Thunder Thunder Thunder ThunderCats

Written by Lee Schneider

A writer from the UK contacted me recently with the news that he is writing a book about ThunderCats. I wrote four scripts for the series, which later became a beloved media fetish object. (“Honey, what are you doing with that plush toy?”) The writer wants me to reminisce about cartoons and recall stories of my writing cohorts. Well, some are dead, others had out of body (and mind) experiences, and still others are perfectly happy today, procreating, creating fiction and shopping.

There was Bill Overgard. I met him once: I remember only a leather jacket and a puff of smoke; a man of mystery. I had no idea he was a comics icon, a veteran of 31 years of drawing Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, and a protégé of Milton Caniff who assisted Caniff on Steve Canyon. Bill wrote screenplays and novels, and when his scripts for ThunderCats came in I had no clue how we were going to get the animators to turn these adventurous works of literature into cartoons.

When I look back I wonder: Why did I get that job and why was it useful? Why did my writing journey include furry superheroes? Here’s a little story:

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, went to Reed College for six months and then dropped out. He slept on the floor in friends’ rooms and returned coke bottles for the five-cent deposit. He decided to take a calligraphy class. He learned about serif and san serif typefaces, the varying amount of space between letters and what makes for great typography. He found it fascinating and had no hope of it ever having any practical application in his life.

Ten years later he was designing the Mac computer and it all came back to him. The Mac became the first computer with beautiful typography. Other manufacturers copied the Mac and that’s the reason we have all these fonts and we’re not writing in courier; because Steve took calligraphy.

It’s easy, of course, to connect the dots looking backward. Going forward, well, we’ve built life’s road and we’re walking along it. We’re always preparing, but what are we preparing for?

My ThunderCats journey didn’t have a map. In 1986 we’d just had our first child, I needed a job, my father knew a guy who knew a guy and I found myself in a room with Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin and Peter Lawrence. I couldn’t have predicted how they would teach me about visual thinking, a skill I use every day, and also about being a superhero, a necessary thing for any journalist.

ThunderCats lives on, with a Facebook page, a cartoon network series (that some of the original ThunderCats folks don’t think much of), and they’ve started a Save the ThunderCats campaign.

Lee Schneider is creative director at Red Cup Agency.


beglobal podcast – Juliana Rotich of Ushahidi

Juliana Rotich is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company, born in Africa, which specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, interactive mapping and data curation. Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. Juliana is a senior TED fellow and writes a blog called Afromusing.

Juliana is originally from Kenya where she spent her early life and schooling. She later moved to the US where she majored in IT and has worked in the industry for over ten years.

She collaborated with the online community and co-founded Ushahidi which is the Swahili word for testimony. Ushahidi is a web based reporting system that utilizes crowdsourced data to formulate visual map information of a crisis on a real-time basis. As a Program Director for Ushahidi she manages projects and aids in the development and testing of the Ushahidi platform.

Listen to the podcast here:

The be global podcast is produced by DocuCinema. The interviewer is Lee Schneider and you can follow him on Twitter as @docuguy.

A program note: Juliana is joining the podcast from Narobi, and during our recording the audio quality got a little wonky. A transcript of the podcast will be available at

Photo: Courtesy Ushahidi and Juliana Rotich


Married to a Holy Vibe Chick

500 Words on Thursday | Written by Lee Schneider

peace-Image_1278622940I am married to a holy vibe chick. Can I discuss this with you? We all know that women like to share. Holy vibe chicks like to share a lot. If they share a whole lot together they have something called a share-gasm. In fact, they are capable of multiple share-gasms, if conditions are right and there are enough lighted candles. It is a little intimidating, as a man, to witness this. Most of us men are capable of only one share-gasm at a time, and after that we have to rest a little before we go again.

Being married to a holy vibe chick (for a year, thank you for the congratulatory notes and checks) has brought many wonderful things into my life. I’ve learned to cook vegetarian and I am proud to say that I’ve stopped eating meat. Well, that’s not true. When I am away from my holy vibe chick I do eat chicken and pork sometimes, and it feels wonderfully illegal. I drink whisky too, and port, which can seem holy, if it’s vintage 1977 port. After yoga I often get the urge for a good pinot noir, and I almost succeed in convincing myself that pinot after Pincha Mayurasana is spiritual in that it involves spirits. But that rarely works. I settle for organic juice squeezed from the sweat of yaks, which is all that we have in the refrigerator. Then I drink pure water to cleanse my soul, dress all in white and stare at the sun for an hour.

