Are you in?

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The generations since World War II have been separated into marketing niches of Greatest and Boomer, then X,Y, and Z, but I suspect that no set of people since Homo erectus figured out fire, speech, and monogamy, have faced as much rapid technological and cultural change as have the people born since 1950. This unmooring of cultural institutions, socioeconomic niches, and family structures is remarkable and deeply unsettling to many.
Modernity has atomized the family, but we are still the Pleistocene mammal subject to possessiveness, territoriality, and stranger anxiety. We are just a handful of base pairs removed from our mutual ancestor with the chimpanzee who kill and eat intruders. And so we naturally flock with our kind in our hominid fashion, and wish to destroy the other if they get in the way. What stops us?

Strong ideas keep us from burning witches. Ideas of justice, equality of human worth, and an appreciation of value of freedom and liberty bind us together in a common identity. These ideas are shared across borders instantaneously, usually in English, on the internet via smart phones and social media. These are rather old American ideals and should not be new to those wary of change. Instead, it is the broadening of the definition of *American* that jars people. It is an America that people are still looking towards as they overturn dictatorships and established tyrannies. We see it in the Arab Spring, in the continue march of the huddled masses to the gates, and in gay Americans fighting to achieve equal status. We witness it as a force that China is trying to subvert with overt fascism, with likely failure in the long term.

This neo-Americanism is the lingua franca of business and diplomacy. It is the common operating system that everyone demands. At home, to succeed in this new America, you have to learn how to pass for a new kind of American. It is a fact that if you make yourself smile, your brain will register positive in its happiness centers, and you will transition to happiness (try it!). If you carry a smart phone, participate in social media, and read at above elementary school level, the centers of the brain that are stimulated will drive change. Corporate HR policies, public school codes of conduct, and public social mores are aligning around and driving this change, even for older Americans who one would assume would be all for not changing. It used to be said that you are basically set in your ways by the time you are forty, but I think even that generalization is done because I increasingly see retired people with smartphones and tablets watching the latest Youtube videos and family photos on Facebook. This at least informs them about the tectonic shifts in society, and at best changes deep seated notions.

Public perceptions of gun ownership, healthcare, education, equal rights, and our relationship to the world are being debated because the minds of the people are changing. And contrary to what even the history books say, it was not the federal government and federal troops that desegregated the schools, it was We the People. The shibboleth of these times, our times, are the smart phone, social media accounts, and the networks connected by these. Are you in?

The Metro Municipal -Highland Park GC

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One of the things about the USGA and GHIN is that you have to be part of a club to register your golf scores. I could join the several Northeast Ohio based golf associations, but it would be nice to just join a club. The problem is that a private club is a considerable commitment of time and money.Image So it was with some joy that I found Highland GC, which is a large 36 hole municipal course. The Red Course is two traditional nine holes that go out and back into the clubhouse, while the Blue Course is an 18 hole track that does not come back for a breather between nines. They are about ten minutes from my driveway, and there is hardly ever a line.

That kind of convenience comes with some compromises. There is no pro shop. There is no driving range. And finally, there is no club for affiliation and registering of scores. It is a municipal golf course and there is a golf egalitarianism that is lost in the rarefied districts of private club golf. In the parking lot, there is an eclectic mix of luxury sedans, beaters, and even a loaded pickup truck. At one time in America, all the different classes mixed in the public sphere, at school, work, and play. This has eroded and you can see it in the economic gerrymandering of neighborhoods and suburbs reflected in their anchor malls and grocery stores. The municipal golf course is the last preserve of the public commons. On the first tee this morning, I saw three groups lined up, Asians, African-Americans, and whites.

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Sadly, they were segregated and rather prickly, being all men of a certain age. If you are in the late fifties and are playing golf on a municipal course with swings that could be good for tree chopping, you worked hard all your life, never got handed anything, and have generally skeptical view of the world. On line, the reviews complain of lack of services, poor conditions, and discrimination (both forward and reverse). Yet even with the apparent race relations of a prison yard, and stiff necked, flinty eyed glare of blue collar pride, golf etiquette prevailed and all the groups let me play through with courtesy and even a little banter about the good weather. And that is the lesson for us all. In golf there is hope.

