Archive for October, 2009

A Balanced Life

 This Writer’s Own Story


I’ve been writing a Blog since May, 2008. Most of the topics I’ve dealt with have been very serious academic ones, never trivial. Some have been historical, or tributes like the female pilots of WWII, or Orson Welles.

 Recently, my daughter suggested that I write something more personal, combined with shortening my Blog articles. This, she said, would tend to make my articles more “Blog-like.” As an old social scientist and researcher by trade, it’s hard for me to give up old habits; but, I’ll try.

I thought I could give the reader an up close and personal look at who I am, and what I like or value or think about. Maybe letting the reader know who I am will make my focus or viewpoint on future articles more understandable.

Who am I? I thought I’d tell you about my early life; disappointments, failures, and mistakes; my most important social issue of the day; and finally—a few of my favorite things. As I talk about these things I’ll try to explain what they mean to me and how it contributed to a balanced life.  

 Early Family Life

 My childhood was a good one. My parents treated me as special—I was the baby of the family (A third born) having been born smack dab in the middle of World War II. Being the baby of the family I was spoiled, well loved, got all of the attention, got everything new including a bicycle much earlier than either my sister or brother.

My dad was especially very joyous at my birth; after all, it helped keep him out of World War II. But my dad was a major influence in my life. We’d have long discussions in the family kitchen about philosophy, religion, science, music, and a thousand other topics. He contributed the idea and importance of learning and education in life, and the belief I could accomplish anything in life. My father was born in 1906 in a poor family and was one of those early brainiacs who never finished high school; yet he became a public accountant at age 15, having passed all the state exams. But he had to wait, under California law at the time, until he was 16 before he could actually work as an accountant or hang out a shingle. As baby of the family I always felt wanted and loved, valued and, as a result, took an interest in all the possibilities for growth and development. I also had a very active imagination and was exceptionally inquisitive. I probably drove my parent’s nuts with all my questions.

My mother went to the middle of her senior year of high school, but was persuaded by her mother to drop out and go to work (a bad idea grandma, but then this was, of course, 1929 and the great stock market had crashed). More than anyone else my mother imparted to a moral outlook on life. And, she may have been a woman ahead of her time. I learned the unacceptability of a double standard for men and women. This influenced me greatly. To this day I feel that a cheating spouse is wrong on a number of levels. For one thing cheating isn’t about sex; it is about trust. Call me corny and old fashioned, but I have nothing but disgust for those who violate their marriage vows by being unfaithful.

  I have always regretted that I didn’t inherit the music genes of my mother, father and brother. I played trumpet in elementary school through my junior year of high school. But my musical talent was very limited   My mother could play the piano like a concert pianist. My father had a voice like Enrico Caruso and my brother could play 7 instruments. Both my parents loved reading and instilled in me a love of knowledge. My mother in fact had a better vocabulary than anyone I have ever known.

 When I was born I wasn’t told in advance that I had an older sister and an older brother. Sometimes, I could milk being a third born for all its worth; at other times, it was a bad place to be the smallest and youngest in the family. My sister was 8 ½ years older than me and my brother 5 ½. My sister taught me rudimentary words in Spanish when I was 8 years old. She also took me places including the movies, visits to Santa Claus when I was 4 or 5 years old, and to a 1950s version of a social dance club. I was very close to my sister. When she got married and moved out of the house, I learned I wasn’t immune to depression. I was in a depression for several months.

 I was an athlete growing up. As a youngster I loved the competition and feelings of success I got from sports. I’d go to Sir Francis Drake High School as a 10 year old and practice running track, and I loved the long jump and the standing broad-jump. I played Little League Baseball (10-12 year olds) in San Anselmo as well as Junior League Baseball (13-14 year olds). Later on at Novato High School, I played Junior Varsity Baseball in my sophomore year. In my junior year I played Varsity Basketball and, in my senior year was on the Varsity Track Team where I excelled as an athlete. I was Fourth all-county (Marin County) in the Shot Put in 1961 (in those years they awarded Bronze Medals to both the third and fourth place contestants in all-county meets). But I found going to the Regional Track Meet to represent my high school—the competition suddenly got really tough. I didn’t advance. I never made it to the Divisional level or the State finals. When I entered college I put athletics behind me to concentrate on academics. Reality set in. I knew upon entering college I wasn’t going to be the next John Baccabella (Chicago Cubs) or Reggie Carolan (San Diego Chargers) from Marin County.