Holy vibers certainly do wear white a lot. This isn’t a problem here in Southern California, but if some holy vibe chicks went out in a snowstorm we might lose them in a blinding, monochromatic whirl of deep meaning. Did I mention that when you are living in the magnetic pull of a holy vibe chick everything has deep meaning? If you have a runny nose, a medical intuitive like Louise Hay will explain that means “inner crying.” I have been working through some running injuries, a balky knee and now a healing heel, which are apparently an expression of the transitions I am undergoing, or plain stupid overtraining. Take your pick. (Hint: Plain stupid overtraining is not the holy explanation.) Various Hindu goddesses have a hand in finding us a good parking space. Spiders and crows are messengers. We place fresh flowers on Lakshmi’s altar and ask her where our new clients will come from.

Consulting goddesses for their advice is novel for me. But I have learned that holy vibe chicks also consult other people about things. I am something of a lone wolf, and also male. I think about something for a minute and then I do it. There was a Seinfeld about this. Men hunt down a shirt and buy it. Women gather to discuss what shirt to buy. In a holy vibe household, few decisions are made alone. That’s the real beauty, of course. We find connection with ourselves and a community. Come to think of it, looking at the world as a place of deep meaning is a good way to live. It builds compassion; it brings focus and passion to life. Self-examination leads directly to self-improvement. Yoga feels good. It’s so true that the holy vibe chick I married is a deep friend who has taught me a lot. I love my holy vibe chick!

Oh my god, I think I just had a share-gasm.

Lee Schneider is creative director of Red Cup Agency. He is on Twitter.

 Photo by Lee Schneider


Unseen Forces

Written by Lee Schneider

Bruce Lipton was telling me about Newtonian and quantum world views. Yeah, you can stop reading now. You have better things to do than know why self-help books won’t always help you or the real reason you think you need glasses. You can keep thinking of yourself as a victim of your hereditary fate and go get coffee. Really. See you here next week, but then you won’t know what the behavior of iron filings in a magnetic field has to do with anybody getting cancer.

Dr. Lipton is a biologist who got into quantum physics. That kind of thing is sometimes seen as a sign of unstability, but I assure you that Dr. Lipton is quite lucid. Start with his take on Isaac Newton, who described gravity and the rules we use to understand the physical world. Newtonian thought holds that the material world is essentially everything there is. Nothing else matters. Now think about Charles Darwin and “survival of the fittest.” In Dr. Lipton’s view, put those two dominant thinkers together and we get a world where only physical stuff matters, and survival of the fittest means becoming the person who controls most of the physical world. But wait – life is also about the unseen, energy like electromagnetism and mental energy. “While you see and respond to the physical world, it’s the invisible world that is actually the shaper,” he says. This is the quantum world.

Look at what happens when people read self-help books but never change. The reason, says Dr. Lipton, is because of the function of the conscious vs. the subconscious mind – the invisible world shaping things.

The conscious mind is associated with the authentic self and the spirit. The subconscious mind is about habituation. “You learn something and then it’s a habit so you don’t need to relearn it,” Dr. Lipton says. The conscious mind can read the book, take a test on the contents, and pass. But unless you change the habits of the subconscious mind, knowing the contents of the book won’t create change.

Scientists believe the habit-mind is running our everyday life, and according to Dr. Lipton, it is also determining our genetics. At Stanford University School of Medicine his research revealed how environment controlled the behavior and physiology of a cell, changing its genetic structure. That’s the reverse of the established view, which holds that our genetics are “locked” and unchanging. Put it another way, your dad wore glasses, your mom wore glasses, you will wear glasses. Genetics, right? Well, Dr. Lipton says genetics aren’t “fate” – they occur because your cells got the information that that’s the way life is: Everybody in our family wears glasses. If your cells received different information there’d be a different result.

This is getting kind of deep, so here’s a picture of how you can use a cat to prop up your iPad.

Dr. Lipton wants us to know that we are not victims of our “hereditary fate” but can actually make lasting changes to cellular structure. That’s how our health is shaped by invisible forces.

Remember the high school experiment when you sprinkled iron filings on a piece of paper and put a magnet under the paper? Is the pattern you saw in the magnetic filings themselves or in the invisible magnetic field? What’s happening is a physical structure is reflecting an invisible force.

magnetic filings

In pharmaceutical medicine, if cells get cancer we try to change their chemistry. But in Dr. Lipton’s view, optimum health means changing your belief system, not just adding chemicals to the body. Your cells, like iron filings, make physical changes when acted upon by unseen forces. Those forces can include environmental toxins, heredity, and consciousness. It means that the science of the physical world doesn’t tell the whole story. You have to consider the quantum world where the universe starts looking less like a great machine and more like a great thought.

Lee Schneider is creative director of Red Cup Agency.

iPad photo courtesy Veronica Belmont via Creative Commons license.


