Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gullibility & Discernment

“A whole generation of people are being confused and overwhelmed by the electronic media and are finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish fiction from reality.”
~ Prof. Paul Kurtz, SUNY
U.S. News & World Report, May 21, 1979

For half a lifetime I have been fascinated by the problem of fraud, deception and gullibility in our culture. In the 1980s I wrote an article called “Look Before You Leap” for Christian Single magazine addressing the problem of business opportunity fraud. In the seventies young people were swept into cults like The Way, the Moonies, Eckankar and other spiritual counterfeits. What amazes me is this. We are probably the most educated country in human history, yet we seem to have a stupifying lack of common sense. It is this alarming tendency to be duped that concerns me.

One morning in January 2004 the subject of man's walk on the moon came up in our department at work. To my great surprise our web assistant stated that he did not believe man walked on the moon, that it was a hoax. I was somewhat chagrined. I knew there were people who thought that way, but to meet one in person was a surprise. For me it's like stating that there is no such thing as England. It's just a fact. This incident, and several more like it, led me to wonder what impact this kind of thinking has on today's world.

It’s important to learn how to read the news with a critical eye. Likewise, when we see movies, it takes discipline to resist the tendency to swallow what we see hook line and sinker. Modern films have great power to influence. But their power can be equally potent disinformation and misinformation. It is O.K. to be emotionally moved, but it is vital when watching films, or reading books, that we exercise discernment, ingest with care only after additional research. In Old Testament times, it was an imperative that ideas be confirmed by two or three witnesses. That is, more than one source was required to affirm a truth.

Maybe the problem today is that we are so overwhelmed with information that it takes too much work to sift through it to the kernels of truth. One helpful tool for sorting things is to not assume you have to have an opinion on everything at all times. That is, if you can have a shelf in your mind where you set ideas aside until you have more time to investigate, this can be a very helpful stance.

Let’s be careful. We not only need to get better at reading and listening, but also at hearing what's behind what we read and hear. We need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Global Food Crisis No Longer Under the Radar

In the early 1990’s the festering unrest between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda went pretty much unreported. Violence, fear and exodus festered under the surface for years. The only thing that made the news here in the U.S. was the tragic slaughter of some of Jane Goodall’s favorite gorillas. Then in 1994 all hell broke loose. Hutus no longer concealed the savage slaughtering of Tutsis. There were literally rivers of blood.

Somehow if it doesn’t make the network news, we’re able to achieve some modicum of blissful unawareness. Unfortunately, the world’s suffering is not alleviated so easily.

A global food crisis is upon us. Food riots have broken out in at least fourteen countries, and untold numbers of people are literally starving to death.

The causes are many and no one measure will resolve the whole of it, but a bit of awareness is required if we are going to see things turn for the better. Here are just a few of the symptoms and causes, in no particular order of importance. Sources include Janet Tu’s “Region’s aid groups grappling with global food crisis” (Seattle Times) and Anthony Faiola’s “Global Food Prices and Africa’s Economic Famine”, transcript from an online chat.

Organizations like World Vision and Farms International, whose ministries and services are directly focused on helping the Third World needy, are especially attuned to the crisis. Joseph Richter, Executive Director of Farms International, brought the seriousness of the crisis to our attention yesterday. Currently there are food riots in fourteen countries, he said. The causes are complicated. Chief of these are rising fuel prices, the conversion of crops to corn for ethanol, the greater demand for meat in China and India, and draughts in two other breadbaskets, Australia and Russia.

In Anthony Faiola’s “Global Food Prices” piece, the journalist fielded questions from around the world. One question drew attention to the increased crop substitution that is taking place in order to produce ethanol. Faiola replied, “Thanks for the good question. One of the big problems is crop substitution. As corn prices increased because of biofuel demand, some farmers shifted production from consumption crops such as wheat, soy beans, etc, to capitalize on the high prices for corn. It has helped link prices for these grains together, one reason they are shooting up at the same time.”

The situation is worsening at an alarming rate because of simultaneous setbacks on so many fronts along with the rising prices. Americans who wish to contribute to a trustworthy organization that is doing real good in this area, with bare minimum overhead, can find a worthy conduit at Farms International.

Ethanol and the World Food Shortage

Over the years I’ve often observed and noted that the food crises in most countries are not due to lack of capability, but from political decisions. It turned out that the starvation in Ethiopia a few decades ago (we all saw ads featuring children with bloated bellies, but without explanation of causes) was due to Communists deliberately starving the people into submission. There is plenty of capacity to feed everyone in the world. Our political and economic systems prevent the poor and starving from obtaining their daily sustenance.

Tragically, we are today experiencing tremendous upheavals in food production, primarily due to our own political interventions. The intentions may be good on the part of legislators, but the ramifications have not been thought through, even though they appear obvious to many. The decision to convert huge portions of U.S. farmland from food production to ethanol/energy production is a vivid example of the law of unintended circumstances, as the following article outlines.
"Silent Famine" Sweeps Globe

WASHINGTON – From India to Africa to North Korea to Pakistan and even in New York City, higher grain prices, fertilizer shortages and rising energy costs are combining to spell hunger for millions in what is being characterized as a global "silent famine."

Global food prices, based on United Nations records, rose 35 percent in the last year, escalating a trend that began in 2002. Since then, prices have risen 65 percent.

Last year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's world food index, dairy prices rose nearly 80 percent and grain 42 percent.

"This is the new face of hunger," said Josetta Sheeran, director of the World Food Program, launching an appeal for an extra $500 million so it could continue supplying food aid to 73 million hungry people this year. "People are simply being priced out of food markets. ... We have never before had a situation where aggressive rises in food prices keep pricing our operations out of our reach."

The WFP launched a public appeal weeks ago because the price of the food it buys to feed some of the world's poorest people had risen by 55 percent since last June. By the time the appeal began last week, prices had risen a further 20 percent. That means WFP needs $700 million to bridge the gap between last year's budget and this year's prices. The numbers are expected to continue to rise.

The crisis is widespread and the result of numerous causes – a kind of "perfect storm" leading to panic in many places:

* In Thailand, farmers are sleeping in their fields because thieves are stealing rice, now worth $600 a ton, right out of the paddies.

* Four people were killed in Egypt in riots over subsidized flour that was being sold for profit on the black market.

* There have been food riots in Morocco, Senegal and Cameroon.

* Mexico's government is considering lifting a ban on genetically modified crops, to allow its farmers to compete with the United States.

* Argentina, Kazakhstan and China have imposed restrictions to limit grain exports and keep more of their food at home.

* Vietnam and India, both major rice exporters, have announced further restrictions on overseas sales.

* Violent food protests hit Burkina Faso in February.

* Protesters rallied in Indonesia recently, and media reported deaths by starvation.

* In the Philippines, fast-food chains were urged to cut rice portions to counter a surge in prices.

* Millions of people in India face starvation after a plague of rats overruns a region, as they do cyclically every 50 years.

* Officials in Bangladesh warn of an emerging "silent famine" that threatens to ravage the region.

