Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tis the Season. . .of Too Much Food

It starts with Thanksgiving and runs through New Years Day. Wherever one turns there is food, Wonderful food. . .but not very healthy food. Actually, for The Ancient One it begins with the leftover Halloween candy. Oh, that sweet tooth! Food, food, wonderful food!

A few years back, The Ancient One lost over 40 pounds. When asked how he did it, he always answered with one word, "Fear." Even after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1990, the weight did not go away. The diet changed to the extent that a fast food restaurant has not been visited in the past 18 years. Then came the coronary bypass surgery in August, 2004. That did get The Ancient One's attention and the weight came off and hit a plateau 3 months later. There is still a need to lose at least 20 more pounds but it is a constant battle. When faced with all that good food of the season, any season, there seems to be no will power.

So now there is a Thanksgiving resolution made while feeling the consequences of all that good food: Lose weight between now and New Year's day. I'll try but I'm not confident. I'll even try to keep it off with continuation of daily exercise. Getting exercise is more certain than controlling the diet.

It seems that The Ancient One is satisfied if at the end of December his weight is no higher than it was at the same time the previous year. That's really not acceptable any more. . .but, oh, all that wonderful, tempting, good food!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Thanksgiving Colors – Banners 13

Just in time, here are a few more photos (of mixed quality) of Thanksgiving banners that have appeared in the neighborhood.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Heading Toward Sunset

I was driving home this afternoon when the sky caused me to stop; such an interesting mixture of colors as the sun was heading down toward the horizon. While clouds were overhead, the sky was still clear out over the Pacific. Unfortunately, the picture taken with the cell phone camera only suggests the spectacular view. But it does reflect why I so enjoy living near the western shore.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Family Hoops?

I took a slightly different route on my morning walk yesterday. Along the way, the following image caught my eye:

Two basketball backboards stood side-by-side in the driveway. One was poppa/momma size and the other kid size. I wondered: Is this an example of the old adage about, "The family that shoots hoops together. . ." The Ancient One Wants to Know. What about you?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

45 Years Ago Today. . .

I remember exactly where I was 45 years ago today when I first heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Everyone who had any awareness of JFK death on that day can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news. The Ancient One was standing at the coffee pot on the 3rd floor of Caldwell Hall at the University of North Carolina where graduate students (his position in life at the time) and faculty gathered at various times during the day for caffeine and conversation.

This year there is additional depth to those memories. Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected President. I remember the hope for a better future that he represented for many of us. This year Barack Obama as President-elect represents another first in the evolution of American political culture. And for the majority of us, he brings hope for significant changes in the role of the United States on the world stage as well as in this country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moving Along With Marley and Scrooge

We are now in the 3rd week of rehearsals for The Relevant Stage's production of The Christmas Carol. For The Ancient One, it has seemed like a very laid back process. As the ghost of Jacob Marley, he is in just one scene and was easily off book by last Thursday's deadline. Doing that one scene with Ebenezer Scrooge has been fun in rehearsal and will be more so on stage when the play opens December 4 at San Pedro's historic Warner Grand Theatre.

Scrooge is played by Rusty Vance, a fine actor. Last week, Director Ray Buffer took photos of Rusty in costume from which he created the following publicity photo card:

As rehearsals continue, I will be looking forward to moving on to the stage at the Warner Grand after Thanksgiving. This production also will bring a new experience to The Ancient One. For the first time, he will be wearing a microphone on stage. It will help the actors to be miked in this 1500 seat house. And in Marley's case I suspect that some reverberation will be used to enhance his ghostly voice. It should be interesting and fun. More information on the production can be found by clicking here on the link to The Relevant Stage. Now back to running lines: "Ebenezer!"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smoke Gets In. . .

That's how it felt to The Ancient One when he woke up this morning; smoke getting in the eyes, the nose, the lungs. And we're the lucky ones. We live about 30 miles from the nearest of the major fires in Southern California this weekend. We are safe albeit downwind from the Yorba Linda/Corona/Chino Hills, etc fire. With the Santa Ana winds gusting, we knew that others were suffering by the smell and our stinging eyes

Actually, we did have a fire here in Rancho Palos Verdes yesterday. About 10 acres burned in a canyon near City Hall but no buildings were involved and firefighters had it out in about 1½ hours. We saw the smoke and smelled that one too. Below are a couple of pictures I took this morning on my daily walk. Remember, this is more than 30 miles downwind.

