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Looking Forward to Future Conversations

I remember reading an interesting article, years ago, about longevity. It touched upon the scientific considerations of aging and how, due to a better understanding of nutrition, along with advances in science and medicine, human life expectancy was steadily increasing.

The discussion then went on to broach the topic from a philosophical perspective, asking the question, “If you could live forever, would you want to?” My first reaction, I suppose, was probably a common one: “Well, of course! Who wouldn’t?”

But then the article’s author challenged his readers to re-consider, suggesting that everything we love about life and living—everything that adds meaning and makes life precious—is so because it is finite. He proposed that the knowing that this glorious ride that we call life will someday end is the “stuff” that gives all of the value and meaning to it. It was wholly the yin yang argument—that we can only understand the fullness of joy by experiencing sorrow; that we only love others, and life itself, because we know we will someday lose them and it.

As a Christian who believes in eternal life, I must admit this idea was something I wrestled with. If it is the finite nature—the urgency—of life that gives it its richness and meaning, then is the notion of eternal life one void of meaning? Or, would living forever be an existence without passion?

This past October, I was once again forced to consider these questions, when I received a troubling email from a dear friend and colleague, ALIVE columnist, Edwin Cohen. True to his style, Ed’s email to me was clear and direct, with the same touch of humor found throughout all of his “And Then I Wrote” columns in ALIVE. His email came just eleven days after he had submitted his article for the November 2017 issue. The subject line of his email was simply, “Bad News.” It read:

Hi, Eric, etc.,

It looks like my November article will be my last and, indeed, will be published posthumously. This sickness I have had for the past two months cannot be cured.  I have an appointment today, 10/10, to make some final arrangements with my doctor.  

We had in my opinion a good run together and I loved the fact that despite our coming from vastly different backgrounds we could disagree with respect and dignity.

Thanks for everything,

Ed Cohen

Upon minutes of reading this, I swallowed hard and called Ed. We spoke briefly about his condition, but then talked about what mattered most between us, both painfully aware this would likely be our last conversation in this life. Always the epitome of a gracious gentleman, Ed thanked me for the opportunity to write for ALIVE—something that was clearly a benefit to our magazine, as it will forevermore be lacking without his monthly articles. I know our readers will miss him, as do all of us at ALIVE already. 

As mentioned in his email, Ed and I came from very different backgrounds, and were pretty far apart on most political and many other matters. But our mutual respect and willingness to discuss matters openly with one another kindled a bond of friendship that I will sorely miss. We even joked about running for office together on the same ticket, debating who would occupy the top slot.   

Returning to that vexing question about eternity, after considerable contemplation and prayer, my conclusion is that the answer is: While this life on Earth is finite, the promises of a loving God are true, and we will all experience life, albeit in a different way, when this “session” is over.

And true to the nature of our relationship, as I am a Christian and Ed is a Jew, we once again found common ground in that final conversation, as we agreed to look forward to more lively debates to come… leaving the question about who will be on the top of the ticket, temporarily still unanswered.  


Edwin Cohen

February 2, 1931 – November 10, 2017

Edwin Cohen passed away on Friday, November 10 after a several-month battle with multiple illnesses.  He touched many lives through teaching both in and out of the classroom.  Ed was an inspirational role model for his two children and five grandchildren.

Born in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Ed moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey with his parents and then to Los Angeles when he was seventeen. He earned his AA from El Camino College, his BA and MA from CSU Long Beach, and then his PhD from the University of Southern California in Speech Communication.

In between his AA and BA, Ed proudly served in the United States Army and traveled abroad, entertaining with the USO show. He taught in high schools and colleges for forty-two years before he and his wife, Shirley, retired to the adult community of Rossmoor in Walnut Creek.

He wrote and published six non-fiction, academic books, one book of poetry, two full length plays, and many articles in academic journals and newspapers.  During the last part of his career, Ed lectured on cruise ships, enabling he and his wife, Shirley, to visit many exciting places around the world, and he was a popular contributing writer for ALIVE Magazine.

