Interview with Daniel Simpson

I interviewed Daniel Simpson at Danville’s READ Booksellers, promoting his memoir, A Rough Guide to the Dark Side.  Had I not sat down with the author and heard his story first-hand, I may have imagined his memoir was fantasy. It was not.

As an ex-New York Times foreign correspondent, he is shrewdly well-seasoned and knows how to hit a nerve. The memoir is a journey to the dark side of reporting—and tweaking stories to fit NYT paradigms of Iraq war-time sensationalism, and smorgasbords of drugs.

The book’s theme is an acutely biting and critical indictment of modern media practices, and how Simpson got mixed up with Serbian underworld thugs. His adroit use of language, peppered with politics, moves through a mazelike exposé of journalistic practices that he deems to be, not only untrue at times, but often having objectives to purposely mislead. He states, in keeping with media convention, some facts are more factual than others, contending that the NYT is a blatant propaganda megaphone.

Daniel Simpson, 37, is an English Cambridge-educated historian. He cut his journalistic teeth at Reuters as financial correspondent in Frankfurt, and then war-torn Macedonia. In 2001 he covered Romania after regime change when Stalinist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife were assassinated in 1989. He interviewed the assassins whose act had put Ion Iliescu in power, but the executioners got no glory.

NYT noticed Simpson’s Reuters reporting and hired him for the Belgrade bureau to cover political turmoil after Yugoslavia disintegrated. Most Balkan war correspondents had been dispatched to Afghanistan after 9/11.

Simpson was twenty seven; admits to being enormously naïve about NYT expectations, and the post-war Serbian mood. Former Yugoslavia was an ethnic mosaic; many murdered for their beliefs and some Serbian war criminals already at the Hague tribunals.

News about WMDs and terrorism was leaking from many sources after 9/11; the U.S was preparing to invade Iraq. NYT asked Simpson to hype some “news” about Yugoslavia defense companies developing cruise missiles for Iraq. He writes “news came from the Belgrade U.S. embassy; robo-diplomats claimed to have some documenting evidence.” Foreign deskers “wanted stories ‘faked’ to align with the president’s plans.” Editors tweaked his filed reports. The Washington Post had already run with the story. Simpson states he wasn’t big on faked sensation; so he went AWOL on ecstasy.

At the onset of his journalism career, Simpson had had fantasies of adrenalin-inducing excitement, being a front-line correspondent, dodging bullets, scooping stories. The Balkans beat did not offer near-death experiences, albeit Serbia was in post-war turmoil. NYT, publisher of all the news fit to print, wasn’t challenging enough for Simpson; the idealist longed to change things, wanted to revolutionize Serbian youth with music.

“I really thought I could change the world,” he said wryly.

So, with a solid dose of cannabis-fuelled idealism, Simpson partnered with G, a gregarious Serbian concert promoter. The duo burst onto culture-starved post-Milosevic Belgrade to spearhead the 2003 ECHO music festival on the heels of the EXIT extravaganza held each summer in a northern provincial town.

His vision of promoting such an event did not include the doom factor, due diligence, or that he was navigating into the dangerous Serbian mafia underworld.

Distracted by festival planning, and disgusted with the NYT demands to sensationalize stories—Simpson quit. He had bigger fish to fry. So, in true gonzo journalistic style, he put himself in the middle of the action, the neophyte rock-star wannabe starred in his own story. But the protagonist was about to get ripped off.

DARK SIDE GETS DARKER

Although Daniel Simpson quit the New York Times a decade ago, he unabashedly references his former gig to promote his memoir, A Rough Guide to the Dark Side. “It opens doors for me. When someone hears I am an ex-New York Times reporter it adds clout. They all want an interview,” Simpson smiled.

Ten years ago, the then-27-year old journalist had reached a crossroad; the festival was a “transition mechanism” of magnanimous proportions. Sans street-cred or connections, except for G, he chucked journalism to produce the music festival. The man who earned a living asking questions, asked himself the sublime question—why? The answer to the esoteric question revealed he wanted to change things—he yearned to make a difference, bring the Balkans’ fractured factions together with music. He confesses he was heavily into drugs, and dealing.

Daniel Simpson’s avant-garde memoir, A Rough Guide to the Dark Side, reveals his journey; Kerouac’s On the Road comes to mind. Chapter titles reveal the mood; ZERO, LUST, HERESY and REVELATION, as does author’s note; “I hope this isn’t fiction, or one-sided…”

Simpson, with journalistic page-turner brilliance, starts with the killer first line, “I never really meant to join the underworld. I fell in.” He expected to connect with the youth, alter conflict-scarred Serbia by staging ECHO, a summer-of-love Rock Music Festival on Belgrade’s Big War Island in the Danube. He envisioned eclipsing the EXIT festival, a musical marathon-cum-political-protest that boasted 300,000.

Simpson’s memoir reads like fiction, but it’s not. Hooking with politically-connected street-savvy Serbian partners, the ECHO event emerged as Burning Man meets Woodstock.

Politicians and money-men met with Simpson on the strength of his NYT connection; it gave him clout. He knew the U.S. funneled funds to the Otpor youth group to mount resistance to oust Milosevic; some from three-letter U.S. agencies. EXIT had secured 200K. So Simpson, imbued with anti-establishment idealism, and armed by a drug-fuelled ignition switch, secured funding for the project. Drunk with resolve to make a fortune, and unbounded naïveté about the Serbian culture, he and partners succeeded in pulling off the ECHO Music Festival; albeit at great personal cost.

He conceptualized that ECHO would be the magnet to rally dissidents against political corruption, police brutality and decades of discontent, not permitted during Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. Simpson orchestrated ECHO unaware he was treading on dangerous territory; gangsters waited in the wings.

Simpson, still a NYT correspondent during festival planning, filed regularly. When Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot in broad daylight near Simpson’s flat, the Times wanted a sensational front page story. Bullets had shredded him; some thought the hit came from the Zemun underworld. Simpson had to work fast to file for the front page. He had a lot of distractions.

