Wednesday, June 27, 2012

 C. Neuroticus Absolutus

As a chubby home sapien, I am easily attracted to magazine covers that promise to make me thin. The cover of my wife's latest issue of Redbook does not disappoint. "15 snacks that make you slim! You can win the hunger game."
When I checked the table of contents, I found a less promising entry. "6 ways to snack yourself skinny." (What happened to the 15 snacks? I lost 9 snacks just turning the page!) Wow! I could snack and lose weight! My wife had recently introduced a 100 Calorie Slim-Fast Double-Dutch Chocolate product into our pantry. It's part of Slim-Fast's 3-2-1 plan for losing weight.
Well, I normally don't fall for anyone's diet plan, but their "Double-Dutch Chocolate" hook reeled me in like a starving tuna.
But then my old German logic whispered in my ear. "Eat more, Weigh less? Gimme a break, dude!" I reached for my handy calculator. If I ate only 1-100 calorie bar per day, that would be 700 calories per week times 52 weeks equals 36400 calories per year, divided by the number of calories in a pound (3500) equals 10.4 pounds I would gain in a year if I could find the will power to have only one chocolate bar per day.
Of course, the Slim-Fast people have these chocolate bars as part of an overall diet plan and the Redbook people are trying to get you to substitute "good snacks" for "bad snacks." So maybe, just maybe I'm not being fair. But hell, neither are they! Double-Dutch Chocolate bars?
So when my wife says, "We need to go for a walk, chubby," I remind her that she was the one that brought "those things" into our pantry. And you know where that gets me: "Wait while I put on my sneakers, Babe."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

C. Neuroticus Absolutus

Lately you may have found yourself stumbling through seemingly simple sentences your “properly” educated mind discovering that commas are no longer where expected completely interrupting the natural rhythm of your eyes moving comfortably from word to word. In fact, the normally dependable, ubiquitous commas are missing, forcing you to scan ahead, pell-mell, searching for the nearest punctuational oasis—a nearly extinct semicolon cousin, or a gratifying period. From newspapers to novels, TV to advertising copy, e-mails to text messaging, there is a dearth of commas. Should you find a paragraph of prose containing anything approaching the average number of commas we used to see, it was probably written by an octogenarian. You would think that people who profess a great pride and love of country would feel the same about the language that lets them freely express the depth, intensity, fire and passion of their love and pride. Yet, among them are some who have declared war against the comma, an utterly reprehensible tribe: Punctuational abolitionists.

These dastardly do-wrongs fall into several categories:
A) Those who are slovenly in thought, speech and writing; it doesn’t matter whether it’s the result of unwillingness to learn proper punctuation, poor teachers or peer pressure. This group just doesn’t give a tinker’s damn, as evidenced by their lack of effort to improve.
B) Those in this group care, but lack the where-with-all or motivation to tackle and remedy the problem.
C) The evil-doers in this last category are financially motivated—those who would transform our language for a buck or even less. These treasure seekers are the linguistic leeches of society who believe that a larger bottom line is more beautiful than a well-written phrase. They are the publishers, editors and agents who, in trying to improve their bottom line, have embraced phrases like “write tight,” and “less is more.” Maybe it’s a plot by Hemmingwaysian extremists attempting to get us to write terse, unpunctuated dialogue. Or maybe it’s a bunch of geeks who want to convert the comma and the period keys on computer keyboards to permit single key-stroke access to a smiley face and to allow the addition of a phallic finger, so often needed in replies to spammers who jam our e-mail boxes. Users have suggested an abundance of applications for the latter, including expanding the range of expression in inter-office communications.

Don’t place commas where they impede the flow of the sentence; use them only where necessary to alleviate misunderstanding or misinterpretation, we are told. As unbelievable as it sounds, even The Chicago Manual of Style 14th Edition, my bible of modern American English usage, has the audacity to agree with these purloiners of punctuation! However, on the back fly of the cover is this puzzling statement: “. . .This revision process has been guided by a set of basic principles: consistency, clarity, literacy, good sense, and good usage, all of them tempered by a respect for the author’s individuality of expression.” (The italics are mine.) In spite of the sane reasoning implied by that statement, a noticeable change has taken place. Adherence to these Rules of Punctuation is out. My revered manual of style says placement of commas is, for the most part, a matter of style. If that’s true, what’s wrong with MY style? Why don’t MY old-school commas survive editing?