According to some experts, the worst damage is being done by government mandates and subsidies for "biofuels" that supposedly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change. Thirty percent of this year's U.S. grain harvest will go to ethanol distilleries. The European Union, meanwhile, has set a goal of 10 percent bio-fuels for all transportation needs by 2010."

A huge amount of the world's farmland is being diverted to feed cars, not people," writes Gwynne Dyer, a London-based independent journalist.

He notes that in six of the past seven years the human race has consumed more grain than it grew. World grain reserves last year were only 57 days, down from 180 days a decade ago.

One in four bushels of corn from this year's U.S. crop will be diverted to make ethanol, according to estimates."

Turning food into fuel for cars is a major mistake on many fronts," said Janet Larsen, director of research at the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental group based in Washington. "One, we're already seeing higher food prices in the American supermarket. Two, perhaps more serious from a global perspective, we're seeing higher food prices in developing countries where it's escalated as far as people rioting in the streets."

Palm oil is also at record prices because of biofuel demands. This has created shortages in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is a staple.

Nevertheless, despite the recognition that the biofuels industry is adding to a global food crisis, the ethanol industry is popular in the U.S. where farmers enjoy subsidies for the corn crops.

Source: The "Silent Famine" Copyright 2008, WorldNet Daily

Monday, April 28, 2008

My Fine Feathered Friends

Woody Allen called one of his books Without Feathers as a comic response to Emily Dickinson's statement, "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul..." In addition to the implied nakedness, he likewise signals the absence of hope in his heart. One might call him a tragic luminary.

Here's another poem by Emily Dickinson, about books along with short reading list of some personal favorites. May we never quit being a nation of readers.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul.



The Short List
Here's a short list of some of my favorite Novellas and Shorter, Book-Length Fictional Works that have great power and are worthy of any reading list...

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
The Tenth Man, Graham Greene
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Cakes & Ale, Somerset Maughm
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Sybil, Par Lagerkvist
Barabas, Par Lagerkvist
Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, A. Solzhenitsyn
The Forged Coupon, Leo Tolstoy
Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
Welcome to Hard Times, E.L.Doctorow
The Great Divorce, C.S.Lewis
Animal Farm, George Orwell
Isabelle, Andre Gide
Theseus, Andre Gide

This is a list of stories and books that made an impact on me at key points in my life...
The Secret Sharer, Joseph Conrad
The Lagoon, Joseph Conrad
Too Late the Phalarope, Alan Paton
Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmund Rostand (play)
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
A Burnt Out Case, Graham Green
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Man of La Mancha, Dale Wasserman (play)
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway (stories)
Demian, Herman Hesse
Beneath the Wheel, Herman Hesse
Martin Eden, Jack London
1984, George Orwell
Brave New World, Aldus Huxley
That Hideous Strength, C.S.Lewis
Crime & Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevski
Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges (stories)
Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges (stories)
The Bet by Anton Checkov

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Expelled

Last night we went to see Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Going into it I was unaware of all the controversy about this film because evidently I either (a) travel through a different orbit, or (b) live under a rock. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel gave it a one star (*) in our local paper here in Duluth. A quick jump to RottenTomatoes.com shows that the critics in general are in agreement that this is a bad film. Reviewer Ken Hanke’s remarks reflect the majority view: “Junk science meets even junkier filmmaking in Expelled -- a no more shameless, stupid and loathsome piece of propaganda has ever skulked its way into the theater.”

At the end of the day it is criticized for being biased, one sided, and manipulative with a 9% favorable rating by the critics. But these same critics loved Michael Moore’s biased, one-sided Fahrenheit 9/11, which they described as “Extremely one-sided in its indictment of the Bush administration, but worth watching for the humor and the debates it'll stir.” And this one from Bill Clark of TheBalcony, “Moore's best and most mature effort to date.

Reviews at the IMDB site are no kinder. One reviewer calls Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed “pure unadulterated crap” and others label it “useless propaganda.” Another quoted the New York Times reviewer who calls it a “conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.” Another declares the film to be “willfully ignorant and intentionally deceptive.”

Yet the Expelled raises a number of good questions. Like, are scientists permitted to pursue honest doubts about Darwin’s opus? Is there true freedom of inquiry in academia? Are some questions off limits because they violate the Sacred Edicts of Political Correctness?

But wait, why is it that Michael Moore can raise questions in an entertaining way, and Ben Stein cannot? Michael Moore can manipulate and Expelled cannot? Who’s kidding whom?

When Bernard Goldberg blew the whistle on bias within the network news, he was immediately persona non grata at CBS. Admitting the truth that everyone on the inside already knew… well, this is an unpardonable sin. Despite three decades of outstanding work, Goldberg was immediately marginalized and put out to pasture.

As you read the reviews by movie critics (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/) on these two films (Fahrenheit 9/11 and Expelled) it is apparent that the critics are merciless toward one of these films and falling all over themselves to praise the other. I find it pretty revealing.

As for me, I would strongly recommend seeing this film. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is well done, entertaining and thought provoking. The defenders of Darwin were not pretending to believers here. Their words (men like Dawkins, for example) were not twisted to produce different meanings from what they declare here. The film is not dishonest, and the concerns of those who created this film are not fabricated from tissues of fantasy. In point of fact, the amusing thing is how fantastically bizarre the purportedly scientific explanations can become once you wipe out the possibility of God as part of the equation in life’s origins.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

On Behalf of Mama Earth

Earth Day, April 22, came and went again this week. According to one source twenty million people celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970. President Nixon gave us the Environmental Protection Agency that year and Congress amended the Clean Air Act to set national air quality, auto emissions, and anti-pollution standards.

I am still curious why the so-called "founders" of Earth Day 1970 actually switched it from the Vernal Equinox, which has been historically honored as Earth Day for more than three thousand years, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. When Secretary-General U Thant in 1971 signed a U.N. Earth Day Proclamation on March 21, 1971, he must not have been paying attention to those press releases the year before that announced it had been moved to April 22.

For me personally, I don’t really care what date is officially Earth Day. What's more important is a lifestyle commitment. If you still pour out your used motor oil in the back yard, I don’t care how many Earth Day ceremonies you’ve been to, you obviously don’t “get it.”

There’s a school of philosophy that says in essence “what is is what is.” It is a somewhat fatalistic approach to life and reality. It implies powerlessness, as if to say that we have no power to change things, so why bother, as if we are victims of Fate.

I would suggest that we have far more power than we realize to make a difference. It begins with this commitment: I will do what I can in the realms where I am able.

I’m not trying to make this into a moral issue. But in point of fact, if human beings don't take care of the earth, you won’t see sheep, chimps or elephants stepping up to take the lead. The responsibility is ours, both collectively and individually.

SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY COMPANY
What this means is, we need to learn more about what we can do. We’ve all seen the lists. Turn lights off in unoccupied rooms, use energy-efficient appliances, etc. One item not usually listed is to use a premium synthetic oil and extend intervals between oil changes. Fact: AMSOIL synthetic motor oils last longer than conventional petroleum motor oils. The net benefits to our environment on this alone include less packaging waste and less waste oil to dispose of.

