The Beatles Are Back, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Selling records in big numbers these days is tough to do.  Actually, nobody sells records anymore.  Heck, they aren't even selling CDs.  When SoundScan reveals the week's top selling records or albums or songs or whatever, they really mean "downloads."  Still, the numbers aren't impressive:  200,000 of Miley Cyrus this week, or 150,000 Lady GaGa last week.  Big deal.  The Beatles first record released in America, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," sold a million copies in the first 10 days.  By 1985, one billion Beatles records had been sold worldwide.  And that's when people had to actually walk, bicycle, or drive to a store to make a purchase.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Beatles.  Big deal, you may be saying.  Get over it.  You're stuck in the 60s, man.  Actually, I haven't thought about the 60s for a while, but when I saw the announcement that all 12 of the Fab Four's studio recordings are going to be reissued on September 9 in remastered versions with original album artwork and liner notes, I got more than a little nostalgic.  I got downright excited. 

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Amazed at Jesus

I'm a little slow on some things, like the latest YouTube videos.  I just came across this clip called, "Everything's amazing, nobody's happy," featuring the comedian Louis CK on Conan a couple of months ago.  If you haven't already seen it, take a look.  It's hilarious.  He talks about the cynicism most of us have at one time or another over some of the amazing devices we routinely use--such as cell phones and airplanes--that should utterly amaze us.  Like when we experience poor service on airpline, we complain, not fully appreciating the fact that we're SITTING IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY!! 

After watching the Louis CK clip, i had an epiphany of sorts about amazement.  And it wasn't just about the need to be amazed at things like cell phones and airplanes.  I'm all for that, but ultimately these are just objects we invent and then produce.  They may start out amazing, but they quickly and inevitably become commonplace.  Heck, even the bread slicer was amazing at some point in time.  (Why do you think we sill use the expression, "That's the best thing since sliced bread"?)  No, my epiphany had more to do with being amazed at things over which we have no control, things that exist apart from us.

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More Bonehead Economics

Between the economic shenanigans of Bernie Madoff and AIG, it's hard not to become completely cynical about the current state of the American money system.  I won't go so far as to suggest, as Sen. Charles Grassley did, that the offenders should do the honorable thing:  resign or go commit suicide.  But when I think about the outlandish acts of these financial miscreants--acts that just keep coming despite the best efforts of government officials to shut them down--I can't help but feel more than a tinge of frustration and resentment. 

Consider first the unfolding saga of Bernie Madoff and his family, who have been the target of a lot of scorn lately:

Bernie Madoff stole $50 billion from thousands of trusting individuals and charities, including $15 million from Holocaust surivor Elie Wiesel's Foundation for Humanity.  As John Stewart wryly observed, even Adolph Hitler would have said, "Bernie, enough already."

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Can I Have Your Attention Please?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a general description applied to people who have trouble staying focused on something, such as a task, a conversation, or minor surgery.  People with ADD are often inattentive, impulsive, and hyper-active--pretty good characteristics for creative types, but not so good for people who operate heavy machinery or dispense prescription medication.

Actually, people I know with ADD are quite happy with their "condition," and I'll admit they're fun to be around.  They're happy, lively, and good at delivering clever one-liners.  Still, I wouldn't want all my friends to have short-attention spans.  I need a few people in my life who at least act like they're paying attention to what I have to say, even if I'm babbling. 

I'm finding that it's getting more difficult to find people who pay attention.  The whole world, it seems, has ADD, and it's not because everyone is drinking the same kool-aid--unless the kool-aid happens to be a  Blackberry or an iPhone.  Call me an anti-luddite, but the way I see it, our collective ADD is directly related to our dependency upon--or maybe I should say our addiction to--hand-held electronic communication devices, and it's killing the practice of paying attention.

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Coraline Makes Me Feel Inadequate

I went to see a movie last week that had a profound effect on me.  Mostly, it made me feel completely inadequate.  The movie was "Coraline."  Now, you may  be wondering how an animated film based on a story written for children by novelist Neil Gaiman could produce that kind of response, but it's true.  After experiencing "Coraline" in all of its stop-motion 3-D glory, I felt unworthy of ever writing another word.  If I were a painter, I would have flushed my brushes down the toilet.  If I were a musician, I would have smashed my guitar.  Since I am a writer (sort of), I felt like destroying my computer.  How could I ever create anything worthy of public consumption after viewing something with such artistic magnificence?