“I was lost in listening to hip-hop music, visions of how everything could be explained…I trusted G, not knowing if he would hoodwink me, he was a gambler man, fearless, charismatic…maybe he knew ECHO would be doomed. I didn’t want to just do a couple of DJ nights—I wanted a full blown Woodstock.”

He had to file the Prime Minister’s assassination quickly. Instead of doing “man on the street” interviews, Simpson asked his translator and her friends what they thought. He settled for ‘rent-a-quote’ opinions, and extrapolated from news wire cheat-sheets. He faked interviews with fake diplomats. “I can’t defend that ethically.” His memoir answers many questions, and tells why he made up stories for the New York Times.

The production of ECHO festival on Big War Island in the middle of the Danube was a logistical nightmare in post-war Serbia. Paramilitary security contractors with guard dogs were hired to protect money-takers and ticket-holders. Scuba divers searched the river for bombs. Simpson was peddling class-A drugs at the festival, an offense that could entail jail time. But precautionary measures did not prevent what was yet to go down with the Serbian mafia.

Over 150,000 attendees showed up for the 4-day raver; 100 acts and 300 artists on four stages. The Serbian army had erected a 600-meter pontoon bridge from Zemun to Big War Island in the middle of the Danube. Four circus elephants ridden by Russian acrobats lumbered across the bridge on opening day. Visitors from several nations flocked to the love-in at 25 Euros apiece. Cash rolled in. All went well until torrential rains knocked Sonic Youth out of the line-up on the last day. It was an island of mud. The storm was a harbinger of what was to come.

Simpson’s grandiose dreams were dashed—all the money was stolen. The catastrophic finale of the big cash rip off proved that maybe politicians and partners were in cahoots with the Serbian mafia. Simpson is not sure what role G played in the scenario, and what went down with the gangsters.

Simpson admits to naiveté about encroaching on mafia domain. Manic idealism, high achievement tendencies and continual stonedness convinced him that techno, funk, salsa and soul music of Sonic Youth and Burning Spear could bring unity to disintegrated former Yugoslavia. He confesses to having cynical jadedness as first, describing the Belgrade war zone as “a miserable pariah”. But when he met G, nothing seemed impossible—charisma overtook judgment. Maybe things got lost in translation; G called American money the ‘one-eyed pyramid’. “Music had revolutionary potential…” In retrospect; perfect for ‘washing cash’.

He saw more than revolutionary potential; a blockbuster would generate cash while bringing splintered factions of the Balkans together. So Daniel Simpson, sporting a new Serbian soubriquet, Raoul Djukanovic, interviewed himself, generated a buzz, clinched funding and pitched the ECHO deal dreaming magnanimous dreams. Drugs were big in Belgrade, and being “mentally jellified”; the nightmare was yet to follow.

DESTINATION: OBLIVION

The festival had ample sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but with the lack of due diligence of Serbian culture—ECHO failed. The promoters filed bankruptcy; police and printers threatened, performers’ expenses went unpaid. Some accused Simpson of being a British spy. His change-making dreams crumbled. Serbian underworld gangsters had struck a coup de grace with a vengeance.

Simpson said booking the bands was tough; “names bring faces…” Disappointing everyone was a fiasco, no one got paid.  Maybe scalpers printed tickets; maybe security and partners were in on a scam. There was a lot of cash—who knows how it disappeared?

So ECHO did not end well for the ex-New York Times foreign correspondent, now seeking answers, trying to find himself. “I wrote A Rough Guide to the Dark Side as a catharsis; to be kind to myself…I wanted to be a better journalist. I needed to look inside myself, in reality I was lonely, I had anxiety and depression, I quit my job, lost a fancy title, took risks, had to look inside me, had to learn how to love others and myself. I searched for the meaning of life on a rollercoaster adventure.”

Simpson admits he may not have had the clout to produce ECHO had he not been with the New York Times, confessing to mild deceit. “I wanted to say something, do something; be someone.”

I was more interested in Daniel Simpson the journalist, than Daniel Simpson the concert-promoting drug-dealing addict. I told him that drugs did not define him, his brilliance as a writer is what defines him. At first I said I would not mention much about the drugs, or that he was a stoner, but I would be dishonest not to. The crux of his memoir hinges on drugs; it is the tour de force of his past.

I read A Rough Guide to the Dark Side and numerous NYT articles. Daniel is bright, has swift wit and a quick smile. The high-achiever is hard on himself, demands perfection, cuts himself no slack. He is very likable and laughs a lot. “I have not used drugs for four years,” he says, “I practice yoga; it has been a way of life since long before organized religion. I write about yoga.”

My final question was a surprise. My quest was to penetrate the masquerade; I needed more backstory on my interviewee. “Daniel, if you were to interview yourself, what would be your first question?”

Daniel Simpson’s answer was long; I would have to paraphrase and condense. His forthrightness surprised me. He frankly flaunts his failings, maybe to shock, maybe to be honest. A Rough Guide to the Dark Side tells his life in gripping staccato style. His dark side chronicles hallucinatory time passages through a hip-hop culture—evoked to sanction the retreat from himself and his outrageous actions.

I asked Daniel Simpson about his grueling book tour at Blackhawk’s READ, and wished him Godspeed. “I launched A Rough Guide to the Dark Side in London. I’m traveling by Greyhound across the United States, with stops in New York, Texas, North Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, back to London, and then to India to be with my girlfriend.”

www.roughguidedarkside.com,at READ Booksellers, Danville and Amazon.

