Saturday, October 11, 2008

Old Friends

I am at a point in my life where I have changed a great deal from the personality I had earlier in life. Until a few years ago, I was gregarious and outgoing in all situations. I made friends often and enjoyed spending time with people more than anything else. I still seem to base my enjoyment of activities much more on who I am with than what we are doing.

Over the past ten years, a number of factors have contributed to shift my personality quite a bit. Heavy travel and long hours at work were part of it, some health issues were part of it, and becoming a parent is part of it. Now, I find that I spend most all of my free time and energy with my kids. I still enjoy people, but the people I enjoy most are enough for me now. We spend our time with the kids, some couples that my wife and I like and enjoy getting together for dinner with now and then, family and some casual friends through school, or the kids sports teams, etc.

But overall, I enjoy solitude more than I did. I enjoy the hour or two of quiet each night after the kids have gone to bed and it is just me and my book. I am seldom the life of the party now, but more often an average guest, neither too reserved or too outgoing. In fact, as the years have passed, I have come to value my old friends even more - and I always valued them pretty highly. By old friends, I mean the friends I made as a teenager and still keep in touch with 35 years later. Something about old friends, or maybe just these old friends, is so essentially different than the friends we've made more recently. Old friends don't have to figure you out. They don't just see part of your life. The context of those friendships began before I'd accomplished anything, failed at anything much, had big and small, great and rotten jobs, married, divorced, had children. But also, it is the context of having shared each of those developments and stages of life together. Why is it that when you meet with old friends it is as though no time has passed since last you saw them? At least in part it is because you know each other so well, know how each other thinks and feels. I also think it is because a few weeks or a couple months or even a year passing without seeing one another doesn't add up to much time at all compared to the 35 years of friendship between us.

My friends from childhood - five or six of us - keep in touch. We get together, email, call now and then. And I think all of us realize that we are fortunate to have made the effort to maintain our friendships. Down the long years, those friends have become much more than just people we enjoy spending time with. They have become a richness that our lives otherwise would lack. They have become a source of stability, kept us grounded, reminded us of who we are.

I still enjoy people and like to meet and talk with others. But it is a luxury to know that if I never make another friend, I have these good, old friends to carry with me as far into old age as we go. I'll make more friends, I am sure. But I won't ever make better friends.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Zogby Poll: No Candidate with a Clear Advantage

Zogby International polls have been very successful in predicting the actual outcome of elections, and the data this year indicates that the 2008 Presidential Election may well be decided on the last weekend before the election. He likens this year to 1980 when the race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan was close until the final weekend, when large numbers of voters broke for Reagan. They apparently became comfortable with him when it came time to actually make a choice - the tipping point. It will be interesting to see if the various poll-related problems with each candidate play out as real factors in this election: For McCain, will the age question tip undecided and independent voters to Obama? Will negative ads about Obama's past associates backfire? Will his war posture ultimately be the electoral burden it was believed to be at the outset of the campaign? For Obama, will he continue a pattern of soft-polling (some people who tell pollsters that they will vote for Obama do not in fact vote for him)? Will predictions made by Stanford researchers that a meaningful percentage of voters (including Democrats) refuse to vote for an African American candidate? Obama has high numbers in the surveys asking if he is unqualified - it has stayed at about 48%, the highest of any candidate since Dukakis. Will a late-breaking electorate ultimately decide he IS qualified, or will this high level of uncertainty ultimately translate to a shift to McCain at the last minute?

Leaving aside the people yelling at each other and calling each other liars, terrorists, mental patients on television, radio and the stump, there is a clear difference in approach in this election. Obama will doubtlessly move left if elected (as did Bill Clinton), and McCain will be faced with an opposition Congress. Both men (regardless of what they tell us), will increase the huge budget deficits, and depending on your beliefs about tax increases they will have different effects on the economy. But, as usual, the ideologues and interest groups are choosing the lowest road available. The name-calling has reached a fever-pitch especially early this year. And my question is this: both men have said they will change Washington. And maybe both really mean to do so. But how can they change Washington when they cannot even change the campaign? Partisan rancor and fighting has taken over the campaign, as usual and maybe worse than usual, so how can either one be expected to really change how government works?

I can't make myself listen to much from the pundits, candidates and campaigns this year, once again. It is rude behavior, and all of it shows a lack of character all around. About the only way I can stomach the campaign is to read the various fact-checking resources to see what the proposals made will really result in, according to independent researchers, and to look at the polls in detail in the manner of an avid baseball fan looking at statistics.