The African American twosome were the first to let me through. Both had the mien of philosopher kings, ancient wise men, spiritual healers. They clearly enjoyed each other’s company and were in no hurray, and shooed me onwards. The Caucasian twosome were clearly betting on everything that could be bet upon during a round of golf, and seemed to be making bets about me as I played through. They were congenial and courteous. The foursome of Koreans were the most fearsome. They didn’t smile at me when I asked to play through, and I held off speaking in Korean because I thought it might trigger some kind of outburst that could only come from 4 Korean dads, but I overheard them their captain say, let him through in Korean. They watched me tee off in silence and I bid them adieu.

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On the fairway!

The course had its problems -I suspect from lean budgets and a very hot and dry summer. There were dead patches on the greens and fairways, and uneven mowing on both. That said, from the tips, the course was a lot more fun than I could usually expect to get for 35 bucks.

Addendum: found out they mow on Monday. Once mowed, the fairways and greens are very nice. This place is growing on me. Plus, the starter asked me if I was a golf pro or golf writer, which really made my day.

Etiquette–Doing is Being

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When my son turned 8, we enrolled him in an etiquette course at our country club. He was one of only two boys in that class, which had four times as many girls. Etiquette is as popular among boys, it seems, as ballet or gymnastics. So how is it that we teach our children, especially our boys, manners? In my experience in the Midwestern suburbs, for the presumptive future alpha males, it is through football that parents teach their boys how to behave in society.

The cult of football, which recently took a hit in the Penn State scandal, is very much the secular religion in the US, and its principles of individual sacrifice, self improvement, and group effort are laudable. The American ideals are poured into the public ethos of football. Much of America’s recent history can be viewed in a football context, explained in football metaphor, and historical events remembered like games and seasons. If you are a space alien needing education in American culture, you need only to review the past five Super Bowls’ worth of half-time shows and commercials. Football is America’s vernacular.

In watching an etiquette class, I realized that the forms and routines –how a table is laid out, how you approach the chair, which side the drinks are, which side is the meal served, what the utensils are for, etc., create the physical input to dial in behavior and ultimately etiquette. Dressing and behaving like a gentleman makes you a gentle man. Let me explain. The mind can be changed based on what you do physically. It has been shown that simply smiling increases the dopamine levels and changes your brain patterns to one that matches happiness. Yes. Smiling can make you happy.

The mind can be changed based on what you do physically… Smiling can make you happy.

Martial arts like Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu focus a lot on forms –series of rote maneuvers that are memorized which to me as a student seemed tedious but retrospect have the effect of shaping the mind. Focusing on the forms of courtesy eventually makes you courteous. So where does football and football parenting leave us?

As far as I can tell, it teaches impressionable young boys how to dominate the weak. It confuses narcissism as self-esteem. By its nature, football cannot teach empathy, courtesy, or thoughtfulness. There is nothing wrong with this if your goals for a society are to create a core group of warrior that will fight wars, conquer nations, and pull down an eight figure salary in free agency. The unintended side effect is that you readily miss the opportunity to prevent the development of psychopathic bullies and date rapists. You only have to watch parents at football practice to understand why this is so. It is why figures like Tim Tebow are such an anomaly not only because he seems to outwardly practice courtesy, respect, and reverence. It is why Penn State was allowed to happen, because football is more important that a few little boys.

If you want to teach your child how to compete while being civilized, you can try etiquette lessons, but more practically, you can do no better than golf. The first section of the USGA Rules of Golf is focused on etiquette, but in fact, you teach your child important lessons by having them accompany you for a round on the cart. You learn to wait your turn staying respectfully silent. You learn to be timely and considerate of others in your group and in the groups ahead and behind you. You learn to be honest and to be your own referee. You learn to impose penalties on yourself for transgressions and be transparent about it. You learn to post your scores (like submitting tax returns when running for president). You learn to behave in a way that would make you proud and not ashamed.