Ed is survived by his devoted and loving wife, Shirley; two children, Lisa Cohen Bennett of Richmond, California and David Cohen (Laureen) of Oakland, California, and five grandchildren, Gabrielle Cohen, Jacob Cohen, Noah Bennett, Alexandra Bennett, and Martin Cohen.

The family suggests that donations in Ed’s memory be made either to St. Judes, Mazon, the Weizmann Institute of Science (through the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science), or a charity of your choice.

Another Wake-up Call for Californians

Sunday, October 8th was a warm, pleasant day in the quaint lakeside town of Lakeport, California. We were there for a bit of sightseeing and to attend a quilt show where my wife, Peggy, had four quilts on display. We had lunch at a small café, enjoying a panoramic view of Clearlake.

On the way up we saw the scars of the fires that had devastated thousands of acres in Lake County in 2015 and 2016, and we noted how warm it was and how the wind was gusting. With bone dry vegetation everywhere, I remember commenting how reminiscent it was to that Sunday in October, 1991 when the sirens began wailing as a firestorm began that would engulf the Oakland hills.

We started the trip home at dusk, heading home via Calistoga and through the Napa Valley, traveling on the Silverado Trail. Traffic was light but the drive was more difficult than usual, as swirling clouds of dust, leaves and dry grass blew across the road. I kept thinking about how dangerous the conditions were—how one idiotic, careless flick of a cigarette butt could cause a catastrophe.

Turning on the news that night, we learned that we had just traveled though was to become the catastrophe I had feared, as veteran KTVU 2 sportscaster Mark Ibanez, who lives in the Napa Valley, delivered a live, eye-witness telephone  report of the developing firestorm to on-the-air news anchors Heather Holmes and Frank Somerville. It was the beginning of what was to become the worst rash of firestorms in California.

By Monday morning, as we all learned, numerous fires had started throughout Northern California, burning uncontrollably. Glen Ellen and Kenwood were burning as was much of Santa Rosa. We immediately thought of my aunt and cousin who both live in the Oakmont community of Santa Rosa, and my cousin’s son and his family who live in the Skyhawk subdivision, near Oakmont.

As it turned out, after having evacuated and living one of the most anxiety-filled weeks of their lives, thankfully all of our family members were safe and their homes were spared—thanks to the selfless courage and tireless effort of firefighters and other first responders. But we all know, not everyone was so fortunate.                           

This past weekend we visited my cousin and aunt in Oakmont, seeing the aftermath of the fire as we traveled there. The devastation is almost indescribable, and just knowing that so many people are having to deal with so much loss is heartbreaking. 

Like previous fires, these are another wake-up call to all Californians. We live in a region prone to fire, especially during this time of year, so we need to be prepared at all times. Undoubtedly there will be fires in the future, so we need to be vigilant and pro-active at being “fire safe,”—and thankful for the firefighters and other first responders who stand guard, day and night, to keep us safe.   




Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

I could have used a number of different titles for this article, no doubt many of them clichés, such as; “When the Genie’s out of the Bottle…” or, “Wrong Time, Wrong Place,” or, “Yes, You Can, but Maybe Your Shouldn’t,” or, “You Can’t Fix ___,” Okay, we won’t go there.

As wannabes all over the country now appear to have been infected with “Take-a-Knee-itis,” I feel an obligation to offer some advice that I am ashamed to say I should have offered to Mr. Kaepernick, way back when.

Before offering my advice however, I must say that I am perplexed by much of the discussion and apparent confusion on the part of team owners and NFL executives about team players’ “rights.” Because these are paid employees with contracts that specify standards of behavior, both on and off the playing field, based upon previous actions by the NFL, I believe that modification of the players’ rights of free speech and expression are within the bounds of employer policy.

For example, the NFL said “no,” when the Dallas Cowboys wanted to wear small decals on their helmets to honor the police officers murdered in July 2016. Cowboy owner Jerry Jones concurred, stating, “There are tons of things out there that need to be recognized. Once you open that Pandora’s Box, how do you ever stop?” Were the players’ intentions noble? Sure. But do they have the freedom to express themselves, even when they’re at work? Apparently, in some cases, no.