Zogby has the race at 48-44 Obama today, with a margin of +/- 2.9%. Both candidates are holding their partisans (Obama 86% of Democrats and McCain 87% of Republicans), and at the moment Obama is winning the battle for independents (49% to 39%). If John Zogby is right and the election breaks big on the last weekend, it will be interesting to see if people are ultimately able to feel comfortable with Obama, if the racial issue is a factor, and if soft-polling is a factor. It will also be interesting to see if the economic crisis is still the dominant issue, and if McCain, a member of the President's party and therefore traditionally hurt by a bad economy, gets harmed by it. The one wild-card was mentioned today by a Democratic talking head, who said that he feels that unless there is a terrorist attack Obama will win going away.

There are a lot of ingredients in this year's election stew, and it will be interesting to see how they all come together to affect the outcome. Either way, I will be glad not to have to hear people hating on each other publicly, loudly and without inhibition. Just think what we'd say to our kids if they interacted together at school the way people in public act about elections. It feels like the approved method of campaigning has become slander, smear and shout the bastard down. And the electorate so deeply divided that I know people who have stopped being friends because they could not be friends with someone who held 'those' political views. Can't we go back to the good advice of polite society - never discuss politics and religion? Or the advice of Thumper's mother: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"? One man that was able to work with everyone in the Senate was Alan Simpson, who said, "If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters."

I can live with either candidate, no matter how different their approach, as long as they have integrity. I think that one approach may be better than another for most circumstances, (Jimmy Carter had integrity and also had a tough time governing, in my opinion), but knowing that the candidate has integrity would mean a great deal to the public. Now I am not saying that either man lacks personal integrity. But how much of it do they show with the campaigns they run?

Now I know that my opinion is just my opinion, and I know that the only reason you are reading it now is that anyone can read damn near anything on the Internet in the Information Age. Once upon a time, there was an expectation that reading someone's opinion suggested that it was an informed and perhaps an expert opinion. Now, it just implies an Internet connection. The quote: "The irony of the information age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion." by John Lawton applies here. I wouldn't want anyone to think that I hold my own views in exception to this sentiment, I don't. But, that said, I find it to be a satisfying exercise to be able to jot my thoughts, knowing that whether or not anyone actually reads them, someone might.

From the Doctor - Funny stories from physicians

Submitted by Dr. Susan Steinberg
One day I told a wife that her husband had died of a massive myocardial infarct. Not more than five minutes later, I heard her reporting to the rest of the family that he had died of a ‘massive internal fart.’

Submitted by Dr. Leonard Kransdorf, Detroit, MI
I was performing rounds at the hospital one morning and while checking up on a woman I asked, ‘So how’s your breakfast this morning?’ It’s very good, except for the Kentucky Jelly. I can’t seem to get used to the taste,’ the patient replied. I then asked to see the jelly and the woman produced a foil packet labeled ‘KY Jelly.’

Submitted by Dr. Rebecca St. Clair, Norfolk, VA
During a patient’s two week follow-up appointment with his cardiologist, he informed me, his doctor, that he was having trouble withone of his medications. ‘Which one?’ I asked.’The patch. The Nurse told me to put on a new one every six hours and now I’m running out of places to put it!’ I had him quickly undress and discovered what I hoped I wouldn’t see. Yes, the man had over fifty patches on his body! Now the instructions include removal of the old patch before applying anew one.

Submitted by Dr. Mark MacDonald, San Francisco
A man comes into the ER and yells, ‘My wife’s going to have her babyin the cab!’ I grabbed my stuff, rushed out to the cab, lifted the lady’s dress, and began to take off her underwear. Suddenly I noticed that there were several cabs, and I was in the wrong one.

Submitted by Dr. Steven Swanson, Corvallis, OR
While acquainting myself with a new elderly patient, I asked, ‘How long have you been bedridden?’ After a look of complete confusion she answered, ‘Why, not for about twenty years, when my husband was alive.’

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I'm continually surprised by my kids.  Most parents are, I know, and not always in good ways.  I have been fortunate in my life to have a pretty great time with good friends, interesting work and lots of interests.  Still, looking back I realize that there is an entirely new dimension to my life since I became a father and it has changed everything about me. 

I once thought of myself based on where I was from, or what I did for a living, or my world view ideologically.  I realized the other day that the first thing that comes to my mind now when a situation calls for me to tell someone who I am, is father.  I'm a father.  I choose what I do every day, with every free moment, based on wanting to spend time with my kids, and give them experiences.  I view most situations in life with an eye to making sure they are able to understand what is happening.  I feel cheated if I don't get to put them to bed, and never miss an event if I can help it.  They make me laugh often, and it is conversations with them in the evening that are my treasure. 

None of that is to say that I am a very good father.  I am rather critical of myself as a father.  But it is who I am, and what I want most to be.  I hope my kids never lose the desire to tell me about their day, read with me, take trips together and hang out together.  I know that even as a teen I still wanted to hang out with my own father.  Maybe I will be so lucky. 

Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
As always, the photos we use are either my own, or in the public domain. Please let me know if there are any errors and I'll correct them immediately.