Monday, September 10, 2012



Sunday, September 9, 2012


I might as well just admit it up front...! I find today's world of relentless hype and hustle downright obscene. Maybe you've noticed too. Hollywood marquees promising us films that are always 'brilliant,' 'epic,' 'legendary.' Washington always promising us jobs, joy, endless prosperity. Silicon Valley forever promising us the next-greatest-thing we absolutely must have in our lives.

OK, none of this nonsense is exactly new. However, we lately we've come upon a new bit of nattering nonsense. So very very seriously debating who will run for president in 2016. We haven't yet survived 2012, but now the gotta-keep-finding-a-new-headline pundits on television are fixating on the likes of Hillary, Biden, Perry, even the Big Dog himself. The madness of it all is downright obscene.

Einstein always liked to advise pundits, be they politicians or physicists: "If you can't explain it to a 6-year-old, you don't understand it yourself." Seems to me he was talking about Clarity. Instead, today's talking- heads on the news channels are far more interested in Captivating. What and who can we talk about that will captivate our audiences and therefore our ratings. Pretty much what 'West Wing' writer Aaron Sorkin is addressing in his angry new TV series 'Newsroom.'

Making a career out of predicting the future is nothing new. The Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece, the firebrand prophets in ancient Israel, and self-anointed seers like the Mayans, Nostradamus and Pat Robertson are among the perennials. Take your choice.

But come on, folks, no one knows the future. It's not something you own, you simply survive as best you can. Not only is it obscene to exploit people's fears about it, it's more than a little outrageous for anyone to presume they or their latest headliner will even live to see that future!

Much better that you and I and our syndicated profiteering soothsayers focus on living the best today we can. In doing that, we'll be doing more for our future than anything else at hand.


Saturday, September 8, 2012


It's been a well-intentioned process by the more compassionate female of the species. And so it is that here in the 21st C, fathers have largely joined mothers in immunizing their children from failure! from defeat! from loss of any kind!

Now look, when mommy hugs the boo-boo's, that's perfectly natural and wonderful. But lately, mommy has convinced daddy, teacher, cop and neighbor that kids must be protected at all costs. For only then can they grow up to feel loved and valued and fulfilled. What's come of this conviction...?

PE classes where no one loses...contests where everyone wins...grades in which there are never any F' in which there is always a hand to immunize the little tyke from the pain of pain. The more  sophisticated the parents, the more likely pain has been flushed out of those protected lives.

So far the results are not yet in. If the old harsh, no-pain-no-gain culture bred a legion of John Wayne's and Clint Eastwood's, this current no-pain-all-gain ethos is bringing us a generation of sensitivity. Empathy. Accessibility. What for heaven's sake could be wrong with that...?

All I know is my old football coach and master sergeant wouldn't like it. Or understand it. But then I also know their culture of ass-kicking linebackers and missile-firing warriors has left my grandchildren a much lousier world than it might have been. If you're raising kids, guess that makes you "The Decider!"


We Americans love nothing better than the next catch-phrase. We've got one: Fact-Checkers. Suddenly these unseen, un-vetted authorities have been elevated to a new pedestal in our pantheon of folk heroes. But who the hell are they anyway!

Think of it this way. We are Dorothy trembling before the Great & Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Seeking answers, we stand here before his mighty words. But then the curtain falls, and everyone sees it's only fussy lovable Frank Morgan.

Frankly, folks, our heroic Fact-Checkers are comparably fussy and lovable. As in nameless backroom academics trolling through pounds of facts & stats. You know, like that snotty kid who sat next to you in 8th grade always shouting out the answers.

Nothing wrong with studious academics, only there is a second curtain. Behind this one is the party or the committee or the corporation or the CEO who's paying this Fact-Checker's salary. We can be pretty sure this guy wants his academics to come up with the facts that help make HIS case. I mean, otherwise what good are facts anyway...!

Fair enough, only now there's a third curtain. Ahh, you may have forgotten about this one. It's that curtain of personal biases our minds have been wearing all these years, and through which we continue to see and understand our world. Not an evil curtain. Simply a veil we, everyone, tends to weave over time

Call it genes or memes or whatever you will, our veiled perceptions are our virtual reality. We can't and probably don't wish to change that. It's baggage that's part of the package I call Me. But because there are so darn many Me's out here, there's darn  little chance any of us are hearing the exact same facts...

Friday, September 7, 2012


There's a hardcore rock band that calls itself 'Sleeping Sirens.' Heard them once and am only now recovering from a trip to hell. And yet they sing a song with a powerful question: 'Who Are You Now?'

If you've never asked yourself that question, you should. Only be prepared for different answers. Like the Hope Diamond is always the same jewel, it will always be understood differently when seen from different angles to the light.

You too have been very different You's. As a child...a student...a lover...a parent...a worker. In the football a a speeding car....lying in a hospital bed...standing in line at a wake. Each You is the authentic You, yet existentially living a different facet of your Youdom.

