Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Monday, December 31, 2012

Like A Virgin

A few weeks ago, NPR interviewed Sir Richard Branson, who has written a new book, aptly titled Like a Virgin: Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School.  Listening to him speak about the book and his career, I was vividly reminded of an opportunity I had several years ago to listen to him for the better part of an hour, when he spoke as one of the American Dental Association’s Distinguished Speaker Program at their annual conference.

Although I have heard several distinguished persons as part of that recurring series including, Madelyn Albright, Colin Powell, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Rudy Guiliani and most recently, George Will, Sir Richard was one of the most memorable.  Part of the reason for that was the complete confidence of the man.  Confidence gained through both success and failures.

He came from a comfortable life with private schooling, made somewhat difficult because of dyslexia.  When he was sixteen, he started a newspaper and did quite well with it, using it as a vehicle to popularize songs he was pushing through a fledgling record company.  That record company would eventually define the man and his business acumen.  A fellow student, working with him suggested that because they were all novices at business a good name might be Virgin Records.  And that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is “The rest of the story.”

I’ll skip the “begats” of the Virgin Empire and settle for providing you a link to Wikipedia, should you wish to explore that further.  His enterprises are certainly a work-in-progress.  As I write this, Virgin America has changed significantly in his stake in the company.  While I have yet to read his book, I am sure that the unconventional approach he takes to problem solving and his strong belief that before you start a business you should be trying to solve a problem that is meaningful to you, are keys to “Things They Won’t Teach You in Business School.”

When he spoke to the ADA he had yet to embrace his adventurous side: the search for speed in Formula 1 cars, ships, hot air balloons, and his more recent descent to the bottom of the sea.  Space interests him and he has plans to make commercial travel practical.  What I heard at the Meeting was his pride in developing Virgin Records, his pride in growing the airline that his friends told him he had no knowledge of, and his confidence that his venture into rail traffic in Great Britain and beyond would be equally as successful.

He disavowed an interest in solving the U.S. rail problem, suggesting that we were not yet at the “trying to solve a problem” phase. I found it interesting that he didn’t confess that many of our rail problems came because we started by using an English model, including the gauge of our tracks, which I am told trace their origins back to the Roman cart paths of Great Britain.

Considering why the ADA chose Sir Richard as a speaker, I think his image: that of a wide-eyed, out-of-the-box thinker who is willing to take responsibility for his own success or failure appeals to the image that the ADA thinks is their representative membership.  I am unsure if that is an accurate picture of the present dentist, particularly those coming out of school today; burdened with $250,000 or more debt, seeking security, dependent in many cases on the Corporate World, at the expense of their independence. But, even if inaccurate, it is a nice image and may serve to inspire our dentists to heights otherwise unattainable.

jonathan Goldsmith
It seems to me that the advertising agency that developed the Dos Equis commercial with “The Most Interesting Man Alive” may have cast the actor in the commercial with an eye to an image set by Sir Richard Branson.  There certainly is a resemblance, and I’m sure Sir Richard wouldn’t shy away from the coincidence.  I know Jonathan Goldsmith would not.

In my next post I’ll relate a story about Paul Harvey and how he affected my life when I was in college.  Stop on by.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Mary and I belong to several museums and actually go to most of them at least once a year.  One of our favorites is The Bowers where we recently saw a very unusual exhibit.  There are several reasons we like The Bowers:  it is local, in Santa Ana, usually a short, twenty-minute ride, even in Southern California, it is small and most exhibits can be seen in about an hour, there is a nice mixture of exhibits, some featuring antiquities, some historical, some topical, all appeal to a variety of ages and interests.  Until recently, we also had a friend who was a Docent, which gave our visits a sense of personal attention.

The museum also changes its attractions on a regular basis, making it easy to find something new and memorable.  For instance the Faberge exhibit, which we saw last summer, will change in January.  And the one we saw last week, at a Member’s Preview will only last through March.

This is a shame!

