Where did the pragmatists go? Common Ground…

As you may have seen in a previous post, I spent some quality time in Las Vegas recently with a group of college friends.  Mixed into that group were some additional friends of friends, mostly law partners and other attorney’s from one of my friends law firm.  While my friend would be labeled in his Orange County neighborhood as a “bleeding heart liberal” (as I might too), the reality is something different and the same could be said for the others with us.

Some broad generalizations about this group of intelligent, successful attorney’s and businessmen, which included my friends from college: wealthy, hardworking, many are the first in their family to be this successful, conservative on the surface but that depended on the subject. But the nicest part of hanging out with them was that I think we all got a good look at what could be in California and the US if we could get more folks together like us and make some changes.

We found common ground in our discussions that ranged from public employee unions, pensions, taxes, public education, college, etc. The kind of common ground that I don’t see our elected officials finding because of the vitriolic language and attitudes common in political circles.

We listened to each other and learned a little.  Those not involved in education thought that perhaps paying teachers more money would bring a higher quality educator, a great idea I thought but just one part of a bigger puzzle that we ended up talking about.  Smaller class sizes plus training and support for principals and other in the administration side should be included in that conversation. The leadership on each school site can vary dramatically and affect the entire school culture. This group of men understood the value of creating good leaders, in any industry or endeavor and by having a civil conversation instead of calling each other names, we found common ground.

Don’t get me wrong, this was done over many adult beverages and in between placing bets on basketball teams that sapped our my meager funds. We didn’t solve the worlds problems and were in a comfortable, friendly environment where we could kick ideas around without any real pressure from constituent groups.  But….it showed me that at least there are some realistic people around and gave some hope that we’ll pull out of this mess in California, some day.  When the Republicans decide that Grover Norquist doesn’t have the juice he thinks he does and the Democrats convince their friends in Labor that changes must occur for the good of the whole, maybe it’ll happen. Meaning, that when the elected officials have the guts to make the right decision, regardless of the consequences to their term limited so called “career”, we might see some improvement.

I think it was former Senator John Burton who said: “If you can’t take their money and still tell them no, you don’t deserve the money” or something to that effect.  Lobby groups can pay for “access” and take you to lunch but you have to be up front and clear with them that, while you appreciate the free meal (or contribution, or whatever) your position is your own and it may not always match with the lobbyist.

Others have said it before but maybe that’s what’s missing in Sacramento: wine, beer, betting and conversations.  I think I’ve heard the boys at Calbuzz lament this too…


Las Vegas, Good Friends, College and Parents

Just returned from what used to be a sort of annual trip to Vegas with old college buddies, put on hiatus for the past two years for all kinds of good reasons. But the reason’s for going I think out weigh staying home and saving some cash. It’s important to keep connections to your friends and this is one good way of doing so. The details of the trip are so mundane compared to the bad old days that if you’re looking for that, don’t bother. And I wouldn’t tell anyway. I could have titled the post “I just got back from Vegas and my butt hurts”… from bowling, you dirty minded people.

A little background on this group. When I got out of high school, I had zero desire to head off to a 4 year college, nor did I have the best grades. Delta College (a community college) in Stockton was the destination, with a hazy goal of finishing in 2 years and taking off to wherever I could get in. Fortunately, I enjoyed History and Political Science, got involved a little bit and somehow was accepted to UCLA. But not UCSB, which is a good thing and a story for another day.

In any event, not knowing anybody in Westwood and having never actually been on the campus, I took a trip down, found an apartment with 3 random dudes and settled in. They had a party before school started, it was a boring train wreck and out of desperation, I wandered the apartment complex looking for the other party that I could hear. Met three guys there, told them we had a keg back at the lame party, they came along and turned out they knew some of my friends from Lodi. One thing led to another, I went to fraternity rush at their house, found out that this particular fraternity did not believe in hazing and all of that crap, I got invited in, moved out of my apartment asap and lived in a frat house for 3 years. It’s important to note that as a transfer, I didn’t want to deal with some punk 19 year old kid yelling at me, making me drink whatever he handed me, etc. So the non-hazing, no BS, you can move in right away thing really appealed to me. Intramural sports teams, help with what classes to pick, a tolerant attitude compared to other fraternities, assistance in getting jobs on campus, all of that came with this fun group of 70+ young men. More to the story another time but suffice to say, this is a group of dudes that I grew up with in many ways.

Fast forward to a year ago, when one of these friends lost his father after a long battle, after overcoming his own health scare a few years prior. Then two months ago, another friend lost his very healthy and fit dad to a series of strokes, at age 62. Remember, all of these friends are age 40-44 at the most, so we’re not that damn old. And just in the past 3 years, I’ve seen guys my age pass away for any number of reasons.