Academics countrywide purvey this new philosophy simply because it’s easier to teach one rule than twenty, and grading compositions is easier because no one ever uses commas correctly anyway. Besides, editors demand it of the professors as well, who in turn need the approval of these same editors to get their own work published—punctuational back scratching if you will. Frankly, “write tight” and “less is more” seem more like the pleas of editors and agents for writers to help them get through the slush pile and the morning’s batch of hopeful queries. 

Punctuation gives us the ability to write like we speak. In addition to providing clarity of meaning, punctuation conveys important clues that identify the writer’s mood, voice, character and personality to the written messages on each page. I offer two famous speeches to exemplify this point: JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” and MLK’s “I have a dream” speeches. Listen for the pauses, full stops, inflections, intonations, and cadences and imagine the hand gestures, posturing and body language—all endemic in our spoken language. Today’s youth find this so important that—instead of using punctuation—they force us to parse their statements to deduce the hidden meaning of a smiley-face emoticon, or to obey their wishes and actually LOL, stand aghast in shock when OMG or WTF appear on our screens, and sigh in ecstasy when they bestow the status of BFF upon us.

Given that punctuation makes reading easier, what reason could there be for removing commas? Perhaps it is a matter of economics.
Publishers are benefiting millions of dollars for having mounted a direct attack on the lowly comma, eliminating as many as they can from what they publish. A writer was once able to provide insight into his mental processes and emotions by inserting a comma—a brief pause in the flow of thought—to permit the reader a sliver of time to digest the texture, emotional color, and importance of a phrase, and to allow the writer to maintain the desired meter or to add a silent emphasis to his words. No speaker is more boring than one who rushes through his or her thoughts without pause, like a singer who hasn’t learned proper phrasing—where a breath serves as a comma, a momentary pause in the lyric and production of tone that allows the maintenance of cadence and provides an enhancement to, not a distraction from, the message of the song.
Nowadays, editors would have you rush onward through the text, thus missing the subtleties the writer intended to communicate—all for the sake of saving fractions of a cent worth of ink and pennies for the cost of an additional page or two. For a single book, the cost is almost negligible; but given the total production of a large publisher, it is easy to see that serious savings are possible. Given the chance, most of us would willingly pay the small additional cost to be able to read what the author intended. But then, no one asked me or any of the other millions of readers who support the publishing industry. Instead, the choice was made to denigrate the work of writers for a few pieces of eight rather than pass the meager cost of a comma on to the public. Then, as we readers know, the cost of books went up anyway. This is the MBAs’ old capitalistic axiom: “Give them less, charge them more.”

But books need editing, you say. Someone must point out the drivel, the saccharine excrement of the mind—see what I mean?—the errors, the “this-will-never-sell” reality of publishing. There is little disagreement that perceptive agents and editors know their markets and should rightly continue to make choices based on this expertise. But having an agent, editor or publisher edit for comma, adverb or gerund usage, plot or character development or any other decisively artistic factor makes as much sense as having someone touch up an artist’s work before hanging it in a gallery for sale. The placement or selection of a comma or semicolon or adverb is no less important to the writer than if and where an artist lets a brush stroke fall on his canvas. Granted, this premise assumes that the writer has a measure of expertise, or a generally acceptable set of rules to lead him in his attempt to communicate what’s in his heart and on the cusp of his mind. We already have them: English grammar and the Rules of Punctuation. If a non-conformist submits his manuscript and violates these rules beyond what the agent’s sensibilities can stand, reject the work. Stop treating writers as a collective of illiterate thirteen-year olds who don’t know what they are doing. When a writer doesn’t understand the difference between bring and take, his education is sorely lacking. Blame the writer, his parents, his environment or his teachers. When a writer misplaces a comma, that’s a mistake, easily corrected; but when an agent, editor or publisher redacts a properly placed comma, that’s a crime. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines redact as: “to arrange in proper form for publication; edit.” Interpretation of “proper form” would seem to indicate required conformance to grammatical rules and their attending set of punctuation. Removing well-placed commas is non-conformance to the rules in addition to being an undeserved slap in the writer’s face. Those who sit in judgment in the publishing industry cry subjective choice, but notice that they always win. Your comma is gone and you had no choice.