But the benefits of AMSOIL synthetics go further than this. The best synthetics clean the engine so it runs in a more optimal manner. The net result is improved fuel economy. That is, cars can use less fuel to go the same distance. If every car and truck were switched to premium synthetic motor oils, the savings alone would enable a vehicle could go to the sun and back (186 million miles round trip) so many times that it would blow your mind.

I am not makng this up.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Funny Business

What makes humor work? First off, one thing that probably kills it is a serious discourse like this one. Oh well... deal with it.
Whether written or performed, the comic's chief aim is a smile, laugh, or outright guffaw from an audience of one or more by which the humorist understands that he has succeeded in connecting. To a certain extent, making humor is similar to that saintlike behavior of Mother Theresa whose life was given to lightening other peoples' burdens. Humor requires communication, which at a very fundamental level requires two or more persons, unless we're talking to ourselves in the shower.

There sure are a lot of funny people in the world. Steve Martin, Jay Leno, Dave Barry, Woody Allen, Johnny Carson, Jonathan Winters, George Carlin, Bill Cosby... to name a few of the comics who've impressed me. What's amazing is the range you find in styles of humor, from philosophical to zany, from slapstick to stylistic, from mannered to irreverent, from green to blue.

To some extent it's a mystery what makes humor work, though many people have studied it relentlessly, including Freud. Students of comedy will analyze others' routines, and break down the key variables. The element of surprise is one such factor that makes humor work. Steve Martin, that zany and wild guy, was (is) a master of the unexpected. Jonathan Winters' routines were like a wild roller coaster in the dark which threw you in unexpected directions with every turn of the track.

Most humorous material begins with a setup. In one way or another, the listener is led in a direction, but like a magician who uses misdirection, a magical effect is created through false expectations and tension. Timing is also an important variable. Even the best jokes can be badly told. I have been doing it all my life.

Most stand up comics tell stories. And all of them consider it plagiarism to not use their own original material. The beauty of it is right there. With so many comics in action, to see so much creativity being birthed week in and week out is somewhat of a wonder.

To watch comics in action is one thing; to be a comic in action is another. There is always risk. There is always uncertainty. And there's often a little tiny voice inside saying, "Am I nuts or what?" The answer to that last question waits to be seen.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my eggplant routine.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm Not Making This Up

Despite the fact that it occurred long before we were born, most of us are familiar with the great hoax Orson Welles played on American radio listeners when he re-created H.G. Wells' story of a martian attack in 1939. Welles' Mercury Radio Theater performance was so compelling that people literally fled their homes to escape the horrific assault on planet earth. The story was fabricated, but the fear it generated was real.
My brother and I used to get a kick out of fooling our mom when we were kids. I'm not sure why we found it so amusing, but it is certainly a widespread phenomenon. That is, for some reason, we like to mess with peoples' heads sometimes. We even devote a special day to to it once a year.... April Fools Day.

Here are four brief summaries of April Fools jokes that were played on a believing public by the media in years gone by. I've forgotten where I copied these from, but thought them worth saving when I read them and worth sharing when I found them in my files again tonight. As you can see, it isn't only Americans who are susceptible to outrageous tomfoolery.

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Instant Color TV
In 1962 there was only one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that thanks to a newly developed technology, all viewers could now quickly and easily convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen, and they would begin to see their favorite shows in color. Stensson then proceeded to demonstrate the process. Reportedly, hundreds of thousands of people, out of the population of seven million, were taken in. Actual color TV transmission only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

The Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called up the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell is housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed that it was all a joke a few hours
later. The best line inspired by the affair came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale, and he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, though to a different corporation, and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Nixon for President
In 1992 National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement,
flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a joke. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Question of Balance

"Preoccupation with the self has always seemed to me unhealthy." ~ Eric Hoffer

One of the blessings of childhood is its simplicity. We are not encumbered by all the cares and complications of the larger world around us. Our responsibilities are limited to being home for supper or by bedtime. At least, in this country such was my lot. (I realize in other war ravaged areas, such is not always the good fortune of the young.)

Becoming older means becoming more conscious of the wider world, and more aware of the needs of others. Maturity, growing up, is directly tied to responsibility.

In my experience, some facets of religion can derail one from this road to maturity. There are certain schools of thought, in Christianity, where the emphasis on personal holiness is such that it utterly paralyzes earnest seekers of God. Instead of being angry about an injustice, for example, they might focus instead on how wrong they were to be angry.

The preoccupation with self leads them to a withdrawal from the world, instead of engagement.

This is not to say we are to ignore being self-aware. But to live in this world means to dialogue with it, to participate in it, and to make a contribution toward making it a better place. We're not children any more. Let's go out and make a difference.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Word Spill

Orchestrations
Mad fixations
Pandemonial
Ramifications

Ruminations
Fascinations
Irrepressible
Inclinations

Man your stations
Conquer nations
Strangely strident
Occupations

Glorifications
Adulations
Nullifies my
Postulations

Posterizations
Illuminations
Amplifies
Humiliations

Adulterations
Alterations
Instrumental
Prose Creations

Machinations
Mind striations
Phenomenal
Interpretations

Continuations
Agitations
Instantaneous
Sense negations

What's the meaning?
What's the game?
Noodling words
Should have a name.

How can these lines, though, have a name?
They bubbled out, without an aim.
Without an aim, they gurgled forth,
Can anyone predict their worth?

I'll tell you what. There is a key,
To find it you must talk with me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Masks


We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, -
This debt we pay to human guile,
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise.
We wear the mask!

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, 1896

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Propaganda and Political Apathy

In 1922 Bertrand Russell gave a speech which was reproduced in a small volume titled Free Thought and Official Propaganda. One aim of his speech was to encourage people to read the newspapers in a less gullible manner, with less credulity. “Don’t believe everything you read,” applies to every form of media and not just the internet.

“There are two quite different evils about propaganda as now practiced,” Russell noted. “On the one hand, its appeal is generally to irrational causes of belief rather than to serious argument; on the other hand, it gives an unfair advantage to those who can obtain the most publicity, whether through wealth or power.”

He went on to say his bigger concern was the latter of these two. He illustrates it with a story of two parties whose ideas are equally good, but one party has ten times more money to promote their ideas. “It is obvious that the arguments in favor of the richer party would become more widely known than those in favor of the poorer party, and therefore the richer party would win. The situation is, of course, intensified when one party is the Government.”

I’d like to present two examples of what concerns me. The first is the matter of State-promoted gambling, the second is the misconception that our two party political system is good.

I was living in the Twin Cities when Minnesota passed a law to endorse a state lottery. Since that time ad agencies have produced ad campaigns, at taxpayer expense, to promote gambling. The net result was the discovery that 6% of people develop an addiction and need help.

Scientific studies show which kinds of games generate the most income and what kinds of people are more likely to play the various styles of games. The target audience is not wealthy people, but ignorant and needy people.