It’s much like in any business. An unhappy customer may stomp in and call an employee every name under the Sun—“Idiot,” “Nitwit,” “Useless Piece of Garbage.” But the employer won’t (if they plan to remain in business) tolerate an employee being disrespectful of that same customer—regardless of whether or not they “deserved” the same comments in return.

So, back to the exercise of free speech during professional sports events. Will the league and team owners fall in line and support players if they decide to “make a statement” by temporarily donning t-shirts over their jerseys (when they’re not actually playing), with a giant, emblazoned message on both sides proclaiming, “JESUS SAVES?” Come on! At least this is a positive message with a suggested solution for all that ails humanity.

Many voice their support for the kneelers’ rights to express themselves at these events. But what about messages we may not agree with? The ACLU says that Nazi symbols and Confederate flags are in bounds when it comes to free speech. Or how about a big, black ISIS flag? This is America, after all—surely there are people who support these causes too.

I am old enough to recall the raised black fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics. Are all hand gestures protected?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. When the “I won’t stand for our flag” thing began, I believe Kaepernick acted solely on emotion with little thought of the long term ramifications. Maybe he should have consulted with a PR firm before launch! As soon as it was revealed that he had never even bothered to register to vote, his credibility was, as they say, “toast.”

Beyond that, when he justified his protests by referring to the September 2016 police shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, by saying, “This is a perfect example of what this is about,” he merely dug his lack-of-credibility-hole deeper. In both cases, Kaepernick accused the police of murder, but the investigations in both case by both local law enforcement and the United States Justice Department, exonerated the officers in both cases.

I won’t get into lots of facts and figures about racism in America today, because in truth, that isn’t really the point here. This is more about the perception and impact of “Taking a Knee.” Is it having a positive effect on professional football? No. Ratings, viewership and attendance are down. There is even a movement now circulating among veterans groups to boycott all football games—in person and on TV—on Veteran’s Day. The vast majority of American’s are clearly saying, “I support his right to do it… but I think it’s disrespectful.”   

Now for the Advice

If you’re goal is to draw attention to inequity or injustice, be certain that what you’re offering as evidence truly exists somewhere beyond the social media universe. And don’t accuse anyone, police or otherwise, of being a “murderer,” until you hear a judge and jury foreman say it first.

Think long term. Does your action really encourage the response you’re hoping for? Kaepernick drew attention to his point by doing it once or twice. Now that has become some kind of “in your face whether you like it or not conga-line spectacle,” it has no real meaning other than division.      

Where Do You Stand (Or Kneel)?

There is an even larger issue here also having to do with perception, but in a different way. What does the American flag and the National Anthem represent? What do they stand for? How does Kaepernick see America? How do the “kneelers” see America? How do you see America?

I don’t deny that there is work to be done. There always will be, so long as human beings are running the show. It seems there will always be plenty of reminders of our flaws, but is this the right place and time to be reminded? Does this protest draw us together to address a real problem, or does it mainly serve to divide, foster resentment, and make people dislike the messenger(s)?

Certainly, one of the things that makes America great is our right to differ. I tend to lean toward seeing the glass as always half full. I don’t deny the empty part; I just think it’s more productive to count our blessings and recognize those who enabled us to have the “water” in this glass that is America, in the first place.

To that end, I happen to believe, strongly, in standing at attention and saluting our flag; in singing along with the Star Spangled Banner and saying the pledge, because these are ways to say “thank you” to the patriots who have given so much so that I can live here, today, in this time, in this America. These are actions I am inspired to do. To my way of thinking, these are the things I can do. These are the things I should do.


What makes a car a “classic?” Does it have to be a certain age? How many cars have you owned in your lifetime? How about your parents? Do recall certain cars they owned that you wish you had today?

My first car was a 1968, red, VW Beetle. My older half-brother had purchased the car new from a dealer. It had a sticker price of about $1,700. He sold the car to our dad who let me drive it until the engine blew. He told me that if I rebuilt the engine, the car would be mine. So I bought the then-famous How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, by John Muir (no, not that one), and set about de-constructing and re-constructing the car’s engine in our backyard. Halfway through, the scene looked like one of those “exploded diagrams,” with parts strewn in every direction, everywhere on our back patio.