Ask where the industry is headed and most will point to self-publishing, publishing on demand, and electronic publishing. The rapid growth of blogs may be indicative of the need, not only for us to communicate, but to allow our unedited voices to be heard. When the mechanisms are finally in place to handle massive e-publishing, some costs will undoubtedly be borne by the writer. Perhaps e-writers will encounter cost-per-word, cost-per-byte, total word- or byte-count along with storage costs per some reasonable unit of time. These costs will undoubtedly drive writers to seriously edit the content of their work, and the comma may still be the earliest victim. But it will be the writer who makes these decisions, not the publisher or a freelance or backroom proofreader. So much for the future of print editors. Remember scribes?

Not too far in the future, a new unsuspecting generation of mind-numbed, reality-show videophiles will seek solace and hope in the pages of novels surreptitiously scrubbed clean of the dreadful, ink-sucking, page-devouring commas, and who knows what else? Will there be any substance or beauty left for them to enjoy? Are adverbs, semicolons, and hyphens to be the next victims of these ivory tower publishers and their minions who find it more important to make a buck than to accept their intrinsic responsibilities as stewards of our linguistic heritage? No wonder science fiction writers have future humans communicate by thought rather than speech. Whatever advantage that may hold for us then, there are times now when a break from the verbal vulgarities and cacophony of everyday life is truly a necessity, an honest blessing. That’s when I used to turn to books. But more and more they grate on my grammatical sensitivities, the result of my being from the old school. Somewhere along the way, I learned that “Freedom of the Press” is usually true only if it’s your press.
The rules I learned in school included double spacing after a period that makes identifying the end of a sentence quite easy. Fellow writers tell me that this didn’t please the artistic senses of editors and publishers because the extra spaces left “rivers of space throughout the text.” Bullarney! Since when did publishers ever give a damn about the artistic sense of text? How many pages did they save per book by not having to include all those spaces? It’s textbook Economics 101 (printed double-spaceless).

Language is dynamic, ever changing and improving, allowing us to express ourselves in even more specific, subtler ways, with each new generation adding its distinctive mark to our lexicon and improving our ability to communicate more distinctly, more eloquently, and more intelligently. These dynamic changes are documented by the writers of each generation. That is their contribution to the present-day acceptance of changes in our vernacular and they simultaneously fulfill our collective duty to preserve the history of these changes. It isn’t the job or responsibility of publishers or editors to force linguistic change through coercion or intimidation, and certainly not for their reasons. Perhaps I name publishers, editors and agents unfairly for these crimes against our language, in which case I apologize. Maybe it’s some greedy bunch of stockholders or boards of directors who more rightly deserve the blame. Regardless, you can be fairly certain the change was monetarily motivated. I prefer to think it was that rather than ignorance.

Admittedly, as we become more and more obsessed with and involved in the World Wide Web, the public will doubtless suffer a decrease in the overall quality of material e-published as compared to current methods simply because fewer eyes will have traversed each line of prose to edit out typos, misspellings, verb/noun mismatches and their ilk. Notice that in our spoken language, we are continuing our slide into slovenliness, finding emulation of our down-to-earth, country cousins acceptable everywhere from the board room to airplane cockpits.

I predict that in the near future, with the ease of a few keystrokes and some guaranteed-best-seller-writing software, everyone will take his or her shot at writing the great American e-novel. The resulting dissonance between rules and reality will drown our senses, and we will all have lost something beautiful in the process. But, before that, let’s develop some spell-check software that knows the difference between its and it’s.
Having dispensed my allotment of bilious verbosity, I’m totally “commatose.”

What can we do to save our language? The answer is simply to use it properly. Writers must lead the battle to preserve the beautiful, the eloquent, expressive language that made them want to become writers in the first place. Regardless of whether someone will eventually remove them, writers must insert every proper comma to let them know that the battle continues, and that it will continue. I intend to press on in pursuit of victory. I am inserting ten extra, ten unnecessary, ten brave and beautiful commas at the end of this essay as a symbol of my displeasure with, and defiance of, the war against commas. I send them each off with a kiss, for I know they will surely die. I’ll miss them.
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Thursday, June 21, 2012



C. Neuroticus Absolutus
                              Six birds mockin'
                              Two birds jay.
                              One crow squawkin'
                              To greet the day.

                              Wings a-flittin'
                              And a-flappin' gay.
                              I'd not be happy if they
                              Up and flew away.

