faces stuck in their handheld smartphones. Which you did while looking up from your handheld smartphone. Lets admit it -- we love these damn gadgets, and the gang at Silicon keeps feeding our addiction with every new edition. Talk about planned obsolescence...!

Tom Brokaw said it well: "It's easy to make a buck; it's a lot harder to make a difference." The wizards in Palo Alto have made both, but have they already reached the point of diminishing returns? Like the ingenious tobacco companies who used to keep enhancing their addictive products and advertising, our hi-tech gurus are not the ones to count on for taming this newest national addiction. The wolf in the chicken yard is not your go-to solution for all those missing chickens...!

Who then??

Not many folks outside Amish Valley are talking about another Luddite revolt against technology. Far too late for that for even our most poetic naturalists who rarely trek their favorite hideaways anymore without their pack of hardware. And it's not going to do any good to yell at your f--cking hardware, because
recent surveys find 57% of employers said they'd be less likely to promote someone who curses.

So lets see. What does that leave as an answer to our latest love/hate hangup? Oh, I know. That Off button. Have you used it lately....?

Friday, August 3, 2012


People are always trying to guess what-would-Jesus-do? Granted he was a remarkable figure in history, but lets not presume to know what he would say today. Having said that, I'm going to presume he wouldn't join your church anytime soon. Nor mine. Because I figure he'd figure today's faiths have his message all wrong...!

Perhaps that's exactly what millions of former church-goers have decided as well. The number of attendees has plunged in the last 50 years. Churches in western Europe are largely empty; in the US, except for some Evangelical and Mega-churches, it's often true too. People say they can believe in a divine creator without all the human liturgical paraphernalia.

If Jesus is your starting point, here's a rough take on how we got from there to here:

* In Israel Christians were mostly a CAMARADERIE  (circa 30-33 AD)
* Later in Greece it was mostly a PHILOSOPHY (circa 33-325 AD)
* Reaching Rome it grew into an INSTITUTION (circa 325-500 AD)
* Spreading through Europe it became a CULTURE (500-1600 AD)
* Reaching America it became an ENTERPRISE (1600-2012 AD)

In those earlier stages, a lot of serious asceticism with fellas like Benedict and Francis of Assisi. In these later stages, a lot of serious money-makers like our nightly passel of bellowing  televangelists. Meanwhile back in the Vatican, so much pomp and circumstance you wonder if Jesus could get into the place without a pass!

So here's an offer I hope you won't refuse. However you remember the life of Jesus -- preacher, prophet,  redeemer, or all three -- can we agree his message fits any faith: "Love one another as I have loved you..."

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Right now we're in the same old American rivalry between brains and brawn. We admire the brainy, but still covet the brawny. At least according to recent college campus polls. More specifically, most guys were still impressed with athleticism while most gals claim they prefer men with wit more than whack.

Polls aside, lets look at what the smart people are doing these days with all their smarts.

Many, like our astrophysicists and geneticists, are taking great leaps into the future. On the other side of the ledger, most technicians seem to be investing their time simply refining the leaps. My favorites are the guys who came up with heated seats, surround sound, and now self-braking for our pricier cars. [Nice, but hardly leap-sized stuff.]

Then there are the flashy creators in Silicon Valley. Having taken giant leaps with their smartphones and iPads, now they're busy trying to convince us what we really really need are brighter screens, screens that can fold like the newspapers they told us were outmoded, data that is available 10 seconds faster than the last edition, oh and chips that can someday fit into our skulls so we can contemplate our world with our eyes closed [Tibetan gurus have been doing that for centuries].

Lets not forget all the brainy technicians in the R & D departments of our biggest corporations. Not many giant-leaps-for-mankind here, as instead they keep coming up with such glossy glitter as apps for our phones, creams for our jowls, and another dozen concocted colors and fragrances for our bodies [TV's popular home shopping networks hustle this stuff night after night as if every woman's dream can be found in a bottle for $49.99 + shipping].

Sounds cynical...? Well, yeah, when what the world really needs now are meds to cure the common cold .... treatments to stop cancer...enough food to keep one-third of the planet's population  fed at night.... programming really worth watching on those screens....and some of the world's swords at last turned into those plowshares the Bible dreamed about!

The world had a few smart guys like that over the centuries. Only we killed most of them. Which means the smartest person you know hasn't been born yet.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Really, you did miss some mighty important stuff this morning. Maybe even more than seven. With all due respect to your busy schedule, here's what I think you missed:

* The smell of your world. Ever think about that? Your world really does have a smell to it. A fascinating recipe of green fragrances like our taken-for-granted grass and trees, mixed with black odors like trucks, jets, and angry expressways. Each new morning it's a one-of-a-kind fragrance

* Then there's the sound of your world. You know, the hum of car tires, commuter trains, traffic congestion, the whole hard-breathing effort with which the world around you is struggling and striving each new day to make it to the next

*  Also, the cooing, cawing and flight of the many birds who fill your sky with their sweet existence. While they work to breed and feed, their lyrics can be a Mozart sonata if only we give them more of our busy attention

* Next, that rainbow of flowers that bursts at every turn on this summer day, but which you probably took all too much for granted on your way to whatever you decided was more important

* Lets not forget the celestial chorus of little children out there, giggling and dreaming as they play through one more blissful August day without school. Did you catch it? Probably not

* Finally, the silent chorus of elders around you who have lived too long to either giggle or dream; but not long enough to be taken for granted by those of us who know so much less about life than their silence contains

* Number seven...? Well, "missing" this one is not your fault. I and a few million remaining others speak here of the last time our fair land burst with a rare fury of patriotic desire and devotion. A time when even parties, religions, and races all understood what we have in common. I speak of that tragic but inspiring four years the Greatest Generation fought and won World War II. In a funny kind of way, missing that you missed the most remarkable time in the history of a remarkable nation. A time when, despite the horrific bloodshed, Americans actually stood shoulder to shoulder not toe to toe.