Somehow, I managed to get it all back together (with new parts of course) and was soon back on the road, “Cruisin’ the Creek” (that was driving up and down Main Street in Walnut Creek on Friday night), along with several hundred other hormone-fueled male and female “cruisers,” all hoping for at least a second glance by some—any—member of the opposite sex!

Looking online today, I see listings for my old “Bug” with price tags ranging from about $7,000 up to $18,000. Maybe that’s about the same price as the original MSRP, adjusted for inflation. I don’t really know, but I think old VWs are moving into, or are already within, “classic” territory. I suppose it isn’t and won’t ever be a “classy” classic, like an older Ferrari or a Corvette, because it wasn’t and never will be as “sexy.” But hey, I can tell you, the girls thought it was “cute!” It got the job done.

Speaking of sexy and classic cars, my parents had a number of cars I really do wish I owned today. How about a brown and white, 4-door, 1956 Chevy Bel Air? Or a pink and white Buick Coupe of the same vintage. They had some good ones! I recall a nice metallic blue GTO, and a pretty unusual red, 1961 Triumph Herald—a convertible with a leather top that my little brother managed to fall through while trying to get away from me when I was chasing him across the ceiling rafters in our garage. We even had a white, 62 Corvair Station Wagon—now, quite rare. Prior to my VW, I even took the driving test for my first license (1970) in my parents’ 1962 Cadillac Fleetwood.  

Americans have a love affair with cars, to be sure. So much of our culture is really anchored by them. What would American Graffiti have been without the cars? And what would America be without Route 66 and everything connected to that iconic Highway?

Lots of great cars with lots of terrific memories—I suppose that is what makes any car a real classic.  





Be Mindful of The 3rd Law

Regardless of where one stands on the removal of Confederate statues and monuments I’m sure everyone would agree that the recent, ultimately tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, got very far out of hand.

A few legitimate, important questions that ought to be answered are, “Why did the Charlottesville city government issue permits to two opposing groups—groups with obvious hatred towards each other—for events on the same day, in the same area? And, considering the issuance of those permits, why then wasn’t there adequate preparation by law enforcement for what was sure to be a volatile situation?” It looks to me as though either the city officials in Charlottesville wanted a violent eruption, or they have as much combined intelligence and common sense as a bag of hammers.

Despite what appears to be the consensus of media and politicians’ opinions aligned against President Trump, I tend to agree with his assessment—that both sides are to blame for attacking each other. But even more than this, I blame the leadership of the Charlottesville city government and law enforcement for not acting sooner, in order to prevent the melee and its ensuing tragic loss of life.

With numerous rallies and events concerning similar, emotionally charged issues no doubt to come, it would be good to remember that oftentimes, physical laws can be appropriately applied to emotional situations and human relations. For example, in its best recognized form, Newton’s third law of motion states:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Or, as a more precise definition states it:

When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

Obviously, this might be a good “law” for everyone to keep in mind when it comes to such inherently-volatile situations. Who’s right and who’s wrong are beside the point; if you push, it’s a near certainty that you’re going to get pushed back. Human nature (and Newton’s third law) has confirmed this to be true for eons.

The Future: Where do we go from Here?

It does little good to keep looking back, unless we are focused on what needs to be changed while moving forward. What approach shall we take in our efforts to affect societal change through freedom of speech and expression, that best eliminate the risk of cracked skulls and destroyed property? Fortunately, there some good examples offered in history, if we have the desire (and wisdom) to seek them out.

My brother-in-law recently came across an old family letter that might suggest one such example. Written by my wife’s great uncle, Robert Welles Ritchie, in 1931, it was a personal letter to his mother.

Robert Welles Ritchie was a prolific writer; a novelist, screenwriter for a number of black and white short films, as well as the author of numerous articles and short stories for publications like Harper’s Magazine. He was also a correspondent for the New York Post, in which capacity he met with and interviewed several notable people, such as Admiral Robert Peary, and Mahatma Gandhi. It was his meeting with Gandhi that was the subject of his letter to his mother.