 Into Each Life A Little Rain Will Fall     

 Growing up can be difficult, or it can be a lot of fun. The only times I got into trouble in school was wearing taps on the bottom of my shoes in Eighth grade (I thought it was cool) and in High School once “Making Out” on the school bus with a girl from the Freshman class.  

Like most people, my life was balanced in this regard. I experienced some pain in my life that I like to chalk up now to growth and development as a person. I know I’m not alone. Many people have had similar experiences growing up. Granted, most of my pain was psychological in nature, but, psychological or not, it affected my physical well-being as well.

Growing up I had an older brother who picked on me all the time, sat on top of me on the front lawn while rubbing grass into my face and mouth, and pounding on me whenever he felt the need to do so. This to me was torture. Lately, I have been very upset with the realization that the CIA and our military engaged in torturing prisoners of war. I have always despised the idea of torturing someone.  Growing up, I sometimes felt humiliated and helpless.  All I wanted to do was get bigger and stronger and get revenge. My opportunity finally arose. When I got to be 15 years old and had the near punching speed of a Muhammad Ali combined with the punching power of a George Foreman, I confronted my 20 year old brother with the revenge goal of beating the crap out of him. But, he could sense my growing power. We were now the same height, but physically I was much stronger. I was then told, “We’re adults now—we don’t act like children anymore.” All those years of abuse and I didn’t even get a chance to fight back. Oh, I got even in other ways; but that’s for another Blog to explain.  

 When I was 19 years old I fell in love for the first time with my pretty and smart 18 year old girlfriend (this was 1962). But life at that age is different for a guy. I wasn’t ready to get married; she was and could sense that I wasn’t there yet (Values were certainly different back then). Although we parted friends, the feelings of love I had for her didn’t go away for a very long time. This was a very painful experience for me but I knew in my heart she was right to dump me. I had in my head a subconscious timeline of the things I wanted to accomplish in life. And, getting married at 19 wasn’t part of my plan. 

 By the time my military service was complete I was just 23 years old and still not ready to settle down. I dated a young girl who had gone to the same high school as I. She was blond and stunningly beautiful, and had a very nice, sweet personality. She was perfect for someone to marry, and would make someone a trophy wife. But that someone wasn’t going to be me. I liked this girl a lot, but marriage wasn’t on my radar screen. I wanted a woman to marry who had a lot of depth.

 It wasn’t long however, before I met the love of my life. I fell in love with a young lass I met at college. She appealed to me in so many ways. My future bride was highly personable, really bright (which really appealed to me), cute, sexy, and she came from a very similar middle class background with many of the same values and outlook on life. I suddenly found myself ready to settle down. 

 Although in my adult life I had the usual disappointments, failures and mistakes, I also had a lot of success in my academic, personal, and professional life. A great marriage of 42 years, two fantastic children and grandchildren, and the opportunity to be creative top my list in life. Life has been very good to me. Everyone experiences painful events in life but I have to be honest. The truth is, I’ve led a very charmed life filled with hope, glory, and very little stress. When kidney cancer struck me in 2004, I discovered  I had a very positive attitude toward the disease. I was physically and mentally one tough SOB. I found I could face the very real possibility of death by being mentally strong, physically confident, and very determined to live. As it turned out, I’m now 5 ½ years cancer free.

My Current Life and Attitudes

 These days, in retirement, I’m still a person with many interests. What gives me meaning in life now is expressing myself through writing this Blog, writing books (my sixth book is soon to be published), and doing oil painting such as landscapes and abstracts and participating in art shows. I’m a trader on Wall Street. I diet and exercise, yet watch too much TV.