Under the Friday Night Lights

Fall Means High School Football Across America

Fall, also commonly known as autumn, is upon us. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colors, the kids are back in school and football is being broadcast on network or cable television seven days a week, 23 hours a day. Fall has always been my favorite time of year for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is, fall means football across America, and I, modestly speaking, was an awesome high school football player.  Interestingly, the older I get the better I remember being but that’s probably just the effect of the concussions. If you were to look-up the word “Fall” in most respectable dictionaries, adjacent to the definition (the season between summer and winter when the days begin shorter and the weather gets colder) you would likely find a black and white sketch of a pig skin, a raw hide, a football. Just for the record, the word fall also means to drop, or to be defeated, captured or overthrown. All useful football terms — I’m just saying.

Like virtually every other part of the country, Friday nights in the fall are reserved for high school football games. From the time I was in elementary school, I can remember attending Eagles football games under the lights of Wendell Grubb Field at Mountain View High School. I idolized my hometown heroes and looked forward to the time when I would be old enough to don the blue, silver and white varsity uniform (imagine the Dallas Cowboys) and join my teammates in battle against our rivals in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League.

Just for the record, I didn’t start out as an awesome football player; it involved a maturing process over many years. Growing up on the playground meant you played two-hand touch or flag football every waking hour once school reconvened. Keep in mind, this was 1967-1974, long before soccer or water polo was invented so our options were limited. At recess, lunch, after school and every weekend in every neighborhood, it was just assumed that any and all available kids would gather and be divided up into teams (stud athlete all the way down to paste eater) and a game would ensue. Touch football is pretty self-explanatory, this was before it became politically incorrect and a form of sexual harassment to touch someone else unless you had their permission. Flag football, in its purest form, consisted of two strips of bright orange plastic attached by Velcro to a canvass belt.  However, in a pinch, flags could be constructed of almost anything including Glad plastic bags, construction paper or my sister’s discarded bras. Both touch and flag football provided the fundamentals needed for the inevitable graduation to full pads tackle football.

Most high school gridiron wannabes ultimately signed up for Pop Warner football. Pop Warner is a youth football program where tween players are, for the first time, suited up in full pads, including helmet with chinstrap, girdle, to protect the hips and pelvis, and an athletic supporter (aka Jock). The Pop Warner experience can best be described as a test case in Darwin’s evolutionary theory as it is truly “survival of the fittest” played out three days a week at the hands of a group of sadistic coaches. It should be noted, in the yesteryear, the typical youth football coach never actually played the game of football.  Or worse, he was the high school water boy or equipment manager. That meant the coach either had a grudge to bear or wanted to live vicariously through his players. Either way, the “coaching” was often secondary to the physical brutality of hitting drills to weed out the weak. Think dog fighting with cleats.

Football camp typically opens in early August. For those readers who are not football educated, “camp” is not about sing-a-longs and roasting marshmallows. Football camp is the start of practice and that usually means a torturous two weeks of double days. That’s code for two practices a day, six days a week in the hot August sun. Surviving camp, prepares the student athlete for the rigors of practice during the regular season when their schedule includes the hassle of attending classes, completing homework assignments and taking tests. Being a football star doesn’t give you a free pass when it comes to the books (unless you go to college in the SEC). As grueling as the schedule is, it’s all worth it when it comes to, pep rallies, marching bands, cheerleaders and ultimately game day. I would imagine that virtually every adult reading this article may recall the feel of cheering on their beloved school team in the crisp air of a star filled autumn night. If you were fortunate enough to strap on the pads and play in one of those memorable games, you are undoubtedly wiping the tears from your eyes and the sweat from you brow as you recall those euphoric and exhilarating times.

Freshman football is both frightening and exhilarating. The higher-level players quickly want to establish their reputation. It’s similar to being the new fish in prison. It’s usually a good idea to identify the toughest guy in the yard and beat him to a bloody pulp just to show the rest of the yard you’re not to be messed with. Let’s just say, I was rocked right out of my before mentioned jock, that first week of full contact scrimmages. That first season, I played mostly in the 5th quarter and as even the most unsophisticated of football simpletons know, a regulation football game only has four quarters. The fifth quarter allowed the really bad players to at least get their uniform dirty. I was that bad! Needless to say, life between the lines improved my sophomore year playing on the Junior Varsity. I worked my way into the starting line-up of a 0 wins-10 loss team playing both offensive lineman and linebacker. I made the varsity team as a junior, but that may only have been because, as my teammates and I played to yet another 0-10 record and we weren’t especially deep in talent. The interesting thing is, after that second winless season, our group of winless warriors committed ourselves to working tirelessly in the weight room, on the practice field and studying game film to be a better team. It’s amazing what a group can achieve if they rally together for a common cause. As one might expect our senior season was magically successful. Most high school athletes do not go on to play in college, which often means their last high school game/season is the pinnacle of their team sport experience. It’s great to go out a winner.

High school football in the fall is said to be a religious institution in states such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas. The movie, Friday Night Lights, based on the actual Panther football team of Permian, Texas, (changed to the fictional town of Dillon for television) epitomized what high school football means to small towns across the country. The popular NBC series portrayed an honest account of both high school and high school football that often had me cheering and choking back tears in the same episode. Another “must see” high school football movie (one inspired by true events) is the Oscar worthy, Remember the Titans. I dare any former player not to cry at that one. A few more HS football movies worth seeing include: The Program, Varsity Blues and Gridiron Gang. For those who prefer a good read, I recommend the fictional story, Bleachers by John Grisham. It’s a real tearjerker about teammates reuniting for their former coach’s funeral. Just for the record, it’s totally acceptable for former football players to cry. Despite the violent nature of the sport (it’s not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport) most players are protective and caring by nature.

A wonderful non-fiction read is When the Game Stands Tall by Neil Hayes about our very own De La Salle Spartans. When it comes to high school football, we are very privileged to live in close proximity to De La Salle High School in Concord. It’s Mecca for any true high school football fan. Bob Ladouceur, will likely go down as the most successful high school football coach of all time. From 1992 to 2004 he guided his team to twelve undefeated seasons, setting a national winning streak record of 151 consecutive wins. Entering the 2012 season, his record is 384-25-3. Coach Ladouceur’s 93.6% winning percentage is a national record amongst coaches with a minimum of 200 wins and he is the winningest high school football coach in the state of California. Under his leadership, the Spartans have won seven national championships, sixteen state championships and De La Salle has topped the USA Today rankings five times. De La Salle is one of the preeminent high school football programs in the country.

