The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Hollywood’


“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

There is no question that at different points of our lives and even at different times of the day we allow our minds to operate on settings of either “small” or “average”.  We spend a fair amount of time there.

“Good morning, Mrs. Smith,” we say to our neighbor.  “How are you doing after your surgical procedure?”  Here’s an example of our discussing both a person and an event.  It’s a normal part of our conversation with our friends and acquaintances.  But we could elevate this to that third level by saying, “I am going grocery shopping this afternoon.  Would you like to go with me – or is there anything I can get for you so you don’t have to exert yourself and can rest up?”

Now I will admit that extending an offer of courtesy to an ailing neighbor is not an earth shattering “idea”.  It will not change the course of human civilization or speed us towards a better world – other than for the person whom we are trying to assist.  But as unimportant a thought as offering to get a neighbor’s groceries might be in the scheme of world events – why is that so many of us never think to make the gesture?

I believe there is a simple explanation for why we allow our minds to operate at each level – and I would like to attempt to describe that in reverse order.


When I think of peoples’ conversation as it concerns other people – most of it can be described as gossip and character assassination.  Who enjoys this sort of conversation?  Generally I have found that people who are insecure in their own self-worth spend most of their time engaged in discussing other people.  Somehow they believe that by discrediting and demeaning others they elevate their own stature.  Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

Even as a child I realized that most of us unfortunately gravitate to this low level state of mind from time to time.  Today we have the internet to titillate us over the latest celebrity indiscretion – but back then we had Hollywood gossip columnists and magazines devoted to the subject.  There is a baser part of each of us that seems content to delve into this low level of mental operation – at least from time to time.  The trick is to pull ourselves out of the mire and move upward.

If I were to describe this state of mind in today’s terms I guess I would call it the “Social Media Syndrome.”


Thank goodness for sports, tsunamis, other forms of natural disasters and homicides.  Where would our friends with “average minds” turn for topics of discussion without them?  And the fact that we now have virtually instantaneous knowledge of these events provides them with an unlimited source of conversational material.

The other day I was at the dog park.  I went over to say hello to several of the regulars and heard two of the men having a conversation about a baseball game they had seen the day before.  The conversation rapidly turned from a discussion of specific spectacular plays that occurred during the game to one where they went back in time to talk about similar plays which had been made in games ten, twenty and more years ago.  I was astounded they could actually remember those events.  More to the point, I wondered how and why did they remember them?

As I was in a whimsical mood I decided to have a little fun with these two fellows.  So I said, “You guys have such an extensive knowledge of sports and history.  I can’t tell you how impressed I am with that.  Now I’m working on a paper about Italy in the 15th century.  The day that Columbus first landed in the New World happened to be the day of the finals in the all-Italy bocce ball tournament pitting Florence against Venice.  Does either of you remember the final score?”

Apparently bocce ball wasn’t within their area of expertise and after a few seconds of mumbling they resumed their baseball conversation.  I’m sure that my point was lost on them.  But I had a little fun with it anyway.  Every so often I allow my impish side to exert itself and take control of my mouth.

If I were to describe this state of mind I would call it “The Living Vicariously Through Others Syndrome.”


Seldom does humanity produce someone with the abilities of a Leonardo da Vinci or an Isaac Newton.  We call these people geniuses.  But the truth is that even they used just a very small portion of their brains.  Perhaps what differentiates them from the rest of us is that most of us use even less – and they must have exerted some serious effort to utilize as much as they did.  In other words, they tried to improve themselves.

That should give all of us some reason for hope.  While most of us will never operate at their level of brilliance, we can be more “thoughtful” people tomorrow than we are today.  We can aspire to do things that we never imagined yesterday if we only make the effort.

Although the brain is an organ, not a muscle, I am convinced that if it goes unused and unchallenged, just like our biceps it is doomed to languish and atrophy.  If we content ourselves with allowing it to operate in either first or second gear it is bound to do just that.

Why are so many of us afraid to dream dreams and think thoughts that might not only positively improve our own lives but which might change the world?  The only answer is fear – fear of the criticism which might come from those with small and average minds.  Fear of humiliation and ridicule by those whose tools in trade are limited to those instruments of destruction.