As a nation, we need more mediocre golfers than we do washed out football players. We will be far better off for it.

Golf is a Confidence Game

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In this my last year of golf at Wakonda as a member and resident of Iowa, I had hoped to make a splash by taking a winning turn at the Wakonda Club’s annual Blazer Days tournament. Blazer Days is a member-guest best ball tournament played out over 5 nine hole matches. There are 6 teams in a flight, and this year, there were ten flights (the tournament was oversubscribed). USGA rules apply and it is organized in such a tight manner that not a single player among the gathered type A personalities (120 in all!) could complain about a single blade of grass being out of turn. The success of this tournament reflects the success of the Wakonda Club in weathering the trends of the past two decades without losing its soul as a private country club, and it has to do with three key factors. First, the golf course is kept up to world class conditions with a fierce determination. Second, aggressive marketing to the future of the club, young families, is done both loudly and quietly. Third, and finally, the club is endowed with a critical mass of Iowans who by and large are the most reasonable, generous, and sweet-minded people on this earth.

My Blazer Days started auspiciously with a practice round skins game that delivered to me a skin on the first hole with a par -the only one scored that day, and ended with a 2nd place finish in the Derby -the highlight of which was my draining a 5 footer for par in front of a crowd of about a hundred of my golfing peers. The day of the tournament started with a terrible accident. I had laid my driver on the ground carelessly and hit it with a shanked ball off a 7 iron, cracking the carbon shaft at the grip. This took out the driver which I had been nailing above 50% onto fairways within 15 minutes of starting play. I swapped out for a loaner, but largely it sealed my fate. You see, golf is a confidence game. When I stood over that 5 footer for par the previous day, I had no fear. I had been practicing 5 footers relentlessly the past two weeks and it felt like I was all alone on the green. I was only aware of the sweetness of the air I was breathing and easy sound of the putter hitting the ball on the sweet spot. The clatter of the ball falling was a prophecy come true. What is amazing is how it can all be undone with something as trivial as a broken driver. I was able to hit 5 practice balls with the loaner and got the last two drives not to slice by making small adjustments. Without good drives, it doesn’t matter that you just drained a twenty foot putt for bogey to push -you can’t make miracle shots all day against a field as good as this. With confidence gone, the tournament was largely done.

Even so, there was no question of walking off. Here was a golf obligation. Despite the heat, the dyspepsia of a 9am beer and foul balls launched off the course, I was signed on to the end -barring a calamity. I sometimes wish I could teach my sons this absolutism of golfing duty, but then again, I think that they may have too much common sense to put themselves into this situation. I then noticed something that took my mind off my personal misery -the greens were the slickest I have ever seen in my life but they were at the same time lush and green. The putted balls rolled as if on smooth marble, but the grass was soft and would stop balls on a dime if they had back spin. The rough, no deeper than 2-3 inches on the cut areas, was tenacious as velcro. The fairways were like greens on lesser courses. On certain holes where the fairways ended on greens without false fronts, it was possible to putt on from 5 to ten feet off. The pristine fairways made the course gaudy. The course may never be able to host a US Open because it is land locked and unable to be extended to 10,000 yards, but it was Olympic’s equal in my eye because it was all mine for a time.

The supremacy of the golf experience has been the first key to Wakonda’s success. Four years ago, Wakonda decided to cut down over a 150 trees, scrape off the fairways and greens, and start over because the grass was inconsistent, and in parts frankly ugly with patches of Poa and old legacy Bent grass, each having sunshine requirements and water needs not met by a course that had aged since its inception with majestic but sometimes senile oaks (never mind the climate change, cough, cough). In the setting of the worst economic crisis of a generation, when the average age of members was rising, and when most of the membership was generally satisfied with the course, the leadership shut down the golf course for a year in the pursuit of perfect, unblemished, uniformly green grass. It was a huge gamble but in retrospect, the right move. Now, several years out, the grass is not only consistently great, it is resilient. The greens staff works tireless to create a premier golf experience and the avid golfer is immediately attracted to the logic of joining a club close to work with fellow members obsessed about golf perfection and excellent golf fellowship. Wakonda is full to the brim of avid golf amateurs -people who love and respect the sport and its traditions, golfists all.