If I appear passionate about this topic, it’s because I am! It has been said that characteristics of a successful football player and team are keys to success in everyday life. The qualities of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, determination and perseverance are attributes employers, friends and even spouses look for and admire. Since my daughters were little girls, I’ve been taking them to cheer on our local area high schools under the Friday Night Lights. I couldn’t be happier that our oldest, Hannah, is now a freshman at Monte Vista giving us a real connection to a team. Look for me the next time your in the stands at a Mustang game any Friday night this fall. I’ll be the guy wearing a red and black letterman jacket with a tear in his eye.

Side Bar: This piece is dedicated to my high school football coaches, Rich Ryerson and Dan Navarro. Additionally, I would also like to recognize several of my unforgettable teammates including; Russell Peoples #33, Tom Cooper #35, Frank Dowse #16, Eric Cook #90, Nick Siler #91, Chris Mateo #25, Mike Murphy #34, Wayne Kaku #55, Lon Tokunaga #47, David Olmos #26 and Chuck Smith #68. Even though our school was closed in 1981, we will always be MVHS Eagles forever. Mike #66

Thankful to be the Fathers of Daughters (Only Daughters)

Growing up, I can only recall one or two households that had nothing but girls. The traditional family of the 1960’s had one boy, one girl and a dog. If there was a third child or in very few cases four or five, the boys usually outnumbered the girls. I don’t have any actual census statistics to substantiate my claim, however until about the mid -1980’s, boys just seemed to be the more dominate sex (numbers wise).

Maybe it was the emerging popularity of hair care products for men, or the television shows we watched in college (Dallas, Falcon Crest and Knots Landing) or perhaps the feminine “Crocket and Tubbs” pastel fashion styles of that time period, but something began a shift in the Y chromosome gene dynamic. The male population has begun to diminish as evidenced by the number of men I know personally who are the fathers of only daughters (34 were contacted for this magazine piece).

“Having only girls in the house means you have to listen, learn, hug, hold and love like crazy. I also change a lot of toilet paper rolls.” Jeff M., four daughters.

“With a houseful of women, you never know what you might find hanging in the bathroom”. Ben S., three daughters.

 “You have to be prepared to always knock and wait for an “enter” response before approaching any closed bedroom or bathroom door.” Vic A., one daughter.

It’s not like adolescent boys sit around the tree house picking out names for their not yet born children, maybe once in an Orange Crush and Skittles haze, but it wasn’t unconscionable to think that one day we would all have sons. Someone we could take fishing where we would pass along life lessons. Then the moment passed and we were back to talking about baseball cards, comic books or farts. Boys aren’t especially deep in those developmental years.

“I don’t miss having a son because my daughter fills that role perfectly (with a few obvious differences). From an early age, it was apparent that she would have a love of sports, especially baseball. Some of my happiest moments have been while playing a game of catch or sharing the experience of watching a ballgame with her. Experiencing a wonderful father/child bond through the love of the game of baseball is really special. As my wife is fond of saying, “She’s the son you never had”.”  Chris F., one daughter.

“It warms my heart when we’re watching a Giants game and one of my girls says something like, “Bochy should send Posey on the next pitch”.  Dan M., three daughters.

 

“My girls do every outdoor activity a son would do including hiking, wakeboarding, snow skiing and competitive sports. They are amazing.” Jeff M., four daughters

A few years out of college, when I began interviewing candidates for the position of Mrs. Michael Steven Copeland, I began thinking about the prospect of being a parent. The notion of being the father to a strapping lad was intriguing. He would be a natural athlete who I could throw the ball with in the yard, a fine young man who I would teach to tie a tie or just a “mini me” to take over lawn mowing duties. At the very least, I was hoping to sire an heir to carry on the family name. Being the last remaining male Copeland, I now hope that one of my girls will consider hyphenating their last name.

“I love when my daughters ask me to cuddle and tell me that I’m their best friend. Then they change the channel.”  John K., two daughters.

“Daughters are more likely to take care of you when you’re old and senile.”  Rob T., two daughters.

“My daughter thinks I can do absolutely anything, except braid her hair.”  Jim L., one daughter.

How I ended up with two daughters is beyond me. Yes, there are those conspiracy theorists who believe that the bigger the “hound dog” a man was in his PDY (prime dating years) the more likely he’ll be to be blessed with girls. That’s God’s sense of humor. He’s paying us back for our carefree ways and indiscretions. The irony is, given our unconditional love and desire to protect our baby girls at all costs, we have morphed into a generation of uber-involved, ultra aware, crazy-connected Dads. I pity the poor boys visiting our homes to court our daughters. They’ll likely begin sweating once they walk through the door and notice our unflinching glare during the introductions. Their bodies will shiver with insecurity during the intense pre-date interrogation. Ultimately, they will fear for their lives once they hear the “If you touch or hurt my daughter you will die” have-a-good-time farewell. As the saying goes, “fathers of sons worry about one boy. Fathers of daughters worry about all the boys.”

“Being a single father, there was a big learning curve when it came to clothes, make-up and feminine hygiene products. I’m very thankful my mom was around to help.”  Kevin P., one daughter.

She may go more to her mother on emotional issues, but I’m her go-to guy when it comes to needing something fixed. I’m her in-house help desk for all things computer and electronics.”  John J., one daughter.

One challenge of being the only man in the house is that we are often expected to take on the role of mediator, arbitrator, magistrate, adjudicator, judge and jury between feuding girls and often between feuding mother and daughter. This is a “no win” position to be in. Be impartial, but if all else fails, support the mom.