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Bonehead Economics

I'm no economist, but like you I've been paying attention to the economy more than ever before.  Most of the time the big numbers floating around the headlines these days--trillions lost in the market, hundreds of billions pledged to Wall Street by the federal government--simply dull my senses.  I mean, how do you relate to numbers with that many zeroes in them?  For me, it's more about getting dinner at Pick Up Stix for $4.99.  That's what I call a bail-out.

Just when I didn't think another headline related to the economy could get my attention, I saw one the other day with the number $18.4 billion, and I began developing a facial twitch, not unlike the one worn by the Chief Inspector in the Pink Panther movies whenever he thinks about Inspector Clouseau. 

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Hoping for Change

As America basks in the glow of a peaceful and smooth presidential inauguration, people are hoping for change.  Big change.  What they don't realize is that big change is already here, and the one behind it is far above our new president's pay grade.

We humans are an egotistical bunch.  We think every change--whether scientific discovery, technological innovation, economic goof up, or presidential election--happens because we make it happen.  So instead of staying humble about change and acknowledging that we don't have all the answers, we act as if every discovery is ours to claim, every trend is ours to exploit, every goof up is ours to fix, and every election is ours to celebrate.  In short, we act as if we are the center of the universe.  What arrogance.

Such a self-centered perspective is nothing new.  Humanity-at-the-center-of-the-universe is as old as, well, humanity.  The thing is, the old perspective doesn't work, not if we want things to change for the better.  For that to happen, we need a new point of view, centered in something outside ourselves and our limited, myopic viewpoint.

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Penn Gillette Gets a Bible

My good friend Phil Cooke, media maven extraordinaire, alerted me to an amazing video clip made by Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller, the eccentric and talkative half of the popular magic duo.  I encourage you to watch this self-revealing and very touching story told by Gillette about a stranger who gave him a Bible.

What's amazing about this is that Gillette, who is a self-described atheist, speaks with great admiration for the man who gave him the gift (a little New Testament with Psalms).  Upon watching the clip, I was moved on many levels, first for the way Gillette describes the man--as one who was honest, caring, and complimentary.  We Christians tend to get so defensive about our faith and so critical of the culture when talking with or about those who don't share our beliefs.

Technology, Change, and the Future of Content

Congratulations!  You are about to witness something people haven't seen in 555 years.  No, it's not a rare comet or corruption-free politics in Illinois.  What you are going to see is a complete shift in the way written content is produced and distributed.

I know, that's not the most exciting news you've encountered this week, but hear me out.  This is big.  Really big.  We are living on the cusp of history when it comes to creating, producing, distributing and consuming written content.  It may not seem like a big deal now, but in another 555 years, when people look back and consider what happened in the first decade of the 21st century, they're going to be pretty impressed, much like we are impressed when we look back 555 years to the time Johannes Gutenberg rolled out the first printing press, a technological development widely considered to be the most significant event of the last thousand years.  More significant than the Reformation, the Declaration of Independence, or Britney Spears' comeback.

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Don't Be Afraid

Everyone, it seems, is afraid of something these days.  Some people are afraid of what will happen to our nation once president-elect Obama takes office.  Others are afraid of all-out war in the Middle East.  And everyone is afraid of the economy.  We're supposed to be in a season of thanksgiving and hope, but right now you'd be hard pressed to find many people embracing these positive emotions.  Instead, you're likely to find people who are afraid.  Very afraid.

What a shame.

Fear has its merits, such as the "fight or flight" survival instinct built into animals and humans alike who, when faced with a fearful situation, either put up a fight or run for their lives.  But the kind of nail-biting fear that is gripping people these days isn't producing the fight or flight response.  Instead, the fear we are seeing around us is causing hand-wringing and paralysis.  It's the kind of fear that inspires people to do nothing except maybe wait for the tough times to end. 

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.