Where TV is concerned, I occasionally flip the TV channel to Shawn Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Nancy Grace when I’m really bored. Talk about pain and suffering—watching these clowns and pundits open their mouths imparting mindless dribble is nothing but excruciating pain, suffering and torture to watch and listen to. Nancy Grace is a tortured soul whom I really feel sorry for. Her fiancé was murdered when she was younger. She is so bitter about life all her hate and discontent spews right across the TV screen. Her I feel sorry for; the other two are just real bozos with sawdust rather than gray matter between their ears.

 My politics have always been complex, often defying general categorization. Politically, I am a middle-of-the-road independent, not ideological in any way. I favor gay rights and most liberal and civil rights causes. I hate class warfare because rich people and poor people want the same things in life. I favor the military and veterans, and respect many of the difficult problems facing homeland security. I like President Barack OBama and see him as smart and making intelligent choices. He’s inexperienced and untested but, in my gut, I feel he’ll rise to the challenges ahead. He will be one of our greatest problem-solving presidents. I also like VP Joseph Biden. I used to like George W. Bush right after 911. But when the torture issue surfaced and the bullshit denials followed, I lost all respect for him and that uneducated, psycho war criminal VP, Dick Cheney.

 I’ve been really pissed off since it was revealed that the Bush administration had a secret policy of having the CIA and military engage in torturing prisoners of war. In fact, the CIA has been involved in reprehensible, despicable acts and criminal behavior for more than 60 plus years, violating both national and international law.

 A national policy of torture has dishonored and disgraced our country and its people. Such a betrayal of our values and trust deserves complete total retribution with punishment for crimes against humanity. Just as prosecutors don’t generally allow excuses for first degree murder, one shouldn’t consider as relevant the differing motivations for committing war crimes, especially crimes against humanity. The excuses, reasons or motivations are irrelevant; it is the actual conduct or behavior that matters.  

 No pain in my life even comes close to the suffering caused by our own government. As more and more is revealed about the CIA and the U.S. military’s role in crimes against humanity, the more I want to see those responsible brought to justice. Just as those who were brought to justice during the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-46 got what they deserved (of the 22 original defendants 11 were hanged) so too those responsible in the Bush/Cheney White House, CIA and the military need to be brought to justice and tried for war crimes.

My fear at this point is that Attorney General Eric Holder will whitewash the investigation and the trials to follow, by restricting who is invited to the party. In that event, no amount of damage already done to our country’s honor and dignity will ever be repaired or restored. In future Blogs I will write in more detail on the issue of Torture Policy in America. Stay tuned. This issue isn’t going to go away any time soon. 

 What Are My Favorite Things?

 It is sometimes difficult to pin down why you like something or someone. But I’ll try to explain why I have favorite things or like certain people. Just like Julie Andrews sang in the 1964 movie Mary Poppins, I will describe “a few of my favorite things.”  Who knows: Maybe some of my favorite things are your favorite things.

 Some people get high on drugs; I never did that. I much prefer to get high on other people and life itself. The biggest highs in my life were getting married and “starting out my adult life.” It was a very happy time for me as when my children were born. I also glowed all day in 1994 when I hit a “Hole-in-One” at a local golf course on a Par Three.

 I love to laugh and smile a lot. Growing up my favorite comedians were Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Bob Hope and Jack Benny. These days, I like Jay Leno, the late George Carlin, Wanda Sykes, and Henry Phillips. The later comedian is up and coming and combines stand-up humor with music. He sings great, plays guitar and the lyrics to his songs are outrageously hilarious. If you get a chance to watch or hear this guy—do it.

 I also find very entertaining and admire the actors and writers behind the following shows: House, Castle, Fringe, Warehouse 13, Royal Pains, Criminal Minds, Monk, and Psych.

 Sports are still important to me. I love NBA basketball and think Dwayne Wade is sensational, in fact the best since Michael Jordon. I want the Sacramento Kings to win an NBA Championship (I can dream can’t I) and I’m also fond of the Boston Celtics. They have so many good players.

I find baseball too slow for my likes and, like many people, only watch the World Series. I’m a big NFL fan (Go Raiders no matter what. Justin Fargas [Number 25] is really outstanding). Ever since my wife and I got our first color TV in 1970, watching sports has been really enjoyable. Now that we have a 52” HD Sony TV, it is even better.