“It’s tough being the “good guy” and at the same time supporting your wife unconditionally because she’s already the “bad guy”Mark T., two daughters

“You have to be prepared to referee inevitable fights about borrowing clothes, make-up and jewelry. It gets worse when they borrow mom’s stuff.”  Scott E., twin daughters.

“Save the Drama for your Mama,” is also a favorite saying at my house. Girls are predisposed for drama given their roller coaster of emotions and over active tear ducts. There’s friend drama, sister drama, school drama, sports team drama, there’s texting and Instagram drama and then there’s actual Drama Club drama. I’m now experiencing the boy drama sessions. My canned response is, “boys are bad except your Dad.” Where boys are full of testosterone, energy and, once teenagers, raging hormones, girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice mixed with a little female crazy. The best that we, as fathers, can do is to be a non-judgmental sounding board. More often than not, our daughters just want us to listen.

“I have found when one of my daughters makes a statement about a subject, which sounds like a request to step in and help her solve the problem, what they really want is for me to just listen and not respond or offer advice. This is difficult to do. I’ve learned that they also don’t want an unsolicited opinion because that is perceived as not believing they can solve the problem themselves. When they do ask for my input it is usually well received.”  Dan M., three daughters.

“I choke-up whenever I listen to My Little Girl by Tim McGraw or Daughters by John Mayer. They grow up so fast and we do our best to love them and keep them safe.”  Jeff L., three daughters.

Some dads think they’ll miss the father/son athletic component of parenting, but let me tell you we live in an area where the quality of girl athletes is astounding. The Tri-Valley produces some of the country’s best female soccer, lacrosse and swimming college prospects and I’ve known dads that were just as excited about seeing their daughter’s compete in chorus, band and cheerleading. In an early article, I wrote that kids spell love T-I-M-E.  Never underestimate a daughter’s need for her father’s attention, approval and involvement. I’ve brushed a lot of Barbie hair, spent considerable time shopping at malls across the country and seen more than my share of Disney/Pixar and Dream Works movies all in the name of father/daughter togetherness.

“With girls, going to the mall can be a religious experience with a heavy emphasis on donations?”  Jon F., two daughters.

“I had to learn three separate dance routines so that I could be each girl’s dance partner at a recital in front of 2,000 people at the Herbst Theatre.”  Barry C., three daughters.

“The only negative to having only daughters is not being able to get enough TV sports time without catching grief. That and having to experience the cult following of the American Girl doll store at Christmas time.”  Brian J., three daughters.

At the end of a long, hard day, there is nothing more heartwarming, more smile generating or more worthy of unconditional love than a daddy’s little girl. From the minute the doctor placed Hannah, my sweet and innocent first born in my arms, I knew that I would move heaven and earth to love and protect her forever. Then she pooped and started crying for her mother. The feeling was every bit as emotionally overwhelming when my second swaddled bundle of joy, Claire, arrived. Then she spit up on my shoulder, a substance that looked vaguely similar to what her sister pooped, and she cried for her mother. Once the bowel moving, vomit inducing introductions were complete and they were fed, I began what can only be described as a miraculous journey built on love, trust, humor, compassion, admiration and pride that has forged an unbreakable bond. I am the father of (only) daughters.

“There is nothing more touching than when I secretly get to watch her looking at the Adoption Day Album.”  Jim L., one daughter.

“I have saved every handmade Father’s Day card my adult daughters ever made me growing up.”  Scott E., twin daughters.

“My heart melts when my daughter and her daughter kiss me good-bye and tell me they love me (as both Dad and Lolo – Grandfather).”  Mark T., two daughters

Reduce Stress by Meditating—ahhhh….

Your alarm screams in your ears, and you are jolted out of a deep sleep. You look at the clock on your nightstand in utter disbelief that your sleep time is over… spent. “But I just lay down!” you protest. “Ugh—and I have a million things to do today!”

After you slide out from under your warm covers, your feet hit the floor—running. As you zoom from your cozy cocoon, you remind yourself not to forget to pay the mortgage, call Tiffany’s teacher, and update your boss on the Bellings account.

You bolt to the kitchen, practically tripping over your Labradoodle, Trixie, as you beeline toward your state-of-the-art coffee maker. After fixing yourself a cup of exotic Kona, you reach for your To-Do List. Your eyes dart up and down the daunting list as you quickly scribble several more actions to take.

Sound familiar? For many of us, in today’s fast-paced world, chronic rushing is a way of life. Of course, being productive is admirable; however, making a lifestyle out of rushing is quite another story. Chronic “hurrying” becomes problematic when we feel uncomfortable slowing down…and don’t take breaks to recharge.

In your own life, do you find that it’s often difficult to slow down during the day? If so, then you may be experiencing the inner “Pusher/Do-er” part of yourself taking over. Unfortunately, when this high-achieving part becomes too domineering, it can create stress-related health challenges.

Being in a chronic state of hurrying can generate high anxiety and bring on fight-or-flight responses. In this hyper-alert state, our minds and bodies make us feel as though saber-toothed tigers are chasing us. As a result, stress hormones, like adrenalin, are released.

I, too, have a strong Inner Pusher/Do-er part in myself that loves to achieve. In fact, I sometimes tell people that I’m a recovering “Type A” Personality. Type A’s are known to be perfectionistic and often have a difficult time relaxing. Thank goodness, back in my college years, I learned how to meditate. And now, I have been a meditator for over two decades and I’m grateful for this peaceful, centering practice.

Over the last thirty years, more than one thousand studies exploring the effects of meditation have been reported in scientific publications. Brain scans, EEGs, and blood tests are only a few of the scientific research methods used. These studies provide concrete evidence of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation.

In the stillness of meditation, we calm the tensions of our minds and bodies by learning how to slow down and let go. In my book, Stress Reduction Journal — Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health, I share the following information:
Potential Benefits of Meditation

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced stress-related diseases (including heart disease)
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Increased creativity
  • Heightened ability to concentrate

So, if meditating is such a beneficial practice, why aren’t more people doing it? I have heard many people say that finding the time to meditate is the biggest challenge. With daily responsibilities that often include kids, spouses, pets, aging parents, and jobs outside the home — meditation can end up the last task on a person’s To-Do List.