With a Democratic majority in both houses and a Democratic governor, you would think that decisions would be made that benefit the needy, not further enslave them. But then, it’s a power game. And the State needs its capital. The people promoting gambling have deep, deep pockets. The propaganda in favor of promotion of this vice far exceeded the capacity of those opposed to be heard.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister once said, “Think of the press as a great keyboard upon which the government can play.” This is the same man who said that it you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Well, the lie in this country is that we have free elections.

Returning to Russell again, he stated, “The state is a collection of officials… drawing comfortable incomes so long as the status quo is preserved. The only alteration they are likely to desire in the status quo is an increase of bureaucracy and the power of bureaucrats.”

We have Republicans and Democrats in office. Every four year they vie like Sumo wrestlers for the Oval Office.

At the end of the day, when you step back and examine what our political leaders have done for the past 100 years, the trend lines are not difficult to recognize. One sees rising bureaucracy followed by rising taxes, followed by increasing bureaucracy, more regulations limiting freedoms, and still more taxes. It hardly matters which political party is in office.

Every four years we see a continuous parade of candidates who all come from within this system, ever voting themselves more money and more power at our expense. No one on the national scene who seriously aims to reverse this pattern is electable because both parties, Republican and Democrat, endorse this status quo situation that they so benefit from. Third parties have neither the money, nor the media assistance that the GOP and Dems have. Even when candidates mouth new ideas, everyone knows that nothing will really change.

If you listen to the media, it doesn’t take long before somewhere some political analyst derides the American people for their apathy toward the political process, especially with regards to the national scene. There might be good reasons behind this widespread epidemic of indifference.

My primary concern with all this political apathy is that people will become cynical and apathetic about everything. The truth is, you have more power to make the world a better place than you realize. Don’t wait till November. Choose to make a difference today.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Goat

My senior year in high school I was quarterback for our intramural football team called The Nerds. I did not know what the name "Nerd" meant at that time, but assumed it was something dirty like one of the other teams in our league, the Galloping Gonads.

This was really the culmination of my years of street football and all the football games we played after school every day up at Hamilton School. In retrospect, I probably had more cred than I give myself credit for. As quarterback I called plays and engineered a winning season that brought us to within five yards of the intramural championship. If we won that last game, we would have been the school’s champion team.

As it turns out, we were on the five yard line with time running out. I called an option, and as I escaped the rush by moving to the left I saw Tony Ruggerio wide open in the center of the end zone. But I also saw a wide open space in front of me, inviting me to make a dash for it… which I did.

I have never been the fastest runner among my peers, and that day in the late afternoon sunlight, those five yards took a lifetime to traverse. An unsuccessful sprint I might add, because I was nailed on the two. So it is, I let everybody down with an impulsive bad decision.

Never mind that I had brought us to victory’s doorstep with a very successful year that surprised nearly all of our adversaries. (It didn’t surprise us, of course, because we’d played so many years together and fine tuned a lot of very cool timing plays.)

Ten years later I was visiting the old neighborhood. I don’t recall where it happened but I ran into Tom Dermody that day, one of the guys from our neighborhood who was on that intramural squad. His first words: “Why didn’t you throw it?” Ten years later. Not a greeting of “Hey, how are you doing? Long time no see.”

"Why didn't you throw it?" The irony is, that even with all that water under the bridge, I knew exactly what he was referring to.

I have replayed that decision a hundred times in my mind. It was a poor one, I know. And I wish I could tell the guys I’m sorry, but life goes on. Sometimes you let people down and no matter how hard you wish it you can’t undo what you’ve done. So the task is to learn from your mistakes, to be wiser, more disciplined and better next time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Somewhere in the Universe


Somewhere in the Universe

A precipitous encounter with the new dawn.
Illuminations penetrate the darkened room,
the womb/tomb where conciousness wakes
to observe, to embrace, to ruminate,
to re-create the material world.
A hum, the jostle of moving crowds,
the ticking of clocks, chirping birds…
the pinching chippy snap of a budgie eating seed.
Do the best you can do; be the best you can be...
Now, start your day.

A journal note
Paper design by Susie

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Favorite Street Football Pass Plays

In March my brothers and I re-visited the neighborhood where we grew up in New Jersey. In 1964 our family moved into a new housing development of three and four bedroom homes in Bridgewater. As we drove about the neighborhood, we were flooded with memories. Here’s the spot I jumped out of a moving car. There’s the pace in the woods where our fort used to be.

Significantly, it was a vibrant community with lots of kids of all ages. The isolation created by living in the ‘burbs is a common theme in books and movies, but during that Sixties era things were different in our neighborhood. There were kids in abundance, and grabbing a few for a pickup football game was a snap. For street football it only took five or six to get a pretty good game on.

I had a brother Ron, two years younger than I, who was always ready to play. Tom Browne lived next door in the house above, Kenny Koons in the house below. The McAvoys were a few houses up the road, and with that we were set. If there were five, I would be quarterback on both teams with no pass rush. Six, we’d play three on three. And there was nearly always room for one more.

The asphalt road made a perfect “field” for this setup. The brick curb provided a clear demarcation for what was out of bounds. The end zones could be from the telephone pole to the Koons’ driveway, or any other length that seemed suitable. It was touch football at its finest, involving psychology and finesse.

In retrospect, it was a great way to develop basic football skills. For quarterbacks, timing and accuracy are paramount. For receivers, developing good hands was the essential skill, as well as footwork and feints in the psychological game of beating the defense. Defenders learned how to read the offense and react. Playing street football on a daily basis enables you to practice, practice, practice. Besides, it was fun.

Generally we'd play three complete is a first down. Sometimes we'd go long just to keep the defenders honest, but it was pretty tough to defend against these short timing routes.

The illustration here shows a typical play that I might call. It begins with a crossing pattern which creates just enough confusion in the defenders to give the receiver an edge. The receiver begin straight along the curbs, and at about three steps out begin the cross. The right end is counting to five with the one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand cadence. At five the receiver breaks back toward the quarterback, with the ball already on its way. Almost impossible to defend against.

More football memories to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Born Feet First

I was born feet first. First-born son of four boys. You don’t meet many people born feet first any more… it’s considered too dangerous. If they can’t get you to do a U-turn they do a C-section.

For Christmas I received Steve Martin’s autobiography, Born Standing Up, a really good book which I wholeheartedly recommend. I was not born standing up, however. Just feet first. Not enough muscle tone in my legs, so when I hit the floor I just crumpled.

I am sure you’ve noticed that we live in an intensely risk averse culture. They don’t let us do ANYTHING dangerous any more. Ever notice that? Kids have to ride bikes with helmets on. Seatbelts are mandatory. Somehow we survived our childhoods without seatbelts or airbags. We played tackle football without pads almost every single day for years with only one broken bone that I know of, and I wasn’t even there for that one. But today, it is amazing what they will not let kids do.

There are schools where sack races are outlawed because insurance premiums are too high. Kids can’t give each other piggy back rides on the playground. Oranges and watermelons have beeneliminated in some schools because kids might choke on the seeds. (“Let them eat chocolate!" And of course they have pop machines.) And there are places where kids can’t make paper airplanes because some boys will throw them too hard.