First, a shot from the same vantage point of the banner at the top of this blog:

And, a canyon along the way:

Right now our thoughts and prayers are with the tens of thousands people uprooted from their homes. And the hundreds of families who have no home to return too, over 500 of them from one trailer park in the Sylmar area of the San Fernando Valley. (photo below after the fire had passed and continued on its way)

We are hoping that the winds die down and the humidity goes up to assist the firefighters who are out there in the firestorms trying to get the upper hand. In the more than 26 years The Ancient One has lived in Southern California, these fires are absolutely the scariest events; much scarier than all but the biggest of earthquakes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reading Up A Storm

I haven't written much over the past 6 weeks but I sure have done a lot of reading, mostly on my daily walks. Six books have been devoured, all of them written by those on my "favorite authors" list. Where do I start?

I have long been a fan of John Sandford's Prey mysteries featuring Lucas Davenport. However, in Dark of the Moon, he moves Virgil Flowers, who works for Davenport to the forefront. While I liked Flowers and his path to solving a wave of small town murders, I missed the Davenport panache. This was a good mystery but it was different.

Two Patricia Cornwell books were on the reading agenda. One, Book of the Dead, won a 2008 "crime thriller of the year" award in Great Britain although I found it somewhat disturbing. While Cornwell's novels tend toward the dark side, this one was just a bit too dark for me and it became more of a bit-by-bit read than a can't-put-it-down one. In contrast, I found her 1993 Cruel and Unusual mesmerizing with a number of unusual twists that had me wondering what might happen next right up to the ultimate solution. For me, this was a case of liking her earlier writing better than the later effort.

Jonathan Kellerman was the author of two other books on the list, Compulsion (2008) and The Murder Book (2002). This was also a case of liking the earlier writing better than the latter. While Compulsion was good and well written, as are all Kellerman mysteries, I kept wondering why psychologist Alex Delaware was involved in assisting Milo Sturgis in the first place. It seemed like he was there because he had nothing better to do with his time. In The Murder Book, Delaware was understandably involved from the opening page and we learned a lot about Sturgis' early career as a detective as they pursued a cold case. For me this was a spellbinder and the 605 pages flew by. The unexpected twists and turns kept me glued to the book on morning walks and, on a couple of days I narrowly avoided walking into parked cars.

The final book of this group was David Baldacci's Stone Cold which I found top be among the best of the 9 Baldacci thrillers I have read. I was reunited with Oliver Stone and The Camel Club along with con artists Annabelle Conroy and her ailing father. Both of the parallel storylines were spellbinding. The action was intense. My only regret is that the ending makes it appear that The Camel Club will not appear in future Baldacci efforts. But then again, that possible conclusion comes from the unanswered questions that lead to speculation. We will see.

Well, that's a quick review of The Ancient One's recent reading without giving away any of the plot lines.


P.S. Previously I added links to so that interested readers could look more closely at the books I read and, perhaps, even order them. But alas, the particular style widget I used appears to be no longer available. If anyone is interested, I will add the titles to the reading list link in the right hand column.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thanksgiving Colors Hanging – Banners 12

Well, we zipped right past Halloween and survived the excitement of Election Day. And almost immediately The Ancient One spotted the first colors of Thanksgiving hanging from houses in the neighborhood.

I can almost taste the turkey and pumpkin pie already (and there's 2½ weeks to go). Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It’s Fun to be a Ghost. . .

The first week's rehearsals are completed for The Relevant Stage's production of The Christmas Carol.

With the short lead time until we open December 4, we will be off-book before completing the 2nd week of rehearsals. The Ancient One is lucky in that regard. Not only does he have all the fun of portraying the Ghost of Jacob Marley but he has the advantage of being only in one scene, albeit the scene that provides the basis for Scrooge's journey and transformation. I'm guessing that Marley will spend more time in the make-up chair than he will on stage. But it's such a rich character role.

The actors also will serve as walking billboards to publicize the production. There's nothing quite like a T-shirt to advertise an upcoming event. I'll be curious to see if anyone actually stops me to ask about the play as I wear it on my daily walks.

Now back to learning the rest of my lines. I hope a lot of folks find their way to the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, December 4-7. As Marley's Ghost tells Scrooge, "I want much with you!" Do come out to see The Ancient One rattle his chains! It's a fine new script with plenty of Christmas caroling throughout.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It Felt Good. . .

I was driving home from a doctor's appointment this morning when my cell phone rang. It was Donna who proclaimed, "It sure felt good to vote!" She had just left the polling place after experiencing only a short wait before she cast her ballot. At first it seemed like a strange comment to make. Then I thought about all the years we cast our ballots for the "lesser of two evils" and came away feeling that we had fulfilled our civic duty even if it didn't feel very good. I understood exactly what Donna meant. I sent in my absentee ballot over 2 weeks ago and, yes, it did feel good filling it out and posting it.