                              Gray squirrels scoldin'
                              From a pine up high.
                              Bushy tails a-curlin,'
                              Mad, as hawks fly by.

                              Hummers sippin' nectar
                              Sweet from flowers yon.
                              Me quiet dreamin'
                              Of summer days bygone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


C. Neuroticus Absolutus

I no longer have the means, you see,
To climb a ladder or a tree,
To fly down Aspen’s slopes
On flexing knee.

Fleet feet brought football fame,
Everybody knew my name.
They cheered me when I played hard,
Won the game.

Push my wheelchair, won’t you, lad?
I remember when I had
Two good legs and ran like hell
Through the empty streets of Baghdad.

Straight along the bombed-out road,
Buddies each with his own load
Beside me, sucking hard for air.
Worse times we never knowed.

No one saw the IED
Buried in the dirt near me.
A coward took both legs from me,
A man I couldn’t see.

Push my wheelchair, won’t you, lad?
I remember when I had
Two good legs and ran like hell
Through the awful streets of Baghdad.

Landstuhl first, then Walter Reed.
Patches, Band-Aids, all you need
To heal your broken body;
Some high-fives for your deed.

Some guy speaks, begins to rave.
Pins a ribbon, says, “You’re brave.”
Makes a big thing of it all,
Says, “You’re not ready for the grave.”

Push my wheelchair, won’t you, lad?
I remember when I had
Two good legs and ran like hell
Through the ugly streets of Baghdad.

What about my life and dreams?
My nightly sweats? Those ghostly screams?
For those who fell beside me
The bugle’s metal gleams.

Come on down to my VA,
Foreign doctors, contract pay.
Bored government servants
Waste my whole damned day.

Push my wheelchair, won’t you, lad?
I remember when I had
Two good legs and ran like hell
Through the bloody streets of Baghdad.

Where are my friends for life?
Where’s my ever-faithful wife?
Pity has replaced their love.
It cuts me like a knife.

They’re looking, but they’ve yet to find
The proper medicine for my mind.
Dark memories still run through my head.
Boy, I need you to be kind.

Push my wheelchair, won’t you, lad?
Do it for your dear old dad.
Hell, I didn’t want to be there
In the killing streets of Baghdad.

I’ve tried all the remedies.
Booze and babes, psychiatries,
Hypnosis, shock, nightmarish dreams.
STOP IT! No more, I beg, please.

Stop messin’ with my head.
Damnit, Doc! Give me, instead,
Two legs so I can walk again!
Else, I’d rather just be dead.

This freakin’ wheelchair, I bemoan.
I’ve lots more oats yet to be sown.
I’ll never have two legs to roam
The apathetic streets of home.

Monday, June 18, 2012


An Essay
C. Neuroticus Absolutus
Man's predecessors may not have always been social creatures, but they eventually realized the benefits of, and safety in, numbers. They grew from paired mates to family units to clans, tribes, and beyond to the megalopolises that are the social experiments of today. This growth was probably not possible without language.

As with most species, early man’s survival depended on early warnings against threats and predators, communicating the location of food, water and safe shelter against the ravages of nature. Before language developed, perhaps early communications included grunts, shrieks, whistles and screeches—much like those used today by our primate cousins and some rednecks. Sharp glares, gaping, toothy snarls and a slap alongside the head left no question that someone was laying claim to that tasty brontosaurus rump you’d been gnawing—or in the case of vegan ancestors, perhaps that stalk of bananas you staked out as your own. Predictably, the head slap became annoying and the slappee finally muttered, “Hey, man! Can’t we talk about this?”—to which the slapper replied with robust chest beating or the activation of a malodorous defense system highly developed by some homo sapiens. Yeah, I know man didn’t live in the time of the dinosaurs, but according to Darwin, his ancestors did.

As for mating, the display of three-inch incisors a mere hair’s-breadth from the tip of one’s nose, coupled with a breath smelling of yesterday’s meal of baboon butt, was probable cause for a suitor to withdraw from a skirmish meant to decide who owned the harem, which everyone knows is high maintenance. As for early homo sapien females, no language was required to determine what the alpha male wanted. It was always the same and, headache or not, his intentions were universally understood. For those slow to catch on, a smack alongside the head easily compelled the correct response, until one early feminist warned, “Yo, dude. Do that again and you’re reproductive capabilities will become severely limited!” This wisdom was passed down through the generations and finally carved in stone shortly after the issuance of the first Swiss Army knife.