Of course, Gandhi is considered by many to be a prime example—the epitome, perhaps—of a leader who championed non-violent tactics as means to affect meaningful change on a massive scale. He well knew the laws of physics—and human behavior—and used that knowledge to gain peace with England and independence for an entire nation.

In reading this rather brief letter, you not only get a sense of what Gandhi was like, but you can also see the impression he made upon Ritchie, as he described it:

When I talked with him after the welcoming meeting he spoke parrot-like in almost perfect English—he was once a lawyer in London, telling of his mission for peace with England and independence for India.I must say I came away impressed by the fact that the little pee-wee has some big reserve of mental focus which a lot of us lack. Sufficient to puzzle the Englishman, who hitherto has known only one way to deal with rebels; and that by machine guns.

I am by no means a pacifist. In times when hostility is certain or when self-defense or the defense of the innocent require it, the use of force—and yes, even war—is justifiable. But prior to that “no turning back” point, if we are wise, we will know that the laws of physics—of human nature—will overcome our better natures if we allow it, and then all we accomplish is further division and animosity. 

By all means, protest; demonstrate, and voice your opinion… but allow others to exercise the same right, always taking into account Newton’s third law. You will never win others over—you will never change the minds and hearts of others—using brute force. All you get by pushing is more pushing—but now, in your direction, against you!  Hit someone and they’ll likely hit back with even more force.

And trying to change one’s thinking by smashing a statue of Robert E. Lee will be about as effective as trying to change someone else’s mind by defacing a statue of Martin Luther King. This kind of “protest” might make one group feel good, but in terms of change, it only serves to move everyone backwards.(Again, in practical terms, “as smart as a bag of hammers” applies here too). 

The best strategy to effect change is to truly win others over to your way of thinking—or at least get them to “agree to disagree” on civil terms, and Gandhi provides a good example as to how success is eventually best achieved.

Shown below is a copy of the letter written by Robert Welles Ritchie to his mother, September 12,1931, describing his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in London.






Be Inspired

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are of times I spent with my cousins in Los Baños. As a young boy, every summer until about age twelve, I spent a week there. My uncle, Wayne, worked as an executive for a large farming company, and the family lived in a sprawling home surrounded by thousands of acres of farm land.

It was more like a compound than a family home, and staying there was like being at a resort; there was an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a surrounding cabana, a guest house, horse corrals and a barn, all nestled between acre-sized lawns and enormous beds of blooming flowers. While I don’t know if it’s true, I was told that their house was once the vacation residence of Ernest Lawrence, the inventor of the cyclotron and namesake of Lawrence Livermore and Berkeley National Laboratories.

Despite living on what could only be described as an estate, my aunt never put on airs—she was as personable and down-to-earth as one could imagine, and she always made my visits with them times I would forever remember.

One time in particular that I can still recall perfectly in my mind was one warm summer evening when she offered me and my cousin, Jim, popsicles. We of course obliged as she then suggested that we all go out—way out—onto the front lawn and lie down and gaze at the stars. Soon, there we were, the three of us, some fifty yards or so from the house, flat on our backs looking up at a coal-black sky blanketed with shimmering diamonds.

It was breathtaking. It was a moment of inspiration that began a life-long love and interest in Astronomy.

As I write this, the world awaits a spectacular event—a total eclipse of the Sun.The next one visible in North America won’t occur until 2024. By the time you’re reading this, you either “caught the bug” and went outdoors to witness the event, or passed it off as no big deal, continuing with your usual routine. I hope you chose the former.

But don’t feel bad if you missed it; tonight offers the opportunity for another experience that could well be just as moving. Simply go outdoors, somewhere as far away from city lights as you can find, spread out a blanket and lie down. As you look heavenward you’ll see what is always overhead, every night—it is God’s canvas—that same coal-black sky filled with diamonds.       

Whether by an eclipse, or just a warm, summer evening with loved ones, may you too be inspired.   