Compassion for Animals

Is there any circumstance when animal experimentation or the use of animals in medical education would be warranted?


That brief, to the point, and definitive answer came from John J. Pippin, MD, a cardiologist and senior medical and research advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). I was doing a phone interview with him after attending “The Art of Compassion,” an event celebrating PCRM’s 25th anniversary. They gave an award to Marilu Henner, a vegan who’s been working to reform the Child Nutrition Act so kids at school can eat something other than chicken fingers. Good cause. But it was another issue – the use of animals in experimentation and education – that really got my attention. I figured that if a surgeon was going to cut me open, he or she better practice on a pig first, right? Actually, wrong. I thought if an experimental medication was to be proven safe and effective on people, it had better first be tested on animals, right? Also wrong.

Only three accredited medical schools in the whole country use animals to teach surgery. According to PCRM, the schools are Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Chattanooga campus. Dr. Pippin told me there’s a good reason all the other 150-plus medical schools in the country don’t use animals in surgical education: There are better ways to teach surgery. Surgical simulators and supervised operating room experience work just fine. Harvard and Yale don’t see the need to use (or kill) animals, so why do those three schools still do it?

“They don’t want to use the new methods because they’re comfortable with the old methods. But we all have to change our beliefs when the science changes,” Dr. Pippin told me. A paper published by the New England Journal of Medicine backs him up, asserting that simulators are effective training devices for medical residents.

What about animals who give their lives to test new medication? Bad for the animals, but good thing for people, right? Actually, no.

“The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans.”

Dr. Richard Klausner, a former director of the National Cancer Institute

Dr. Pippin said that using animals to study human diseases is “an abject failure.” Look at the track record for pharmaceuticals. The former vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline has said, “The vast majority of drugs – more than 90 per cent – only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people.”

If pharmaceuticals only work for half the population why do we still need to test them on animals? Bottom line: Money. “If funding is available to do research on animals, they do research on animals,” Dr. Pippin pointed out. The money is there. According to a Freedom of Information Act request initiated by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the National Institutes of Health reported that 42 percent of its research grants involved animals. The NIH budget is $30 billion – 42% of that, some $12 billion, is a lot of animal research funded by taxpayers like you and me.

I’d like to know why those three medical schools still use animals for surgical training – so I’m going to ask them and tell you what they say.

Lee Schneider is creative director at Red Cup Agency.



Getting Mad and Madder

500 Words on Thursday | Written by Lee Schneider

I was receiving some sage advice recently from a colleague after showing him a tv pilot we’d made. “TV is turned up to 20 now,” he said. “Everything has to be loud.” True: For television to work you need crying, screaming, fighting and clawing.

As I aggressively bite the head off a chocolate turkey left over from Thanksgiving, I’m considering just how extreme things have become. Ad-man and provocateur Donny Deutsch was doing a show called “America the Angry” on MSNBC and got himself kicked off the air because the show may have angered Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC star, or at least angered Olbermann’s boss, according to The New York Times. You know things are heating up when a television show about people getting angry on television gets cancelled because it made some television people angry. That’s what you call a feedback loop.

Even feedback loops can speak the truth, however. Keith Olbermann is mad. Jim Cramer looks mad even when he’s just crazy. TV weathercasters, usually a sanguine bunch, are edgy. According to The New Yorker, researchers at George Mason University found that 25% of television weathercasters agree with the statement that “Global warming is a scam” and 80% of them don’t trust “mainstream news media sources.” They are idiots and that gets me mad.

I guess mad is catching. A few years ago I was doing a documentary for A&E about blowing things up. For a summer I tip-toed around trip wires and det cord and tried not to explode. I survived to write this, and I learned something. When making the film we wanted to find out if expressing anger allowed you to move on with your life. We gave people sledge hammers and let them bash apart a car and tell us how it felt. (“It felt great! Can I smash your car too?”) Yeah, that was the problem – anger just led to more anger. Psychologists we interviewed confirmed this. Getting mad can be healthy, but don’t expect just one angry episode. Anger feeds itself and it’s not a victimless crime. I’ve gotten mad lots of times and it takes its toll on the people around you, unless you smash things while living solo in your cave, which sounds boring.

I’m not expecting television to be nice, but with everything turned up to 20, much of that angry noise is showing us new ways of rehearsing anger, not reducing it. That’s how Thich Nhat Hanh described angry actions in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. He wasn’t talking about television. But he might have been. Some call tv talking furniture. That’s wrong. It’s screaming furniture now.

I’m going to bite the rest of the head off that chocolate turkey and find something else to do besides watch the loud little box.

Lee Schneider is creative director at Red Cup Agency. Follow him on Twitter.