So the idea of bringing a few of us all back to Vegas, some who haven’t been in years, to pick up our friends spirits (he lives in Vegas now too) was a good idea and my lovely wife told me to go, before I even asked. I don’t deserve her sometimes. And I dig Las Vegas.

Now, the upside to this particular trip was that I got to see these friends, hang with some of their buddies who I’ve been around before and get along with well (funny how that seems to happen most of the time if you choose good friends) and bet on March Madness from the comfort of a good sports book. And the Presidential Suite we got to hang out in for a while on Friday was fantastic, thanks to our friend in Vegas who used to work for the casino we were at.

Makes me realize how fortunate I am to have had great experiences with people who continue to be good friends after 20+ years and who are solid citizens (never convicted at least). I got lucky to get into UCLA and bump into three guys at a party and I’m not happy that it’s beginning to take people passing away for us to get together but sometimes that’s how it works out.

Steve Martin, talking on the 92nd Street YMCA pod cast that I listened to this morning, (Funny People, download his and George Carlin), spoke about a friend who had lost both parents in tragic ways and told SM that “if you have anything to clear up with your parents, do it now”. Good advice.

A last word on this rambling post: These great experiences I had in college make me want the same for my kids. But the reality is that the costs are becoming so out of control that I worry if we can afford to send one or both to a UC or CSU, even with our decent incomes. How can it be that a middle class family will struggle mightily to send their kids to college, perhaps even sacrificing their own retirement/future in the process. My parents spent about $10k a year for 3 years on me. Not easy as they were both teachers but much more doable than $30k per year at a UC right now. Makes me angry and sad, I hope that I can at least provide the opportunity for my kids to attend the school that they want to go to/can get into.

So that they can meet good people, develop great friendships and have a support network of friends that they can count on in rough times. That’s perhaps even more important than the degree they get at the end of college.

Pucker factor 10 or “Schadenfreude, get your Schadenfreude here!”

Oh vey, yesterday kinda sucked.  I had a brilliant idea a few months ago to sign up for a golf tournament.  Not just any golf tourney, a Northern California Golf Association qualifier, for the Public Links championship.  Now, I’ve been able to keep my golf game in ok shape for a very long time but haven’t played in an honest to goodness legit tournament since the spring of 1987, the Stockton City Amateur.  25 years ago folks.  I’ve played in intramural tournaments, charity tourney’s, member guest events and for small amounts of money with friends but not for real in a very long time.  This is a tournament where they post your score on the internet for all to see, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  You know, see where you stand, compete against others of your similar ability, yadda yadda yadda.

Bad idea.

Because while I can still hit the ball well and score on certain courses, when they announce your name on the first tee and you are looking to qualify to play at Spyglass Hill for two days later on in the summer, should you play well, your (or mine at least) mind will get in your way if you haven’t done this in 25 freakin’ years.

Now, let’s be clear.  I was NOT in the Championship flight.  That was reserved for the bad boys with a handicap of 5.4 or lower.  Those dudes can play and the top 3 qualified with rounds of 74 and 75.  That is NOT me. Yet. Or maybe never now.  I rolled in with an 11 for the course, the venerable Alistair MacKenzie course at Haggin Oaks.  Alistair MacKenzie designed Augusta National people, along with Cypress Point and Pasatiempo here in California.  (Wikipedia link here).  The course has been rebuilt to try to get it back to where Dr. MacKenzie wanted it and I think I found that out yesterday.  In a practice round on Tuesday, I threw an 88 at the course, having not played it in 5-6 years. Not bad I thought and I would have been happy with that yesterday.

Not so fast, suckah.

First and last, they rolled the greens.  Which means that instead of mowing them (I think they didn’t mow them) they took a little machine and just smoooooooothed them out a bit.  And made them faster.  I get it, it’s a tournament, let’s find out how good everyone is.  But dude, let’s put the damn hole in a place that is fair, please.  Not on the side of a freakin mountain slope.  Half of the holes were in some of the more difficult locations, the other half were only a bit easier.  Crazy part was, they could have made it even more difficult, and I would have still been trying to putt out.  This was windmill and clown territory boys and girls.  Faster than… insert your cliche here.

That’s the course set up, difficult but, meh, I could have dealt with that had I not had a problem between my ears.  As Romeo said to Tin Cup: The Mental Game

Shanks.  I got the effing shanks.  Again, cue Tin Cup:  Chili Peppers

Didn’t know when it would show up, couldn’t trust my swing and/or putter and that’s no fun when it happens on the first flipping’ hole.  And you’ve got 17 more to go.  It was straight outta Tin Cup, the scene where Costner is practicing and suddenly get’s the shanks.  I put a new glove on, changed ball markers, almost got my keys out of my bag and put in my other pocket while turning my had sideways.  See it here:  

Scorecard:  6 outstanding shanks, 3-4 more close ones, 2 four putt greens, 4 three putt greens and two 280 plus yard drives (that was mostly working at least).  And it could have been a bit worse if I had not settled down occasionally and made a few putts.  And to think that was working well right up until I got the shanks/shakes.