The two days of straight golf competition were gruelling but a fitting valediction to my time in Des Moines. It was beautiful and the people were great.

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Plague, Inc. A Review

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This is an addictive game that takes macroeconomics, epidemiology, and microbiology, and creates an ultimately bittersweet game out of human extinction. I called my first plague Paltrow, and it defeated humanity by taking advantage of human behavior -why let a “cold” epidemic derail the London games which can spread disease to the four corners? If you make the disease a tropical one, the “developed world” ignores it. Make it go to the first world by conferring cold resistance and interest spikes in a cure. Remember not to make it too deadly at first or it won’t leave the country.

I remember in the 80′s playing blue and red team games for the government interested in seeing how some Ivy Leaguers would play out a Kobayashi Maru type WWWIII scenario. This is a red team scenario and it proves one thing -an extinction level event needs a steady hand to guide it.

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Hilton Head, o beautiful muddy island.

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Hilton Head is in the news this time of year because of the golf tournament on the Harbour Town course with the iconic light house on the 18th green. It made the news yesterday because an alligator interfered with play -the golfer unfortunately didn’t take the free drop being ignorant of Hilton Head and alligator rules.

The gators on Hilton Head are hogs -fat, mean, and not shy. All the courses have gator rules as well as poisonous snake rules, and the smart golfer takes the free drop. Hilton Head is not the place where you let your toddlers roam free or they might end up free lunch. It’s only a few steps from being a malarial swamp, but it’s blessed with a strange lack of flying vermin. Few mosquitos is very nice, but the island has hedge fund managers infesting the palmettos like velociraptors clad in Tommy Hilfiger. New Yorkers it has in spades like bed bugs on a transient’s hairy knee. It’s Aspen on the tidewater, the Hamptons unburdened by its Long Island umbilical to Manhattan, a New Yorker’s semitropical Hong Kong on the South Carolina/Georgia sea coast. Hilton Head, like Boca Raton, Austin, and Charlotte, is in the South but not of it.

Hilton Head’s isolation proffers it automatic business class status compared to the economy class experience of jitney creeping to the Hamptons on a Friday evening, but really it takes about the same amount of time to get to either place from midtown. Once you arrive, you will notice that Hilton Head is culturally indistinguishable from 78th and Lexington. Sunday mornings, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Harbor Town and Southhampton as you hunt and gather for coffee, bagels, and the New York Times.

The sea air is a hint saltier off Montauk and Southampton. The terroir of Hilton Head is a twee riper with more ferment of low tide than is available in Long Island. The aborigines on both islands have been pushed out -on Hilton Head, the once Gullah speaking inhabitants and their white confreres commute from the mainland, unable to afford their island and its taxes. In the Hamptons, the aborigines are long gone, and the more recent inhabitants, the establishment WASP -an endangered species, survives by intermarrying with the new money like the English did with the Normans, only the invading hordes today sport last names like Cohen, Freeman, Chen, and O’Hanlon (the ethnic stereotypes, not the law firm).

When you see Harbour Town on the TV, you think about some kind of tradition, a deep south Cape Cod, but it’s all a pleasant sham. Look hard as you want for the humble shacks out of Conrack -they’re buried beneath the rusticated mini mall around Publix. You might even think the Harbour Town course is super exclusive like Augusta, but au contraire, you just need enough bank. The irony of the Masters getting annually harangued for their peculiar institutions is in the fact that Shinnecock out on Long Island, while no less exclusive and hidebound, gets off the hook because the USGA moves the target around like a 3 card Monte dealer. While it is unlikely that I will get to play on either Augusta or Shinnecock in this life, I can swing Harbour Town once every few years. That is great.