Note that even these basic forms of communication did not consist merely of vocalizations. Homo sapiens and some other species detect sophisticated nuances from vocal inflections—volume, tone, pitch, pace, pauses—and, for us, word selection. We augment our voices with facial expressions, hand movements and even posture to add meaning to each word and thought we vocalize. Understanding these complex transmissions is necessary to comprehend the true—the intended—meaning of the communicator. To draw a parallel with modern times, I believe it is safe to say we all know the meaning of a shout, an angry scowl and a single finger displayed in rush-hour traffic. A word of caution: Some drivers are ambidextrous.

Some linguists theorize that at some point, protohumans must have used a protolanguage and, according to one theory, estimate that first hypothetical language developed between 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. A sound byte is available at

Early man probably felt the need to increase the distance over which he could effectively communicate, the development of which would greatly improve security. A big break in long distance communication followed the development of written language. The first known written language, dated to circa 3500 BC, comes from the ancient city of Harappa, Pakistan, predating Egyptian and Mesopotamian finds. The Harappa writing has not been deciphered, but may be something as simple as a book on Texting for Fun and Profit. Regardless, written messages were portable and could be carried long distances on foot, horseback, by camel, boat, raft, etc., whatever conveyance was available in the day. Written words could also be stored and reread later, providing greater accuracy than oral histories. New employment opportunities arose and careers as scribes in local monasteries were plentiful. Sadly, in 1440 the Guggenheim printing press caused a tremendous reduction in force. Luckily, some scribes were retrained as copy boys. Legend has it that others reveled in their freedom from the dimly lit copy rooms and became editors, agents and publishers.

The literary works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the resulting Tarzan movies taught us about drums passing messages through the jungle. The usual message, translated by the village chief, was, “Okay, B’wana, mo’ better you go home now!” The drums repeated the messages in case you missed a beat or the drum tattoo was in the foreign language of another tribe. “Boom! Boom! Baboom!”—meaning, “Having party, bring food,” in one language, being translated as “Boom! Boom! Bababoom,” meaning, “Having party. Outsiders welcome for dinner.” The practice of drum messaging ceased when pirates began stealing drummer identities and sending fake dinner inviations.

Messages conveyed by smoke signals were limited to a small vocabulary and didn’t work well in the rain. Distances stretching beyond the horizon required repeating stations, which raised the cost of messages, most of which were, “White man come! Quick! Hide squaws!”

In rather rapid succession, the invention of numerous electrical devices improved the speed and movement of messages until they crossed not only continents, but oceans.

The partnership of William Cooke and Professor Charles Wheatstone patented the electrical telegraph in May, 1837. Samuel F. B. Morse developed a universally accepted cipher allowing transmission of messages over great distances. Perhaps Western Union’s success inspired Ida Emerson and Joseph Howard to pen, “send me a kiss by wire,” in their song Hello My Baby.

On May 24, 1844, Morse telegraphed the famous words, "What hath God wrought?" from the
B & O Mount Clare Station in Baltimore, Maryland, to the Capitol Building in Washington. Wire soon crossed the continent from the east coast to the west and electrical signals conveyed messages with greater speed over greater distances than ever before. The railroads and the Army prized telegraph key operators with not only exceptional speed and accuracy, but good singing voices as well..

Although founded in 1851, in 1856 The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company became the Western Union Telegraph Company. A good thing, I say.

From April, 1860, to October, 1861, the Pony Express carried mail between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, with coast-to-coast delivery in about 10 days. The short time the Pony Express riders plied the mail routes is blamed on the ponies, which formed the first postal union and demanded larger feedbags, gourmet oats, sunbonnets and pensions which guaranteed them green pastures. Their demands brought immediate dismissal. Their replacements were horses of a different color.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his new invention with the words, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” The following day, his wife Eliza, who was deaf, smacked Alex alongside the head and insisted that he invent something she could use. His mother, Ma Bell, also deaf, smacked him too, and the following year organized the Bell Telephone system and installed herself as CEO. Ironically, Bell would not allow a telephone in his study because it interfered with his work. (He knew this as early as 1876? The man was a genius!)