The good news is: I teach a Beginner’s Meditation Practice that can inspire people to fit this important “me-time” activity into their busy schedules. Then, by breaking the cycle of a continual doing mode—they gently relax into a being mode that honors the peacefulness of the present moment. Ahhh…

What a healthy gift we give our minds and bodies each time we meditate. We have an opportunity to connect with the quiet places inside to reduce our stress levels … and recharge from the inside out.

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal. She is also the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Trina currently has a private practice in downtown Danville. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or info@TrinaSwerdlow.com.

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.

Learn From the Brain-Damaged Investor

Believe it or not, people with certain kinds of brain damage may make better investment decisions. That is the conclusion of a study conducted back in 2005 by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of Iowa.1 The study linked brain science to investment behavior and offered some compelling evidence that people with an impaired ability to experience emotions could actually make better financial decisions than other people under certain circumstances. The participants with brain-damage outperformed other people in an investment game and finished the game with an average of 13% more money than the other players.

The brain-damaged participants had normal IQ’s and the areas of the brain associated with logic and cognitive reasoning were intact. The region of the brain that controls emotions, however, contained lesions that inhibited their ability to experience emotions such as fear and anxiety. The study suggested that this lack of emotional responsiveness actually gave them and advantage when they played a simple investment game. The rules were very basic: Participants each got $20 they could use to place $1 bets on 20 tosses of an ordinary coin. Each losing bet would cost $1, while each winning bet would earn $2.50. From a cool-headed distance, the right decision is a no-brainer: Given the payout and the odds of winning, of course you should bet every time. But anyone at all familiar with behavioral economics knows that’s not what most people actually do. Irrationally, we are risk averse, finding the pain of loss much greater than the pleasure of equivalent gain. And, sure enough, the healthy participants passed up several chances to place a bet—and, as fear mounted with each subsequent coin toss, were less and less likely to take the gamble. As a result, they earned an average of only $22.80. The unemotional brain-damaged patients earned $25.70, on average, because they remained unswayed by the fear of loss throughout the game.

Clearly, successful investing involves a certain degree of emotional control. Unfortunately, emotions are part of our lives and many people find it very difficult to take an unemotional approach to investing. As an investment adviser I have observed firsthand how emotions can cloud someone’s investment sense. I truly believe that one of my most important jobs as an adviser is to protect people from themselves and not allow clients to be their own worst enemies when it comes to reaching their financial goals. I take great pride in the research I conduct to select appropriate investments for clients. However, I have to conclude that an investor’s portfolio return is far more dependent on the investor’s behavior than on the performance of the funds in their portfolio.

  1. Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2005


Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk.  He is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and not intended as investment advice. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or Damien@WalnutCreekWealth.com.

 

Incontro and the Shameless Plug

First and foremost, exactly who am I? I figure that our budding relationship has reached the point that I might adequately introduce myself as well as fill you in on a little method behind the madness.

I am a 17-year veteran of the restaurant game here in the Tri-Valley and San Francisco. I was Dining Room Manager at Ruby Hill Golf Club, Assistant GM at Forbes Mill Steakhouse and the Manager at Walnut Creek Yacht Club, where I successfully wrenched myself from Food and Beverage in the hopes of doing something “greater.”

Currently I install and train medical clinic staffs on IT operating systems in developing countries (a whole other story) which has given me a whole new appreciation for our corner of the globe.

I left the food game clutching my completed manuscript entitled, “What Seems to be the Problem?”; a satirical advice piece on how to not be “that guy” when dining out or looking for employment at your local watering hole/feeding trough. I hope to have this published and delivered to you all soon.

What exactly is my criteria for the places that I deliver to you on a monthly basis? Let this be heard: I am a lone ink slinger! Nobody paves the road I traverse. I write about things that inspire me, or at best move into my line of site and stay there for reasons that beg to be explored by the written word.  Nobody hands me my “assignment” for the month or offers goodies to write about their restaurants. I am not anonymous—Toby is my real name. I don’t hide and I’m not sure in advance what I’m going to write about. In addition, I make honest mistakes. I forget to mention names. I make inadvertent references to one place while writing about another. I write without a net. I will not write a negative review. While I am not impervious to negative dining experiences I figure that I only get to talk to you all once a month and that time is better spent exploring the amazing places our area has to offer.

Most importantly, I was recently drawn back into the business, if only temporarily, and can be found behind the bar at Incontro, a beautiful Italian Restaurant that inhabits the old La Ultima restaurant on the main strip in Danville. While my time there mostly serves the purpose of helping my friend and GM, Jenny Finke, get her gorgeous bar established in the neighborhood, I am secretly having the time of my life. The staff is professional and worldly, the food is ridiculously amazing, and I fell in love with the bar upon first sight. Eight seats, specific selection of spirits and Italian Wines, flat screen TV, top lit wood and mirrors, and a huge picture window looking past the elevated Victorian porch and stone patio onto the main strip of Danville. The whole scene really needs to be painted by Norman Rockwell.

Incontro moved owners and property roughly a year ago literally down the street by a few miles from San Ramon. The atmosphere of the newly renovated property is old-worldly. Soft light and compartmented dining rooms allows for diners to truly feel like you are a guest in an Italian home and being served the type of meal that will allow you to feel you had your passport stamped. The wine list showcases modest, yet thorough, selections of Italian wines but true to their understanding of our community, tasting notes have been added to each selection.

I may or may not be behind the bar when you arrive, but do not let that stop you from coming in and sitting down. In a word — come for the Toby, stay for the pasta. Once again, you will thank me!

DMAE Cream – How to Prevent Wrinkles and Smooth Fine Lines

Here’s to beautiful skin for the Holidays!