The Dutchess
It is titled “Cut” and my initial expectation was that it would be a fun blend of the film industry, of which I am an aspiring member, and costume design, a field I know little about.  I expected that it would be similar to exhibits I’ve seen in the past: Colonial attire, Court Dress of France and England, and even styles of the ‘50s.  Instead, it was a surprise from the lecture by Holly Poe Durbin, who conveyed a surprising amount of knowledge about costume design, which is her field in the Drama Department at UCI, through the actual exhibit of forty-three costumes worn by thirty actors in 25 different films.

Johnny Depp
In her informative and entertaining presentation, Professor Durbin demonstrated the painstaking efforts that go into not only matching the period of the film, but also the character interpretation the actor chooses to play the role.  She mentioned, for instance, that Johnny Depp wanted one of his costumes in Pirates of the Caribbean – The Black Pearl to have souvenirs from his conquests, since he felt his character would have that degree of ego and showmanship.  Sure enough, when we saw the exhibit we could pick out no less than a dozen relics melded into the costume design.  The other fact that was a surprise with the two Depp costumes we saw was how rigid they were, being true to the materials of the time (no synthetic cloth), at the expense of easy movement in the action scenes.

One of the more interesting things I learned from the lecture and exhibit was the presence of an English company called Cosprop, Ltd. It was established in 1965 by John Bright, who would go on to do costumes for, among other films, Howard’s End and A Room with a View.  He and his co-designer Jenny Beavan knew how much work went into the detail of providing the right material and design for period films and felt it a shame to chalk up the expense of construction as sunk costs for the film.

So, working with Merchant Ivory Productions they developed a business model that would allow the leasing of the costumes for the film, and storage of them for subsequent showings at museums around the world.  Cosprop now houses more than 100,000 costumes, mostly in or near London and at any given time have dozens of collections similar to what is at the Bower at any one time. One avenue for bringing a display to a museum is through ExhibitsDevelopment.  Funding for the Bowers display came from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, East West Bank, Mei-Yen Chang, and Coca-Cola.  Richard Chang, writing in the OC Register did an excellentarticle, if you would like to explore the exhibit in more detail.

In any event, I would recommend a visit to The Bowers before the exhibit closed in March.

My next post will focus on a contemporary larger-than-life figure, Sir Richard Branson and why he is currently in the news.   Please join me in about a week.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sell-By Date

Although I think I can honestly say that I pay attention to the homily delivered at my weekly church service, it is somewhat less common for me to ponder an original thought that may come from the sermon. Recently I did just that.  I heard a new concept and actually gnawed on it for the better part of the next week.

The thought?  We all have a “sell-by” date, before which we are supposed to use the talents we have been given for the good of others,  and have the responsibility of working with those without knowing when our “use-by” date will come, essentially not knowing when we will die.

I think I was a late bloomer for my “sell-by” date, pushed to the back of my shelf by being self-centered, and lacking the maturity to feel empathy.  This, in spite of priding myself in college for knowing the Spanish words, “Alma Tu”, which loosely translates to “I share your soul.”

It wasn’t until several years of sharing a marriage and the introduction of two other lives into our lives that I began to appreciate the effects my actions might have on others’ lives. I tell a story of being at a Dental Meeting social occasion when Mary and I were approached by a sales rep, who used to be one of my technicians.  Through with the small talk, he excused himself, but not before saying, “I want you to know that you changed my life.”

When we were alone Mary asked, “What did you do to make him say that?”  I had to admit I had no idea. I think that was when I became conscious of the effects on others of how I lived my life and the need to understand the lives of those around me.

I have been fortunate to have lived through two professional retirements since then and have time now to contribute both through personal and financial talents to have a positive effect in the world.  We are never in a position to know what effects we have.  I don’t know now any more than I did at that Dental Meeting, but inwardly I feel I have moved off my shelf and am being useful.

While I hope that my “use-by” date is somewhere off in the future, I can live with what comes, feeling that my contributions have not left too much in my jar.

As I write this the country, no in fact the world is consumed with a need for information surrounding the horrendous murders of 20 schoolchildren from Sandy Hook School; to figure out why it happened.  My son, who teaches at a similar school, was approached by some of his students of a similar age asking why the flag was at half-staff.  I think Tim has taken his talents off the shelf because his answer was direct, informative, and sensitive to his audience.  He said that a very bad man had done some terrible things to young people in another part of the country and this was a reminder that they and their families needed our prayers.  He then led them in a prayer for the victims and their families.