And I’ll finish with this. The Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko creed of “Greed is good” does work in America because we lack the education and sophistication to dedicate ourselves to political ideals more sophisticated than “less taxes, less government, more God,” but once you get there, once you have arrived, after all the striving and self improving which can take generations from broken English immigrant green grocers to graduate school educated doctors and lawyers, to pretensions to establishment, you are equally bound by the other great American rule voiced by Marx (Groucho, not Karl), “I would never join a club that would have me as its member.” We’re happy to be on Hilton Head, but we know there is something better. Specifically, it’s a helicopter ride to Fisher’s Island.

Iowa, Nice

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This video has gone viral and is a reaction to all the negative coverage about Iowa. I have always said that Iowa plays a critical role as America’s great filter. I believe this because Iowa has the highest percentage of educated and reasonable people in the US. In fact, it is Iowa’s number one export.

When I was in New York and we had to have any kind of group interaction, the ability of the group to function predicated on a minimal number of stable, reasonable people. The reasonable persons index is basically the number of reasonable people divided by all the people in the group. A midtown modification of this is all the reasonable people and their entourage divided by the people in the room and their intended audience, but I digress.

The minimal index for a group to function in my experience is 0.20, meaning one in five of any group has to be a reasonable individual. The average New York City subway car has an index of 0.05. The average city council meeting, 0.15. The average fully loaded cab headed to three different stops on a rainy day, 0.00, my apartment, 0.50. What I noticed in various committee meetings that was part of my job back in New York was that the reasonable people were either Jamaican or from the Midwest, and of those from the Midwest, the least insane were from Iowa.

When I moved to Iowa, for obvious reasons, I realized the impact of the high reasonability index when I visited the motor vehicle department for my Iowa Driver’s license. It was packed, and there was a sign asking me to please take a number and wait for it to be called. My wife was pushing my son, then a toddler, in a stroller, and was immediately offered a seat by several reasonable Iowans, including some who needed the chair far more than my wife. As we sat, the numbers were called and the people moved up to the desk with a beautiful dignity –none of the expected sighing, looking up to the sky, and loudly complaining into the cell phone that would have been expected behavior back in New York. When our turn came, the clerk noticed I hadn’t filled out a section properly and patiently waited while I filled out the missing parts. My wife who is the typical non-patient type A New Yorker was smiling Mona Lisa-like through the whole experience –a surreal, psychedelic ethereal moment of serendipity.

The average Iowa is college educated and well read. I have a patient who is a farmer. He holds a dual masters in agricultural sciences and business. While he sits in his air-conditioned combine feeding the planet, he is trading commodity futures on his Blackberry. We had a nice discussion about the writing program at University of Iowa where his sister, a budding novelist attends. He’s skeptical of climate change, but only so far as he is skeptical of anything on the Huffington Post, but has noticed the wetter summers and is adjusting his farming accordingly. He has an investment strategy based on climate projections and economic growth data –in a name Brazil, and he has prospered. He has never visited Manhattan and sees no need to, being very comfortable in his maxed out Ford F-150 which has all the appointments of the coziest leather chair in a quiet corner of an exclusive midtown club. He doesn’t see what the fuss is about gay marriage, but is very upset about our wars abroad. He wishes the Republicans would field a more reasonable candidate, basically an Iowan like him, and is on the fence.

When candidates crash and burn on the Iowa Caucus stage, it’s usually because the Iowan reasonableness burns through the spin. Howard Dean, fun guy, would have been a terrible president and scared Iowans to death with his primal scream. And people focus on the GOP caucus which is the one place where the reasonability index falls below 0.50. You should look at the people Iowa rejected and understand what is going on. Howard Dean, John Edwards, Hilary Clinton (narrowly), Gingrich, Bachmann, Paul, Perry, Mitt Romney ‘08 and I would argue ‘12. The more I listen to Governor Huckabee, who won in ‘08, the more I respect him for his reasonableness on many issues, even though I disagree with him on some very important ones –and that is why he won in Iowa.