Go Ahead. Sink your teeth into a delectable chocolate-fudge brownie this holiday season. Delight in a wonderful glass of aged wine. Pamper yourself with a long, heated stone massage. All three experiences promise you fantastic payoff-instant gratification. A surge of pleasure and satisfaction floods your senses seconds after you indulge yourself.

You can give your skin the same kind of quick satisfaction. In just about the time it takes you to finish a sinful dessert, DMAE complex can produce a visible and gratifying improvement to the skin. If you’ve shied away from so-called treatments because the very word conjures up visions of spending days carefully applying this and dipping in that until you finally see results, DMAE will change your mind. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it works.

DMAE is a great little acronym that’s easier to say than the tongue twister dimethylaminoethanol. Mixed in a cocktail with other nutrients like Lipoic acid and Esther C when applied topically, combined with DMAE it will dramatically improve the appearance of sagging skin. As an added bonus, DMAE boosts the effects of other antioxidants, resulting in increased smoothness, brightness and line reduction.

Unlike other antioxidants, DMAE is an antioxidant membrane stabilizer. Because of its unique structure, DMAE intersperses and becomes part of the cell plasma membrane. When this occurs, the membrane is more able to resist stress and is stabilized. DMAE also gives protection from free radicals-by preventing the other portions of the cell membrane from being attacked by free radicals. Thus, DMAE prevents breakdown of the cell plasma membrane and the resulting production of arachidonic acid and a bunch of pro-inflammatory mediators. When mixed with other antioxidants and nutrients, it has a dramatic firming effect on the skin.

Understanding Aging Skin

Before we look into how DMAE firms the skin, it is important to understand why skin sags, as we get older. Aging, particularly of the face, is characterized by many changes in the skin, including wrinkling, discoloration, broken blood vessels, a decrease in radiance and thinning of the surface. But the face doesn’t show age just because of changes to the skin’s surface. Another very significant factor is the loss of firmness and collagen. As we age, the chemicals and nutritional precursors that give muscles and collagen that hold the skin maximum tone start to diminish as a result of years of free-radical damage. Strong antioxidants and specific anti-aging ingredients reduce the aging process.

Today there are only a handful of treatments that really work to reverse the signs of aging. There are products on the market that will temporarily smooth the skin’s surface or increase its ability to maintain moisture, but these are superficial, short-term gains. The only long-lasting solutions to the problems of aging skin are those products and treatments that are scientifically tested and proven to penetrate to where the aging process actually takes place: in the deeper layers of the skin. DMAE is one of the key ingredients to keep your skin in optimum condition to repair collagen and prevent further damage while giving you long lasting results in a firmer and more youthful appearance.

At The Rouge we carry only the finest in advanced skin care with the highest concentrated ingredients and formula’s for anti-aging including DMAE, Neuropeptides and antioxidants. Please call for a skin care analysis consultation for maintenance and to find out what skin care program is best for you.

Designing with Technology

Most of us have had the curiosity or the dream of commissioning an interior designer but have left these aspiring notions only as notions. Fears will conjure naturally when pursuing a high form of luxury. The mystery of its affordability and the question of how it will truly serve a purpose in your life comes with the territory. Being well-seasoned with first-time design clients at J. Hettinger Interiors, I will completely agree but I will strive to show you its reason and logic.

Ruth, my recent Pleasant Hill client, was the perfect situation of a virgin client thoroughly guided through the process and was left breathless with screams of excitement at the reveal of her new master suite. Her only words of logic were, “I can’t believe this is all mine!”

What’s the point of a beautiful room if it has no purpose other than looking pretty? My job is to make rooms function for one’s lifestyle and enhance their way of living. Ruth is a veterinary anesthesiologist surgeon and a very busy gal who needed a soft, soothing retreat for rejuvenation. The room also needed to coexist and endure her dog, three cats and their occasional, furry-friend visitors.

Not only was Ruth’s project to be designed around a family of pets, but her dog, Dylan, is disabled. Obviously the textiles specified in the bedroom area would have to be paw-friendly. I had to be particular about what accessories to place and where. Being a pet owner myself, this was familiar ground. It was imperative that the master bath would provide a place for Ruth to easily and safely bathe Dylan. We opted to build a generous shower in place of the existing garden tub. The idea of doing this to any master bathroom would make any homeowner cringe. By pairing off beautiful materials and producing an excellent layout, I was confident that the end product would be very elegant. The glass block shower was my jumping point. This enabled me to moderately open up the room and not create a “sense of dead space” in the shower by using simple, clear glass panels. Glass block can have a charming presence in a space with classic detailing, in contrast to the contemporary settings seen in the 80s.

I carried the watery reflective character of the blocks into glass mosaics but in tones of bronze. A polished granite vanity top was specified to complete the pairing of reflective surfaces. In limited spaces, shiny and reflective materials really give a sense of openness. The cabinets have a painted finish just to echo the blonde burl wood of her bedroom furniture and to keep the bathroom light and soft. A matte finished porcelain field tile seen in the shower walls and the radiant heated floor proved to be cost-effective. It also provided a soft backdrop to highlight the glass surfaces.

Verbally expressing your vision to a client and a contractor can only take it so far. I find that the use of new technology for visual depictions is very effective in showing the client exactly what the entire room will look like and also saves time and confusion on the contractors end. In addition to conventional 2D construction drawings and rendered elevations, I utilized digital 3D modeling in this situation. A photo-realistic image of the bathroom-to-be depicting all materials and completed layout in context was presented to Ruth and my outstanding contractor, Ron Shafer, of Ron Shafer Construction. This one digital rendering put Ruth and Ron at ease and ready to push forward. Ron was seeing the built environment even before it was built. In the end, the entire project was completed in four months, just in time for the holidays and on budget.