In 1893, the father of wireless telegraphy Nikola Tesla was awarded a patent for his wireless telegraph. This allowed ships at sea to receive news and weather forecasts. An enterprising ship’s radioman used his skills to transmit the first porn. His arresting officer misunderstood, however, and cited him for using the Worse code. Thirty-seven years later, “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea,” became the signature lead-in for radio newscaster Walter Winchell.

In 1897, the father of radio Guglielmo Marconi began broadcasting audio signals and radio was born. However, it was Reginald Fessenden whose inventions finally brought us audio broadcasting using amplitude modulation. That’s AM radio. They’re still talking about it. However, AM radio is subject to static produced over thirteen billion years ago by the big bang. This static hissing sound is audible between stations when tuning across the broadcast spectrum. FM, or frequency modulated radio, followed on January 1, 1941. Noise is effectively eliminated from FM broadcasts thus improving the fidelity of any sounds broadcast

More recently came the Internet followed by e-mail. The younger generation did not readily accept e-mail, perhaps because the origin of each e-mail is traceable. Instead, they use the AOL instant Messenger technology to send and receive instant text messages on mobile platforms, the true purpose of which is to irritate mom, dad, grandma and grandpa by rudely texting at the supper table. Texting has become the preferred method of communication for teens and young adults. Rather than actually speak to one another (heaven forbid!), even those within whispering distance of each other prefer texting.
More recently, WebCams have brought interactive video to the masses, allowing Skype subscribers to watch as they text each other.

As for smacking someone alongside the head, the tradition continues on television where on Tuesday nights we can watch NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs smack Senior Field Agent Anthony DiNozzo alongside his head for—well, for almost anything.

Humans have spent millennia perfecting technologies that allow expansion of our range of communication over distances to peoples far beyond the horizon. The Voyager 1 space probe, launched September 5, 1977, is now over 10 billion miles from the sun and the ones and zeros of digital communications from the probe take some 14 hours to reach Earth, even at the speed of light. I hope they packed a toothbrush and a change of underwear for the brave and lonely little traveler.

The continuing development of communication devices has resulted in bringing people closer and closer together into larger and larger social media groups of “friends.” But, instead of becoming more cohesive, linguistically homogenous societies, we appear to be degrading not only our linguistic abilities, but our evolution as socially adept beings. Many “friends” lie about their age and sex, and post fictitious biographies with beguiling photographs, without which we would never have any interest in these people as friends.

Text messaging, with its inherent 140 character limitation, has led to monosyllabic conversations which often contain character-saving homonyms, acronyms and single-character emoticons resulting in the dumbing down of our language and our citizens.

This dumbing down has been borne out by numerous studies.
"Summarizing several studies done in the United States and Canada, the average reading skill level was estimated to be at around the 8th to 9th grade (University of Utah Health Sciences Center). However, this same study found that about one in five adults had a reading skill level at the 5th grade level or below."

That's 20% of our population, 60 million people. And we worry about producing more graduates with strong math and science skills? Shouldn't everyone learn to read first?

“But it's interesting to note that:
  • many newspapers and magazines are written to a 9th grade level;
  • USA Today, New York Times, and the New Yorker are written to a 10th grade level; 
  • The Times of India is the least readable, at a 15th grade level.
  • Authors John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and Clive Cussler and many others write at a 7th grade level;
  • Romance novels are often written at a 5th grade level”

Our slide towards social ineptness began decades ago, perhaps even farther back. Long before the advent of the printing press, social gatherings around the campfire were the venue for storytelling, orally passing on the clan or tribal legends and history interactive social media. Books and literacy opened doors that stretched far from one's campfire. But reading books and letters made communication a one-way street between the writer and the readerno vocal social interaction. Learning new subjects or experiencing the pleasure of fantasy could come from books without the much-enjoyed intercourse with a teacher.

The one-way communication of movies, radio, television, CDs and DVDs only serves to accelerate the loss of social interaction. Note here that in the early days of radio, the 1920s, '30s, '40s and even the early '50s, dances were popular social events and the music was often broadcast; it was an era of bands playing live music and couples at the dance enjoyed the touch and feel of true social interaction. Television continued this tradition of music and dancers with shows like American Bandstand, but on radio and TV, it was not social interaction for anyone listening or watching.