The dawning of this fact is sometimes known as the Sophomore Syndrome. About that time when your college sociology and psychology professors challenge you to excavate the real You after all these pubescent years of simply getting up every morning and being the you you were yesterday morning.

It's what men song-writers love to write about singing the mysteries of figuring out  a woman. Although any woman will tell you she finds the same maddening multiplicities to the men in her life.

Last year more than 732,000 foreign students were enrolled in U.S. universities, a 32% jump since 2000. The number of Saudi Arabian students alone spiked from 1000 to 66,000. One wonders how many professors will be challenging them to grapple with this cosmic question. Just last night I spent a few hours in a wondrous little private college in the heart of Chicago's suburbs where I watched students in classes, in book stalls, on the Quad, and yes binging. Time Magazine reports 1700 fatalities from college binge drinking last year.

Could it be this gnawing dawning new question in their young lives has something to do with this? The research shows it is "status" more than "insight" that is involved in binging. I suppose. But then this is a perplexing question, once raised hard to ignore. I know, because I'm still working at it,

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Ever study your hand...? We tend to take our body parts for granted. Oh sure, it has anthropologically distinguished us from our monkey ancestors, but that's not news anymore.

However here in the 21st C, here's what is.  Our hand has become both the symbol and the instrument of the limitless powers of the human mind. Think about it. In your small everyday hand fits your entire everyday world. Whether it's holding a television remote with its 101 power-buttons, or holding a smartphone with its 1001 features, 21st C man's hand can now instantly access data, photos, movies, newscast's, satellite feeds, and virtually any book ever written or virtually any TV series ever syndicated.

Whoa...! Now you no longer need go to the world, now you can bring the world to you. Want last year's Oscar Awards ceremony...last month's Oval Office interview... last week's NFL game...last night's presidential convention speech...tomorrow's itinerary for the Madonna global tour? It's yours, baby, with just a click of that transcendent hand. You remember the old, "The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world"? Now it's, "The hand that rocks the right widget rocks the world!"

At first blush what could be wrong with this picture...? I mean, now our hand is in effect holding the divine scepter of power once held only by emperors. Better yet, having access to anyone, anything, anywhere, anytime makes us virtually God-like. Is "Wow" too mild a word!

The one chink in the armor of this transcendence may be this. Now much of what we experience is no longer actual. It's virtual. The events of our life are being filed into a gigantic events-box to be accessed and experienced not in the moment or in the flesh; rather, in some convenient but dispassionate virtual reality. Instead of hands injecting needles for a high, today's hands can select whatever highs it wants between, say, afternoon appointments or just before bed tonight.

To paraphrase John Lennon: "Life is what happens while you're tuning into other events..."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The aging streets of Philadelphia are not where you'd think to find the answer to this ancient question. Yet here it is, in this run-down section of town inside this run-down building with the peeling name: "Joe Frazier's Gym."

You all know the name Mohamed Ali. But you don't all remember the name Joe Frazier. Only the best heavyweight fighter Aii ever faced, but who never caught a piece of Ali's fame. In fact, Ali and the sports media taunted Joe in their title bouts because he was all guts and no glitz. So Smokin' Joe went to his death last year as one of history's legions of forgotten also-rans.

But now, ladies and gents, gather round the City of Brotherly Love, for it's planning to honor Joe. Belatedly...! That rotten little word, belatedly...! Meaning, gee we didn't notice you when you were here, but now we're going to belatedly pay you the tribute we denied you when we had the chance.

Oh my, but history is crowded with folks who have found -- more accurately have been given -- life after death. An enduring life in words, music and especially recurring retelling around the tribal campfires.

Let us count the ways: Moses...Socrates...Jesus...Francis of Assisi...Joan of Arc...Ann Boleyn...Galileo... Paul Revere...Robert E Lee...John T. Scopes...Wendell Wilkie...Adlai Uncle Joe. Well, Joe was a loser and there've been damn few belated anything's for Joe. But there will be other losers granted a glorious life-after-death. It's just kinda the way people are about people.

So the next time a College or Facebook discussion launches the eternal question "Is there any eternity?"
just remember. If you and I don't find it after OUR deaths, some folks may just decide to create one for us anyway. Before THEIR deaths. It's a nice way to say I'm sorry....

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


When was the last time you made a contract with the Devil? Initial reactions: I don't believe in the Devil! I wouldn't deal with him if he did exist! I'm not into weird stuff!

I beg to differ. You and I are forever bargaining in our lives. Gambling on goals that are important but elusive. Occasionally it's done in public. Football teams praying in the huddle... congregations praying in church ...families praying in hospital chapels...kneeling along side our children at night. And, if you're not into God and Heaven, we find handy substitutes. Fate, luck, odds, algorithms.

Ever since Goethe penned 'Faustus' a century ago, Westerners have returned to the narratives from the ancient Persians and Greeks in which humanity deals with the dark forces of the cosmos. Forces which go by different names, but always there in the shadows into which we slip whenever desperate enough.