I remember a piece of wisdom that my father imparted to me as a child.  I had come home from school the first day I wore glasses.  Several of the kids called me “Four eyes.”  The children making the statement were only acquaintances, but I felt the wound left by their remark.  None of my friends made any comment other than one who said, “Those look good on you.”  When I explained what happened dad said, “Consider the source.”

If I were to describe this state of mind I guess I would call it “The Daring To Be Better Syndrome.”

Each of us has control of how we think and how we live.  If you’ve read this far you have enough curiosity and hopefully sufficient courage to work toward a higher level of thought.  For me that is a personal goal on which I work daily.

It will be a good day indeed when each of us utters the most powerful sentence in the language –  the four words, “I have an idea.”


When Gunther came to America he intended to make a living as he had in his native land.  He was a tailor and specialized in alterations.  He met his wife Hattie here and they were married.

Gunther and Hattie were not blessed with children but they had the deep bond of love between them.  For them that was enough.  After thirty-five years of marriage, Hattie was out doing the grocery shopping one day when a driver lost control of his car and the vehicle ran over the sidewalk killing her instantly.

Without the support of the love of his life, Gunther was a changed man.  He was no longer his former cheerful self and began drinking.  His work in the tailor shop became sloppy and long-time customers found other tailors to alter their garments.  He finally decided to sell the shop and a competitor by the name of Hans purchased the business.  Gunther disappeared from New York City.

Several years later, Hans happened to be in Nebraska visiting some of his relatives.  The kids said that Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey was in town and asked if Uncle Hans would take them.  Hans hadn’t been to the circus for a great many years and thought this would be a fun family outing.  So off they went to the Big Top.

As the children were standing in line to purchase some cotton candy with the money Uncle Hans had given them, Hans was startled to see Gunther walking across the circus campus.  So Hans told the children to wait by the cotton candy booth and said he would be right back.  He rushed off to say hello to his old associate.

When he caught up with Gunther he asked him what he had been doing for the past several years and was surprised to learn that Gunther was now employed by the circus.

“What exactly do you do,?” asked Hans.

Gunther said, “Come on – I’ll show you.”

So Hans followed Gunther to one of the tents and when they went in he saw five elephants lined up in a row.  Over each elephant there was a large pail and coming from the pail was a rubber hose.

Gunther explained, “I give enemas to the elephants before they perform.  That way we don’t have any surprises under the Big Top.  You can just imagine how disgusting it would be in front of the moms and dads and kids if one of the elephants had to relieve herself while she was doing her act.”

Gunther proceeded to demonstrate his work.

Well Hans was dumbfounded.  But when Gunther had given the last of the elephants her enema he looked at his old acquaintance and said, ‘You know, Gunther since you’ve been gone I’ve done quite well.  In fact I now own four tailor shops – and I have an opening for an experienced tailor in one of them.  Please come back to New York and make a fresh start.”

Gunther responded, “So you mean for a lousy schlemiel job in a tailor shop, you think that I’m going to give up show business?”

A couple of days ago a neighbor called and asked if I would accompany her as her guest to the movies.  (Her normal companion for these weekly excursions was on a two week vacation out of town).  I thanked her for her offer but politely declined.  But she did her best at trying to get me to go.  Apparently, she loved the movies but would only go if she was with someone.  And if I refused to go with her it would break her record of having gone to a movie a week for over 850 weeks.

I think it was that statistic that caused me to cave in.  I couldn’t think of 850 movies which Hollywood produced in the last seventeen years or so that would have been worth seeing.  I couldn’t think of fifty.  So in a moment of weakness I agreed to go with her.

I would tell you the name of the movie, but I’ve already forgotten it.  It really doesn’t matter other than to say it was a “chick flick” – by that I mean a movie crafted in such a way as to appeal to a pullet rather than a person.  With all the clucking that emanated from the moviegoers it had apparently reached its appropriate audience.

I decided to make the most of it so about ten minutes into the movie I involuntarily began a little siesta.  Sadly, my friend roused me from my slumber by giving me a sharp jab in the ribs.  That scene was repeated twice more during the term of my nearly two hour ordeal.  Sadly because of her vigilance in keeping me awake, I had to watch most of the film.

As I recall the “plot” it went something along the line of:

Boy meets girl.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl get naked.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl go to bed and presumably have sex.