The recording of sound on cylinders by Thomas Alva Edison brought music-on-demand into the homes of those who hand-cranked their machines to wind the spring driven motor. Recorded disks replaced cylinders and electric turntable motors replaced spring motors. Analog recording media rapidly progressed from vinyl disks to eight-track tapes to tape cassettes before being replaced by digital compact disks, iPods and MP3 players where digital recordings permit small, batterty-powered, portable devices to store and playback hundreds, even thousands, of songs or recorded audio books. The now ubiquitous ear buds subdue real world sounds and provide a high-quality, stereo, individual listening experience that inhibits the effectiveness of attempts at conversation. Any attempts to engage in a two-way conversation must be preceded by an attention-getting smack on the back of the head.

Meanwhile, storage media has matured and migrated to password-protected digital storage devices somewhere in cyberspace called “The Cloud.”

Succeeding generations of dancing American youths built upon the popularity of the Charleston, then the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, the Twist, which sired a multitude of new dances, the progeny of rock and roll. As the rhythm of the dances increased, it became more difficult to hang on to the hand of a dancing partner. With each generation the participants moved farther from their partners or danced without partners at all. Today's youth gyrate their hips and wave their arms in a scenario that seems to say, “Look at me. I'm sooo desirable! I'm yours. Take me!” But it seems to only be a flamboyant gesture of courtship, much as a number of species of birds undertake in their mating ritualsexcept that touching and any resultant mutual physical arousal or satisfaction doesn't seem to be the point at all. What each individual takes from these dances is secreted in the minds of the participants. Perhaps that's better than a slap on the back of the head for getting too touchy-feely or worse, pregnant.

Using television as a baby sitter cannot be faulted as an excuse for lack of social skills for children sired in the '30s or '40s. But beginning with those born in the '50s, the one-way TV communication phenomenon swept through America like a cyclone as Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Deputy Dawg, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and the many Hanna Barbera creations mesmerized an entire generation of children with one-way communication. Over the years, their viewership grew to tens of millions of children.

Earlier generations of children passed notes behind their teacher's backs, wrote crib notes on the palms of their hands, on the cuffs of long-sleeved shirts or the hems of dresses. Today's youth pass their secret notes as they do with most of their social networking: via text messages. No one knows what they are texting nor whom they are texting. It is the height of social secrecy. But at least it's sociable (two-way) communication, if one wishes to overlook the the 140 character limitation of messages, the teen acronyms and emoticons, all invented to further encrypt the meaning of their messages.

Children raised in the one-way communication era brought on by long hours of mental suckling at the teat of the aptly-named boob-tube, do not learn to express themselves well in social situations, perhaps because they have not been required to express or share their thoughts or emotions. For one thing, television drones on without providing an opportunity or even the necessity to think or to reply, thus not stimulating any need to communicate one's thoughts or feelings at all.

Let's face it. Our kids are sneaky, secretive and socially inept. How do we correct these obvious faults? Sneakiness: Children must illustrate adherence to an acceptable set of ethical motives before being handed a device that promotes secrecy in communication. Secretiveness: Limit children's use of texting as their primary means of communication and prohibit underage acceptance into social media sites such as Face- book. Social ineptitude: Most of our youths are not anti-social; they merely lack social skills. Role models. Parents must become involved to reverse current trends before they are passed along to their grandchildren. But as teachers of proper social interaction, the grandparents have already failed once. With 5th grade reading levels, are they up to the task?

The solution to all these ills is parenting. Parental controls such as passwords for access to specific programming is not the solution. Controlling television viewing time is paramount. Adult supervised interaction with siblings or play dates with peers provide far more success in learning social skills.

Is it possible these same problems are responsible for the failure of so many marriagesover 50%? Inability or lack of willingness to share or to compromise are certainly contributors to this social phenomenon. And lack of knowledge about how to debate an issue without the discussion becoming personal and threatening further worsens the chances of finding a mutually agreeable solution. Secrecy in communications has attained “must have” status. Today's youth do not subscribe to any reasonable code of ethics or standards. TV images and sound bytes tell us how to vote, what to believe, where to spend our money and what products and services to purchase.
Perhaps we're not so different from the shaman or chief telling stories around a campfire. But TV is not interactive and is far more mesmerizing and insidious. And who is going to turn it off? The parents? The children? Don't count on it.
I don't want someone to talk to me. I want someone to talk with.