Now when I was a kid, my brother and I knew how to have real paper airplane wars. We made paper airplanes with pins sticking out the nose of the plane. We each made a small paper plane air force, then played a variation of dodge ball in the family room. (Do not try this at home!) Yes, my mother did freak and we only did that once. I guess it never occurred to us that you could put an eye out. Instead of passing laws against paper airplanes, let teachers have the power to discipline the kids who get out of hand. That, unfortunately, is too complicated.

It’s hard to say which is the bigger culprit for this epidemic of safety and risk aversion, whether it’s lawyer or politicians. Two examples will suffice to show the problem. The first involves lawyers.

Sears made lawnmowers that were not easy to start. You had to yank a cord and sometimes, due to a wide variety of factors it took a little work to get that sucker started in the spring. Well, guy dies of a heart attack and the lawyers make a case that Sears is at fault because the lawn mowers are too hard to start. They fix the problem by making a push button electric start so the mower is no longer hard to start. In fact, it is so easy to start that they end up with a couple instances of kids getting digits removed. The lawyers have a field day with this and get millions more from the company.

Sears has solved this problem, however. We just bought a new mower. It comes with a technician who starts it for you. Nice little guy. We keep him in the garage with the cat. We’ve also trained him to feed the goose and duck when he lets them out in the morning.

It’s easy to see how the lawyers have contributed to the problem. But politicians also have a long history of helping turning common sense into nonsense by passing laws to protect us from ourselves. The following will illustrate. And the pattern is one that politicians maintain even to this day.

In 1901 there were only 2 automobiles in Kansas. As chance would have it, they both happened to be in the same town at the same time and entered the same intersection from different angles. There was a deadly accident.

Kansas politicians had an emergency session and followed up with a law that you must stop your car after every mile and fire a flare into the air, to let other vehicles know you are coming.

You can picture the scene. Kansas, early 1902. Cop car is hiding behind bushes. Sees car go buy without stopping to light flares for a while. The vehicle is speeding (22 miles per hour) and being steered erratically. The cop pulls him over and walks up to the driver’s side. It’s a middle aged couple and the wife starts pleading. “Officer, please, whatever we’re being stopped for, my husband didn’t know what he was doing. He’s too inebriated to be behind a wheel.”

“That’s OK, m’am. Drunk driving is not against the law yet in these parts. Mister, are you aware that you drove over two miles without firing a flare? I’m going to have to write you a citation.”

When politicians put a law like that on the books, it makes you wonder just how long it stayed that way before they realized how silly it was. My guess is that many of these laws are still on the books. And now we know what happened to the American Dream.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A Movie Review
Disclaimer: all comments are based on first half of film. I didn't get into it.

One of the worst films I’ve ever tried to watch. I can’t believe all the praise it has received at IMDB. It has many problems, beginning with its violation of the first rule of story telling: show, don’t tell.

I’m sure that there are narrated stories that work, but too often they are a cheap crutch that removes the audience from the story while trying to help the audience understand the story. The length of this film didn’t bother me because I could eject it at any time, and I finally did. If I want to finish it, the movie is due back in a week and maybe I will watch more. But frankly, my dear, I don’t give a d***.

Brad Pitt is one of my favorite actors on the current scene. But this role was a mistake, at least as written here.

Whoever wrote this should be shot. Scene after scene is atrociously long and the dialogue all too often irrelevant. Let’s advance the story. What is point of the guy watching Robert Ford bathe and commenting on the size of his privates? No point at all… Maybe an attempt at humor in this midst of this drab, pitifully dull pretense at being an epic.

Recommended Reading: If you want to be a screenwriter buy Syd Field's Screenplay.
In this film the actors seem as lifeless as the story. That’s why I am mystified that so many reviewers at IMDB.com love it so much. There are too many positive reviews for me to believe it’s a disingenuous crowd of paid shills, so I guess a lot of folks saw something I didn’t.

Here’s a reviewer from IMDB whose sentiments I do share, however: “Yuk...... I hated this film.”

By way of contrast, other reviews at IMDB have praised the film’s “melancholic grandeur” and called it the “best film of the year.”

I prefer the review who titled his comments, “Yawn.”

The film is being praised as "interesting despite not being a shoot ‘em up Western." Yet there are whole slews of great films that are not shoot ‘em ups which have real drama and interesting characters. Try Cool Hand Luke, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, or anything by Tennessee Williams. Even the flawed Hombre, based on a great Elmore Leonard book of the same name, was more compelling than this. There was a story there that even weak execution could not obliterate. This film, The Assassination of Jesse James, is a disgrace to what it could have been.

Funny thing is, I liked Brad Pitt in Troy which so many others panned. Maybe some of our experience gets colored by expectations. In this case, I expected more.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The One Minute Millionaire

Yesterday, I posted an article I had written about Mark Victor Hansen called Chicken Soup for the Ripped Off Person's Soul. There are some who might say my comments are mean spirited. I would like to believe the piece was written to promote understanding. One of the reasons scam artists are successful is that we are naive about their techniques, they smile a lot and we by nature desire to be trusting rather than perpetually wary.

By another name, wariness is a gift. It's called discernment. Let's not be gullible. Jesus said be wise as serpents but innocent as doves.

In an effort to substantiate my take on Hansen, and the book he was promoting/hawking that day in 2002, I have copied a review from Amazon.com about The One Minute Millionaire.

98 of 111 people found the following review helpful:
Worst Get Rich Book Ever, May 6, 2005
By
D. Logan

Let me summarize their get super-easy get rich "ideas"

1. Just invent something that everyone will buy!
2. Just write a best selling book!
3. Just spam a hundred thousand people selling a product, like an e-book that cost you nothing to make, but your time, and sell it for $1,000, and you'll get your million! They repeatedly use 1% spam response rates, though it's more like .0037% spam rates, I already know their solution, SPAM MORE! If you haven't got any spam from "Richard G Allen &/Or the one minute millionaire, you will!!!

4. Just look through the newspaper and find foreclosures on some unsuspecting little old lady, and be nice to her and help her get kicked out of her house, and you swoop in and take it, and all it's equity, paint it and sell it for twice as much!

5. Invent a toy that every kid wants, like Tickle-Me-Elmo!

6. Look for run-down houses that are worth millions and millions of dollars and haven't sold for a long long time, and ask obscenely low prices, and they'll take it, because agents have to, and since the owners are rich and don't care about money....

These are just some of the ideas that I remember from this awful book. The spam one makes me furious, they are ENCOURAGING SPAMMING!!! The other ideas are so stupid, write a best seller, invent something that every American home needs, well FREAKIN DUH! It VERY soon becomes apparent that the authors are just looking to make THEMSELVES RICH, with a catchy title, and some VERY OLD, VERY TIRED, VERY WORN OUT - OVERDONE Ideas. Like that foreclosure thing. That's older than I am. sheesh. This book has nothing creative, attempts to teach unethical and unrealistic ways of "getting rich" which they focus on spam as the way to get rich in the "one minute" time frame. Like any idiot is going to drop a grand from a spam they got 10 seconds ago. I did read this whole book, just looking for any kind of redeeming factor. None. This book is great for a laugh, and to inspire fury against the authors. I don't usually every write reviews, but this one... inspired me with disgust! This book is an entire waste of time, and I can't believe they must have had good marketers that this book is in the library, etc. I think this is the worst "get rich" book I have ever read.