My first presidential ballot was cast for John Kennedy in 1960. That seemed like a momentous election. But I do believe that this election is the most important one in which I have participated since I became eligible to vote in 1959. So much is at stake this year. While I have not broadcast my political preferences, I suspect that all who know me assumed, correctly, that I voted for Barack Obama. He was not my favorite at the beginning of the year. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the California Democratic Primary but once the convention came, there was no question about how The Ancient One would vote.

I must confess that I have never voted for a Republican in a general election in my lifetime. My political consciousness dates back to the 1940s when I was growing up in Michigan. When I first started teaching political science and my students would be curious about my own political biases, I would tell them that I was a G. Mennen Williams Democrat. Williams (nicknamed Soapy because he was of "that Mennen" family) was a Democratic Governor of Michigan in my youth; it was a time when my deepest political convictions were formed. During the 1950s, before I was old enough to vote, I became active in Democratic Party campaigning in my home state. As I recall, the party's electoral slogan was: "Make it emphatic, vote straight Democratic." I haven't wavered from that behavior my entire adult life and, if pushed, I can give very cogent, rational reasons for my long voting record.

But there is a lot more than the presidential race on the ballot today. There are congressional and legislative races to be decided. And here in California there are far two many referenda on the ballot. One of those has resonated more with me than the others. Proposition 8 attempts to reverse the recent California Supreme Court decision by rewording the California State Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. I proudly cast a NO vote on Proposition 8. If it passes, I see it as clear discrimination against one group of citizens. In previous posts, I made clear my belief that majorities cannot be allowed to abrogate the rights of minorities. And I also deeply believe that we all must be respectful of the beliefs and lifestyles of others as long as they do not take away from our own right to live our own lives. To those proponents of Proposition 8 who are so sure of the "truth" of their position, I would ask you to ask yourselves, as I suggested earlier this week, "What if you are wrong?"

Okay, time to get off my soapbox. I held off writing these thoughts until today because it is not my purpose to use this space for political discourse. But I do feel good today. I just hope I feel as good when the votes are counted and the results are known.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What If. . .

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of The Ancient One's graduate education back in the '60s was learning to be a skeptic. In the process of becoming a critical analyst of the world around me, I learned to never accept anything at face value. While there was, perhaps, too much emphasis on gathering empirical evidence at the expense of expressing values, I was imbued with a deep rooted suspicion of any viewpoint whose advocates claimed that they had the "absolute truth." This skepticism addressed all aspects of life, including politics and religion.

This mindset was bolstered by what I observed around me. I remember decades ago when students of mine working in the offices of state legislators in New York and, later, Illinois, I would ask them to interpret what they saw during various political battles. Typically, one student would say that he knew the truth because he was there. Then another student would disagree, saying something else had happened of which he was certain because he was there too! On and on it went. Gradually the students realized that each had experienced a "different reality" based on where they working in the capitol. Each reality was affected by the legislator the student worked for; democrat or republican, assemblyman or senator, leadership or rank and file. In fact, there were as many realities as there were students in the room. Students learned that they had to go beyond what they saw or heard and try to place the entire experience in a broader perspective.

During the Vietnam era when students, as well as most adults, had passionate feelings about the war, The Ancient One asked a simple question to help his students understand what it meant to be skeptical and analytical. I never encouraged them to alter their beliefs even if I disagreed with them. I urged them to continue their work in support of those beliefs. But, I suggested, whenever you fighting for what you passionately believe is right, always ask, somewhere in the corner of your mind, the question: "What if I am wrong?"

Those who claim they have a corner on the truth and are absolutely right are the major contributors to polarization in society. Too much of the discrimination and killing that goes on in the world is caused by those who "know they are right," who cannot accept any opposing view as being legitimate, who cannot live in harmony with people who believe differently than they do. This has always been so.

Why is The Ancient One rambling on like this? Because in this political year, I see the advocates of absolutism all around me. I see it in the presidential campaign. I see it in local elections. I see it in the campaign on Proposition 8 here in California. In truth, I have seen it dominate political rhetoric in this country for much too long! The level of divisiveness in this world threatens this optimist's ability to have much hope for the future.

All I ask of those who have the authority to make decisions that affect the quality (and equality) of life of others is that they remember to ask themselves, at least once every day, as they pursue their goals, "WHAT IF I'M WRONG?"