 I still have a fantasy life even at age 66—all those pretty ladies on TV and in the movies.  Their names are many. Back in 1949, when I was 6 years old, I was in love with actress Joan Evans and, believe it or not, a very young Doris Day. As you see, like many men, I’ve been fantasizing all my life. Isn’t it great to be alive, folks! 

 My favorite actor is Clint Eastwood (a story telling genius) and a great movie director. I like action-oriented flicks and spy thrillers the best. Burt Reynolds I enjoyed watching in 1970 in his role as Dan August. I like a good comedy and a good love story (my softer side) once in a while; and on occasion, fantasy or animated features. The Wizard of Oz never gets boring to me, and I’ve been humming the tunes from that movie for over 60 years.

When I was young I liked Rock in Roll, Dixieland, Classical Music and Progressive Jazz. These days I like Reggae-Rock (listen to O.A.R. concerts), Country and Western Music (from Toby Keith to you guessed it—Taylor Swift). But, I have to confess the music I love the best is Classical Music. I love so many different types of music because they alter my emotions so quickly and easily. All music makes me feel good and drenches my mind with utter delight. The Russian composers are my favorite, such as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (The Russian Easter Overture and Scheherazade) and Pictures at an Exhibition by Modeste Mussorgsky. All the Russian composers put dynamism into their music. They are musically fabulous. I probably have diverse musical interests today because my family growing up had such diverse musical interests and abilities. I also love the music of Debussy (Clair de Lune). My mother could play that piece on the grand piano. I also, in my quiet moments, like New Age music as well.

 My favorite singers are John Denver, Josh Ritter, and the late Glenn Yarbrough (Baby the Rains Must fall), Rod Stewart, Sarah McLaughlin, Kenny Rogers, Taylor Swift and Trisha Yearwood.

 My favorite musicians are Kenny G, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, and pianist, John Tesh (Live at Red Rocks). My favorite musical groups are O.A.R., BareNaked Ladies, and the eternal group, The Moody Blues (Nights in White Satan).

 My favorite movies are so hard to choose. There are so many. Currently at the top of my list (if I have to choose) is Pearl Harbor (2001) with Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale, The Wizard of Oz (1939), Titanic (1997), Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt (2001), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and The Brave One with Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard (2007).

 Jason Statham (Crank and Transporter 1-3) movies are all great action and pure kinetic energy.  Nicolas Cage movies are wonderful entertainment, and I love to watch old B&W movies with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Charlie Chan (both Warner Orland and Sydney Toler), and Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto. I love everything on the Science, Discovery, and History Channels and admire every Ken Burn’s documentary ever made (especially that one on the Civil War and our National Parks).

 My favorite writers are James Patterson and Michael Connelly. Dr. Alex Cross is my favorite character in Patterson’s books and Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch in Connelly’s novels. I have an obsessive-compulsive personality and a verbal IQ of 135 (133 full-scale). I like the characters in Patterson and Connolly novels because they always seem compulsive, determined to get the job done, and they are really smart in the face of adversity and setbacks. If you prefer non-fiction, I read a lot of non-fiction books as well.

 If you’re looking for an excellent human interest story, please read A Sense of Belonging by Mel Martinez. It’s a story of a 15 year old boy who came to America in the Peter Pan program in 1962, escaping the communist regime of Fidel Castro. His parents had to remain behind in Cuba for another 4 years before he was reunited with his family. This is a very inspiring story because he could speak no English when he first arrived in the United States. Later Mel Martinez became a lawyer, got into Florida politics, became H.U.D. Secretary, and then became the first Cuban American to become a United States Senator. Read this book—you’ll like it.

 Well, now you have it. I’ve taken you on a very brief “look-see” at some highlights in my life, my issues, attitudes, and favorite things. This type of writing (up close and personal) can sometimes be very vain. But I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. This liberal/conservative/independent is signing off now. LOGIC AND REASON RULE! Thanks for coming to my party.




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