And then, when the first parent of the victims spoke to the media, he noted that his dead daughter always had a smile, always had good things to say about people and was teaching her three year-old sister to read. In other words Emilie at age seven recognized that her “sell-by” date told her it was time to give back.  Perhaps that knowledge was given her because her “use-by” date was to come so soon.

I wonder if my sharing of this simple thought, inspired by a Priest’s feeling that recognition of a public recognition of an aunt’s good deeds while she was still alive would be better than eulogies after her death, that caused me to reflect on my life will stir up similar thoughts in your mind.

My next post will be a lot lighter and hopefully more informative.  I’ll share with you our recent experience going to an exhibit at the Bowers Museum: an exhibit on costumes used in film.  Check it out!

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Officer's Wife

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog entitled “Are These My Brains?” that was triggered by some influential men being exposed for having extra-marital affairs.  I suppose I could have resurrected that to memorialize the extreme fall from grace exhibited by General David Petraeus, had I even wished to comment on the (pardon the pun) affair.  But what actually brought the event to my attention was how deeply my wife Mary, seemed to feel about the incident.

General Patraeus and Paula Brodwell
Not so much the infidelity itself (I used to say that early on in our 52-year marriage she once commented that “If I found out you were unfaithful, I don’t know if I would kill you or myself” and that indecision was a constant reminder of our wedding vows.), but of how much his wife had done in the 34 years of his service: something like 24 major moves (we had 14 or 15), the constant social requirements, particularly when he became a senior officer, and even the extra pressure of raising a family so as not to jeopardize his rising career.  Especially, boys.

When I went on active duty and we got married (a remarkably short time between those two events) we were among several young dental couples at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.  The men (and we were all men) were indoctrinated in what it meant to be an officer, things that had missed our attention during the two week indoctrination at Newport, Rhode Island.  Our teacher was our Commanding Officer, a genial but, in retrospect, extremely knowledgeable and expecting Navy Captain.  The women (never girls) were encouraged to purchase and commit to memory the Naval Officer Handbook for Wives.  I strongly suspect that book went out of print many years ago.

In it there was mention of when to wear hat and gloves; what was respectable attire for all manner of social functions; when and what was expected for “Calls, made and received”, what to have printed on your cards for those occasions, and numerous intrusions on your personal life, excepting perhaps what to name your children.

The informal side of the Officer’s Wife’s Life was left to the CO’s wife and the Officers’ Wives Club, which had a pecking order entirely based on seniority.

In time Mary would take her own place at the helm as the CO’s wife, and although times caused many items covered by the Handbook to change, little changed in the sociability requirements of the wives.  One was expected to entertain all new officers and their wives and to provide comfort and solace to any and all single officers.  Most holiday dinners included at least one of these, certainly lonely, men.

Instruction on commissary shopping, where to park at the Exchange, how to settle children in school, and babysitter availability were routinely doled out with a precision that masked how much effort went into researching the facts.  Remember this was before Google.  More subjective, but no less common was advice on financial matters, what to buy, how to furnish where you are currently living, and what constitutes necessities.  I remember coming home from the clinic one day of that first tour, telling Mary that she couldn’t buy a sewing machine, no matter that everyone else seemed to be doing so, because we just couldn’t afford it. She later confessed that she had no intention of buying a machine she couldn’t use.

The Petraeus moves seemed of special consequence to Mary (who, reluctantly shares family spelling of her maiden name with Jill Kelley).  I had no idea that she still has recurring dreams of the movers exiting the front door and she discovering a closet, or perhaps a whole room, she forgot to have them pack. She feels that General Petreaus’ wife is owed big time for her anguish.  Of lesser concern, probably because she only has her own experience to go by, is what Mrs. Petraeus went through, coping with the effect of the moves on children: the problems inherent with new schools, leaving friends, adolescent changes in an unstable environment, and even the growing accumulation of “stuff” that needed to be packed and moved.

There are few compensatory perks for the Officers wife; certainly none to speak of until your husband reaches senior level, which might get you kitchen and household help and a bigger cave to live in, and much that comes with trade-offs. I remember when we were privileged to stay in VIP quarters in Baguio while stationed in the Philippine Islands.  The bed was huge and had three pillows.  Mary questioned why, three, and I conjectured that one was probably for the Aide, since command necessitates a surrender of privacy.