Mindless twitter dialogue – and, “Was it good for you?”

Boy and girl get dressed.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl try to decide if they like each other so they ask their friends’ opinions.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Their friends have different opinions.

Multiple participants in mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl go to bed and presumably have sex.

Mindless twitter dialogue – and, “Was it god for you?”

I think that was the end of it – but there might have been more of the same.  You get the picture (in fact you can keep it).

I asked my neighbor if she liked the movie.  She said, “It was okay.  I’ve seen worse.”  The thought of that shocked me into a near state of panic.  I thought to myself, “Worse?  There’s worse?”  But she’s the moviegoer and I’m sure she knows.

So I asked her, “Did you expect it to be better than it was?”

She said, “No, not really.”

“Then you’ll forgive me for asking,” I said.  “Why did you want to go see it?”

She said, “You know, it’s something to do.”

I thought to myself, so is committing hara kiri and if you do it right you never have to be bothered with it again.

Well, I guess whether it’s the circus or the movies that old abbreviated phrase still applies.



My godmother who was part of New York’s elite “upper crust” introduced me to many things.  One of those was opera, another Broadway shows and the third was how people in “polite society” referred to each other.

She explained that if Mr. Simpson-Bowles were married, his wife was introduced as Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.  If, however, that relationship had not worked out and he remarried, this wife was introduced as “the second Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.”  Alas, that relationship did not last and for a third time he married.  This wife was introduced as “the current Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.”

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in America divorce happened – but at a much less frequent pace than is the case today.  For the ordinary individual being married multiple times was the exception rather than the rule – except for those stars in Hollywood who seemed to exchange spouses with the frequency that they changed their wardrobes for the next scene in a movie.

Of course, with marriage frequently comes the side-benefit of children.  And when two people divorce there is an impact and implication not only for how they will continue their lives but for their offspring as well.  I know because when I was eight years old my parents were divorced.

I am pleased to say that the cause of their separation was not due to something that would then have been scandalous and lurid such as either of them having a sexual relationship outside their marriage.  They simply had differences and disagreements which they couldn’t resolve.

Although they tried to shield me from hearing these arguments, that was difficult considering the small size of our apartment.  I knew something was wrong and I wanted it to stop.  I wanted us to return to the happy, loving and supportive little family that I knew and with which I felt secure.  But it didn’t.

One day mom explained that she was going to take a small trip – to Mexico.  The purpose was to obtain a divorce from dad.  I didn’t quite understand what that word meant – but on her return home it became clear what it was.  It meant that dad wasn’t going to live with us anymore and that I would only get to spend time with him every other weekend.  I didn’t like that idea – but I had no say in the matter.

Obviously this decision had an effect on the way that my parents continued their lives.  But the greatest impact fell on me.  I rapidly went from being at the head of the class and nosedived academically until I was near the bottom.  My teacher, Mrs. Snell expressed her concern in several conferences and a number of written notes.  She could see that I was languishing and depressed.

Fortunately, my parents both cared enough about me to discuss my situation with each other.  This resulted in their going out to dinner on many occasions – but the big breakthrough came when dad was invited for supper one night.  After a year apart, they decided that they were going to try again.  And on June 14th, mom, dad, grandma, my aunt, her two children and I attended a service at The Church of the Transfiguration (better known in New York as “The Little Church Around the Corner”) where they again took their vows.  They remained married until dad passed away.

Perhaps it is co-incidence, but after my parents got back together and we were again the family unit that I had known, my schoolwork improved almost immediately and I again held my place at the head of the class.  I’ll let you be the judge for why I made that academic transformation.  My entire attitude changed as I went from a state of depression to again feeling good about life and the world.

I realize that in today’s world the idea of constancy and commitment are considered old-fashioned.  I know that when my parents decided on getting divorced, they both felt that somehow they had failed themselves and each other.  They had a rather old-fashioned way of looking at things and were disappointed that they had compromised their personal values.  But it is probably the fact that they knew what the “right thing to do” was that enabled them to try to heal the wounds they both had incurred – together with their love and concern for me.

My parents were people who had rock solid values and, because they were humans, failed for a period of time to live up to them.  But they worked hard to overcome their personal frailties and see the more important and bigger picture.  I guess, if you think about it, it’s only people who have a value system who can be failures.  Those of us for whom “anything goes” will always be able to say that we followed our moral precepts – as non-existent as those may be.