The caucuses are Iowa’s Exposition of American Democracy. If you show up, you vote physically by moving around the room and gathering (caucusing) for your favorite candidate. That candidate may even show up or prior to that, at your favorite lunch counter, bistro, or living room. In the hyperconnected, hypercaffeinated media world, the Iowa Caucuses are a time warp to the 19th century of mustachioed men orating on soap boxes. Given the audience that the candidates face, it is no wonder that the least reasonable just wilt. It wasn’t the internet spawned image of Bachmann fellating a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair that lost her. She lost by failing to convince Iowan’s that she deserves to lead the country. Got that? Not money, though it helps, but on fitness to lead. Isn’t that the whole point?

So as we move our attention to New Hampshire (state reasonability index of 0.02, both of them from Iowa), and South Carolina (-0.35, negative when person so unreasonable that they negate the positive of those around them, like some in-laws), I think we should all celebrate and be grateful for Iowa, America’s pith.

One percent of the 1%

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From Evernote:

One percent of the 1%

The recent focus on Kim Jong Il’s lifestyle brought gasps of astonishment -he sent his sushi chef on a private jet to Japan to shop for rice cakes while his country was starving. Fact is, among the wealthy, there are the über wealthy, and among the über wealthy are the super duper wealthy whose daily budget would feed maybe a thousand families. While we do not begrudge anyone success -as this is the cornerstone of America, even the most callous person has to admit there is some injustice in North Korean society. It does not come from a lack of guns -the noncoms always outnumber the officers, and the fact that people can bribe border guards to escape means that some independent thinking occurs. The fact is that a religion, a cult of personality, sustains the vast inequality of North Korean society. Religions demand faith over logic. Directing the resources of a nation to the sustenance of a few humans at the top defies logic. It is a religious-type faith and fear of retribution, fear of apostasy and heresy, and fear of change that causes this gangrene to linger. What are the idols that drive injustice here at home? It is the belief that success comes from being favored by God and that lack of success comes from sin. It is the belief in absolutes that define religion. This idea afflicts our politics as much as the cult of personality afflicts North Korea.

The subordination of logic to dogma and its use in organizing societies is a old tradition. It gets people across desserts, oceans, and helps individuals process grief and the unfathomable concept of infinity. It is a human trait as ingrained as circling three times before bedding in a dog. Yet this kind of thinking is also used to demonize the poor, write off the sick, and rationalize the unemployed. It is extended into contempt for anything for the public good that comes from taxes -clean water, safe roads, national rail, public health, education and safety. It sanctifies success defined as wealth and therefore denigrates anything that might take away from that wealth.

In our still free society, one’s success is the result of not only hard work, but favorable circumstances, good health, and the support of people who were midwives to the success -the family and community that nurtured the individual and the society that provided the fertile ground for success. It’s the good plumbing that provided fresh water for excellent development. It’s the public safety provided community police and fire departments. It is the critical mass of excellent citizens that allow for success and justice. I think that is the message of the OWS protesters, that the people who get tasty morsels flown in for them not get protections at the cost of the people making it possible.

I wish for the new year the restoration of reason and clear thinking guided not by desire for retribution or a return to a past that never really was. I want an America where everyone has available all the opportunities while being good citizens and supporting the community, state, and country that allowed that to happen.

Social Animal Network

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We’re inherently social. It is imprinted in our nature to bond, communicated, and organize as packs. This trait, the instinct to gather, seek out each other’s company, to seek approval, to argue, I would argue, is as much a distinguishing species characteristic as spots on a Dalmatian, and is one of the reasons for the explosive growth of Facebook. We, each of us, need to be part of a tribe, and when the tribes were destroyed by the onset of modernity, they awaited a mechanism to be reunited. Think about it –up to the 2000’s, people had to rely on the usual methods of connecting with their old tribe –telephone, email, actual contact which relied on deliberately remembering to keep in touch which none of us were really good at. The casual intimacy of living in a village with a commons, of having a favorite popular coffee shop, a dorm common room, when you move on the people you said hello to moved on as well. Now they follow you forever in Facebook.