And I guess that surrender was what eventually cost the General his position, his reputation and perhaps his honor, for as an honor graduate of West Point he would have been expected to adhere to the Codes: of Military Justice and Military Ethics.

Several people have asked me why she would possibly want to stay married.  As one whose parents are both buried at Arlington (mom on top of pop) and one who hopes for the same for Mary and me, maybe she just wants a place to go when she dies. 

Maybe she can get the bottom bunk.
I heard an interesting homily recently that argued we all have a “sell-by” date.  Next post I’ll share how that got me thinking.  Please join me

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Broadway Shows

Mary and I just returned from The Greater New York Dental Meeting, which we try to catch almost every year.  One of the serendipity pleasures, aside from seeing relatives and friends, is that we usually get to one or two plays.  This year we saw heavy drama in the Steppenwolf Theater’s production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and balanced our mood by a delightful production of a play adapted from a series of books titled “Peter and the Star-catcher”.  The irony that this prequel to Peter Pan, which was written by David Barrie was written as were the Star-catcher series by the columnist Dave Barrie was not lost on us.

Dave Barry has always been a favorite of ours and I used to give Mary a Dave Barry calendar for Christmas until he turned his talents elsewhere.  His humor was manifest in the production and the afternoon was a true delight.  Only one thing was missed:

There was no Overture!

Actually, I wasn’t surprised.  Overtures have been disappearing from Broadway at an alarming rate, with only the revivals of classic shows, with their big casts and big orchestras creating a mood by snippets of every strong song in the score.

I saw my first Broadway show in 1953 and I saw it in Chicago with the original cast, something we rarely see today.  My mother took me to see Alfred Drake (her reason for going) in “Kismet”, an Arabian Nights extravaganza (her reason for taking me) and I loved it, from the Overture, which led into Princes Come, Princes Go, which lyrics I remember to this day: “An hour of pomp and show. Princes come and into the sands of time they go.  Wise men come, wise men go, ever wondering, the riddle of life to know. Wise men come, and into the sands of time they go.  Lovers come, lovers go, and all that there is to know they know. Lovers come, and into the sands of time they flow.” It may explain why I remain a hopeless romantic.

Testing my theory that Overtures are disappearing, I looked at some 35 of the close to 100 shows I have on vinyl or disk; a collection that started more than 35 years ago when some acting friends introduced us to their practice of collecting every musical they saw.  Although we have seen “Gypsy” on Broadway with three different stars, we don’t buy all three Original Cast Recordings. We often listen to shows at suppertime.

The concept of having an Overture in a Broadway musical came because early Broadway musicals were a close relative of Opera.  Most operas at the time had an Overture that was written by the composer, often to assist the audience in how to identify the different movements.  Paradoxically, the one overture most recognized by Americans ran all the movements together.  That would be the Overture to Rossini’s William Tell, which people remember from 30 years of Brace Beemer using it for background to “Hi Yo, Silver, away!”

Broadway Musical Overtures varied in several ways from those of opera, one of the most significant being that they were rarely written by the musical composer.  More often the conductor of the orchestra was given the score and a time limit to introduce the audience as to what would be “memorable” songs, so they could whistle them as they left the theater.  The shows in my collection that had overtures more often than not had this format but on occasion would have instead a Prologue, or occasionally both a Prologue and an Overture.

“Peter…” had a Prologue, but it wasn’t even musical, just a narrative to introduce the characters and set the plot, and perhaps provide an explanation as to why we rarely see Classic Overtures now: there were only two musicians.  When you consider that the William Tell Overture was written for 21 musicians plus Strings, you can see why it might be difficult to do that with a piano and percussion.

And I’m told that one of the major reasons most Symphony Orchestras and Opera Companies are in financial trouble is related.  Classical music is labor intensive, as is opera.  The arts have benefitted less from technology than industry has.  More the loss.

Next post will give a different slant on the Petreaus Affair: from the perspective of a 25-year career officer’s wife.  Mary weighs in!