I cannot say with certainty how different my life might have been had my parents not made their decision to come back together.  In that one short year that they were apart, I was already on the path to academic mediocrity.  Perhaps I might not have finished high school or gone on to college.  Perhaps I might have become what we referred to at the time as a “JD” – a juvenile delinquent.  Actually, I am certain that I would not be the person I am today.

Today, divorce occurs only slightly less frequently than marriage.  Single parent homes are no longer an exception.  Our educational drop out rate is staggering.  The number of teen unwed mothers – or for that matter – unwed mothers of any age is soaring.  We clearly have abandoned the “old-fashioned” way of doing things – and that change has had a profound influence at every level of society.

Those old-fashioned values were good enough to allow America to become the single most important economic dynamo on earth.  They were good enough to cause millions of immigrants to come to a land of opportunity and to make a better life for themselves and their children.  They were good enough for us to assume a place of moral leadership and to give new meaning to the word freedom for all throughout the world to see and to admire.  They were good enough then – so why aren’t they good enough now?

If we want to address the question of America and her problems – perhaps one of the places we should start is by examining the implications of divorce on our children.


Mine was the first generation to be raised on television.   In many ways, this new invention signaled the end of imagination.  We didn’t have to use our minds to picture what was happening as the story unfolded.  We merely had to stare ahead at the picture in front of us.

One day dad came home with a present for the family.  One of his friends who was a big radio buff had taped a large collection of old-time radio shows on his reel to reel recorder.  He had made copies of many of these and dad came home with a shopping bag full of these tapes.   He wanted me to experience the joy he and his family had when they had originally listened to them.

I don’t remember all of them but there were episodes of “Burns and Allen,”  “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Jimmy Durante,” “The Green Hornet,” “Dragnet,” “Jack Benny,” to name just a few.

That night after dinner dad pulled out our tape recorder, turned off the lights and lit a candle in order to re-create the atmosphere he knew when he first heard the shows and his family sat around their radio.  We began listening to the invisible voices of comedy and drama.

The quality of the recordings was poor.  We had to pay close attention to hear the voices that came to us from the ether of a past day.  As we heard these entertainers on a now-obsolete technology, we had the opportunity to apply our imaginations to the lines the actors spoke.

I’m sure that each of us had a different image of the way that Fibber McGee and Molly’s house was arranged.  Or what the city where the Green Hornet did his good works looked like.  We were free to imagine as we would.

It was a wonderful experience and began a tradition.  Once a week we would regularly spend a few hours together and continue to play through all the tapes dad’s friend had recorded.  These were magical moments – an experience of art and family.

Today the golden days of radio have passed.

We sit in a movie and are disappointed if there isn’t enough action, car chases, buildings being blown to smithereens and a sufficient number of killings.  We don’t have to imagine anything as our senses are overloaded with visual images and an appropriate amount of offensive language all conveyed to us at a far higher level of volume than is necessary other than for those of us with hearing problems.

Well, that’s probably what today’s public craves – and Hollywood doesn’t disappoint it’s audience.  “Give the people what they want” is their mantra.

I found an excellent source for old-time radio shows and ordered ten of them.  They arrived yesterday.  Tonight I’m going to snuggle up with Gracie and begin listening to them.  Rather than curse the drivel that is on television or the big screen I’m going to light a candle and start enjoying them.

Imagine that.


If you have not seen Frank Capra’s 1939 movie, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”  starring Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur and Claude Rains among many other notable actors of the period, you should do yourself a favor and watch the film.  The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards.

It is the story of a naïve man who is appointed as Senator from a state that has an entrenched political machine run by one power broker.  He is selected for the job because the power-bosses think that he will be easy to manipulate.  What they don’t realize is that he is a man of principle and is not going to give up fighting for his beliefs.

A slanderous and false campaign against him is launched, witnesses perjure themselves in their calumny against him in their effort to discredit him.  They are sure that they have succeeded in their smear campaign.  But this simple man, inspired by the words that appear on the Lincoln Memorial, refuses to cave in.

Despite the fact that the entire Senate is set against him, he filibusters against his expulsion to the point where he collapses on the Senate floor.