Shame on U.C. Berkeley

One of the hallmark characteristics of liberty is the protected right to share and express ideas—even unpopular ones. “Freedom of Speech,” as it is often referred to, is part of the First Amendment to our Constitution; listed among the first “God given” freedoms identified in the Bill of Rights.

To place a value upon this right one must consider the American lives lost in the cause to preserve and protect it. Truly, it is among the sacred rights, bought and paid for by the blood of patriots. We each have a duty to respect, defend, and uphold it, for when we do not, we dishonor the men and women who paid dearly–many with their very lives–to secure it for us.

The full text of the First Amendment is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free          exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now if you have been paying attention, you know that the right of free speech has been under attack lately. And while it is true that there are certain limits to this freedom (yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is often cited as an example of using speech in a manner that is illegal), there are apparently a good number of citizens–many who likely claim to be well educated–who don’t understand what freedom of speech is or what it means.

In fact, when you read our feature article, Risk, Reward, and Republicanism, by Bradley Devlin, Secretary of the Berkeley College Republicans (page 20), you’ll discover that among the worst, chronic offenders in the assault on free speech is the very administration at what was once a standard-bearer in causes for freedom and liberty–the University of California at Berkeley.

When the controversial, firebrand speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, was scheduled to speak at the U.C. Berkeley campus last February, he was prevented from doing so by a large group of individuals (students and non-students) who became violent, destroying school property and threatening anyone who dared support this free speech event.  The event became an all-out riot, as the campus police simply stepped back and allowed the anarchists to have their way.

Later in the year, conservative speaker, Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak, but the U.C. administration would not allow it because they “couldn’t ensure her safety.”

The real tragedy in all of this is that, while the young students who opposed these event might be excused because they are simply too immature or ignorant to realize their error, the so-called adults in the U.C.  administration surely know better.

Shame on them for not standing up for free speech. Shame on them for dishonoring those men and women– the ones mentioned previously, with courage that they, apparently, do not possess.     




Top of the Hour Power

July is celebration month for Americans. We have Independence Day, summer vacations, picnics, good weather—the whole package. Generally, I’d say most people tend to be in good moods in July.

Of course we all know that nobody is happy all of the time… but don’t you know a few people that make you wonder about that? You know, the “positive” people; the ones that make you feel better whenever you’re around them. These are the people in your life that never make their problems your problem. They always encourage and edify, and their cheerfulness stems for an honest joy of living. These are the kind of people that I hope to be more like.  

My aunt Rachel, cousin Susan, and brother, Richard top my list, along with my friends Bob, Tom, Joe, Amhad, Mike, Terry, Dee, Richard, Ann, Rodney, and many others. I suppose creativity has something to do with this “positivity gene” as well, as most all of the writers and authors I work with tend to be this way, too.

Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the world’s problems however; it just means that positive people tend to offer solutions. With that in mind, here is a poem (the author, being one of my positive-thinking friends, wishes to remain anonymous), offered in the hope of creating a movement, intended to bring peace to our world:       

Top of the Hour Power

Only one man-made standard throughout our great earth

 tis the measure of time as each hour gives birth.

 The Tops of the Hours occur at the same time

 an invisible chain linking all of mankind.

 And we all have in common a power so dear

 our own private thoughts that no one can hear.

 No matter what country or race or divide

 what we say in our minds we don’t have to hide.

 What if prayer were offered to God in this way

 at the Top of the Hour from L.A. to Bombay?

 No country nor army nor ruler of man

 would wield enough power to stop or withstand

 the linking of minds throughout every nation

 tis our weapon of Love will ensure our salvation.

 Whenever you choose, come join this great throng

at any Top of the Hour you can pray right along.

So what prayer should be offered in this glorious game?

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

Every language and race and age He will hear

giving hope to us all so no one will fear

the evil on earth which threatens us so.

With the power of Love our enemies will know

at the Top of the Hour our weapon of choice

is the power of prayer offered up with one voice.

Feel free to pass this poem along to everyone you know, along with my wishes to all for a joy-filled July!