All the real self help/get rich type books ALL go back to Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich is his best seller. If you are looking for the "secret", start there. Read everything he has, and then read everything his disciples have written (Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, Earl Nightengale, & Other stuff by Robert Kiyosaki & Thomas J. Stanley PhD, William D. Danko, and you will then have the correct foundation for success. Hey if you've read these and agree with me, yet feel I am missing a few good gems, please email me! I'm always looking for some more good stuff.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mark Victor Hansen: the Flim Flam Man

He blew into town with the media winds at his back, a big smile on his face and the promise of riches for all. His name was Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the highly successful Chicken Soup series of books. Though it was purportedly a leadership seminar, he was actually promoting his newest book, The One Minute Millionaire. Yes, you can have it all.

The following article first appeared in Duluth's Reader Weekly, November 7, 2002. It was my take on a motivational speaker who I would tar a scam artist. But what is motivating me to reprint it here is a statement he made while flapping his gums about the greatness of mankind and what we can achieve if we pull together and put our minds to it. He said one project he was organizing, that would amaze the world, would be painting the Great Wall of China by 2008. He pointed out that the Great Wall was the only man made structure on earth visible from outer space. It would be a huge undertaking to paint this but it would be accomplished because, golly gee whiz, we're so great we can do anything.

Well, I've been waiting. So far, gathering an army of people to paint the Great Wall of China has not yet made the news, and I have a feeling that if Hansen is talking about it at all, it will be something he tells his audiences will happen in 2015. He would likely be surprised that someone in his Duluth audience actually took notes to hold him accountable for what he says.

I realize that some people will feel I'm being harsh when I say these things. Hansen's books have encouraged and entertained a lot of people. Frankly, it could be argued that the money-changers in the Temple in New Testament times were helping people, too.

Anyways, here's my story.... a bit long for blogging, I know. I'll try not to make a habit of it.

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE RIPPED OFF PERSON’S SOUL
By Ed Newman

In October 2002 I had the privilege of witnessing the most audacious display of shameless hucksterism. In case you missed it, Mark Victor Hansen was in town, guest lecturer for the Leadership Series of The College of St. Scholastica. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Hansen, he is co-author of the spectacularly successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The three hour talk purported to be a success seminar for entrepreneurs and leaders. In actuality, it was little more than a three hour sales pitch a la Simon Sez. Half the audience seemed happily under his spell.

Affable and boisterous, he laughed almost continuously. Peppered throughout he shared fragments of actual and real content, though seldom citing sources and not concerned about whether any of the pieces hung together.

From one perspective, the talk was a fast paced jabber of name dropping, and braggadocio. If being rich is good because you can help others, being super-rich is even better because you can brag about it. His lifestyle requires him to earn two million dollars a year, he told us. He also let us know how he and his partner Jack Canfield are in the Guinness Book of World Records for the speed at which they produce and sell books.

The guy’s technique was typical of the standard flim flam con artist. How many times did he “almost” tell the price of these books that were supposedly worth $167 dollars? But hold on a second! He told us his signature will be worth more than the price we pay for the books because his good buddy Red Skelton said his autograph is worth eight hundred dollars, and “I’m going to be more famous than Red,” he implied. Do the math. Pay one hundred today, get the guy’s signature because he’s in town, and we walk away more than seven hundred dollars ahead. Plus we get to keep the books!

In twenty years of attending professional seminars, I can’t think of a single one where you pay nearly seventy dollars to attend and get no written materials, no notebook, nothing. That’s because this guy was not interested in giving anything. That would be an expense. The lesson is that to get rich you eliminate expenses and just take the money.

Wait, he did give us something. It was a thirty day tattoo which we could wear to promote his books. Hmmm. (Tap someone on the arm and say, “Got it?”)

Hansen’s fast talking style was straight from the carnival. He made outrageous statements with such rapidity that your mind couldn’t keep up to analyze them. At one point he said that for every one hundred dollars that we sent to his amazing money machine (in the form of buying his books) his organization would send $250 to eliminate third world hunger.

Someone asked why they don’t end poverty here in America first and he mocked her. That’s right. He made a face and belittled her. It was embarrassing.

He could do that because the crowd was on his side, the side of truth and illumination. But wait, not only was the crowd on his side, God was on his side, too. God wants us all to be shamelessly rich. The Bible says so, Hansen said. Look at Jesus. Why would the first disciple he converted be a tax collector if Jesus didn’t have money? Jesus was rich like Mr. Hansen, right? Jesus needed an accountant.

BOTTOM LINE
In other words, this whole Leadership event was a big scam. What’s unfortunate is that a lot of innocent believing people are left in the wake of jokers like this, still hurting, confused by what they experienced because much of what he said was good. But how do you apply it? The message doesn’t hold up to critical analysis.

In the past I have written about the gullibility of our times and American superficiality. This guy plays it like a master. The more I thought about it, the more stewed I got because a lot of earnest, trusting people paid hard earned cash to be there. 225 paid attendees times $69.... That’s over fifteen thousand dollars for three hours work. No wonder he was laughing continuously.

The next day I was curious how the sponsors of the event felt. Did Marcia Doty feel used because he took some personal information about her and stroked her in front of the whole crowd as part of the pitch he was putting on? Did the other media people feel they had been taken?

That’s how good this guy was. He completely sold out of his books. And everyone seemed happy. That just never happened before, I was told. He’s turning the whole world into One Minute Millionaires. Hallelujah.

In the old days these snake oil salesmen were tarred and feathered.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The writer who laughs all the way to the bank is crying inside.” This guy is laughing all the way to the bank, for sure. And it appears he’s not crying inside, which means he is either (a) not a writer, or (b) absolutely devoid of conscience.

Somehow, I can’t escape the feeling that we were witnesses to a tragedy and we didn’t even know it.

POSTSCRIPT
If your thoughts and feelings were similar to those expressed in this article, please email them to ennyman@northlc.com. If we gather 101 stories, we will publish a book. The profits will be shared with the authors.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I Like Taco Salad

A few years back I heard a remarkable statistic while attending a seminar on Marketing to Hispanics. The speaker stated that there were more Hispanics in the United States than there were Canadians in Canada. For this reason, she said, we need to learn how to communicate this growing market.
This month's Hispanic magazine cited a number of statistics that reveal much about the changing face of our American demographic.

In 1990 there were but 22 million Hispanics in the U.S., approximately 9% of our population. In 2006 there were 44 million Hispanics, or 15%, with this being the fastest growing people group in in our nation. Education levels have increased by near fifty percent and purchasing power has risen dramatically, from $212 billion in 1990 to $863 in 2007. Last year, for the first time, Hispanic buying power exceeded African American purchasing power.