This is the two minute clip where he falls exhausted:

This is Hollywood at its finest.  It makes a statement and it actually has a happy ending.  It is one of the movies that is a foundation of my home film library and a movie that I watch at least once a year.  In this election year I will probably watch it several times more than that.

Eventually we will figure out who the opponents will be in the November election.  Between the awarding of the Oscars and the election  we will all be subjected to an endless parade of mud-slinging commercials with the two combatants dumping dirt on his opponent.

Frankly, if only ten percent of the allegations that will be raised are true, one wonders how any person of conscience will be able to vote for either of the contenders for President of the United States.  And, unfortunately, probably a great deal more than ten percent of the charges will be true.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if we had people running for the highest office in the land who were honest and inspiring?  Wouldn’t it be an incredible thing if we had people running for election to Congress who were women and men of conscience and character?  Wouldn’t it  be the most spectacular thing if Mr. Smith went to Washington?


As a child there was nothing that delighted me more than going to the movies with one or both of my parents.  In those days, a good movie would play for months at a time and the experience was truly something very special. 

No notices appeared on the screen advising us to turn off our cell phones (they didn’t exist).  And most of us were polite enough to be silent during the showing of the film.  Those who weren’t were actively “Sshhhushed” by those near them.

At the end of the film the audience would actively applaud the work of art that they had just viewed, rather than file out silently as though they were part of a zombie collective.

Well, that was then and this is now.

In those days films were not rated.  Somehow, our legislators had sufficient faith in the parents of this country to allow them to determine whether a film was appropriate  either for them or their children.  Alas, that was then – this is now.

Although I truly enjoy movies I seldom go to see them.  In fact, I am about to break my record of seeing one movie a year.  Here it is, the 8th of December and I have yet to see a film this year at the theater.

Last year I saw “The King’s Speech”, the year before “Avatar” and the year before that “The Changeling”.  Four years and three movies.  Not a very impressive record.  But the movies I do choose to see are exceptional.  At the least, they have a message to convey.

Rather than take personal responsibility for my lack of movie-going experience I choose, in the best tradition of today’s America, to fault someone else.  In this case it’s Hollywood and Washington.

You see, I find their ratings so confusing.  Movies that they rate “G” would have been strictly off the list of films that I would have been allowed to view as a child.  “G”, “PG”, “R”, “X”.  (Perhaps I missed one or more).  These ratings mean nothing to me – and I suspect I am not alone in this.  It’s all so fuzzy.

I would like to suggest an alternative.  Both Hollywood and Washington should get behind this as it will produce greater profits for our movie makers.  That will result in more tax revenue that the Federal Government will have available to waste.

My suggestion is that we abandon our present movie rating system in favor of a new one – the BDI (Brain Dead Index).  The creation of this system would also help relieve the ranks of the unemployed (albeit by as insignificant an amount as President Obama’s and Congressional efforts in this regard).  But at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Here’s the plan.

We find one thousand citizens across the country and test their IQ’s.  Let’s say we decide on a range between 40-120 to represent a cross-section of the population.  In order to be politically correct and realizing that we are all equal – more or less – we would naturally want three times as many people whose IQ’s measure 40 than we would those whose were 120.  (Lest you think that there may be an absence of candidates in those lower regions I suggest that we have only to check the halls of Congress).

Now that we have our candidates (whom we would pay out of the public largesse), we expose each of them to every new Hollywood release.  Each BDI panelist would have his or her own key pad to record whether they liked the movie or not.

 The total of those voting “Like” are recorded and their  IQ’s entered into the system.  The  total IQ of the respondents is then divided by the number of participants and a BDI number is derived.  (This is very scientific).

A movie that receives a rating of 62 will probably not be enjoyable to a person whose IQ is 115 – but will surely be a treasure to a person whose IQ is 51.  Do you see how simple it is?

Although I believe that this system is a major improvement over the one with which we are currently encumbered, I will admit in advance that, even if adopted, it will be short lived in its duration.

With our current focus on income and wealth re-distribution, certainly proposals to re-distribute intelligence cannot lag far behind.

When those are fully implemented, we can all enjoy the movies that Hollywood produces.

In fact, we will be obligated to do so.

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