Parred the last hole for a 99.  Lovely day, 5.5 hours of grinding and really wanting to just walk of the damn course, chuck a few clubs and cuss like an Mother F$#@@%!@er.  But I’m not 25 anymore and I haven’t walked off a course since I was about 18, still embarrasses me to think about that.  It was nice being in a tournament like this, because the other guys were struggling too but I didn’t want to act like an ass and blow it for them.  Keeps you in check a bit.

Yes, I let a few slip, I’m only human but I was quiet about it.

Lessons learned:

Keep your flippin’ expectations low when you haven’t played in a tourney in 25 years.
If you are hitting shanks on the driving range, go get some beer for your bag.
If you don’t get beer, make sure you have cash in your bag to buy some on the course.
Play more golf on difficult courses to be ready for greens like these.
The amateurs who play in the ATT at Pebble Beach are studs, if they can handle those courses and not look like a MFing fool.
It don’t matter what kind of equipment you have in your bag, you still gotta swing the club and hit the ball on the flat part of the face.

Because, dear friends: There are a whole bunch of Triple Bogeys out there waiting to grab your skinny white (brown/black/whatever) ass.  And I found a bunch of them.

Thanks for listening, please enjoy your Schadenfreude, today it’s on me.

Could I be wrong? Thoughts on helmets…


Motorcyclists need to wear them, would be silly not to do so because your melon hitting the pavement at a high rate of speed makes a mess.

Riding your bike (at least farther than around the corner): you should wear a helmet. See above for melon vs. road comment.

Skiiers: Hmmmm, this is where I start acting like a Libertarian (more than usual at least). I see the reasons, mainly because idiot skiers and snowboarders run into other innocents on a regular basis. But I don’t like having to pay for one more expensive piece of equipment for me and my kids. Yes, my kids. I said it. They both have helmets but today I told one of them that she didn’t have to wear it as we would be on the easy runs and it was going to be 50 degrees by the end of the day.

First run, she takes a fall (because I didn’t get her on the correct run) and as I’m just helping her up, some woman skis up and says: “Hey, you’re too pretty not to be wearing a helmet” At which time I tell her that I’ve got it, she says: “Daaaadd, come on, she’s too pretty…” blah, blah blah. I refrained from saying much more at that point because I’m trying to help my kid, a 14 year old, not a little one.  Oh, and thanks for the “your too pretty… to be that dumb” comment, nice lady.  Because that’s what you’re saying and that’s a whole other effing problem I have with that comment.

So, I’m pissed and she’s upset but we spend the rest of the day having a good time skiing, without helmets. I wasn’t the only one on the hill without one and she wasn’t the only teen without one but that’s not a reason for picking one way or another.

However, upon further review, I wonder if I’m wrong. I started researching it a bit and, interestingly enough, the results are inconclusive as to the relative benefits of wearing a helmet. Most deaths occur when you hit something really hard, like a tree or another person and get a head injury.  But that’s where the research seems to focus, rather than on more common injuries on the slopes like concussions.  The example many point to is Liam Neeson’s wife, who fell on a beginner slope and hours later was rushed to the hospital and died. I would assume that she fell at a slower speed, which some research shows actually is common with skiing/snowboarding injuries (this was interesting to me). I can’t find that link right now but will try to post it again.

Is that enough to warrant a helmet?  Is the mere threat of injury to your head why you should wear a helmet?  Am I being stubborn and should just go with the flow and wear one, because at one point we all know that I might get hit in the head? Because we all used to not wear seat belts but now do be one way of looking at this?

I’m not sure.  What I’m sure of is that I have a feeling that the wearing of helmets was caused by several things:  More snowboarders and skiers doing increasingly more dangerous tricks/jumps, lines than we did when I was young (a good reason to wear one); an industry that saw a market and exploited it (don’t think this doesn’t happen) and the typical “bubble wrap” mentality that so many of us over the age of 40+ bitch about but increasingly seem to find as acceptable behavior.

I’ll finish with some stats from the research but understand, I don’t want my kids to be hurt but I also don’t want 1) someone in my face telling me I’m a bad parent (go find a smoker with a kid and bitch at them, I’m on board with that) or 2) the “crowd” (the market?) pushing others to “conform” without a solid foundation to support that decision.  Why does this feel like the post 9/11 rush to push back individual (and Constitutional) rights based on what the government chose to tell us?

Is it my lack of a desire to conform, reading “1984” in 1984 (thanks Mr. Hatch) or something else that makes me question this rush to have everyone wear a helmet while on the slopes?  Or am I “cranky old guy” already and I should just get with the program?