Latino clout goes beyond the dollar signs. Increasing numbers of Latinos have taken seats on the board or as presidents and CEOs of America's leading corporations. And there is no denying the power of the ballot box in future elections as the population of Hispanics is projected to rise to 61 million by 2025 to 100 million by 2050.

Based on emails that I receive, there is a lot of fear out there with regard to this Latino power surge. Having lived a year each in both Mexico and Puerto Rico, it's a fear that I do not fully comprehend. People are people and from my experience there are wonderful people everywhere. Maybe it's the politics of it all that gets people riled, I don't know. In whatever shade it appears, however, racism is wrong.

From its very inception this nation has prided itself on being a melting pot. A melting pot metaphor can be a misnomer if it means we all give up our personal flavors and become a gigantic, tasteless stew. I prefer another metaphor. We're really a tossed salad, as we not? We preserve our personal heritages while simultaneously being flavored by those around us.

Disney got it right with his "It's a Small World" vision. The idea of a Global Village likewise touches this same truth. Red and yellow, black and white, we're all precious in His sight. Rodney King got it right, too. "Why can't we all just get along?"

Friday, April 11, 2008

Winter's Last Huzzah

That's what the soldiers would shout as they came across the field of battle. "Huzzah!" They'd put on a fierce battle face, stoke their courage and pour their very fiber into it. "Huzzah!"

Old Man Winter rolled into the Northland during the night, and has likewise made an effort to intimidate us with a fierce face, screaming "Huzzah! with fifty mile an hour winds, and a dense wet snowfall that is no small chore to push aside.

The people in these parts, however, are not easily intimidated. They hunker down and wait for that blustery assault to blow itself out, knowing that Sunday's forecast is for warmer weather and the week ahead will be warmer still.


Wind and snow do make for dangerous driving conditions, but the worst appears to be behind us already. I had fun snapping a few early morning photos while the wind and snow relentlessly raged. The accumulations of snow on the chain link fencegate were so Escheresque that I took the liberty of using my PictureGear program to modify the images I captured so as to turn them into more abstract designs.

We'll still have a little more "weather" to deal with through tomorrow but I've got a feeling that the worst is already behind us.




Note: Click on images to enlarge.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood

2007 was, in my opinion, a weak year for Hollywood. At some point in late spring it seemed that the summer movie season had been set up to be especially uninteresting. Despite featuring everybody’s hero Johnny D., Pirates III failed to entice me to part with anything green. Bourne III also came and went with the same effect.

Meanwhile, while commuting to the office, I thoroughly enjoyed two really engrossing audio books: Mr. Wilson’s War and No Country For Old Men.

The fall movie fare was equally dismal, though the family did go and take in that most unusual Sixties reprise, Across the Universe. As we tiptoed toward the year’s Christmas culmination, it was with great exhilaration that I learned that both audio books which I so thoroughly enjoyed had been made into films, and I knew that I’d find a way to see each of them.

For some reason this film, There Will Be Blood, never crossed my radar. I have been a strong admirer of some of the work Daniel Day-Lewis has produced, beginning with My Left Foot, the film that for me put him on the map as a serious actor.

As Oscar season approached Day-Lewis buzz was all the rage. This film, written, directed and produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, had created a phenomenal opportunity for Day-Lewis to shine, if you call being a very dark-hearted character shining. Anderson was the director of Magnolia, a film heavily populated by tragic and pathetic characters.

There Will Be Blood is primarily a character study of one character, Daniel Plainview, as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis. It could be argued that Eli Sunday is also a character in the story, but his role seems more as a foil for the singular story of Plainview.

Anderson’s achievement here has him being compared to Kubrick, which is saying plenty. Some say it was with great intentionality that he has become more like Kubrick, specifically in the manner in which the story is told. The eye of the camera is all. The film exemplifies the preeminent rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell.

For this reason we are never “told” the motivations of characters. We extrapolate motivations by the behaviors revealed by the camera's lens. At one point Daniel Plainview states outright, "I don't like to explain myself."

This style of film making is much like life. People seldom explain the why of their behaviors. Often they do not even understand themselves the why of what they do. Yet we can see who they are by what they do. Sort of. Every picture tells a story, but it takes a lifetime of pictures to fill out the full orb. This film strings together the key pictures of a man’s life, the hardening of a very hard man.

The soundtrack of this film exacerbates the tensions whirling about inside its central character. The strings, rhythms, syncopated percussion, create a disconcerting, grating feeling. The irresolution and intensity of the strings is most effective in leaving viewers unsettled and uncomfortable.

The film does have its critics. It is not a pleasant experience. But it is a powerful film, and Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible to the end.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

First Signs of Spring

At last, spring is theoretically here. (I say theoretically because the forecast is for another blizzard this weekend.) Yes, I realize the crocuses have already appeared in other parts of the country, and that further south the blossoms have burst open on the trees. Up North, we're less fortunate, must always wait a little longer.
Fortunately the first two true signs of spring have occurred. This weekend Susie saw a pair of robins. And then yesterday I saw an eggplant.

I was walking out to the mailbox to get the morning paper. Off to my right, I heard a rustling in the bushes. At first I didn't see anything, but then -- expecting to see a rabbit -- I saw the eggplant and ran back to the house to grab my camera.

As I neared the place where I spotted him, he slipped out from hiding and went up to the edge of the road where he then stood to look both ways, making sure there were no cars coming. Using my zoom I captured the eggplant standing there, then ran up as he squirmed across the road and slipped up the other bank.

For me it was a very exciting moment. I have never been so near an eggplant in the wild.



The three pictures here will hopefully add to our understanding of why the eggplant crossed the road.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

This Is No Bull

A February Associated Press story stated that "Fake bull testicles and other anatomically explicit vehicle decorations would be banned from Maryland roads under a bill pending in the state legislature."

When I heard about this story, I didn't think much of it because, well, I did not know why anyone would have bull testicles on their cars. But then this past weekend I understood. I was passed by a Dodge Ram that had a small sack hanging from it's trailer hitch with two large eggs in it. It gave the appearance of testicles on a ram.

I guess there are some men who need to show the world they still have testosterone. But for the Maryland legislature to outlaw such behavior starts getting weird to me. I mean, it's not doing anyone any harm, really. It's simply a matter of bad taste, like someone getting up in church in telling a dirty joke.

It's easy to see why this story has been creating buzz. (Do a Google search: bull testicles legislation.) What's curious to me here is the contrast between this and the CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) legislation that has flown by under the radar. In case you haven't heard, the new light bulbs will be mandatory by 2011, despite their expense and more alarmingly their health risks. These bulbs contain mercury, and if you break one it could put the health of you and your loved ones at risk. (Google Search: CFL toxic mercury) So we'll save energy but have a smashing good time filling our land fills and watertables with toxic mercury, made mandatory by government legislation.