To be sure we Moderns -- save the occasional Exorcist -- avoid those primitive specifics like Devil, Hell, and Soul. And yet, peel off the educated veneer, and you'll usually find a tragic despair crying out to anyone or anything that can help.

OK, I can't marshall any empirical evidence to close the case. However, I do I have this crawly feeling that both political parties have just signed a contract with whatever devil fits their current ideology. Asking he/she/it to help them win this November. What does the contract read...?

Each Party knows it can deliver virtually nothing it's promising, because neither winner is likely to have the Congressional and Court majority to deliver. So the contract reads: "If you will keep this secret from the voters until November, we will pledge you the soul of our Vice-Presidential nominee for eternity!"

I mean, what's another Veep or two in Hell....?

Monday, September 3, 2012


Besse Cooper of Monroe Georgia just celebrated her 116th birthday. Inevitably the local newspaper asked the inevitable question: "How do you explain such a long life?" Besse shrugged: "I mind my own business and don't eat junk food."

Another centenarian explained it this way: "I've lived a long time, seen a lot of changes, and was against everyone of them."

I leave it to my eminent psychiatrist son to fathom the subliminal messages in these answers. As a layman huffing and puffing here 19 years short of the mark, here's my take: Who would seriously want to live that long if some of our current trends persist?

I'm not referring to the obvious -- persistent wars, terrorism, unemployment, street violence, drug abuse and presidential elections. None of those are new; been-there-done-that. Instead I'm thinking of three recent reports:

* The Parents Television Council reports it found 76 incidents of full nudity on prime-time network last year, an increase of 407% from the year before. My reaction...? If they're going to keep this up, can they at least find better bodies with less grunting!

* The Natural Resources Defense Council  reports 40% of all food in the US ends up in the trash, which comes to 20 pounds per person per month. My reaction...? Can anyone explain then why we're so fat!

* CNN reports US weapons sales more than tripled in 2011. We sold $66 billion worth of arms, up from $21 billions the year before. My reaction...? We do we keep calling weapons of attack a defense budget!

I don't know anyone who wants to rush their own death. At the same time, I don't know anyone who finds statistics like these a reason for prolonging this sort of life. I look at it this way. Until the politicians fulfill their pledges to "improve Medicare as we know it," I may still have a shot at 100. However, once they get their hands on it, well ~~~~~

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I once had the chance to ask these two gifted playwrights the same question: "How could you write plays with such mature wisdom at such young ages?" I have since judged their answers to have been lies. Perhaps lies of modesty, but untruths nevertheless. If I could have asked other young playwrights the same question -- Shakespeare, Chekhov, O'Neil, Miller -- I suspect they too would have sidestepped the full truth.

Lets remember how Shakespeare defined life ["A tale told be an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing."].  Chekhov ["Life is a tragedy filled with joys."]. Very much the same way Williams portrayed his characters in "Streetcar Named Desire" and Albee in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Someone equally young once wrote: "History is the sum total of all the things that could have been avoided." Each in their own unique way, our finest playwrights might have agreed. And yet In some redeeming way, history is also the sum total of all the remarkable artists whose insights into human nature and human society have lit the way for the rest of us. Lit it with illuminating truths about our penchant for pride, greed and power somehow side by side with our pursuit of good, tenderness and love.

So here's one man's guess about the gifts of insight among the great writers, composers and singers in our midst: That's precisely what they are, gifts...! Gifts granted them from somewhere outside them. Case in point. Every time Luciano Pavarotti sang Puccini's 'Nessum Dorma,' the opera lovers in my family would gasp, "A gift from God." The older I grow and the more gifted people I meet, the less I can find any explanation better than this.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


It's the classic James Lange Theory of Emotion. His 19th C psychological research suggested our emotions are triggered by the way we respond to events, not the other way around. Recently psychologist Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas tested his theory by measuring volunteers' heart beats while they performed stressful tasks.The subjects who generated a full smile during these tasks reported feeling better than those who did not. Suggesting to her, "The act of smiling -- even divorced from feeling of joy -- can indeed help us relax better."

I tested Lange's theory while throwing out today's lawns cuttings and assorted garbage. I'm here to tell you I didn't feel at all better! However, I did feel considerably better when I scanned another scientific report this summer from Hunter College.

Anthropologist Herman Pontzer writes in that exercise isn't all it's cracked up to be. He studied the West's sedentary lifestyle along with the svelte Hadza Tribe in Tanzania who forages over many miles each day. "The big reason Westerners are getting fat is not lack of exercise, but simply because we eat too much processed sugars and fats."

Truth be told, I'm one of the sedentary Westerners who dislikes vigorous exercise. Sorry, I know what you think of me! However, I'm willing to waddle with this extra waistline feeling a sense of calm rather than wriggle through hours of weights being told "no pain no gain." And may I say this with a great grinning smile...