I still don’t know. But both kids are wearing one next time. I might not but then again I might, especially if I go off in the trees again like today.  Not so smart, really.

From the article here:

“…the fact remains that the risk of such an injury remains too small to insist that everyone on the slopes must wear a helmet. It should remain your personal choice at the end of the day. Nevertheless, parents should think long and hard before sending their kids out on the slopes without a lid on……”

“statistically a death can be expected for every 1.49 million visits to a ski area.” From 1991/2 to 1998/9 Shealy, Ettlinger and Johnson

“Head injuries account for at most 10-20% of all injuries from snow sports – although some studies have shown higher rates in children (up to 43% in one Canadian study though I have not seen that reported anywhere else). But even taking this 43% rate coupled with the highest injury rate gives a rate for head injury of 2.4 per 1000 skier days – really very low. A more average risk would be about 0.3-0.5 per 1000 skier days. Most of these injuries are minor (usually concussion) and as I have already mentioned the bad ones are usually the result of skiing or boarding out of control.”

Exercising Basic Rights


Went to the rally last night to support our local teachers in their negotiations with the school district.  The local union feels that the district is not negotiating in good faith, which has been an issue for the past 7-8 years or so.  It has gotten to the point where 1500+ teachers showed up last night, along with former teachers like myself, put on black and walked to the district office for the board meeting.

It goes without saying (so I’ll say it here) that I support the teachers in this situation, having worked with them and been around good and bad bargaining for many years.  These are people that I trust and know that it takes an awful lot to get them motivated to show up after work and have a protest.  Even the elementary teachers were on hand, which is never a good sign for the district if they are upset.

I’m a big believer in the Constitution and our rights to assemble, speak, etc.  So I took my kids to the rally also, so that they could see what sometimes needs to be done in order to make a point.  Some might feel that it’s a waste of time and that the board/superintendent will not move on their positions.  But you never know until you try.  Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement in the US might be the best example of that but there are so many others in history.  When I was a youngster, my parents had to go on strike as teachers and while I wasn’t sure of what was going on, there is a great old picture of me and my brother somewhere from the local newspaper, holding a sign supporting teachers.  I’m glad my parents took me along for that and while the specific event may not have affected me later on, the general principles do.  From what I understand, that strike lead to many years of good relationships between the teachers and district, because of both sides learning and trusting each other.  That ended with a superintendent change and it appears that a similar progression is occuring locally now.

It makes me smile to think about all of those teachers last night, coming together, some who may not totally agree with the situation but still showing up to support the larger group. That can only mean good things for the local educators in the future, it brings them together and makes them more powerful. Ahhh, unintended consequences are fun.

This is a great country and it can only survive if we are allowed to protest, demonstrate, peaceably assemble, speak, etc.



Santorum and Education

Not quite sure where to begin on this one.  I popped open my Twitter feed and ran through the Diane Ravitch early morning blasts (especially on Sunday, when the East Coast has had the NYT in their hands for a few hours).  Found this lovely article on Rick Santorum’s thoughts on education.  Check this out, from the LA Times.

Here’s Rick, in all his wisdom:  “Yes, the government can help,” he continued, “but the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic.”

Anachronistic? Because so many parents have the education and training that would enable them to properly homeschool their children to a level that is needed by society to have a functioning and educated population? I can barely work my way through 8th grade Algebra to help my daughter and can’t imagine trying to re-learn Algebra II, Chemistry and Physics, 2 subjects that I actually enjoyed (not you, Algebra II).

And while this parents are homeschooling their kids, who will be working, spending and paying taxes to support our capitalist society?  Wouldn’t one less person per family, if there are 2 actually employed, slow down the economy even more?

Comments like this, made at a conservative christian setting to only garner votes from homeschooling parents are pandering at best and insulting to the people in the audience, should they choose to pay close enough attention to his intentions.  We’re not even going to talk about his thoughts on creating a Christian Sharia Law for the USA.

And he’s the front runner for the Republicans right now. Thanks Rick, hope you enjoy having President Obama in office for 4 more years. C’mon GOP, you have got to find someone better than this to at least make it interesting in November.

But you won’t.

And President Obama, we’ll talk more about your educational policies but for now, I need to get some coffee.

Sunday Thoughts, 1st post

Good morning all of you folks out there, none of whom know this blog exists quite yet but that’s ok, I like talking to myself in the morning. The blog name gives some indication of how my ADD mind might be working, in that the thoughts here will be a “mashup”, running from education and politics to boating and general shenanigans.  I’ve had a feeling that I need to start writing down these things that run through my mind and this might do the trick.  Then again, if history is any indication, this little idea of mine might go by the wayside just like so many other things I’ve started.  I’m ok with that, and gosh darn it, people like me.

Adios, buenos días and have a great Presidents weekend.  More on the way…