So we have legislators outlawing one behavior because it's in bad taste, and then making us all conform to another behavior that can potentially shorten our lives. For some reason this seems just a bit too strange.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Probe


Probe

Sifting the sands of time,
sifting the dusty mineshaft of mind
the flutter of bats in darkness brings
a heart-quickening recollection of disturbing things.

June 22, 1993

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tres Poemas Breve

Skull and Bone
No lips with which to nibble kiss,
no lips, no lobes, no tongue;
no flesh to feel, no fragile lids,
no skin once firm and young;
no vocal chords, no ears, no voice,
no sweet accented song;
no organs making music,
no muscles growing strong;
no beauty in the outward form,
no heart, nor lung, nor breath;
we're only rigid skull and bone
and emptiness in death.

Raindrops
Raindrops
noiselessly surrender themselves
and fall, colliding into unyielding earth.
Then, the terrible choice: to evaporate
or lose one's self through union with others,
from trickle to stream... to forceful river...
swelling to the eternal sea.

Departure On Hold
The florid field failing to hold
While ravens risk their fortunes
‘cross the pathos spattered landscape.

First class flavors of coconut balm,
chardonnay whirling wispy streams
Of conscious rambling while parading
Images sing songs of spinning wonder.

If only we knew what time could contain.
But understand this: shadows remain fluid
And all we hope for are the best days of our lives.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Luxury of Clutter

Alas, spring is in the air, and with the season comes the awakening desire to tackle all that clutter we've stowed in the garage and in drawers and under desks and in closets. It's a never ending battle. Clutter seems to gather like dust and you just have to deal with it.
There must be more clutter in America than in any country in history. As I drove to the re-cycle center this morning I began thinking how clutter is really a luxury, it's a symbol of our wealth and success. Think of the efficiencies required for impoverished people to raise a family in a two room house. There is simply no room for all this baggage we store.

Our refrigerators and freezers are so large that as much food often goes bad as gets eaten. This simply doesn't happen in rural Mexico, Haiti or Pakistan.

As a writer I have developed the bad habit of believing "someday I will use that article" or that folder of notes, doodles, ketchup labels, or whatever. As an artist, too, it gets difficult to let go of the rest of this debris, because it does glisten and glitter so. And these rocks, wires, pens, notebooks.... eeek.

Worse still, my mother is a clutterbug and my brothers share the trait, so the battle appears to have potentially deep genetic origins. At least the case could be made that I should be excused for this propensity.

Let it be known I am not excusing myself. The battle cry has been raised, and I've taken my stand. To the wonder of many eyes my desktop at work made an appearance this past month and has remained partially cleared for several weeks. There are no mags on the floor and amazingly this cleaner office has not hindered my productivity.

On the home front, well.... I don't have any old eight track tapes tucked away. Little by little I will chip away, and occasionally get my gumption up to fling a few things into the trash. If it feels good, I'll do it again. Like shedding pounds, it's not the binge diet that wins but the lifestyle change that makes a difference.

Sometimes you find things you hadn't seen in a while. For example, I just came across this self-portrait I painted about 26 years ago. (click to enlarge)

In the end, if we don't deal with it, someone else will have to. As we all know too well, you can't take it with you.




Recommended readings: Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett, Organizing from the Inside Out byJulie Morgenstern. Or just do a Gogle search and fire up your motivation with whatever stokes you.

Friday, April 4, 2008

More on IdeaSpotting

"Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind." ~ Samuel Johnson

Sam Harrison's IdeaSpotting is as good as I anticipated. The approach to the material is itself handled creatively. The pages are designed in an original manner. It is not a typical "book" in the send of having only words on the pages. Every page is a new layout, appealing to the eye, though thematically it holds together and does not interfere with the message.

On page 25 the heading is, "Open your mind, and people will show you what's on their minds." He quotes Clint Eastwood: "Once you feel you know everything, you're done. You're either repetitive or boring, or both."

This notion reminded me of my college days when we'd sit or lie around on the college green at Ohio University talking about the meaning of life. There was this one fellow there who always said the same thing. "We're born, we procreate, and then we die." The first time he said it was cool, it seemed sort of a nugget to chew on. He had a professorial attitude, deep voice, beard and avante gard dark shades with turtleneck look. On another occasion we were discussing something and he was there. The only words he spoke were, "We're born, we procreate, and then we die." Months later, again the same.

Evidently he had had a profound LSD experience and "figured out the universe" and knew all he needed to know, because he'd definitely become repetitive and boring. The "cool" mystique that we originally saw in him never went beyond being a veneer. He was a guy you couldn't get to know. And he never got to know us. He was as interesting as a one trick pony.

If we want to learn new things, we need to explore the world around us, and inside others... to listen and hear and see in new ways. Ask questions. Pay attention. And "maybe even eavesdrop." There are new things to discover all around you. This is the fodder for new ideas. And underneath it all you may even hear gentle rumbles of the voice of God.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Post 268: Don't Neglect Your Family

Hard to believe I've produced 267 blog posts to date since starting last June... but like all things in life, we can accomplish much by taking small steps one after the other. As they say "the journey of a thousand miles..."

Although the themes vary, much of the content has been produced in an effort to help others in their careers as they pursue their dreams. Having said this, however, I know that one important message has been neglected and this is a brief reminder. Do not neglect your family. You want to write books, make great art, change the world... go for it. But do not sacrifice the foundation that makes it possible. If you turn your back on loved ones to make a name for yourself, who will be there when you crash and burn? Failure is part of life, but let that failure be a project you were working on, not a marriage. Not your children.

Peter Lynch, famed fund manager of the Magellan Fund, in one of his books includes the telling statement that his seven days a week commitment to Wall Street success resulted in his missing out in two or three years of his daughters' lives, in the critical early teens. He warned that he can never re-do that decision or get back what he lost there.

PHOTO CAPTION: My wife Susie, one of the secrets of my success.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two Books On Creativity

I've just started what appears to be an excellent book about creativity called IdeaSpotting: How To Find Your Next Great Idea, by Sam Harrison. For some reason, people assign a mystical and mysterious quality to the process of creativity, not recognizing that thinking creatively has very definite steps which can be learned and developed. It is not magic. There is no "muse" whose presence is necessary for us to have an idea.

A second book, which I own and have returned to several times over the years, is A Technique for Producing Ideas, by James Webb Young Young. Young writes that scientific giants agree that “knowledge is basic to good creative thinking,” but that this is not enough. Rather, “knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships.”

Later in the book he writes, "An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements."

If you need help in this area (developing your intuitive faculties and breaking free creatively) I would endorse A Technique most heartily, and from what I have read thus far of IdeaSpotting, it will also be on my list. Here are some comments from the intro:

“Trainspotter” is British slang for a dull, obsessive guy whose hobby is standing for hours on station platforms, meticulously recording the serial numbers of train cars passing by.

If the British call you a trainspotter, they’re likely calling you a loser.

IdeaSpotters, on the other hand, are surefire winners. The only thing they have in common with trainspotters is a predilection for notebooks.

Rather than record engine numbers, IdeaSpotters capture ideas.