There are key elements to undergoing any design project and making it affordable. Finding a designer is your first priority. Interview a few as they usually give a free initial consultation. Can you visualize yourself working with this person for the next few months?  Do you enjoy their company? Make sure there is a strong, reliable company behind the designer. When contemplating a remodel, your contractor will play a major role. If you have a trustworthy referral, go ahead and set a time for your designer to meet with them.

I advise referrals from your designer as they probably have collaborated in the past and can better guarantee a steady process and deliver on budget. The last thing that must be addressed is your budget. It is okay for you to tell your designer what your dreams are, regardless of how extravagant they are and how limited your budget is. There are always alternatives to every ideal proposal. Perhaps a major project can be executed in phases.  A good designer will give you options to make it happen and to make the process comfortable for you.

Throw Out That Bathroom Scale!

Listen to what Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, LLC has to say about bathroom scales:

One of the biggest obstacles many people face in reaching their fitness goals sits right in their very own home. It’s not the refrigerator. It’s their bathroom scale.

Too many people focus on what their bathroom scale says as their primary indicator of fitness progress or health. Well, it’s time to throw that bathroom scale out! Too often, people get wrongly fixated on a number on the scale. It can lead to unrealistic and even unsafe goals, not to mention, disappointment after disappointment.

Think of a bathroom scale like a speedometer. It can only tell you one number—your current speed. But speedometers can’t tell whether you’re under or over the speed limit. It can’t tell you where you are, where you should be, or where you are going. That’s exactly the same as a bathroom scale. It can only tell you one number: your weight. But weight is just one element of your health and fitness “dashboard.”

Now consider a GPS device. Not only can it tell you your speed, but it can give you directions, plan out your best route and help you safely reach your destination in the most efficient way possible.

That’s Koko FitCheck: a GPS for your body! It’s a vital part of how we precisely customize and optimize your personal Smartraining “route” to long-term health.

Koko FitCheck is not a scale. It is a precision body composition tool that calculates and tracks your body’s lean muscle level. Koko uses this data to automatically customize your program, calculate Q Score, provide personalized nutritional guidance and determine your Koko “eBMI” – our proprietary, “enhanced” body mass index calculation that is an important marker of progress and a far superior way to manage your health, nutrition and metabolism than weight alone.

FitCheck. Where your Koko Smartraining experience and program customization begins.

Koko FitClub Danville is owned and operated by Val and Mike Rogers, local Danville residents. Koko FitClub is conveniently located in down-town Danville at the Iron Horse Trail Crossing.

The Music of Friends – Chamber Music

If you have had the pleasure of attending a chamber music concert, then you undoubtedly experienced the intimate expression of musical ideas that are uniquely inherent in a small ensemble. Chamber music has been described as the “music of friends” because it was and is written and played by amateur or professional musicians, for real music lovers, either for aristocratic and princely courts or in formal parties in private homes.

One dictionary definition of chamber music is: instrumental music for a small ensemble where each part is played by only one performer suitable for a small audience in a small chamber or room. Hence, because this music was suitable for rooms smaller than the great concert hall, it was called chamber music.

There are many people who prefer and appreciate the intimacy, subtlety and refinement a small ensemble offers rather than a large symphony orchestra. “It is at once one of the most enjoyable and most dignified of literature,” wrote Homer Ulrich in his book Chamber Music.  “To know chamber music is to revere it; to hear chamber music is to enjoy it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe happily described chamber music, specifically the string quartet, as “the serious conversation of four individuals.”

Origins

Although the progenitors of early chamber music date back to the medieval period, almost all chamber music dates from around 1750, the so called beginning of the classic period. During this period the most famous and prolific composer and interpreter was Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), who established the form and style we hear to this day. He became known as the “father of the string quartet.”  This great tradition, established by Haydn, was carried on by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), and many successors up to the present time.

During the 18th century, many prominent composers were in the purview of aristocrats and royalty. Haydn, for example, was the employ of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy of Eisenstadt, (some historians say he was a Count) and was influential in European politics and art. It was here that Haydn honed his compositional skills to an exceptional degree.

The aristocracy began to decline in the early 19 century and musicians had to make their own living by selling, composing and performing on their own without the help of their aristocratic employers. This ushered in a new era of chamber music.

Chamber music was mostly amateur music played in small rooms in private houses until well into the 19th century. Unlike today, with music available at the push of a button, two hundred years ago people had to make their own entertainment including making music.

This all changed around the time of Beethoven. “Professional chamber music players became active, and the two classes, mainly performers and listeners, took a long step back from each other. It became more fashionable to listen than to play,” according to Ulrich.

Clarinet Chamber Music

Wolfgang Mozart introduced the clarinet in the chamber music repertoire. It has been the mainstay ever since. Obviously, the string quartet is the predominating medium for chamber music. But there are many other instrument combinations in the chamber music repertoire.

Clarinet Fusion

‘Clarinet Fusion’ is a brand new group in the Bay Area chamber music scene. It is a unique clarinet ensemble made of all the clarinets used regularly in bands and orchestras, some rarely used. The fledgling group has already performed several concerts to rave reviews. Many of their listeners have commented they had no idea clarinets could sound so marvelous in combination with each other. “The range and versatility of the clarinet is really quite remarkable, said Karyn Weber, founder of Clarinet Fusion and Principal Bass Clarinet in the Danville Community Band.

The clarinets used in the ensemble are: the A-flat piccolo, E-flat sopranino, B-flat soprano, E-flat alto, B-flat bass, EE-flat contra alto and the BB-flat contra bass clarinet.  Together they make a wonderful, glorious sound which is rarely heard in any other ensemble.

I was flattered when I was asked to be the director of this group of very talented clarinet musicians. Being a clarinetist myself, I didn’t hesitate to say “yes” and I am enthralled by their fine playing. The ten musicians in Clarinet Fusion, collectively, boast more than 350 years of clarinet-playing experience. Please don’t hesitate to attend a concert and hear for yourself a wonderful new sound. Clarinet Fusion is available for parties and other events. For information call 925-372-8847.

Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.netVisit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.