It may or may not be a good thing, because if you have a village, even a virtual one, there will be a village idiot or two (I may be the village idiot). I have become reintroduced to my best friend from kindergarten and there are eerily similar things that we are passionate for –coffee, scatological extraversion, and Apple worship, that brings daily a smile. The shy quiet girl who sat in the back corner of high school English class turns out to be a world class smarty pants –a nicely maturing red wine with a kick in the middle and a lingering finish. I’ve even made new dear friends among friends of friends. They occupy my particular village, some I speak to every day, some every once in a while. It’s the tribe I’ve accumulated over the decades.

It also has implications beyond the sharing of holiday pictures and links to funny cat videos. It returns us to a kind of social organization that was only possible when people physically lived in villages and neighborhoods. The outside world is invited in by the denizens of these villages, but the human tendency is to be insular within the family, the tribe, the village. It may not seem like a big deal to us living in a constitutional republic, but when Facebook is available to those living in places less free, their time amongst their friends must be as important as air and water. Facebook has created a virtual planet for us to inhabit, a brave new world.

Zombie Gunship -a review, and an explanation of why Zombie things relax me

Zombies are definitely putting their stamp on the zeitgeist. Until recently, vampires were all the rage, but they were never my cup of tea. While vampires are about forbidden seduction -think Don Draper and your mom (didn’t know he was a vampire, did you?). The thing that people don’t get about Zombie movies and fiction is that the Zombies aren’t really the center of the action. This was illustrated in one of the finest Zombie movies to date, The Road (didn’t know it was a Zombie movie, did you?). Zombies are the Gom Jabbar of a Humanity Test (didn’t think I’d reference Dune, did you?). Like a round of golf, a person’s response to a Zombie apocalypse is all about character.

Zombie Gunship is an iOS game that puts you in an orbiting AC130 airplane equipped with mini guns, and two different kinds of cannons. In it, you are the gunnery captain whose task is to obliterate zombies marching on the entrance to a bunker complex. It’s night time, and the battle field is lit up in infrared. Uninfected humans light up the screen bright white, while the walking dead Zombies are a cold black heat sink on IR HUD. Your job is to kill the zombies, keep them from breaching the bunker entrance, but allow the humans through.
The Zombies, when not attacking the bunker, munch on the humans. The problem is that you are allowed to kill only 3 humans inadvertently before it game over -the commander orders you out of the airspace. It’s a simple game with no other characters or maps (a common complaint in the reviews) to mess things up. You gain credits for zombie kills and for each human who make it into the bunker, and you use these to upgrade the weaponry. You can also buy credits through the game (slick) so you can max out the specs on your three gun types (don’t ask me how much I’ve spent).
On an iPhone, the game is a portable addiction like a bag of jelly bellies. On the iPad, it’s engrossing and all consuming, like a really big bag of jelly bellies, and it is the way to play this game. The hook is this. You score better when you ignore the humans and just kill zombies, but then you see the poor blokes getting attacked by the zombies, albeit in tiny ant-sized distance on the infrared. You then are compelled to rescue them with a well gauged barrage from the mini gun, or a carefully distanced blast from the 40mm auto cannon. If you successfully kill the zombie and free the human, you get some points, and praise from the commander. You feel good about yourself in fact. In fact, you end up caring for the poor people running in the night for the shelter of the bunker and may get sidetracked into playing hero. Unfortunately, in this game, and as in all good Zombie movies, playing empathetic hero is not the best way to win at this game. The most efficient at clearing the approaches of zombies without killing yet not rescuing humans do best. There is no punishment for letting Zombie nature take its course.
A recent NYT article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/books/review/the-state-of-zombie-literature-an-autopsy.html) pontificated about the Zombie phenomena, tying its popularity to the uncertainties of our times. I would add that Zombies have been with us before Romero created them as the basic fear of being consumed by anything that is not us -whether it is a great white shark, a Tyrannosaur, or an illegal immigrant.
Despite the fearsome images and terrifying drama of good Zombie films and literature, I find them a compelling and a great way to unwind and relax. A Zombie apocalypse, it turns out, does not necessarily favor the strongest or best armed. Rather, aside from a bit of luck, you need your wits. A Zombie armageddon is fair and meritocratic. A level playing field. And who doesn’t like that?